The VROOM Blog #AustrianGP – Binder plays a blinder

 In MotoGP, News

Well, that was a weekend and a half, wasn’t it? I love a good film or theatre production, but I think even the greats behind those would have struggled to script this weekend of MotoGP. There was drama both on and off the track all weekend long, and it began with a bombshell press-release from Yamaha regarding Maverick Viñales.

On Thursday morning Yamaha released a statement saying that Maverick Viñales’ entry for the Austrian GP had been withdrawn by the team following his suspension by Yamaha due to “the unexplained irregular operation of the motorcycle by the rider” during last weekend’s Styrian GP. The statement went on to say that there had been an “in-depth analysis of telemetry and data” and that Yamaha had concluded that Maverick’s actions “could have potentially caused significant damage to the engine of his YZR-M1 bike which could have cause serious risks to the rider himself and possibly posed a danger to all other riders in the MotoGP race.”

The statement ended with the news that Maverick would not be replaced for this weekend and that there would be “a more detailed analysis of the situation and further discussions between Yamaha and the rider” before any decisions would be made regarding future races.

As you can imagine, the news was massive and it wasn’t long before there were reports coming in that some photographers who were trackside last weekend had heard Viñales repeatedly hitting the rev limiter on the last few laps of the race. This was then backed up by the on-board footage which showed several instances of over-revving the bike, even doing so as he returned to pit lane. Essentially, it looked as though he was trying to destroy the engine – something that could have been catastrophic in the damage it could have caused had he succeeded. Not only would he have destroyed the engine – leaving him short for the rest of the season – he could have caused himself and those behind him on track (the race leaders in this case as he was running last) to crash had the machine spewed oil onto the track.

The mind absolutely boggles at what could have caused him to think that this was acceptable behaviour, regardless of what might be going on with the team. There were also unconfirmed reports from multiple sources over the weekend that there was substantial damage done to Maverick’s team-issued paddock scooter by a member of his entourage following the race in Styria, and that he had been ‘bragging’ to other riders about his actions aboard his Yamaha.

This story rumbled on for the whole weekend, with varied suggestions and opinions about what happens next for Maverick and Yamaha. Many suggested that his time with Yamaha is done – that he will not be allowed back on a bike with them for the rest of the season. Others said that he might be allowed back, but with stipulations about behaviour and conduct added into his contract. There was even speculation that he would ride an Aprilia for the rest of the season.

While his side of the Yamaha garage remained empty with everything packed away, Maverick was trackside on Friday morning for FP1 – something that I think surprised many people, surely if you’re suspended from work, you’re meant to stay away? Anyway, he took to his social media to post a photo of himself trackside with a caption stating that he would “explain the details of what happened as soon as” he can. This was followed on Saturday by the news that the Spaniard would be giving an interview to Italian media.

Speaking to Sky Italia, Viñales said that he wasn’t sure if the situation with Yamaha can be resolved, adding that he wants to “stay calm, reflect on everything and try to come back even stronger.” He then gave a short interview to Dorna, where he apologised to Yamaha, saying that the situation was a sad one for him because he has a “warrior soul” and he wants to be on track fighting, not watching from the side lines. He said that his actions came from a place of frustration and that he respects the decision that Yamaha took in suspending him.

Speaking to BT Sport before Viñales had spoken to the press, Yamaha team boss Massimo Meregalli was asked for his side of what had happened. He said that the team had ‘heard rumours’ and that they started checking the data from Maverick’s bike. He said that they are continuing to look into it and that there may be further action. When asked what Viñales had had to say about the situation Meregalli said that he wasn’t able to say too much about it, but that Viñales hadn’t said anything. It was a difficult interview for Meregalli who was obviously bound by whatever legal bits and pieces are going on behind the scenes but he did contrast this situation with the one with Jorge Lorenzo back in 2016 – they knew he would be leaving the team at the end of the season but they still provided him with the best parts and worked together to target the triple crown.

Now we wait to see what Yamaha decides to do – do they keep him suspended for the remainder of the season, allow him back on the bike, or sack him? Personally, I can’t see them sacking him – that cuts their ties and would allow him to ride for another manufacturer – but I also don’t know that I would trust him to ride a Yamaha again.

From a human perspective, I do have a degree of sympathy for Maverick, but from a professional point of view, you simply cannot behave like that like regardless of whatever else may be going on in your life. He not only endangered himself, but also the other riders that were out on track with him and that is not on. I wouldn’t like to speculate about what is going on with Maverick, but I do hope that he is able to take some time to re-evaluate things, and if it’s needed, get some help so that he can put this all behind him and move forward.

