The VROOM Blog, #AndaluciaGP – Yamaha reigns in Spain

 In MotoGP, News

Well, what a weekend that turned out to be! For the first time ever, we had back to back races in the same season at the same race track, the Circuito de Jerez – Angel Nieto. This is something that will become familiar as the season progresses, with the Red Bull Ring, Misano, Aragon and Ricardo Tormo all hosting back to back rounds in this condensed and pandemic impacted season.

At the beginning of the weekend, all of the talk was about Marc Marquez, Alex Rins and Cal Crutchlow, but by Sunday afternoon the focus would be on the Yamaha trio of Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi. Yes, that would be the same Valentino Rossi that many had written off following last weekend’s DNF – he’s ‘too old’, he’s ‘past it’, he ‘should’ve retired already’ and my personal favourite ‘he just said there was a light on the dash because he couldn’t be bothered’, are just some of the comments I read online last week.
You would think people would know better than to write The Doctor off by now…

There was a lot of talk in the run up to this race weekend about the ‘validity’ of this year’s championship if Marc Marquez wasn’t going to be there. Firstly there was an article posted that claimed that the championship wasn’t legitimate without Marquez there, and then Alberto Puig (Repsol Honda Team Manager) poured more fuel on the fire by saying that if Marc doesn’t win the championship this year then the rider who does cannot be proud of himself for doing so without ‘the best rider in the world participating’ in the championship. He went on to add that the championship will not be the same if Marc is not racing, and that everyone knows that.

I have many, many thoughts on this, but they can be easily summed up in the words of the ever honest Jack Miller whose response when asked about Puig’s comments at the pre-weekend press conference on Thursday was very simple – the comments are a ‘complete crock’. Yes, Marquez has been the ‘main man’ to beat in the championship for the last few seasons – he is an 8 time World Champion, with six of those coming from his seven years in the premier class – but that doesn’t mean he is the only man capable of winning the championship.

As others have pointed out, they all started the season on a level playing field, and they all run the risk of missing races or losing points dues to crashes or injuries – that’s the nature of the sport. To suggest that the person who wins the championship this year is any less worthy because Marc may or may not miss races due to this (or any other) injury is disrespectful, and quite frankly it does an injustice to the 21 other riders on the grid who have 22 World Championships between them. As Jack says, it’s a complete crock…

Last week I had written that Marc Marquez was ‘almost certain’ to miss the Andalucia GP, but just before the blog was posted I removed the word ‘almost’ because come on – the bone in the top of his arm had been broken and operated on, there was no way he was going to try to race so soon. Even the team thought so – they had packed up his side of the garage. Turns out I should have left the ‘almost’ in there, because less than 24 hours after I took it out rumours of an attempt to ride began to circulate. It was a low rumble on social media at first, but it grew stronger and finally the Repsol Honda team confirmed on Twitter that Marc was indeed heading back to Jerez on Thursday morning.

Video emerged of him arriving at the airport ready to fly back to Jerez, and was quickly followed by footage of him arriving at the circuit. At one point he could be seen moving his wheel-along bag with his injured arm! Marc’s fitness was tested at the circuit medical centre and he was passed fit to ride. Alex Rins and Cal Crutchlow were both passed fit on Thursday afternoon too – Cal having also been operated on by Dr Mir in Barcelona on Tuesday.

In the meantime, Alex Marquez’s team found themselves having to hastily rebuild Marc’s side of the garage – as I said; even the team didn’t expect him to try this weekend.

After sitting out Friday’s free practice sessions, all eyes were on Marc as he came onto track for the first time in FP3 – a session that Alex Rins opted to sit out in order to rest up for qualifying. After two laps, he was 5 seconds off the pace, but after 4 runs and 18 laps in the session, he had astonishingly cut the gap down to 1.29 seconds – by the end of FP4 he was less than a second off the fastest time of Nakagami in the session.

It proved to be too big an ask so soon after having his arm plated however as we saw him leave pit lane at the beginning of Q1 only to return without completing a lap, and leaving straight out of the back of the garage into the team truck. Within minutes of Q2 ending, HRC announced that Marc would take no further part in the weekend – for the first time in his premier class career, Marc Marquez would miss a race. He gave it his best shot, and you have to respect the guy for that, but at the end of the day he listened to his body when he felt it was telling him it wasn’t safe to carry on, and you have to respect him even more for that.

