The VROOM Blog, #CatalanGP – Masterful Miguel claims victory in Barcelona

 In MotoGP, News

After a tough weekend in Mugello the MotoGP paddock rolled into Catalunya. The riders would have had a few days to process the loss of Jason Dupasquier only to arrive at the Catalunya circuit on the 5th anniversary of Luis Salom’s death – I would imagine the atmosphere in the paddock on Thursday was pretty grim.

But this is motorcycle racing the riders continue to race in honour of their fallen colleagues and the show goes on, as dark as that may seem.

There had been plenty of 2022 contract news in the run up to the Catalan GP. Brad Binder has signed a contract with KTM that will see him remain with the factory team until 2024 – the only other rider on the grid with a contract of that length is Marc Marquez. The contract means that by the end of 2024 Binder will have been with KTM for 10 years, having worked his way through the KTM GP Academy structure. Binder began his time with KTM in the Red Bull Rookies before moving on to the Moto3 and Moto2 classes where he claimed 15 wins with the Red Bull KTM Ajo squad. Following his time in the Moto2 class Binder was promoted directly to the KTM factory team in MotoGP last season, taking KTM’s first victory in the premier and being crowned Rookie of the Year.

Talking of the Red Bull KTM Ajo squad – what an embarrassment of riches they have at the moment in Moto2 and Moto3! And what a week it has been for Ajo rider Remy Gardner. The Moto2 championship leader won his first race of the season last weekend in Mugello, was announced as a MotoGP rider for 2022 during the week and became the first Australian to win back-to-back races in the intermediate class since a certain Casey Stoner back in 2005 on Sunday.

Remy will step up to the premier class with Herve Poncharal’s Tech3 KTM team with Poncharal saying that he believes they will do great work together having worked together in the Moto2 class in 2017 and 2018. Remy’s move means that at least one of the current Tech3 riders will lose their seat, and to be honest I think we could see both Iker Lecuona and Danilo Petrucci moving on to pastures new for the 2022 season. Neither has covered themselves in glory so far this season, gaining best results of 5th (Danilo) and 9th (Iker) in the flag-to-flag race in Le Mans while they both crashed out of the race this weekend.

On top of their performances going against them, there is the aforementioned embarrassment of riches for KTM across Moto2 and Moto3. Gardner’s rookie team mate Raul Fernandez is having a fantastic start to the season – he is sitting second in the championship and has already recorded two wins. The team have taken three 1-2 results in a row – it would make perfect sense to me to move Raul into the Tech3 team alongside Remy next season. That would not only strengthen the MotoGP team for 2022, but it leaves spaces for KTM to move up Moto3 rookie Pedro Acosta should they want to. Pedro and his team mate Jaume Masia are sitting 1st and 3rd in the Moto3 championship, so they are certainly making solid cases to take over the Ajo Moto2 seats should Raul join Remy in MotoGP next season.

When asked about Remy’s team mate for next season, Poncharal said that it could be Petrucci, Lecuona or ‘X’. He did say that it could be Raul, but that he didn’t want to rush him up to MotoGP if he didn’t want to go yet – he does have a 2-year contract in Moto2.

There were also rumours this weekend that Yamaha were looking into the option of buying Fernandez out of his KTM contract, but apparently that would cost them big money if he even wants to leave KTM. Only time will tell…

While I’m on the topic of Yamaha and rumours, the rumour mill has gone into overdrive with regards to Valentino Rossi and retirement. There is a lot of talk that he has already made the decision that this season will be his last and that it is just a case of waiting for the announcement but obviously we won’t know for sure until we hear it from The Doctor himself. He always said that he would continue racing as long as he was enjoying himself, but I can’t see how he can be enjoying racing at the moment – there was a glimmer of hope this weekend when he qualified directly through to Q2, but his race ended in the gravel once again.

One of the riders that is apparently being suggested as a replacement for Rossi in the Petronas squad should he call it quits is Jake Dixon. Now, I like Jake Dixon and he is clearly talented – I enjoyed watching his progression through the ranks of the BSB paddock – but he is not in the kind of form that I would think warrants a MotoGP ride. I don’t know if he is still having issues with his wrist, if it’s the bike, the team, or none or all of the above, but unless his performances improve, I don’t know how you could justify moving him up to MotoGP at this time. Not when there are so many others who are looking to move up too.

Pramac Ducati announced this week that they will retain the services of both Johann Zarco and Jorge Martin for next season. Jorge Martin makes his return from injury this weekend having been passed fit on arrival at the circuit on Thursday.

One rider missing out this weekend was Suzuki’s Alex Rins who following 4 crashes on the bounce in races, crashed his bicycle while riding around the track on Thursday and broke his wrist. The official line is that he fell from his bike and was injured, but apparently, he was texting (or something else on his phone) and ran into a Dorna vehicle that was stationary on track. If I was his team, I would be furious! I know that riders often post videos and selfies of themselves when they’re out on their bicycles with no consequence and I’ve often thought about how dangerous that might be, but Rins has proved the point this weekend.