While it remains to be seen what his immediate future will be, it was confirmed on Monday morning (following the Austrian GP) that he has indeed signed to race with Aprilia in 2022, with an option to continue into 2023. There has obviously been speculation that this deal was in the works since Assen, but some wondered whether the situation this weekend would have caused Aprilia to think twice. Would Aprilia – who stood by Iannone through the whole doping thing – really be bothered by this? Clearly not. I do wonder about the Aprilia move though – Aleix Espargaro is their golden boy and has seen many a team mate come and go over recent years, and you have to wonder what the dynamic will be like in that garage next season. Maverick and Aleix do appear to be friends, and were team mates back in 2015-2016 at Suzuki so I do hope it works out for them.

Should Maverick’s suspension continue for Silverstone, there is speculation that Cal Crutchlow – already scheduled to ride Franky Morbidelli’s bike that weekend – could find himself in Factory colours for his home GP, while many are suggesting that Jake Dixon could be given the opportunity to ride Franky’s bike for that round.

I have been critical of the suggestion that Jake should move up to MotoGP next season – I just feel that there are others who are putting in performances that are more worthy of the step up at the moment – but this would be an ideal opportunity for the team to see how Jake does perform on a MotoGP bike. Jake does have ‘big bike’ experience having raced in British Superbikes before his move to Moto2, but as he said himself this weekend – there is a massive difference between a superbike and a MotoGP bike.

Talking of Jake’s team – there has been big news about the Petronas team this weekend. It has been confirmed that Petronas will not be renewing their support for the Sepang Racing Team – their deal expires at the end of the season and the Sepang International Circuit released a statement on Saturday morning confirming that they and Petronas had come to a mutual decision not to renew the deal.

The team is expected to make an announcement in the run up to the British GP at the end of the month, but it doesn’t look like good news for their Moto2 and Moto3 teams, with both expected to be scrapped to allow the team to focus their resources on the MotoGP team. That’s a loss of 4 seats within the paddock and leaves John McPhee, Darryn Binder, Jake Dixon and Xavi Vierge on the look out for new jobs. The team will still have two seats in MotoGP and with Valentino Rossi retiring and Franky Morbidelli expected to take Viñales seat in the Factory Yamaha team, they will be in need of two new riders for 2022.

The list of speculated riders is pretty long, but the main contenders at the moment appear to include Iker Lecuona -who lost his Tech3 seat last weekend – and either Jake Dixon or Darryn Binder. Now if I think there are riders more deserving than Jake, you bet I have objections to Binder getting the seat! ‘Divebomb’, as Darryn is known, would skip Moto2 and go straight up to MotoGP if current paddock rumour is to be believed and would be only the second rider to do so since Jack Miller back in 2015.

While I don’t doubt that Darryn is a talented rider, and seems like a nice guy, he strikes me as a rider that is often reckless – the nickname ‘divebomb’ is something that people think is funny but honestly, sometimes I feel that he is dangerous. Just this weekend he punted Ayumu Sasaki off the track during the race, and he was penalised back in Germany for a ridiculous move in Q1. I think Darryn is a rider that would benefit from a season or two in Moto2 before he steps up to MotoGP, but I’m not the one making the decisions!

One other name that to be honest I hadn’t really considered for the ride is Andrea Dovizioso. His manager, Simone Battistella, was in the paddock over the weekend and spoke to Charlie Hiscott about Dovi’s plans for the future. He said that there was nothing really happening in terms of news at the moment, but then he said that there might be as there are a lot of changes in the paddock ‘especially with Yamaha.’ He went on to say that things could be clearer by Silverstone…

Lorenzo Savadori, who was back in the paddock this weekend following surgery on his ankle after his fiery crash last week, would miss this weekend’s action but is hoping to return in time for Silverstone.

It was announced this weekend that there will be two new dashboard messages introduced. ‘Equipment’ will be displayed on your dash should you have an issue with your helmet / leathers / gloves – presumably thanks to Quartararo’s Catalan wardrobe malfunction, while should your behaviour on track be an issue you’ll find ‘warning’ on your dash.

