The VROOM Blog #BritishGP – Fabio flies to fifth win of the season

 In MotoGP, News

For the first time since Alex Rins made a fantastic last corner move to grab victory from Marc Marquez in 2019, MotoGP was back on British soil this weekend. The event was sold out – likely due to a surge in ticket purchases following Valentino Rossi’s announcement that he will retire at the end of the season, meaning that this was the last chance to see The Doctor racing in MotoGP in the UK.

There was big news heading into the weekend that from the end of the 2021 season, the Petronas Sepang Racing Team will be no more. A press release from the team confirmed that they will “conclude all activities both racing and non-racing at the end of the 2021 World Championship season.” The statement went on to say that current team principal Razlan Razali and team director Johan Stigefelt will “continue in the MotoGP category from 2022 onwards with a new entity.” This new entity is to be announced at Misano on September 16th.

We also learned that the whole Maverick Viñales / Yamaha saga has come to an end. Yamaha released a statement which stated that “following recent events at the Styrian GP and after deep consideration by both parties, the mutual decision was reached to separate with immediate effect.”

I find the use of the word “mutual” quite interesting – I get the impression that Yamaha wanted rid of Maverick following his recent behaviour and they could quite easily have said that they had sacked him. I also have a great deal of respect for Yamaha’s decision to end things with immediate effect which would allow Maverick to ride for another team should the situation arise, especially given that the news had already broken that he would be an Aprilia rider next season. Given the situation, I’m sure Yamaha would have been within their rights to simply suspend him for the remainder of the season meaning that he would not be able to take any steps towards next season, but they have simply washed their hands of the situation and let him go. At the end of the day, I suppose that makes it easier for them – they can focus on helping Fabio on his charge towards the championship without constantly being asked about ‘the Viñales situation’, even this weekend you could see that Massimo Meregalli and Lin Jarvis were fed up of talking about it!

Even Fabio Quartararo wasn’t interested in talking about it – or indeed affected by it – telling journalists who asked at the pre-event press conference if he was sad to see Maverick leave the team that “it’s a thing I don’t really care [about]. I’m focussed on my job… I don’t feel sad. I’m just enjoying myself, it’s an individual sport and I have a new team mate this weekend.”

The separation of Yamaha and Viñales means of course that there is now a factory seat going spare for the rest of the season. Speculation had been rife in Austria that Cal Crutchlow would take the seat for Silverstone, and that Jake Dixon would get the Petronas seat for the weekend, and in the run up to their home GP Crutchlow was confirmed as Fabio Quartararo’s factory team mate for the weekend, and Jake Dixon was confirmed as being given the opportunity to make his premier class debut in a one-off ride as Valentino Rossi’s team mate.

Cue the British motorcycle media (not the mainstream media obviously – they don’t care about motorcycle racing) going absolutely bonkers that we have two Brits to cheer for in MotoGP at Silverstone. I whinge about this a lot, and I understand why the British based media get behind the British riders, but I don’t see why we as fans should be told that we should be supporting a rider just because they’re British.

Yes, I am a fan of both John McPhee and Sam Lowes, and I was a huge James Toseland fan back in the day, but the other British riders in the paddock over the last few years – honestly, I could take them or leave them. For me, being a fan of rider isn’t about their nationality – there is so much more to love about these riders than what their passport says. You just have to look at Valentino Rossi to understand that – every race is like a home race for him because he has such a massive fan base because he has personality, his celebrations were exuberant, he is down to earth despite massive success and he always puts on a show.

Anyway, I know I have been critical of the suggestion of Jake moving up to the premier class, and I do stand by the argument that there are other riders that I would put ahead of him, but he gave a decent show of himself considering he was thrown in at the deep end with absolutely no time on the bike beforehand, and it would be interesting to see how much he could improve with more time on the bike. Lin Jarvis did say this weekend that we may see Jake on the bike again this year should he perform well on Sunday.