Rins had surgery on his wrist on Friday and was back in the paddock on Saturday, watching his team mate out on track from the pit box. He is hoping to be fit to return at the next round, but it doesn’t sound too optimistic.

Maverick Viñales was working with a new crew chief this weekend. Esteban Garcia has left the team ‘by mutual consent’ and will be replaced by Silvano Galbusera – probably best known for working with Valentino Rossi – for the rest of the season. It will be interesting to see whether this makes any difference to Maverick’s performance this season – he won the first race of the season but hasn’t been on the podium since.

There were also some interesting interviews given by Maverick over the course of the weekend. He gave an interview to Spanish broadcaster DAZN which will not be aired until Wednesday, but the headline that was taken from the interview claimed that Maverick didn’t want to ‘make a mistake’ again when signing a new contract. Whether this was taken out of context or not is unclear as the full interview has yet to be released, however Maverick posted a clarification on his Instagram account stating that he was referring to 2012 and also that he perhaps jumped up to MotoGP too quickly. He finished the statement by saying ‘I’m really confident in’ the Yamaha team and ‘I really believe in them.’ This was followed up by another interview with a different Spanish broadcaster which led with the headline that Maverick ‘would renew right now with Yamaha.’ If he says so…

For the first time this season we saw fans back at a circuit – and I have to say there was something quite special about hearing fans cheering as riders came into parc ferme or when they were on the podium.

Many of the sessions this weekend saw new lap records being set due to the fact that there had been a change made to the layout of turn 10. This change means that there have never been any lap records set on the current layout, and in FP1 it was Franky Morbidelli who was fastest for most of the session before Aleix Espargaro put a fast lap in right at the end of the session. Franky also topped the times for most of FP2 only to be bumped to second by Johann Zarco.

Saturday morning’s FP3 was everyone’s final chance to go straight through to Q2 and avoid Q1 and the while many of the usual suspects – Fabio, Franky, Pecco, Zarco – made it through, it was nice to see the two KTMs of Binder and Oliveira, the Suzuki of Mir and the Yamaha of a certain Valentino Rossi make it straight through. In fact, we saw all four Yamahas progress straight through to Q2, while all four Hondas would have to face Q1.

In FP4 Marc Marquez began the session by following Maverick Viñales – were we going to see more of Marc’s antics during qualifying later on? It was Fabio Quartararo who topped FP4 ahead of Viñales, Oliveira and Zarco.

At the beginning of Q1 I wondered if perhaps I was watching another Moto3 session with so many riders – including Repsol Honda duo Marc Marquez and Pol Espargaro – sitting on their bikes in pit lane waiting for a faster rider to head out first so that they could use them for a tow and a faster lap. It was Jack Miller that Marquez decided to follow this week, and the Aussie had a different approach to dealing with Marc than Viñales did last week. Jack simply looked across at Marc and rubbed his fingers together to signal money – as in how much was Marc willing to pay for a tow?! Marc made the gesture in return and the two headed out on track. As it turned out, Jack was able to stretch the gap on Marc along the straight before Marc ran wide at turn 1.

Having been in to change tyres for a final run, Jack once again found riders waiting for him to leave pit lane – Marc, Pol, Alex Marquez and Enea Bastianini all waited and followed Jack out of the pits. In the end though Jack was able to do his thing and set the fastest time ahead of Pol Espargaro who would join him in Q2.

Q2 saw both riders who had made it through from Q1 crash, but it didn’t stop Jack Miller from taking a front row start. Fabio Quartararo claimed his 5th consecutive pole position becoming the first person to do so since Marc Marquez in 2014. Miller and Zarco rounded out the front row, with Oliveira, Franky and Viñales taking their bikes to the second row for Sunday’s race.

Sunday morning warm up was topped by Taka Nakagami for the second weekend on the bounce – could he convert his pace into a decent race result?

There was drama before the riders had even made it round to the grid as Jorge Martin high-sided at turn 5 on his sighting lap. Thankfully he was unhurt and able to return to the pits for his second bike, but it did mean that he would have to start the race from the back of the grid.

As the lights went out Fabio was able to hold off the Ducatis to take the holeshot, but as they reached the first corner Jack Miller sliced his way through to the lead ahead of Fabio who then lost another place to Miguel Oliveira.

By the second lap Oliveira had made his way into the lead, and as Fabio made a move on Jack, he ran wide allowing not only Jack to come back through, but also finding Joan Mir and Aleix Espargaro pouncing on his mistake and dumping him back to 5th.

On lap 4 Aleix Espargaro was a man on the move, passing Mir for 3rd and then Miller for 2nd, although Miller passed him straight back as further back Bagnaia and Binder were battling back and forth for 9th. As Oliveira extended his lead out front to almost a second, Joan Mir passed Aleix Espargaro for 3rd before Quartararo moved Espargaro back to 5th.

As Aleix seemed to have hit reverse, brother Pol hit the gravel, ending his race at turn 5. Pol’s team mate Marquez was all over the back of Aleix’s Aprilia and wasted no time in passing him with Johann Zarco following him through, as further forward Quartararo passed Miller for 3rd.