FP1 on Friday saw Johann Zarco set a scorcher of a lap (an all-time lap record in fact) to top the session ahead of Mir and Rins. A quick hail shower at the end of Moto3 FP2 meant that the track was wet for MotoGP FP2. First out of the blocks was Iker Lecuona, followed by Brad Binder and Valentino Rossi. It was a relatively slow start to the session, although most riders had ventured out onto track within the first 10 minutes. It was Iker Lecuona who topped the times for the first part of the session, only for Jack Miller to go faster.

Iker regained the top spot later into the session before consolidating his place at the top of the times by switching to slick tyres as a dry line began to form towards the end of the session. Who does he think he is? Jack Miller? Jack Miller and Alex Marquez both also popped in a set of slicks, but it was Iker Lecuona who finished the session 3.7 seconds ahead Zarco and Aleix Espargaro! Iker’s lap was actually so quick that only the top 13 riders in the session were included in the 107% bracket that they use to measure whether you’re fast enough to race! Obviously as the conditions improved this wouldn’t actually matter for the race, but it’s pretty cool for Iker’s scrapbook!

FP3 saw many riders improving on their times from earlier in the weekend in their bid for passage straight through to Q2. It was Johann Zarco who topped the combined times, ahead of Bagnaia, Quartararo, Marc Marquez, Aleix Espargaro, Miller, Mir, Nakagami, Binder and Pol Espargaro, leaving some unexpected names having to face Q1. Last week’s pole man and race winner, Jorge Martin would be facing Q1 along with Alex Rins and Miguel Oliveira.

After the first runs in Q1 it was Jorge Martin and Alex Rins who were at the top of the times, but a lap right at the end of the session from Miguel Oliveira saw Alex Rins bumped down to third in the session meaning that Jorge Martin and Miguel Oliveira – both of whom secured their first MotoGP wins at this circuit – who would progress through to Q2.

Fabio Quartararo set a new fastest ever lap as he led the session before the final runs, but with a stunner of a last lap, it was rookie Jorge Martin who secured his second pole position in a row – his third of the season – ahead of Fabio Quartararo and Pecco Bagnaia. With Zarco and Miller lining up on the second row of the grid (with Marc Marquez between them), we would see 4 Ducatis in the top 6 grid spots for the third time this year.

Sunday morning’s warm up session saw several riders do an out-lap on wet tyres to take the ‘shine’ off them should they be required later on in the day, which also gave the opportunity for practice bike swaps should the weather take a turn during the race.

Iker Lecuona once again topped the times for the early stages of the session, but it was Fabio who ended the session on top, from Zarco (in spite of a crash towards the end at turn 9) and Pecco.

As race time drew near, so did the rain clouds. They were looming ominously above the circuit, and with 10 minutes to go until lights out there was a little fall of rain, but not enough to make the track wet. The riders took off on their warm up lap as spots of rain continued to fall, but the race was still declared a dry one – how long would that last? Were we going to see a flag-to-flag race, or would the rain hold off long enough for the race to be completed?

The lights went out and Jorge Martin absolutely scorched his Ducati off the line and led Pecco Bagnaia and Fabio Quartararo into turn 1. They hadn’t even completed a lap when the white flags were displayed, meaning that should they feel it was wet enough, they could come in and change to their ‘wet’ bikes. As Pecco made his way to the front of the pack, there was a massive moment between Martin and Quartararo that could so easily have seen them both crash. Thankfully both stayed on board! Marc Marquez passed Fabio for 3rd towards the end of the lap, and made his way through on Martin for 2nd on the following lap.

Meanwhile Iker Lecuona was running in 8th – from 16th on the grid! By lap 4 Lecuona had lost 8th place to Brad Binder, as Jorge Martin passed both Zarco and Marquez to get back up to 2nd place behind Bagnaia. Fabio Quartararo passed compatriot Zarco for 4th, while out front Jorge Martin was swarming all over the back of Bagnaia’s Ducati, only for Marc Marquez to come sailing past him into turn 1 on lap 6.

As the rain flags came out on lap 8, championship leader Quartararo took the lead of the race ahead of Pecco, Marc Marquez, Martin, Zarco, Miller and Mir. Enea Bastianini was forced to pull out of the race and into the pits as the faring flew off the side of his Ducati – no doubt there will have been other teams eagerly looking at the footage of what lies beneath the covers of a Ducati!

Fabio’s lead didn’t last long as Pecco regained the lead on the next lap, and then things began to settle down a little, and if I’m honest I found the next few laps a little dull. There were track limits warnings for Binder and Martin, and Fabio began to close the little gap that Pecco had managed to pull at the front as Zarco crashed out unhurt at turn 9.

