The VROOM Blog, #AragonGP – Resurgent Rins keeps magnificent Marquez and Mir at bay

 In MotoGP, News

After the excitement of the first wet race of the season last time out at Le Mans, the MotoGP paddock packed up and headed south to Spain for the first of two rounds at the MotorLand Aragon circuit.

Big news quickly filtered out from the paddock on Thursday – Valentino Rossi would be missing this weekend, and most likely next weekend having tested positive for Covid-19. Valentino posted a statement on his social media accounts confirming the news and explaining his situation. Unlike Jorge Martin who missed two rounds due to a positive test earlier in the season, Rossi reported that he has been feeling unwell and that this is what prompted further testing having received a negative result on Tuesday. He returned a negative result to the ‘quick PCR test’ on Thursday but a second test was positive, meaning that Rossi is unable to enter the paddock. Valentino said that he was “sad and angry” as he feels he has done his best to respect the protocols put in place. Hopefully he will be feeling better and be back on track soon.

It has been officially announced that while Valentino will definitely miss the second Aragon round, Yamaha will not be fielding a replacement rider. Many had thought that Jorge Lorenzo would be called up, but other than the Portimão test (where he was 3 seconds off the pace) he hasn’t ridden a MotoGP bike since the Sepang test back in February.

Speaking to Italy’s Sky Sports team, Massimo Meregalli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team Manager) said that Lorenzo had lost his speed having spent so much time off a bike and so if Rossi is unable to return for the first round at Valencia they have time to search for “another solution.” Yamaha later released a statement saying that “taking into account the reduced number of staff at events and the enforced long stay of YMC’s engineers and non-EU team staff” they are choosing not to “impose the additional stress of having to adapt to a new rider” for the sake of one weekend. That seems fair enough – they are hoping Rossi will be back for Valencia so it seems pointless to spend time adapting to a rider for one weekend.

It was also confirmed that Moto3 rider Tony Arbolino would miss the action this weekend. While he continues to return negative Covid-19 tests, he was found to have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive on his flight home following the French GP, and now has to observe a quarantine period according to Italian Ministry of Health guidelines.

Following on from recent speculation regarding Tito Rabat’s contract with the Esponsorama team, Friday saw the team release a statement that the Spaniard would not be participating in any media debriefs until further notice. Read into that what you will…

Arriving in Aragon, the top four in the championship – Fabio Quartararo, Joan Mir, Andrea Dovizioso and Maverick Viñales – are separated by only 19 points, would we see this become even closer or could Fabio extend his lead further than the 10 points he currently holds over Joan Mir?

Friday morning saw the MotoGP session delayed by 30 minutes to allow the track to warm up – it was deemed too cold to allow the MotoGP machines out as the track temperature was so low. Following on from this delay, it was announced that all sessions on Saturday and Sunday would begin an hour later than scheduled – an extra hour in bed all round then!

HRC were apparently the only factory unhappy with the decision – as of Friday afternoon the combined times would see 3 Honda riders straight through to Q2, but no Ducatis. Presumably the warmer track temperature in later sessions on Saturday would give Ducati the chance to change that situation. As it turns out, Honda didn’t really need to worry about the Ducatis in qualifying! Honda saw Cal Crutchlow, Taka Nakagami and Alex Marquez all straight through to Q2 following the 3 free practice sessions, while all 6 Ducati riders on the grid would be participating in Q1.

Before we got to qualifying though, FP3 saw a monster crash for Championship leader Fabio Quartararo which saw him thrown into the air before slamming down onto his left hip. The Frenchman was carried off on a stretcher and taken to the circuit medical centre, where thankfully it was confirmed that nothing was broken but that he had suffered a bad contusion to his hip that may need to be monitored. He was passed fit to carry on with the weekend and was back out on track for FP4.

The Q1 session was an exciting one – who would make it through to Q2? We saw Danilo Petrucci tag on to the back of teammate Dovizioso a couple of times during the session, and with 50 seconds to go it looked like it may have paid off, with Petrucci sitting first and Dovi second that should see them both through to Q2. But this is MotoGP, and things are not that simple – 50 seconds is a long time and a quick glance at the timing screen shows some red sectors from riders still on track. In the closing seconds of the session, Jack Miller put in his fastest time to jump up to 2nd and dump Dovi back out of the slot to progress to Q2.