Danilo Petrucci did his contract negotiations no good by crashing out of the race at turn 9 on only the 6th lap of the race. Fabio passed Mir for 2nd on lap 7 before Marc Marquez crashed out of the race for the 3rd race in a row a lap later.

There was drama for Taka Nakagami who was handed a long lap penalty for short-cutting turns 1 and 2. Taka was handed a second long lap penalty a few laps later for ‘failing to comply’ with the original penalty.

Over the next few laps, Fabio worked hard to close down Miguel Oliveira and was on the back of him by the end of lap 11. Aleix Espargaro crashed out at turn 10, and as Bagnaia passed Binder for 7th, Fabio took the lead from Oliveira at turn 5.

Miguel took the lead back from Fabio into turn 1 a lap later and Zarco made his way through on Miller for 4th before setting off with hopes of catching Joan Mir and using his Ducati power to whizz past the Suzuki on the straight, with Mir losing another place to a Ducati – this time Miller – later in the lap.

The next few laps saw crashes for Valentino Rossi and Iker Lecuona, with the latter having been running well up to that point.

As Miguel started to pull away a little again at the front, there appeared to be something fly off Fabio’s bike and it wasn’t until replays a lap later that we saw that it was actually Fabio Quartararo’s chest protector that had been launched by the Frenchman, and that his leathers were wide open at the front. I was almost certain that if he didn’t get those leathers zipped up quick smart there would be a black flag in his near future.

Meanwhile, Zarco passed Quartararo on the straight and as Fabio attempted to re-pass into turn 1, he lost the front but was able to save it and run across the short cut that had caught Nakagami out earlier on. While we waited with baited breath for the black flag that was sure to come for Fabio, Jack Miller passed him only for Fabio to take the position right back. As they entered the final lap, Fabio’s chest was still on display for all and sundry and he was handed a 3 second penalty for having taken the short cut earlier on.

Miguel Oliveira scorched across the line to take his first win of the season followed by Johann Zarco, Fabio Quartararo and Jack Miller, although with the penalty applied to Fabio, Jack would take 3rd place.

Jack said after the race that he didn’t risk trying to pass Fabio on the last lap, he just stayed close as he knew the penalty would be coming – he said nobody likes to take a podium like that, but rules are rules and he didn’t need to take the risk.

Johann Zarco in second takes his fourth podium of the season, and this is the first time he has taken 4 MotoGP podiums in a season – I reckon there will be plenty more to come too!

Winner Miguel Oliveira declared this race one of the best of his career, saying that it was hard to put into words just how happy he was with the result. And it’s a real shame that his win, which was fantastic, has been overshadowed by the carry-on surrounding Fabio Quartararo’s leathers.

Fabio was penalised for riding with his leathers open and without his chest protector, but not until more than 4 hours after the race had ended. He was punished with a further 3 second penalty (dropping him to 6th) for “riding without his leather suit correctly fastened and without the required chest protector.” The rule book does state that a rider must be wearing certain equipment correctly at all times when on track – helmet, leathers etc… – and so, Fabio had broken those rules.

However, for me, it’s not even about breaking the rules – this was a massive safety issue and Fabio should have been black flagged immediately. His leathers were wide open for the last 3 and a half laps of the race and thankfully nothing happened but what if he had come off? It doesn’t bear thinking about and we shouldn’t be debating whether or not he should have been penalised, they should have considered his safety before anything else.

I don’t care that a rule has been broken here, I care that he is safe. And as Jack Miller pointed out in the post-race press conference – in the heat of the battle they aren’t thinking about safety or themselves, all they are thinking about it getting the best result that they possibly can. That’s why I’m not angry with Fabio, I am angry with race direction who should have put rider safety above all else and black flagged him as soon as they realised what was happening. It’s no good handing him a time penalty after the fact – yes, that does mean that he has still been able to score points towards his championship and a black flag would have meant that he wouldn’t have scored any points, but it would have kept him safe and that surely is the most important thing.

After complaining a fair bit on social media on Sunday evening, Fabio did admit during the test on Monday that he should have been black flagged for his own safety and that he was very lucky not to have been hurt.

What also concerns me – aside from race direction’s apparent disregard for safety – is the question of what actually happened with Fabio’s suit. He was able to zip it back up on his in lap after the race, so the zip was clearly functional, and Alpinestars have released a statement saying that initial tests have shown the suit to be fully functional, but that it has been sent back to the factory for full tests.

That leaves the possibility of rider error – did Fabio fail to zip his suit up properly? Did his chest protector move underneath his suit and in trying to fix it did Fabio catch the zip? I’m sure the on-board footage would show what exactly happened, but whether we’ll ever be allowed to see that is anyone’s guess!

There was a test at the Catalunya circuit on Monday, which was topped by Maverick Viñales from Fabio Quartararo and Taka Nakagami. Marc Marquez completed the most laps – 87 – and said that he suffered, but that he needed a day like that where he could just ride.

There is no race this weekend, but next up is the German GP at the Sachsenring – where Marc Marquez is unbeaten in the MotoGP class – which kicks off with FP1 on Friday 18th of June.

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