The VROOM Blog, #AustrianGP – Undaunted indeed; defiant Dovi rules the Red Bull Ring

 In MotoGP, News

The latest VROOM blog on a – well, “dramatic” weekend to say the least, from Ashley

Honestly, this MotoGP season has been wild – and we’ve only just finished round 4! There have been 9 different podium finishers in just 4 races, and more drama than you’d find on a West End stage…

Heading into the Austrian GP, there was lots of talk about the weather – it had been raining during set-up and there was rain forecast across the weekend. Would we see a wet race? Or would we see a flag-to-flag race and the drama that goes hand in hand? Oh, there would be drama alright, just not because of the weather.

The Dovi and Ducati will they / won’t they rumbled on this week, with Davide Tardozzi confirming to Spanish media that Ducati will be making a decision about Dovizioso’s future in red following the back to back races in Austria. He also stated that the decision would not be based solely on Dovi’s performance in those two races, but I’m not sure I believe that – it wasn’t so long ago that Petrucci retained his seat in the factory team following his first win in the premier class…

It turns out that it didn’t matter anyway, with Dovi’s manager Simone Battistella announcing on Saturday that the Italian would not continue with Ducati following the conclusion of the 2020 season, bringing to an end a relationship that has spanned 8 years and yielded 13 wins and 3 championship silver medals. It doesn’t make sense to me that Ducati would let Dovi walk away (or push him out, as may have happened had Dovi not walked first) – he has been the only rider to consistently challenge 8 time World Champion Marc Marquez in recent years, finishing 2nd in the championship for the last 3 seasons. I understand the whole ‘second place is first loser’ scenario, but at the end of the day surely it’s better to be 2nd and fighting, than it is to be way down the order?

It doesn’t appear to make sense to former MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner either, as he took to Twitter to say that in his opinion Ducati cannot afford to lose a rider like Dovi. He also stated that they need to realise that it is the rider, not wind tunnels that get results and that they should listen to their riders. Harsh but fair from Stoner I think.

Contrary to many reports pre-season that the stalemate between Dovi and Ducati was down to money, Battistella stated that money was not part of the decision – Dovi had taken a 40% pay cut for this season following issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, but contract talks had not even got as far as discussing money. Battistella also confirmed that there is ‘no plan B’ – Dovi has not signed another deal, or even had talks with other teams – but he does intend to continue racing. To me that speaks volumes – leaving a job without a new one in place is always a risky business, even for a man of Dovi’s talent, and I’m sure it wouldn’t be a decision that he has taken lightly. As Battistella pointed out though, all of the talk around his future was causing a distraction for Dovi, and now he can focus fully on racing and completing this season, and I really hope he leaves Ducati on a high note.

On the track in Q1 there were handbags between Danilo Petrucci and Aleix Espargaro as Danilo had his best lap of the session interrupted by the Spaniard touring and then jumping in between Rossi and Petrucci while waiting for a tow. Espargaro looking for a tow? Surely not… Anyway, Zarco and Rossi ended up on top in Q1 and progressed through to Q2, with Petrucci complaining that but for the incident with Espargaro he might have made it through.

Q2 saw Maverick Viñales take his first pole position since Australia last year – his 10th pole in the premier class, ahead of Jack Miller and Fabio Quartararo. This marks Fabio’s 11th consecutive front row start and his 17th since he joined the MotoGP class.

Ducati have won all 4 MotoGP races at the Red Bull Ring since the track joined the calendar in 2016, and Dovizioso – the most successful rider at this track with 2 wins – qualified 4th for this race. Could he make it 5 from 5 for Ducati?

Following last weekend’s epic win, Brad Binder qualified in 17th with teammate Pol Espargaro seemingly carrying the home hopes of KTM and Red Bull from 5th on the grid. Meanwhile, the top Honda in qualifying was once again Nakagami who was 10th and the only Honda rider to make it through to Q2. The fastest Suzuki was Joan Mir, who qualified in 6th – this will be his first MotoGP race at the Red Bull Ring having missed the race last year due to injury.

So race day in Spielberg turned out to be something more dramatic than even Steven Spielberg could have dreamed up. We had just calmed down from the horrific Moto2 crash, with news filtering through that thankfully although battered and bruised, Hafizh Syahrin was okay, as the MotoGP riders made their way out to the grid with no sign of the previously forecast rain.

It was Jack Miller who grabbed the holeshot, with Dovi and Pol passing Maverick Viñales to sit 2nd and 3rd. The next few laps saw Pol make a move on Dovi only to have Dovi slice back past him and move on to start lining up a move on Miller, while Alex Marquez was top Honda back in 15th! Dovi and Pol continued their back and forth until both Pol and Mir made it through ahead of the Ducati man.

On lap 6, Dovi managed to get back past Joan Mir, but Mir was having none of it and passed him straight back. Championship leader Fabio Quartararo’s name hurtled down the side of the screen to last position and a replay shows that he went straight on and through the gravel before re-joining the action as Pol Espargaro took the lead.

Miguel Oliveira set the fastest lap of the race so far from 5th position on lap 7, as lap 8 saw Dovizioso finally move past Jack Miller for 2nd place.