Talking of Brits in the MotoGP paddock, this weekend there was a rumour that the American Racing Team are interested in bringing current BSB Kawasaki rider Rory Skinner to the Moto2 class for next season. You have to wonder what that might mean for John McPhee – with the team he was supposed to move up to Moto2 with for the past two seasons ceasing to exist at the end of 2021, will he be able to secure a ride in Moto2 for 2022? That could theoretically mean 4 British riders in the Moto2 class for next year – John, Rory, Sam and Jake – but I don’t know if I can see that happening. It’s all ifs, buts and maybes at the moment, but it does make you wonder where John stands having been in Moto3 for so long. His manager, Michael Laverty does seem to indicate that there are options in the Moto2 class for John, so hopefully we will see him make the long-awaited step-up next season. I do think it’s a shame that john wasn’t given the opportunity this weekend to replace Jake in Moto2 (that ride was given to Adam Norrodin who has ridden for the team previously, and currently rides in the CEV Moto2 championship) – I know that the team won’t be in Moto2 next season so perhaps that was a factor, but it still would have been nice for him to have had a chance.

I got a bit side-tracked there and didn’t finish off the Yamaha story! While talking to Suzi Perry on Sunday morning, Lin Jarvis revealed that Franky Morbidelli will ride alongside Fabio Quartararo in the factory team next season, and that he will be promoted early, stepping up to the team for the remainder of the 2021 season once he returns from knee surgery. This is expected to be at the first Misano round. Also returning to the paddock from the Misano round (pending signatures, but based on a verbal agreement) will be Andrea Dovizioso. Remember him? Dovi will return from his sabbatical to take Franky’s place in the Petronas team for the rest of this season, and will stay on for 2022.

I am so happy to see Franky moving up to the factory team – I really think he deserves it and that he will perform well once he is back to full strength! It will also be nice to see him reunited with Fabio – I think they are great as team mates.

That still leaves one seat up for grabs at Yamaha for 2022 – the seat alongside Dovi in whatever the new version of the Petronas team will be. There is still lots of speculation about who is going to get that seat, with some suggesting that this weekend was an audition of sorts for Dixon – if he performed well enough, he might give himself a better shout at the seat. Also in the frame still is Darryn Binder, who has been seen testing a Yamaha R1 superbike at Brno.

Lin Jarvis did confirm that both Dixon and Binder are on the list of riders to be considered for the ride, but he also said that there were others. He didn’t name any names, but he did rule out Toprak Razgatlioğlu – for 2022 at least!

Might we see Binder given an opportunity similar to Dixon – will we see him on board the Petronas MotoGP bike at the next round at Aragon? Possibly. Nothing has been confirmed, but with Dovi not taking the seat until Misano, and Crutchlow remaining on the factory bike for that round, it would make sense to give him a go on the bike if they are seriously considering him for MotoGP. When I say it would make sense, I mean in terms of letting him try before moving him, I still don’t think the move makes sense at all. I will be happy to be proved wrong on that front – he undoubtedly has talent; I’m just not convinced that he is MotoGP ready…

One last announcement before we get into the British GP action was from Moto2 rider Thomas Lüthi. 2005 125cc World Champion Lüthi announced that he will retire from racing at the end of the season following a 20-season career. I’ve long been a fan of Tom’s and it is a great shame to see his time as a racer come to an end, but he will be remaining in the MotoGP paddock, moving to work with the PrüstelGP team as their Sporting Director, as well as managing young Swiss talent Noah Dettwiler.

It was then announced on Sunday morning that Moto3 wrecking ball Gabriel Rodrigo will take Tom’s place in the SAG racing Moto2 team for 2022.

FP1 on Friday morning was the first chance Jake Dixon had to ride the Petronas Yamaha and he sensibly waited until everyone except good friend Fabio Quartararo had left the pit lane. After a very tentative start, Jake headed down pit lane with Fabio giving him a wave before leading him out onto track.

Just before the mid-point of the session, Alex Marquez crashed unhurt at turn 12, while with just 3 minutes left on the clock Jorge Martin also crashed. But it was Marc Marquez who crashed at 170mph at turn 2 who brought out the red flags. Having sent Marc barrelling across the grass and back onto the track, his Honda was then stranded on the track meaning that the session had to be stopped to recover the bike.

With just under 2 minutes left on the clock when the session restarted, some riders headed out to complete the session and get the chance to do a practice start. The session was topped by Marc, ahead of Aleix Espargaro, Fabio and Pol Espargaro, while Jake finished his first session 2.9 seconds behind Marc.

