The VROOM Blog #CatalanGP – Fairy tales and shattered dreams in Barcelona
This past weekend saw the arrival of the MotoGP paddock in Spain – the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya to be precise – and it did not disappoint. This weekend was fairly quiet on the news front for the premier class – there were announcements of riders moving teams for next season in Moto 3 and Moto 2, and Jorge Martin finally confirmed on his return to the paddock that he would be moving up to MotoGP next season but didn’t conform a team or manufacturer. My money is still on him moving to Pramac Ducati, but I suppose they didn’t see the point in making an announcement this weekend, not when it was bound to be overshadowed by the news that did come out from the premier class – I’ll get to that…
Also returning this weekend were Cal Crutchlow and Stefan Bradl, having both missed the previous round through injury. While Bradl’s return was fairly smooth, Crutchlow’s was anything but. He had some plastic surgery to finally close the wound on his arm following previous arm-pump surgery and all was looking good as he returned to the paddock. Cal visited the covid testing booth only to trip and fall while exiting the booth, rupturing the ligaments in his left ankle. Ouch. He said that having had the blood drained from the ankle (ew!) and with plenty of ice, the ankle has recovered fairly well meaning that he would be ready to ride this weekend. Cal can be quite a divisive character – some people love him and some not so much – but whichever side of that you fall on, you have to admire his grit and determination.
Marc Marquez – remember him? – made an appearance in the paddock on Thursday. He visited his team and had a seat on his bike ahead of what would have been his home race. Marc says he feels better and that he is following what the doctors say – he is keen to return soon, but also wants to be in “a good condition” to do so. He revealed that he has a scan every Monday to check the progress of his arm, and that he has started light training again with 2 physio sessions then the gym and some cardio every day. When asked about his return to the track he stated that he feels “it is sooner rather than later”, with some suggesting he may even be back for Aragon next month others think he will wait until he is 100% fit.
One of the lighter notes this weekend was Jack Miller pinning the tear-off that finished his last race to his garage wall. The tear-off will be signed by both Jack and Fabio and has been donated to Two Wheels for Life – the official charity of MotoGP – to raise much needed funds with the absence of the usual charity auctions such as the day of champions which is always a highlight of the British GP. As I write this, the current highest bid sits at £1800 – not bad for a little piece of MotoGP history!
The big news this weekend was all about Valentino Rossi. Oh yes, on the weekend of his 350th premier class start it was FINALLY confirmed that The Doctor has in fact signed a contract which will see him spend the 2021 season as Franky Morbidelli’s teammate in the Petronas Yamaha squad. It obviously came as a shock to no-one, but it was still massive news that Vale has finally put pen to paper and will ride on for another season at least.
The contract has been a long time coming – 8 months in fact – but will see Vale continue on factory machinery for 2021. As he says himself, nothing much will change aside from the colour of the bike. There will be changes however, with Vale unable to take long standing team members with him to the Petronas team. Most notably Alex Briggs (who has been with Rossi for 20 years) and Brent Stephens will neither follow Vale to his new team nor be retained by Yamaha in the factory team. There was quite the reaction to this news online, and I’ll admit that at first I did think it was harsh, but realistically it just isn’t possible to keep everyone happy.
As Fabio Quartararo moves up to the factory team next season, he will take some of ‘his people’ with him and Valentino will take his crew chief and some others with him to Petronas, but there isn’t space for everyone and Petronas already have a solid team in place which they are understandably keen to keep.
Yamaha Managing Director Lin Jarvis spoke to Valentino back in January and explained that there was no place for him in the factory team for 2021, Valentino said that he put a little pressure on Lin to still provide him with factory machinery if he was to continue racing. Originally Vale wanted to wait until Mugello to make a decision about whether or not to continue but obviously the covid situation put a spanner in those works.
Jarvis explained that the reason the contract took so long was that there were 3 legal teams involved – Yamaha’s, Petronas SRT’s and Rossi’s – and that it took a while to get everything ironed out. He stated that “Valentino will remain a Yamaha motor factory rider” that they have been together “since 2004 with the exception of the two years when he was lost” (at Ducati!) and that “he is one of us.”
The deal is for one year ‘on paper’ but there is definitely the opportunity for it to be extended – there is the technicality of Yamaha having not yet re-signed with Dorna to remain in the championship (and therefore have a satellite team) past 2021, as well as Valentino being keen to review the situation a season at a time. If he feels he can be competitive then he will continue.
2021 will see Valentino teammates with his VR46 protégé Franky Morbidelli and Valentino believes they will be able to work together to help each other improve. Petronas SRT boss Razlan Razali said that the team were ‘overwhelmed’ to be signing a legend such as Valentino Rossi in only their 3rd season. He wants Vale to be competitive – and believes they can help him to be so.
