The VROOM Blog: Magnificent Miguel breaks records in Austria

 In MotoGP, News

I’ve said it before, and no doubt I’ll be saying it again, but this 2020 MotoGP season is bonkers. Absolutely bonkers. And as it turned out, the 900th premier class race would be no different.

Following on from last weekend, and the revelation that Dovi will depart Ducati at the end of the season a lot of talk in the run up to the Styrian GP was around Ducati. Who will take Dovi’s seat and partner Jack Miller next season? Who will be in the Pramac Ducati team? Will Johann Zarco snag himself a factory Ducati after some impressive riding on last year’s bike in a 3rd tier team?

Things did become a little clearer over the weekend – in the same way that it could be said that wiping your hand across your foggy windscreen makes it clearer… We did find out on Friday that Paolo Ciabatti definitely wanted to keep Pecco Bagnaia, and that they were working on a two year contract for the VR46 Academy rider. He did also say that they hadn’t decided which team he would ride in yet, and that they would like to sign another Italian.

During Saturday’s FP4 session, Ciabatti told pit-lane reporter (and racing legend) Simon Crafar that Ducati had “basically agreed terms” with Pecco for the next two years and that they would continue with Zarco but the teams have yet to be decided. He declined to confirm or deny whether Ducati were looking at current Moto2 riders Luca Marini and Enea Bastianini, but he did say that the Ducati line up for 2021 would be decided by Misano, so we shouldn’t have to wait too long to find out who goes where in the Ducati musical chairs game.

After an incident packed weekend last week, there were penalties to be handed out this weekend. Firstly, Danilo Petrucci was given written warning for his gestures in pit lane. I know that there is a specific rule about gestures, and so he had to be given the warning, but it seems unfair to me that the incident that preceded the gestures wasn’t also punished – Aleix Espargaro was touring, waiting for a tow and then jumped in between Vale and Petrucci, potentially ruining Petrucci’s lap and preventing him from progressing to Q2 and therefore a better grid position. And Aleix was touring again this weekend looking for a tow and almost had a coming together with Zarco – it’s not as though the incident with Petrucci was a one off…

The second penalty handed out this week was a big one – there had been speculation all week about whether or not Zarco (or Morbidelli) deserved a penalty following THAT crash, and on Friday morning it was announced that there was “evidence of irresponsible riding” from Zarco, and as such he was given a pit lane start penalty for his next race. Zarco didn’t ride at all on Friday having had surgery on Wednesday on a broken scaphoid discovered late after the crash, but he was passed fit and was back out on track on Saturday, qualifying in 3rd position despite having to start from pit lane.

Social media went into meltdown following the announcement of the penalty, with race fans and many journalists saying that the penalty was wrong and that Zarco didn’t deserve to be punished. Mat Oxley (former Isle of Man TT winner and long-time MotoGP journalist) said that he had spoken to many of the MotoGP grid about the penalty and everyone he spoke to said they agreed that the punishment was deserved, particularly given the speed at the time of the crash. I have to say I was pleased when I read that because I was in the ‘there needs to be a penalty for that’ camp and I felt pretty alone with the majority of journalists / pundits / race fans I follow all saying it was just a racing incident. I like Zarco, he seems like a really nice guy and I was against the long lap penalty he received in Brno but for me, that move on Morbidelli was rash. Anyway, it’s done now and Zarco will I’m sure go on to have the best season he has had in a while!

There was once again quite a few ‘big names’ facing the prospect of Q1 this week, with Rossi, Petrucci and Binder all having to duke it out for a spot in Q2. In the end, it was Zarco and Petrucci who progressed with Zarco ending up in 3rd position on the grid before his penalty would be taken into account. It was KTM’s Pol Espargaro who secured pole position – his and KTM’s first, with Nakagami claiming his first front row start in second. Joan Mir was 4th in Q2 but would start from the front row following Zarco’s penalty.

Fabio Quartararo saw his impressive run of front row starts come to an end as he qualified in 10th, which equals his worst MotoGP grid position.

Jack Miller had crashed in FP3, and didn’t set a time in FP4 despite four outlaps but did manage to qualify in 5th (4th on grid). Early Sunday morning, he made a trip to the local hospital for a scan on his shoulder, having been up through the night in “excruciating pain”.

It was announced after qualifying on Saturday that Marc Marquez (who had been reported to have been coming back for Misano) would now continue to focus on his recovery and not return until he his fully fit, with the HRC statement saying that could be up to 2-3 months. As if the championship wasn’t wide open enough, it is now clear that this season will either see Valentino Rossi take his 10th World Championship (8th in the premier class) – don’t rule him out – or a brand new MotoGP World Champion.