FP2 saw a crash for Fabio Quartararo which at first glance looked like it might have serious implications for the championship as we saw him high-sided off his Yamaha before clutching his ankle at the side of the track. Thankfully, he was able to hobble away and nothing was broken, but it did look a sore one for the Championship leader. Alex Marquez had another crash in this session, before Fabio made his way back to the team truck and then the garage.

Just 15 minutes after his crash, Fabio was back out on track, and he was on a belter of a lap which took him straight to the top of the times. The session ended with Fabio fastest from Miller and Martin.

Friday afternoon saw Marc Marquez cancel his media debriefs, with some journalists complaining that he had done so. I’d like to see them rock up and talk about their day after a 170mph crash! As it turned out, Marc had taken a trip to the hospital to get his eyes “washed out” having got grit in them during his crash which caused his eyes to water during FP2.

By the time FP3 arrived, we had been told that Lorenzo Savadori had been withdrawn from the rest of the weekend. Hardly surprising seeing as his times were way off on Friday due to the ankle injury he is still carrying from his crash at the Red Bull Ring.

FP3, as always, was an important session for those who wished to get straight through to Q2 (surely that’s everyone?!), and was a session that saw crashes for Jake Dixon, Alex Rins and Pol Espargaro. All were up and ok, although Pol’s crash was at the end of the session and brought out yellow flags meaning that some riders had their final laps of the session cancelled, including Valentino Rossi who had set a fastest sector at the beginning of the lap but rolled off once he saw the flags.

It was Jack Miller who was top of the times headed into Q2, and he would be joined by Fabio, Aleix, Jorge Martin, Pecco Bagnaia, Pol, Rossi, Mir, Binder and Marc Marquez. That left riders such as Zarco, Taka, Crutchlow, Rins and Alex Marquez to battle it out in Q1, with Yamaha’s Massimo Meregalli saying that the target was for Cal to progress through to Q2.

FP4 gave us an idea of where the riders were at in terms of race pace rather than just a fast lap, and it was Fabio Quartararo who came out on top, ahead of Pol, Pecco and Marc.

After the first runs in Q1, it was Enea Bastianini and Johann Zarco who held the coveted 1 -2 slots. With just a minute and a half to go in the session, and while on a fast lap, Enea Bastianini had a huge crash which put an end to his session. He was only able to watch from the side-lines as Zarco and Rins put in faster lap times to carry them through to Q2.

The Q2 session ended in unnecessary confusion – Jorge Martin looked to have secured pole position ahead of a resurgent Pol Espargaro, but his lap time was too fast to have been correct. It turned out that he had cut a part of the track to allow him to hook onto the back of Marc for a tow on his next lap, but the timing system that can detect if a millimetre of a wheel hits a patch of green didn’t realise that he had cut through the chicane…

I felt for Pol on his in-lap – he clearly thought his lap time would’ve been fast enough to give him pole only for the screens around the circuit to say otherwise and he looked so disappointed. Jorge meanwhile knew that his lap time wasn’t correct! Eventually the screens changed before the end of Pol’s in-lap and he was able to celebrate his first Honda pole position in front of the fans on his way to parc ferme.

Pol celebrated his pole like a race win, telling Simon Crafar that having struggled so much this season, it was like a win for him. Fabio said that he didn’t feel good with the bike over one lap, but that he was sure his race pace would be good, and that is the most important thing!

Sunday morning warm up (although judging by the number of woolly hats and double layer coats in the pitlane I’d wager it wasn’t all that warm) saw further crashes for Bastianini, Marc Marquez and Jake Dixon. It was Aleix Espargaro who led the warm up times from Taka and Pol.
As race time drew near, the riders lined up on the grid in front of 67,000 fans, and waited for the lights to change. It was Pol Espargaro who made the most of his pole position and led Fabio and Pecco into the first corner.

There was a little bit of first lap contact between rookie Jorge Martin and 8-time world champion Marc Marquez, before the latter paid poor Jorge back with a move far too harsh and ended both of their races. It was a rash move from Marc and although he did head round to the Pramac garage to apologise, there was no penalty awarded.

Back at the front, we now had an Espargaro 1-2 with Aleix having made his way up to second place behind younger brother Pol, while Valentino Rossi was up to 6th. On lap 3 Aleix briefly led the race having made a move on Pol, only for Pol to snatch the lead right back – the way this pair ride sometimes I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen them wipe each other out!