And then, on lap 9 all hell broke loose. Zarco went wide and came back across the track, colliding with Franky Morbidelli and sending them both hurtling through the gravel. It was an awful crash, but what followed next was absolutely terrifying – and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to use the word terrifying; it was the most frightening crash I’ve seen in MotoGP in a long time. As Zarco slid so far through gravel and grass that he had a massive hole on the hip of his leathers, and Franky barrel-rolled through the gravel, their bikes catapulted themselves across the track and into the path of oncoming Yamaha teammates Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi.

Quite how Maverick and Vale weren’t wiped out by the flying bikes I don’t know – television pictures showed that Vale had had an extremely close call, and photographs and other angles of the crash that came later showed that Maverick had been equally lucky. It’s been over 24 hours and I still cannot comprehend how all four of those riders were able to walk away from that horror show, but I’ll be eternally grateful that they did. I really felt for Valentino when you saw him come back into the box after the red flag, he was clearly shaken – as I’m sure were many others.

In post-race interviews, both Vale and Maverick touched on how someone must’ve been looking out for them, with Valentino even saying that he’d have to ‘say a prayer tonight’. I’m not in any way religious or spiritual, but even I will admit that I found myself thinking that someone was watching over those guys…

Following a massive clean-up operation, the riders lined back up on the grid for a second go at the Austrian GP. Pol would start from pole as he had been leading at the time of the crash, with Dovi and Miller rounding out the front row. Although Miller led initially, Pol passed him with Dovi, Rins, Mir, Oliveira and Rossi all close behind. By lap 3, Miller had taken the lead and was starting to pull away from Pol, Dovi and the chasing pack.

On lap 9, Pol Espargaro and Miguel Oliveira came together and crashed out of the race – the camera angle makes it difficult for this race fan to apportion blame here, but it did look as though Pol had gone wide and Miguel went for the gap with the collision happening as Pol came back across the track. Whatever happened, Miguel was (understandably) not a happy chappy, and the usually mild mannered Portuguese rider kicked the fan back in the pit box before leaving the garage.

I do find it quite interesting that last week when Pol went wide, came back onto track and collided with Zarco and crashed, Pol was livid and Zarco was penalised with a long lap penalty. Pol even reportedly refused to accept Zarco’s apology this weekend (Zarco wasn’t admitting blame, but was sorry that Pol’s race had ended as it did). Yet this weekend, when Pol ran wide and came back onto the racing line taking down himself and Miguel – he has described it simply as a ‘racing incident’.

Oliveira was clearly not of the opinion that it was a ‘racing incident’, and in a post-race interview he said some pretty strong words about Pol. He started by saying “I don’t want to attack anyone, or Pol but…” and then launched into an attack on Pol’s intelligence – or lack thereof. Miguel said that he feels that Pol is too emotional and doesn’t always think about his actions on track, and given the last two weeks as examples, I’d have to agree with that assessment. (The being emotional and not always thinking clearly, not his lack of intelligence!)

The race continued without the two KTM riders, and Dovi and Rins had caught up with leader Miller. Dovi passed Miller for the lead and was followed by Rins, who was really on a charge – could he score his first win since Silverstone last year? That answer came rather swiftly as Rins crashed out of the race – thankfully a relatively gentle crash that didn’t cause any further damage to his injured shoulder.

The battle for the lead was now a three-way battle between Dovi, Miller and Mir, with last week’s winner Binder over two seconds back in 4th. As we reached the last lap, Dovi had pulled a lead of 1.2 seconds and Mir was all over the back of Miller causing the Aussie to ride defensive lines. Miller went wide – a mistake by his own admission – and Mir pounced, taking second place and his first MotoGP podium behind Dovizioso!

I was delighted for Mir, but more so for Dovi. 24 hours after announcing he will leave his ride at Ducati, he wins the race – providing Ducati with their 5th win in a row at the Red Bull Ring, and their 50th MotoGP win. I really think they will regret letting him go. The smile on his face as he rolled into parc ferme was evident even under his helmet, and the look he shot Paolo Ciabatti (Ducati’s sporting director) made me laugh!

Dovi said post-race that the result was nothing to do with having announced his departure, but down to the hard work of himself and his team who had focussed during the week on the problems from Brno and worked to resolve them.

This win moved Dovi up to 2nd in the championship as Maverick Viñales drops to 3rd and Fabio sees his lead cut to 11 points following a clutch issue for Maverick and brake issues for Fabio. They’ll be hoping to have those sorted out before they return to the Red Bull Ring this weekend. Valentino Rossi shook off the shock of the first half of the race to finish in 5th place as top Yamaha, while once again Nakagami was top Honda in 6th. After qualifying in 17th, Brad Binder finished in a brilliant 4th place having never before raced at the Red Bull Ring on a MotoGP machine.

Our MotoGP heroes will be back on track at the Red Bull Ring on Friday morning for FP1, but what will next weekend bring? Hopefully a little less drama! This championship has been blown wide open – there hasn’t been one particular rider who has taken advantage and carved out a massive lead – as I mentioned earlier, we have had 9 different podium finishers in just 4 races, with 3 of those being first time visitors to the premier class podium. Will we see the number of different podium finishers hit double figures next weekend? Can Dovi make it 2 in a row? Will Fabio keep his championship lead? Who knows? But I can’t wait to find out!

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