Barcelona Moto2 & Moto3 Review: Neil Morrison On Moto3 Fear And Delight, Gardner vs Fernandez, And A Moto2 Revival

Time for a Moto3 rethink?

It was hard to know what to make of Sunday’s Moto3 offering at Montmeló. On the one hand, there was drama and excitement from start to end, a contest across 41 minutes that had you on the very edge of your seat the entire time. But on the other, this strayed too far toward downright dangerous with so many near misses it was almost impossible to count.

Of all the weekends for a race like this to take place, the one that followed the tragic events of Mugello wasn’t it. As if a 15-rider fight for the win wasn’t wild enough, leader Jeremy Alcoba sat up through turn 13 on the penultimate lap (as did Pedro Acosta, then in second), refusing to lead onto the straight. Then it all kicked off, 13 bikes bunching up, crossing the line 0.7s apart. The braking antics into turn one were genuinely scary.

It didn’t end there. First Ayumu Sasaki high-sided out of turn seven, taking the Leopard Hondas of Dennis Foggia and Xavi Artigas down. Miraculously the Japanese rider escaped with minor injuries and will make a full recovery. Then Izan Guevara crashed at turn ten, narrowly avoiding a host of other names. And Sergio Garcia just held off Alcoba to the line to win his second race in three by 0.015s.

Add that to the other list of scares, which included John McPhee high-siding out of the lead in front of the pack at turn two, with Tatsuki Suzuki and Andrea Migno crashing to take avoiding action, plus Gabriel Rodrigo so nearly taking out Pedro Acotsa’s front tyre when weaving on the start finish straight, and this was uncomfortable viewing. Thrilling, yes. But uncomfortable. Especially with the events of the previous round still fresh in our minds.

After the race Alcoba described the unenviable task of a Moto3 rider, attempting to plan their position on track. “When you hit sixth gear at the end of the straight and you see six riders with you, it was a bit scary because someone passes you and brakes hard, his bike is moving, you have to think what is my position, what do I do, and how do I finish the corner. It’s a moment, one second you have to think of all of this.” And Garcia summed it up. “We have to push and we don’t have to think in that moment, to think if it is scary or not.”

The scares weren’t limited to the public. The FIM Stewards were so dismayed by the morning’s events, they summoned every single Moto3 rider and team boss to a meeting soon after the race concluded. There, riders were instructed actions such as Alcoba’s on the penultimate lap would lead to immediate disqualification in future races. One Moto3 name I talked to wasn’t impressed. He spoke of the danger Alcoba had caused, bunching the pack together, meaning they were eight abreast braking for turn one. He was forthright in his view that the Spaniard was fortunate in the extreme to remain on the podium here.

Alcoba didn’t shy away from the truth when pressed on his tactics. “This is Moto3. You need to think about the last straight,” he said. “If you are in fourth position, maybe you can finish first. But if you start the last lap first, you maybe come to the first corner in tenth, and didn’t have the possibility for victory.” He comes across well, and yes, his tactics were effective. But they were potentially lethal. And this isn’t the first time in the past season and a half that Alcoba’s actions in a race have courted controversy.

The race seems to have brought many current frustrations with the class to the fore. The tactics of certain riders for one. The sitting up, and allowing riders by, was one thing. And then the weaving on the start-finish straight was another. Both must be stamped out, and fast.

Also the fact the class rarely rewards the riders that have worked on pace best through a weekend has to be factored in. McPhee was an obvious example. There was a clear mistake on his part which caused his crash. But the only way to break the pack was establish a gap big enough through the curves that precede the straight. There was clear frustration in Mark Woodage’s, crew chief of McPhee, recent exchange with Rodrigo on Twitter. “Your pace was strongest all weekend and deserved minimum (a) podium,” it read. “It’s (a) shame Moto3 has gotten like Mario Kart with slow riders able to run at the front.”

He had a point. Rodrigo was able to run low 1'49s for fun through free practice. But after lap 8 on Sunday, he managed to do that just once with the constant dicing at the front slowing the group considerably. It meant a rider that qualified 25th (Acosta) was leading by lap one. And a rider than qualified 19th (Garcia) won the race. Racing of this kind almost renders the work done on Friday and Saturday meaningless.