Fabio Quartararo was a man on the move, passing Pecco for 3rd and then Aleix for 2nd before taking off after Pol. By lap 5 Fabio had caught and passed Pol, and was starting to pull a bit of a gap at the front. Suzuki duo Mir and Rins moved ahead of Jack Miller while Aleix again passed Pol, this time making the move stick.

Pecco Bagnaia ran wide allowing the Suzuki pair to pass him, and Alex Marquez passed Valentino Rossi. As Fabio extended his lead to almost 3 seconds, Rins demoted Pol to 4th and set off after his big brother. A few laps later Alex Marquez moved ahead of Pecco who seemed to be losing places at an alarming rate.

While Fabio’s lead was up to 3.4 seconds, there was a group of 4 riders vying for the final two podium places – Alex Rins and Aleix Espargaro held them on lap 14, but Pol and Jack wanted them too. Jack pounced when Pol ran wide, putting himself up into 4th place.

In the closing stages of the race Valentino Rossi – who had been running as high as 6th early on – dropped down to 17th, while the Tech3 duo of Iker Lecuona and Danilo Petrucci were running in 7th and 10th respectively.

As we reached the final lap it looked as we might see a historic podium for Aleix and Aprilia – but Jack Miller was lurking in fourth and he clearly wasn’t above raining on their parade! Jack and Aleix had a back-and-forth battle, but Aleix was determined and he came out on top, finishing in 3rd place behind Fabio and Rins to score only his 2nd podium in 191 MotoGP races.

Fabio’s win was his 5th of the season, and with closest championship rivals Joan Mir and Pecco Bagnaia finishing in 9th and 14th Fabio has extended his lead in the championship to 65 points ahead of reigning champion Mir. A despondent Pecco even said after the race that he thinks “Fabio has already won the championship” because 70 points (between himself and Fabio) is too many to recover. He may be right – Fabio is in a strong position, but there are still six races to go and anything can happen.

Fabio himself was very happy after the race, saying in a post-race interview that the points advantage he has at the top means that he can “take more risk” in order to try and win more races because if he makes a mistake, it won’t be too much of a problem! That’s a confident Fabio, and I love it!

Alex Rins scored his first podium of the season and said that he needs to improve his qualifying so that the races aren’t such hard work.

Aleix Espargaro finishing in 3rd place gives Aprilia their first ever podium in the MotoGP era, and their first premier class podium since Jeremy McWilliams in 2000. Early in the weekend Aleix was quoted in Spanish media as having said that he thinks he is one of the top three riders in MotoGP, and many people mocked him for it. I’ll admit I laughed when I read it, and I don’t think for one moment that he is one of the top 3 riders, but on Sunday afternoon he backed his bold statement up – for that one race at least, he was one of the top 3 riders.

I’m not the biggest fan of Aleix, but I do have to say it was nice to see him rewarded for all of the hard work that he has put in at Aprilia, and for him to do it before the arrival of Viñales – because you know that if that first podium had come after his arrival, or if Viñales had scored the first podium then all of Aleix’s work would have been overlooked. Motorsport is fickle like that. It was also adorable to see him bale out of parc ferme and run at full pelt up pit lane to hug his young twins!

Speaking post-race, Aleix said that he was “super happy” but that he wants more – no doubt he believes he’ll be on the top step soon enough. He also pointed out that he was pleased to have taken the podium in a “normal race” – if it had been raining or a flag-to-flag race it would likely have taken the shine off as it would be as though he had only done so well because of this or that.

Jake Dixon finished the race in last place, 50 seconds behind the leader and was disappointed with his race performance, citing some unknown issue with the bike. He was happy overall with his weekend and said that he loved being back on a ‘big’ bike again.

Before we head to the next round, we have seen the first images and video of Viñales on board the Aprilia at a test in Misano. There haven’t been any lap times released so we don’t know how fast he is going, but it does seem as though we might see him in a race before the season is done. Whether that will be as a wild card, or if Aprilia will do as they do and punt poor Savadori to allow Viñales to ride as a replacement rider (he does have an ankle injury after all…) remains to be seen, but I don’t think we will have to wait until next season to see him racing in his new colours.

Next up is Aragon after a weekend off, and all eyes will be on Fabio Quartararo – can he further extend that championship lead or will Mir and Bagnaia have some answers for him? I can’t wait to find out!

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