Rossi was also asked about the possibility of a VR46 team in MotoGP for 2022 – he said it was a bit early to make any decisions and that while the organisation works really well in Moto 3 and Moto 2, MotoGP is a big step. He didn’t rule it out though…
So, now that we know for certain that The Doctor will race on we can get to the on track action! Q1 again saw the likes of Miller, Bagnaia, Nakagami and Championship leader Dovizioso – riders you would expect to make it straight through to Q2 – competing for the 2 slots available in Q2. It was Miller and Nakagami who came out on top and headed through to fight for the front 4 rows on the grid. It was Franky Morbidelli who triumphed to take his first MotoGP pole position (having already had his first win), with fellow Yamaha riders Fabio Quartararo and Valentino Rossi joining him on the front row. The last time Rossi started on the front row in Barcelona was 2009 and I’m sure we all remember how that turned out – a glorious battle with teammate Jorge Lorenzo that saw Rossi take the win. Could he take the win again this weekend? It certainly looked as though all the stars were aligning for him – a new contract in his pocket, and a front row start on a circuit where he is by far the most successful rider – and we dared to dream that we would see The Doctor claim his 200th podium and maybe even a race win.
Race day rolled around and we had to wait an hour longer than usual for the racing to start (thank you other motorsport event) but it was certainly worth the wait. It was Franky Morbidelli who grabbed the holeshot and lead Miller, Fabio and Vale into the first corner. By the second corner disaster had struck for the Championship leader who found himself wiped out by a crashing Johann Zarco. To be fair to Zarco, he was left with 2 pretty rubbish choices – brake to avoid a wayward Danilo Petrucci, or don’t break and crash into him. It was just unfortunate that in breaking hard he crashed and due to his poor qualifying, Dovi was there to be taken out. A racing incident in my opinion (and both the riders agreed post-race), but absolutely gutting for Dovi who loses his championship lead before even making it to turn 3.
Back at the front, Vale had passed Quartararo and was soon through on Miller for 2nd place behind his protégé Morbidelli. By the end of the lap Fabio had also passed Miller and we had a Yamaha 1-2-3. Things settled in for a few laps before Fabio started closing in on Rossi, eventually passing him on lap 6. Further back, Rins was beginning to make progress and passed Pol Espargaro for 6th.
Fabio was catching his teammate, and Rossi was keeping pace with the two youngsters with the 3 Yamahas pulling away from Jack Miller as Fabio made the move and passed Franky for the lead. There was a mini battle brewing for 7th place with Pol and Petrucci swapping places only for Pol to crash out a few laps later. Lap 14 saw a massive moment for Morbidelli which allowed Rossi through to 2nd as Mir began to close on Miller in the background.
One lap later and there was disaster – and shattered dreams – as Valentino Rossi crashed out of his 350th MotoGP race. So much for the stars aligning… As Fabio found himself leading by 3.5 seconds, Mir was through on Miller who had gone in too hot at turn 10, and soon found Mir’s Suzuki teammate all over the back of him. Oliveira was another victim of turn 2 as he ended his race in the gravel.
The closing laps of the race saw Alex Rins pass Jack Miller for 3rd, before both Suzuki riders got the better of Morbidelli, pushing him out of podium contention. Mir was closing on Fabio, but Fabio was able to keep his lead and take his 3rd win of the season, with Mir and Rins joining him on the podium. Morbidelli finished 4th, with Pramac Ducati duo Miller and Bagnaia took 5th and 6th ahead of Nakagami who following Dovi’s crash remains the only rider to have scored points in every race so far this season. Last week’s race winner Maverick Viñales finished just behind Petrucci in 9th after a tough day at the office, with Cal Crutchlow rounding out the top 10 on his return from injury.
Race winner Fabio Quartararo now leads the Championship by 8 points from Joan Mir, with Viñales and Dovizioso in 3rd and 4th – 18 and 24 points respectively behind Fabio. We saw Alex Rins take time on his cool down lap to stop and pay tribute to his late friend Luis Salom who tragically lost his life following a crash in Catalunya in 2016, and when Alex returned to parc ferme and was interviewed by Simon Crafar, he dedicated his podium to everyone impacted by the coronavirus, his family and Luis Salom. I’m fairly certain someone was chopping onions in my living room.
Mir and Rins together on the podium marked Suzuki’s first double podium since Misano 2007 when Chris Vermeulen and John Hopkins finished 2nd and 3rd behind Casey Stoner. Mir is also the first Suzuki rider to score 3 podiums in a row since Kenny Roberts Jr way back in 2000.
Fabio Quartararo claimed not only his 3rd win of the season, but also his 3rd podium in 3 years at the Catalunya circuit having beaten Miguel Oliveira by over 2 seconds to win the Moto 2 race back in 2018 before claiming his first MotoGP podium there last year. Fabio was emotional in parc ferme and declared this win “the best moment of my life” after 5 tough races which didn’t see him reach the podium at all following his two Jerez victories. He admitted that he has suffered a lot in the last month, but it certainly looks as though things are looking up for the Frenchman who following a weekend off will head to his home GP at Le Mans as the Championship leader.