The technical parity that has brought the grid’s 12 Hondas and 16 KTM – GASGAS – Husqvarnas to an almost identical level has brought about unheralded variety (17 different riders have won in the class since the start of 2019), and racing of the most dramatic kind. There have been suggestions an increase in capacity could bring about change.

But a recent announcement from the Grand Prix Commission this week confirmed technical development in the class will be frozen until the end of 2023 to ensure cost control. The change, it seems, will have to come from the riders. And it has to come. As there are only so many bullets that can be dodged.

Remy Strong

Fortnights don’t come much better. Buoyed by his first win of the season the week before, and confirmation he’ll be stepping up to MotoGP in 2022, Remy Gardner was flawless once again in Barcelona. The 23-year showed ice cool racecraft, weighing up team-mate Raul Fernandez from laps twelve to 19 before breaking clear in the final three laps. “In the beginning tried to break away but I didn’t want to burn up the rear. I tried to be smooth. But I saw there was 0.5s to second the whole time. Raul came by, made a push and I thought, ‘Ok, I’ll follow you.’ I knew I had more in me and had half the race to study him. I planned to pass him with two laps to go but saw an opportunity to go by at turn one and thought, ‘Let’s just do it!’ Then I got the hammer down. I couldn’t be happier.”

Asked whether confirmation of the MotoGP deal had given him the extra focus, Gardner insisted it made no difference. “It has been signed back a while (ago). We’ve got to focus on the Moto2 World Championship; not think about next year. There’s still no mental relief. There are still many races to go and a championship to fight for.” He’ll take some stopping from here.

Experience crucial for Fernandez

Fernandez had no answer for his team-mate in the closing laps and was adamant the better man had won. In the post-race press conference, he never once mentioned Gardner by name, instead talking about ‘he’ and ‘him’. There is no acrimony between the pair, but after a sensational run of five podium finishes in his first seven races in Moto2, he knows he’s in the midst of a title fight. But, as he was keen to point out to everyone soon after, he has under half a season of experience in this class, compared to Remy’s five. “At the moment we have a very similar speed but he has more experience. This is my ‘mistake’,” said Fernandez. “In the race I tried to push but I couldn’t because the front tyre was destroyed. I’m really happy. But he is stronger than me at the moment. I can’t fight with him. I think I can, but I need more experience.”

Vierge finds his groove

He’s been banging on the door for some time. But Xavi Vierge finally returned to the Moto2 podium for the first time since October 2018. It had been a long wait, and the Catalan has experienced some bad fortune in the past year, as well as performing below expectations. But he started well, was clinical in his passing of Bo Bendsneyder for third and expertly kept Marco Bezzecchi at bay in the closing laps to take Petronas Sprinta’s first podium in the intermediate class. “It was a long time that I haven’t been here,” said the Catalan. “Today was like a victory. For five or six races we’ve had the speed to fight but something always happened. I knew today I couldn’t make a mistake and that Remy and Raul had a bit more rhythm than the rest. But my plan was to start well and try to follow them. Bo started so good so I followed him. But when he started to struggled, I overtook him and pushed until the line. This little confidence is so important for us to fight every weekend for these positions.”

Rodrigo: mind more important than bike

Sixth place fellow below the expectations Gabriel Rodrigo had set himself in Barcelona. But there was still a good deal to admire in a weekend in which he scored a sixth career pole. It has been a decent turnaround from the Argentinean, who really lost his way at the close of 2020. On Saturday, he mentioned conversations with a psychologist over the winter months had been key to his improvements in 2021. “After last year I decided to go to a psychologist because I had two years very up and down and feeling like I was not controlling well my ups and also not my downs. I wasn’t feeling well with myself. So, I was pushed from people around me but I was the first one. I wanted to do it. I think it was the change for me. More important than over the bike, I’m more happy. I’m enjoying life and before maybe not that much. So, I think it’s the best thing I did in the last years. I’m feeling really well, so still a lot of work to do about myself, but feeling on a great moment. So trying to enjoy it.”

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If the bikes are too easy to ride you have to be a maniac to make a difference and everybody sees how that worked for MM 

Perhaps a better way to deal with the last lap/qualifying shinanigans, would be be to move the finish line to another part of the track. Either closer to the end of the last corner, or some point in the middle of the track away from a long straight.