While a great deal of the focus was on Marc, it might have gone unnoticed that there were other ‘big names’ who had found themselves having to compete in Q1 this weekend. Andrea Dovizioso, Franco Morbidelli, Miguel Oliveira and the injured duo of Alex Rins and Cal Crutchlow. It was Morbidelli and Oliveira who would progress through to Q2, leaving Dovi and his factory Ducati to start Sunday’s race from the 5th row of the grid.

Quartararo claimed pole position – his fourth in a row – as Maverick Viñales had what would have been a pole lap cancelled for exceeding track limits, with Pecco Bagnaia securing his first MotoGP front row in 3rd.

Race day rolled round and it was even hotter than it had been last weekend. Unsurprisingly, Fabio secured the holeshot and was closely followed by Viñales, Rossi and the Pramac Ducati duo of Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia. Disaster struck at the first corner for KTM riders Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira, as Binder crashed and took an unsuspecting Oliveira with him.

At the end of the first lap, Viñales went wide into the final corner and The Doctor pounced, taking second place from his teammate. By the end of lap 6 Fabio was in a league of his own with a 3 second lead, and Vale was beginning to pull a gap on Viñales who went wide again a few laps later and lost his 3rd place to Pecco Bagnaia, and then his 4th to Franco Morbidelli as Jack Miller crashed out behind them.

Soon Rossi would find his former VR46 Academy rider Bagnaia all over the back of him. Bagnaia may have won the Moto2 Championship for Rossi’s Academy team in 2018 but that didn’t stop him passing Rossi on lap 12. The Doctor would soon find another of his protégés swarming all over him as Franco Morbidelli gained pace!

As the race progressed, we saw several riders out – Petrucci and Binder both crashing, and Morbidelli becoming the latest victim of a possible engine issue at Yamaha.

As Viñales closed the gap to Valentino, they both had to slow their pace as the Ducati of Bagnaia started spewing smoke ahead of them, with Viñales saying after the race that he could smell the oil coming from the bike. Bagnaia realised the issue and pulled off the track, allowing the Yamaha teammates to battle for second place, with Nakagami – the surprise package of the weekend, having apparently made improvements following time spent comparing his own data with Marc’s – closing in on them.

Taking an 8 second lead into the final stages of the race, Fabio managed to stay cool and take his second victory of the season. Maverick Viñales took advantage of a mistake by Rossi on the final lap and took second place, with The Doctor taking his first podium since the Americas GP last season – 18 races ago!

For the first time since Phillip Island in 2014 Yamaha locked out what was a historic podium – Fabio became the most successful Frenchman in MotoGP (those who came before him only having scored on race win each), Rossi became the 7th oldest rider to stand on the box in MotoGP and scored his 199th premier class podium (he has 235 across all classes).

I thoroughly enjoyed that race – it was fantastic to see Fabio back up his first race win with another, and I was delighted to see Rossi back on the podium, and to hear him talking so positively after the race as well. He has changed his crew chief for this season, and together he and David Muñoz have pressured Yamaha to allow them to make changes to the bike which given his performance this weekend, seem to have worked. Long may it continue!

In the battle of the rookies, I have to say that for all the talk of the pace of Brad Binder and how he is going to be a big star in MotoGP, there is a great deal of negativity surrounding Alex Marquez with people saying he doesn’t deserve to be in the factory team and that he only got the ride because of his brother. It seems unfair to me. Don’t get me wrong – Brad’s pace since he threw his leg over that KTM has been impressive, but he is yet to actually make it through a MotoGP race without crashing, while Alex has plugged away and scored two impressive points finishes.

I know that this is a huge learning curve for them both, and yes Brad remounted and continued at a pace on par with the top finishers last week, this isn’t a dig at Brad – he is a Moto3 World Champion, and he will no doubt do well in MotoGP – it’s more a little frustration with regard to the way Alex has been treated, I feel that it is harsh to judge Alex in the way he has been. Alex has always been more of a slow-burn rider, it takes him a while to get up to speed, but he isn’t a two time World Champion for nothing – he finished 27 seconds off the win last weekend, and this week he finished 19.3 seconds off and inside the top 10. He is learning, and he is making progress and I wish people would just let him get on with it…

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, we have a weekend off with the paddock due to reconvene in Brno for the Grand Prix České republiky (07 – 09 August). I’m really looking forward to it – those that have been injured will hopefully be more competitive at a track that the podium finishers this weekend all admitted doesn’t always suit the Yamaha. Will Brno produce a different race winner than the first two rounds of the season, or will Fabio continue his winning streak?

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