As the clouds loomed ominously above the grid at the start of the 900th premier class race, the lights went out and Mir grabbed the holeshot ahead of Pol and Miller. Zarco started from pit lane, but it felt as though he was held there for an eternity before eventually being released and having to work hard to get on the back of the pack.

It wasn’t long before Miller passed Pol, and was able to take the lead as Mir was forced to drop a position having apparently run wide and gained an advantage at turn 1. On lap 4, having just set the fastest lap of the race, Nakagami passed Mir for 2nd, but it didn’t last long with Mir pouncing straight back. By the next lap though, Mir had made it stick and was leading ahead of Miller and Nakagami, while Johann Zarco set the fastest lap. You have to wonder where he’d have been in this race without that penalty!

Championship leader Fabio Quartararo looked to be having breaking issues again – he was running wide all over the place. At the front though, Mir meant business, and fresh from his maiden podium last week, he was pulling a gap on Miller and Nakagami – he was 1.3 seconds ahead by lap 15, and Miller and Nakagami were 2 seconds clear of Pol and Rins. The following lap, Nakagami was able to make his move on Miller stick, and he headed off in pursuit of race leader Mir.

On lap 17, disaster struck for Maverick Viñales who had to jump off of his Yamaha at 140 MPH following break failure. His bike continued upright and smashed into the air fence, which promptly deflated and Maverick’s bike went up in flames. I know I can be a bit like a broken record with how incredible these guys are – but imagine having the presence of mind to bail from your motorbike at that speed, the consequences of not doing so could have been dire. Thankfully Maverick is braver than you and I, and he walked away unscathed as the red flags came out for the second week in a row at the Red Bull Ring.

The grid for the 12 lap restart was set with Mir, Nakagami and Miller lining up on the front row. It was Mir who once again grabbed the holeshot from Miller and Pol, although Jack quickly got through to the lead. On lap 5, Pol passed Mir – who was suffering having not had a front tyre left for the restart – and set his sights on Miller, with Miguel Oliveira making the move on Mir on the next lap. After a bit of back and forth, Pol was able to make a pass on Miller stick on lap 7.

On the final lap, Miller passed Pol, then Pol passed back – but all the while Miguel Oliveira was lurking, swarming all over the back of them. It all came down to the final corner – Pol was riding defensively having been given potentially misleading information about how close Jack was on his pit board, and Jack took advantage by braking late and diving under Pol into the last corner and pushing them both wide. Just wide enough for Miguel to sweep past the pair of them and take his first win in MotoGP, with Miller in 2nd and Pol 3rd over the line!

I’ve long been a fan of Miguel, and I honestly screamed when he passed Jack and Pol for the win! Yet more history made this season, as Miguel scores not only his first win, but also the first win the premier class for a Portuguese rider, and the first win for Herve Poncharal’s Tech3 squad.

Joan Mir came home in 4th – bitterly disappointed having been so strong and leading as the red flag came out, and last week’s winner Dovi finished in 5th ahead of Rins, Nakagami, Binder and Rossi, with Oliveira’s teammate Lecuona rounding out the top 10. Takaaki Nakagami was – once again – top Honda, and in fact the only Honda rider to score any points this weekend.

This season has seen records being broken all over the place – there have been the good ones, like Fabio becoming the most successful French rider and Brad and Miguel taking not only their first wins, but the first wins for their countries. Then there is Honda. Back in Brno, we saw both Repsol Hondas qualify last and second last in the hands of Alex Marquez and test rider Stefan Bradl, and with Crutchlow being the top Honda in 12th place; this meant that for the first time since the introduction of MotoGP in 2002, there was no Honda in the top 10 of qualifying. As if that wasn’t bad enough, this weekend saw the Japanese factory break another record – HRC have now been podium-less in 5 consecutive races for the first time in 38 years. Not a record they’ll be proud of breaking…

Talking of breaking records, as mentioned earlier Miguel Oliveira’s win marked the first premier class win for the Tech3 squad after almost 20 years in the paddock. After 18 seasons with Yamaha, Tech3 announced a switch to KTM machinery – a move that many predicted would be a disaster, but the team banded together and worked hard and just look at the results. A best result of 8th last season was matched in the first race of this season, followed up with a 6th place finish in Brno, and now a race win and 9th position in the championship, only 27 points behind Quartararo.

The championship this season is tighter than it’s been in a long time – in fact, with 4 different winners and 11 podium finishers the championship is wide open and impossible to call at this stage. Fabio’s current total of 70 points is the least number of championship points after 5 races for the championship leader since the late, great Nicky Hayden who had 83 points back in 2006.

We have plenty more action to get through though before we find out who will be the 2020 MotoGP champion, but for now we have a two week break before the action resumes in Misano on Friday 11th September.

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