The VROOM Blog: Spanish GP – The agony and ecstasy of Jerez
The race weekend review by VROOM blogger Ashley
Oh my days – I scarcely know where to begin! After all of the musical chairs and pre-season contract drama, one could be forgiven for expecting that things would have settled down as we finally emerge from the other side of the first race weekend for the premier class this season. Oh how wrong you would have been though…
Silly season talk continued to rumble on across the weekend – will Rossi sign for Petronas? Will Ducati sign Dovizioso? What about Cal – will he sign for Ducati, or Aprilia, or neither of them?
We were given some answers, or at least bits of answers to some of these questions.
At the press conference on Thursday Valentino Rossi stated that he was 99% certain to sign with the Petronas team, although interestingly on Sunday team boss Johan Stigefelt said that 99% would imply that the deal is basically done, but in his opinion there were still things to be ironed out, and that they amounted to more than 1%.
When asked about his MotoGP future in an interview, Crutchlow admitted that he was talking with both Ducati and Aprilia, and that he was confident he would be back on the grid next season.
Ducati’s Davide Tardozzi was asked about whether the door would be open for Crutchlow to return and he replied that the door is open to all fast riders, and that would include the Brit. He also said that ideally they would retain Dovi, but that there was no rush on either side to put pen to paper, and he quashed any suggestion of serious talks between the team and Jorge Lorenzo.
Like I said – bits of answers but nothing solid yet!
Anyway, after waiting for so long for the season to finally get going, I was so starved of MotoGP action that I genuinely found myself sat in front on my laptop on Thursday afternoon watching the live stream of the MotoGP riders’ photo shoot.
Luckily Friday morning arrived quickly and the MotoGP riders were back out for FP1. Well, most of them were – Fabio Quartararo found himself having to sit out the first half of the 40 minute session as punishment for riding an ‘illegal’ R1 at the Paul Ricard circuit back in June. The session was topped unsurprisingly by Marc Marquez, with Viñales and Crutchlow taking 2nd and 3rd. There was less than a second back to Tito Rabat in 19th, with only Oliveira, Petrucci and Bradley Smith more than a second behind Marquez.
The combined FP times saw Quartararo leading the pack of ten riders straight through to Q2, with big names such as Rins and Petrucci having to face the reality of Q1. Rins and Pol Espargaro were the two riders to make it through Q1 into Q2, and what a session that turned out to be.
Fabio Quartararo set a blistering lap record to take the first pole position of 2020, with his 2021 team mate Maverick Viñales taking second, and reigning World Champion Marc Marquez rounding out the front row. No great surprises there, but the session wasn’t without drama. The Pramac racing duo of Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia out qualified the factory Ducati riders, with Pecco and Jack finishing Q2 in 4th and 5th respectively, while Dovi was back in 8th and Petrucci in 14th having failed to make it through Q1.
Jack Miller might even have qualified further up the grid; however he tucked the front and crashed on a fast lap, and had just picked himself up in time to find Alex Rins and his Suzuki barrelling through the gravel. While Jack was able to return to his garage unscathed – but for the loss of what was shaping up to be a fast lap – Rins was taken straight to the medical centre by ambulance, and later transferred to hospital. Rins suffered a dislocation and fracture of his right shoulder, and was declared unfit for the race – he is aiming to try again this weekend though.
Honestly, these guys are warriors – your average person would be wiped out for weeks with such an injury, but Rins is champing at the bit to wrestle a motorbike around in the blazing heat of Jerez within days! Personally, I think it is unlikely that Rins will be declared fit to race next weekend – but you just never know…
I’m not sure I can remember the last time I set an alarm for a Sunday morning, but I had one set this weekend, and it was definitely worth it!
A heavy crash in warm up for Cal Crutchlow saw him sent off to hospital for some scans – he returned to the circuit hoping to race but was declare unfit by the medical team due to concussion and neck trauma. It was later revealed that Crutchlow returned to the hospital later in the day due to increased pain in his wrist, and was found to have a tiny fracture on his left scaphoid bone. He will be operated on by Dr Mir and hopes to return to action next weekend. Again, these guys are warriors.