Dovi arrived back in his garage, looked up at the screen and realised that it was Petrucci and Miller who would enter Q2 and he was not impressed. He took off his glove and launched it across the pit box before storming out of the back of the garage. I’m fairly certain that I have never seen Dovi behave like that in all of his time in the paddock, and later on he explained that he was angry that Petrucci had used him to set a fast time because he feels that Petrucci should help him seeing as he is the only Ducati rider in the running for the championship this season.

Funnily enough, Petrucci had said earlier in the weekend that should the situation arrive where he could help Dovi in the race for the championship he would do so “from Danilo to Andrea, no one else” which I took to mean he was happy to help Dovi as a friend, not for Ducati. Following Dovizioso’s complaint about his actions in Q1, Petrucci said “Ducati dumped me so now I’m racing for myself.” He did also say that he was sorry for Dovi and that should team orders be given he will follow them.

When Suzi Perry asked team boss Davide Tardozzi what the situation was he simply said that “Danilo is doing his job…it is not Danilo’s fault.”

To be honest, I can see this from both sides – Dovi feels that as he is in a position to fight for the championship his teammate should help him out where possible. He also feels that he has done a lot to help Petrucci out during their time as Ducati teammates. But from Petrucci’s point of view – he has to perform as well as he can, and it was qualifying, it wasn’t a race situation and probably most importantly – there was no instruction from the team. I hate team orders with a passion – especially at this point of the season. I understand them, and I can see why sometimes they are used, but for me if you’re unable to win the championship on your own, do you really deserve it? I know that perhaps seems harsh, but that’s how I feel. Probably just as well I’m not a racer or a team manager!

Q2 saw a walking (hobbling) wounded Fabio Quartararo take his 10th MotoGP pole position – he was visibly in pain in parc ferme, but he still managed a smile. Joining Fabio on the front row would be Maverick Viñales and Cal Crutchlow – both of whom would no doubt be looking to take advantage of their excellent qualifying performances come race time. Row two would see Franky Morbidelli, Jack Miler and Joan Mir.

Following on from the Ducati drama in Q1, there was Espargaro drama in Q2. All we saw on screen was what appeared to be a collision between brothers Pol and Aleix, with Alex Marquez running around the outside of them, but the Espargaro brothers were quick to point the blame towards Marquez. Although Pol didn’t specifically name Alex – he said he would not talk about other riders because his words would be ‘distorted’ – Aleix outright blamed him for the collision with his brother. Alex Marquez says that he had slowed a little to look for clear track and moved to the outside when he saw the brothers coming up behind him, while Aleix said that he entered the corner and found Alex sitting in the middle of it. As I say, from the footage available it’s hard to say who was right or wrong – and race direction didn’t take any action – but I will say that I find it a bit rich that Aleix Espargaro is complaining about people riding slowly during sessions. What’s that saying about people in glass houses?

Anyway, on to race day…

As the riders lined up on the grid in Aragon for the first race since 1999 with no premier class champion on the grid, anticipation was high. Could Fabio convert pole to a win? Could Crutchlow launch himself onto the podium from his front row start? Would we see another new race winner?

The lights went out and it was Morbidelli who seized the holeshot and then immediately ran wide, handing the lead to Maverick Viñales. As Maverick lead Fabio, Franky, Rins and Miller through the first few corners of the race it appeared that Crutchlow had once again found reverse and was running in 11th from 3rd on the grid. Meanwhile Dovi had moved up to 8th from his 13th place start, although by lap 2 he had lost that place to Alex Marquez.

As Alex Rins passed Franky Morbidelli, further back Alex Marquez was all over the back of Nakagami and Pecco Bagnaia’s race ended with a crash. Alex Marquez clearly meant business and within a couple of laps he had caught and passed Jack Miller as Maverick Viñales continued to lead from Rins, Fabio, Franky and Mir. Marquez put the hammer down and pulled away from Miller as he worked to reel in his next target – Joan Mir and 5th position.