By lap 20 things had started to heat up again, with Marquez doing his best to find a way through on Fabio, only for Fabio to run wide and allow him through. Within a couple of laps, Marc was challenging Pecco for the lead – he passed him only for Pecco to pass him right back. There were spots of rain falling again, and on lap 23 Miguel Oliveira crashed out of the race at turn 1.

And then all hell broke loose – honestly, I had to go back and re-watch the last few laps as my notes from watching live were a mess!

At the end of lap 23 Jack Miller and Alex Rins darted into the pits for a bike change, with Rins leading Miller back out on track having executed a swifter change than the Australian. Things were looking sketchy out on track for the race leaders who were still on slicks – their lap times were dropping and they were bunching back up into a group!

Marc made his way to the front and was leading the race, and Pecco lost another two places to Fabio and Jorge, with Binder and Mir joining in the fun at the back of this lead group. Towards the end of lap 25 Fabio and Mir raised their hands to signal to their crews that they would be coming in to change their bikes, and at the end of the lap all but one of the leading six pulled into pit lane. The solitary bike that carried on? The KTM of Brad Binder!

As Binder headed into another lap, Aleix Espargaro found himself in 2nd place, with Taka Nakagami in 3rd. While the group who had pitted made their way back out and around the first corner, Valentino Rossi made his way up into 3rd place and race fans everywhere dared to dream that the Doctor might yet get that 200th podium…

With only two laps to go Binder was skating his way around out front ahead of Espargaro and Rossi, while Marc lost the front going into turn 1 but was able to remount and re-join the race. Hopes of a Valentino Rossi podium were dashed when Iker Lecuona passed him with a lap and a half to go, before Vale’s own brother had the audacity to make his way past him too!

Heading into the last lap of the race, Binder held a decent lead over Aleix and Iker, while the first of the riders now on wet tyres was Jorge Martin – 30 seconds back in 10th. I lost count of the number of times I thought Brad was going to crash on that last lap – his bike was all over the place! Iker Lecuona meanwhile was all over the back of Aleix Espargaro, and he passed him, as did Luca Marini. Aleix found himself going backwards, losing places to Vale and to Pecco who was slicing through the pack of riders who remained on slicks at an alarming rate.

Out front, Binder made his way around the last corner but found himself out on the green and we all know that exceeding track limits on the final lap is likely to get you penalised, but as he crossed the line to take the win almost 13 seconds ahead of Pecco who had had a stunner of a final lap, I wasn’t too worried about him losing the win!

Crossing the line behind Pecco was Jorge Martin ahead of Joan Mir, Luca Marini, Iker Lecuona and Fabio Quartararo. Valentino Rossi finished in 8th, with Alex Marquez and Aleix Espargaro rounding out the top 10.

It was lovely to see Valentino Rossi stop on his cool down lap to celebrate with and congratulate both Iker Lecuona and Luca Marini who scored their best MotoGP finishes to date with 6th and 5th respectively.

Somehow Brad Binder managed to balance his bike back around to parc ferme before he leaped over the barriers to celebrate with his team, having won their home race for them. Binder was indeed given a 3 second penalty for touching the green on his final lap, but strangely it was taken away later on. It wouldn’t have mattered either way – his win was large enough that he would still have won, even with the penalty.

While many have hailed Binder as ‘brave’ for staying out on track on slicks – which he was – it was also a calculated move from the South African, as he explained to Simon Crafar after the race. He said that the last few laps were “really scary”, but that he had tried to work out in his head how much time he would lose by staying out on slicks against how much time he would lose by pitting for wets. He explained that by the end it was like riding on ice and that he had no brakes for much of the last lap as they had cooled down too much!

Pecco said that he was happy with his result, and described Brad’s performance as incredible. He also explained that when he crossed the line, he thought he had finished 4th and it wasn’t until he saw the big screen that he realised he had finished on 2nd.

Jorge Martin backed up last weekend’s win with a 3rd place in his first flag-to-flag race, and was very animated in parc ferme – even dropping an ‘f-bomb’ while chatting to Simon Crafar, before telling Natalie Quirk that this had been the “most difficult race” of his career.

We have a weekend off now before the British GP at Silverstone, and Fabio Quartararo leaves the double header at the Red Bull Ring having extended his lead at the top of Championship from 37 points to 47 over Bagnaia and Mir who are equal on points.

There may have been a lot of news and headlines over the course of the Austrian GP, but the weekend undoubtedly belongs to Brad Binder!

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