Would it make a difference if the row spacings on the start grid were much, much greater for Moto3? I suppose not as it's common to see riders bridging quite large gaps between packs, so the issue seems to be that all that drafting slows up the front. It's been this way for ages though, hasn't it and many is the time when all but the final lap has been irrelevant. Last Sunday was just this taken to extremes. Of one thing I'm sure - telling them all that they are very naughty boys won't make an ounce of difference. This is their shot at becoming a future superstar and, if it was me, I'd do whatever was necessary to get results. Because the teams evidently couldn't give a damn how you do that, only that you do.

This analysis was quite disconcerting and yet comforting - simultaneously. What was going on in that Moto3 race was verging on madness, and it is was clear that a rational level of concern for safety had been abandoned. That the stewards waded in as Neil described was reassuring though. In my view, the concept of being '...a dollar short and a day late...' seems to be the current officiating operating model, if we conflate the Moto3 issues with MotoGP. I think Mr Emmett's suggestion that the Moto3 field might benefit from some more engine power is a good one - it might stretch this field out.

As for Rahul and Remy, they really are both class acts. And Rahul has every right to outline his comparative inexperience at the level. I do predict though that KTM are going to end up with a traffic jam of brilliant young riders in MotoGP.

With Moto3 as well as WSS300, CEV European Talent Cup and various other small capacity classes they definitely all face the same problem at present as we can see from the crazy races. The races are very exciting - *too* exciting? - and of course it's not mutually exclusive to that to say that things are out of hand and need reining in. Obviously Jason's accident is fresh in everyone's minds, but the number of near misses and utterly stupid moves being pulled every lap of many of these races has got to be ringing alarm bells regardless.

It could be put that technical regs of racing in terms of competitiveness/closeness of field sits on a spectrum, with very strung out races with a massive difference between the haves and have-nots and nothing much happens in the race from the past at one end, which wouldn't appeal to a (modern TV) market where the customer is spoiled for choice because the world is overflowing with 'content'. I'm sure for many racing series over the years we wanted close parity between riders and teams, the outcome to not be (almost) predetermined and everyone to have a fair chance...well, we've got what we always wanted and we're right at the other end of that spectrum - but it has positives and negatives. When every race is a blanket finish...what have we found out from the race? Did we find out who the fastest rider was? With most of these Moto3s I remember the race...not the finishing order.

The technical challenge is: in the modern age, engineers combined with technology are brilliant. A technical regulation gets changed...and the engineers get round it straight away. Arguably there is convergent evolution of technology (look at Formula E power units - the manufacturers all developed competitive units straight away so they're all in contention...then where do you go? BMW and Audi are pulling out for that reason). So I'm not sure the technical answer is any easier than the sporting one.

My only concern would be losing the unique character of the lightweight class. What we are seeing in these crazy races is the unique character of the class but it has gone just a touch too far.

Story time, many moons past. I was in China, was quite new to the place but drivers struck me as being a little bit mad. Always driving aggressively, didn't seem to matter if there was an advantage to be had from it or not, could be only one other car on the road, still aggressive, lane chopping, late braking, leaving less than a foot between bumpers at lights and all the time not traveling very fast. The general behavior on the roads seemed very pointless, counter-productive and stressful for no reason. Then a colleague pointed out the reason....if a driver didn't drive like that and everybody else continued as before...the driver would get screwed over at every turn and never get anywhere, so what would you do ?

Watching Moto3 these days i often wonder why riders in the leading group fight hard in the early laps. Surely they can just tag along nicely at the back of the leading group and take their risks at the end of the race. What's the difference between 3rd and 4th on lap 5 ffs ? However, I think if they did behave nicely and everybody else continued as before they would be tagging along like a good boy or girl at the back of the field within 5 laps.

Also the thing i notice about the crazy Moto3 races is that riders can fight hard from lap one until the end. The tyres do not need looking after, they last the distance despite being abused so there's no advantage to be gained from playing nice. Therefore, you are forced to play hard and mean. There's also the qually tow game which puts the riders into a grid order significantly scrambled from their 'true pace' order. If you cannot stay with a rider(s) because they are faster (even though you are in a group) and instead you can disturb the flow, cause some chaos slowing the overall pace to your level which might be the best shot at getting you a ticket in the final 2 lap knife fight.

I like Moto3, i just think they need to have tyres as part of the strategy equation so that in order to succeed you need to be a bit cooperative and a little less screw all.

However....can more torque ever be a bad thing ?