Fabio Quartararo began slipping back on lap 7 with both his teammate Morbidelli and Joan Mir passing him. Lap 9 was a big one for Marquez – he passed Quartararo for 5th at the beginning of the lap before slicing past Morbidelli for 4th at the final turn. Crutchlow had started working his way back through the pack and was having a mini battle with former teammate Dovizioso, as his current teammate – Nakagami – swarmed all over the back of the apparently struggling Quartararo.

A battle began to break out between Maverick Viñales and Joan Mir for 2nd place, with Mir eventually making the move stick and demoting Maverick to 3rd before Alex Marquez moved through to claim that 3rd position for himself. Could we possibly see Alex Marquez on the podium two weeks in a row? Surely not – then all of those people who said he only got a podium last week because it was wet would be wrong…

As the front 3 – Rins, Mir and Marquez – pulled a little gap on Maverick Viñales, Championship leader Quartararo had dropped out of the points and was running in 17th. As lap 18 drew to a close, Alex Marquez passed Joan Mir through what must be his favourite corner on the track – the final one – and immediately began closing in on leader Alex Rins.

Lap 21 saw a huge moment for Marquez, but somehow he stayed on board and in touch with Rins, before another moment on the next lap saw him drop back slightly. My highlight of these few laps was definitely what I’m calling ‘Dad Cam’ – the Dorna TV director showed a little mini screen with the focus on Julian Marquez – Alex’s dad. We’ve seen it before of course, with both Alex and Marc in various races, but boy does that man live those races with his sons. I dread to think how he will cope if Alex is running at the front together with Marc in the future!

It was Alex Rins who maintained his lead and won the race – his first of the season, making him the 8th different winner of the season. It also makes him the 8th different winner in the last 8 races! Alex Marquez crossed the line in 2nd to take his second podium in a row, with Joan Mir finishing 3rd to give Suzuki another double podium.

Maverick Viñales finished 4th, moving him up to 3rd in the championship, with Nakagami, Morbidelli, Dovi, Crutchlow, Miler and Zarco rounding out the top 10 in the race. Fabio Quartararo finished the race in 18th – citing issues with his front tyre – which means changes at the top of the championship.

Our new championship leader – despite having not won a race since the 2017 Malaysian Moto3 GP – is Joan Mir! 5 podiums in 7 races however have seen Joan move 6 points clear of Quartararo with 4 races remaining. Mir is the first Suzuki rider to lead the race for the championship since Kenny Roberts Jr in 2000. 20 years Suzuki have waited to see one of their riders lead the championship – Roberts went on to take the crown that year, can Mir go on to do the same? I’d argue yes, but this is 2020 so you just never know. He has been super consistent over the last few races while the 3 closest to him – Fabio, Maverick and Dovi – haven’t been. It is still tight however, with only 15 points covering the top 4 so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!

Alex Rins handed Suzuki their first win of the season, not bad for a guy who ended the first weekend of the season with his arm in a sling due to a pretty bad shoulder injury and has only been on the podium once so far this season.

I’m not one to say ‘I told you so’ so I won’t, but I would like to point out that last weekend I wrote that if Alex Marquez could improve his qualifying performance, then surely race improvements would continue to follow. This weekend was the first time this season that he made it through to Q2 – and he didn’t even have to go through Q1 to get there! I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do next weekend – so far this season his improvements over the back to back weekends at the same circuit have been impressive.

We’re back in Aragon this week for another back to back weekend, and anything is possible. You would think that two weekends in a row on the same track would produce similar results, but this is MotoGP in 2020 so that’s not likely to happen!

Finally, this weekend saw Honda reach the rather impressive milestone of 100 different riders taking a Honda to victory across all classes. It was Jaume Masia who took victory in the Moto3 race who became number 100 on a list of very distinguished riders such as Mike Hailwood, Freddie Spencer, Wayne Gardner, Mick Doohan, Daijiro Kato, Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner, Marc and Alex Marquez, Jack Miller and even our very own Cal Crutchlow and John McPhee.

My favourite thing about the list of 100 different Honda winners though is that 69th on the list is the late Nicky Hayden.

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