It was strange to see a grid that wasn’t rammed with people before the first MotoGP race since November got underway. Obviously the guidelines in relation to the global pandemic restrict the number of people allowed on the grid, so we saw less promotional personnel and media folks. I even saw some riders holding their own umbrellas!
The grid cleared and after a warm up lap, the lights went out and MotoGP 2020 was finally underway. Maverick Viñales got the holeshot, leading Marquez and Quartararo. Fabio found himself slipping backwards, with Pramac’s Miller and Bagnaia passing him in the early stages of the race, while Aprilia’s Bradley Smith made up a brilliant five places in the first lap. Early crashes saw Joan Mir and Aleix Espargaro both out of the race before the end of lap 3, but it was the almost crash by Marc Marquez that was an early talking point for many. He lost the front coming through turn 4, but in typical Marquez style he managed to save what for many would have been a certain crash only to go hurtling through the gravel and casually re-join the race in 16th position, leaving Viñales, Quartararo and Miller to fight it out at the front.
Lap 9 saw Maverick Viñales make a mistake and run wide – Quartararo pounced on the opportunity to take the lead and he didn’t look back, clearing off at the front as Marquez continued to slice his way back through the pack. At this point, I figured he was on for at least a top five finish, and as the race wore on I did consider that he could have finished on the podium. With seven laps to go we saw Valentino Rossi retire from the race, with the team siting technical issues.
And then it happened. Having skilfully made his way back from 16th to 3rd, with four laps to go Marc Marquez crashed heavily, high siding from his Honda and slamming into the ground before being hit at the top of his arm by the bike as it followed him into the gravel. You could tell immediately that he was hurt, but whether it was an aggravation of a shoulder injury or something new, wasn’t clear straight away. As he sat at the marshal post behind the tyre wall, he struggled to remove his helmet with only his left hand and then the pain was etched on his face for all to see.
As Marquez was stretchered into an ambulance and transferred to the medical centre, the race raged on. Quartararo was still nowhere in sight, leading by almost five seconds from Viñales who in turn had a fair lead over the chasing pack. Miller, Dovizioso, Morbidelli and Pol Espargaro were left to scrap it out for that final podium spot, and as Dovi staked his claim by passing Miller, Morbidelli bounced his bike off the Pramac Ducati but was unable to make the pass, and was lucky to stay on board his Petronas Yamaha.
Fabio Quartararo scorched across the line to record not only his first MotoGP victory in his 20th race, but the first MotoGP victory for the Petronas Yamaha team, and the first French GP winner since Regis Laconi in 1999. A historic victory indeed for Fabio, who was so delighted by his win that he set the airbag in his suit off as he crossed the line!
Talking of firsts – there were two rookies in their debut MotoGP race today. Brad Binder and Alex Marquez both finished in the points (13th and 12th respectively), with Binder having had an off track excursion earlier in the race while sitting in 7th and his pace suggests that had he not run off the track, he may have finished much closer to the podium. I’m looking forward to seeing how they both progress this season.
As we head into the second weekend of racing at Jerez, we may well be without 3 stars of MotoGP with Rins injured and Crutchlow and Marquez both going under the knife of Dr Mir. Rins and Crutchlow are optimistic of a return to action for the second round of the championship but will have to pass medical tests on Thursday in order to do so.
Marquez is certain to miss this round. Reports of a broken arm filtered through not long after the conclusion of the race, with confirmation of a broken humerus (that’s the one in your upper arm) coming a little later. Marc was placed under observation for 12 hours, and has returned to Barcelona to have surgery. How long he will be out for remains to be seen, and will depend on factors such as recovery time and whether or not there has been any nerve damage. Early reports following Tuesday’s surgery suggest that there was no nerve damage and that Dr Mir is optimistic that he can be back for Brno. That’s less than a month away. Again, warriors! Whatever the case, I wish him well – Cal and Alex too.
This was a weekend in which we saw both the agony and the ecstasy of racing at the pinnacle of two wheeled motorsport, and there are many headlines and talking points, but for me this weekend belongs to Fabio.