TT Circuit Assen produced two excellent contests in the Moto2 and 3 classes. Yet the biggest story of the weekend related to the future of one certain star…
Fernandez – will he stay or go?
Never mind Maverick Viñales. Raul Fernandez was the talk of the paddock once again after news from reliable outlets confirmed he will join current team-mate Remy Gardner in Tech 3 KTM next year in MotoGP.
Not just that; Fernandez produced another performance that demonstrated this year’s title fight will be far from a one-horse race. A day on from becoming the first rider to score four pole positions in their rookie Moto2 campaign since a certain Marc Marquez in 2011, the 20-year old produced a fightback that would have gained even the eight-time champion’s approval.
Here he displayed the composure to recover from a second lap mistake at turn seven that saw him drop to ninth. All appeared lost for the Spaniard as the Marc VDS Kalex team-mates of Sam Lowes and Augusto Fernandez, and championship leader Remy Gardner made up an exciting three-way fight for the lead, 1.7s ahead. Then Fernandez went to work. He made short work of four riders ahead to join the leaders on lap 13. And not one of them had an answer for him as he pulled clear in the closing laps to win by just over a second.
Experience or not, Fernandez has shown the capacity to finish inside the top three at each of the first nine rounds this season – not something any rookie in the history of Moto2 could say. And after Gardner acknowledged his team-mate, 31 points back, will be no pushover in the season’s second half. “I’ve got to keep the eye on the ball and keep on top of it,” he said after his impressive late push resulted in second. “Because Raul is quick!”
So, what does the future hold for the four-time grand prix winner? On Friday, reputable Catalan journalist Oriol Puigdemont wrote a deal is already in place to take him to the Tech3 KTM squad next year. On Sunday, another trustworthy colleague with ties to one party confirmed this news.
But what sway does Viñales’ decision have on Fernandez’s future? It is rumoured there is a buyout clause in Fernandez’s current contract, with a figure of €500,000 bandied around. Other Moto2 names being considered for one of the Yamaha seats – Xavi Vierge, Jake Dixon – have yet to show sustained form over this year. With Gardner already confirmed, it would make sense to throw a bundle of money at Fernandez, especially as Yamaha will be saving in the region of €5 million on Viñales’ salary.
Yet whispers at Assen suggested KTM would be loath to lose Fernandez, with Sporting Director Pit Beirer doing everything within his power to ensure he doesn’t slip through the Austrian factory’s grasp. As we’ve mentioned in this section before, Fernandez’s personal manager Hannes Kinigadner has close ties with KTM and Red Bull – it is hard to imagine him agitating for a move away, not least when Fernandez made a point of dedicating his win on Sunday to the brother of Hannes’ father, Heinz.
On Sunday Fernandez insisted his future lies in Moto2 with his current Red Bull Ajo KTM squad. “I have it taken at 99% and it is to stay in Moto2. I am one of them, one of KTM, I am very attached to them and I am happy that it is so. They have given me opportunities that other people have not given me and I have an environment behind me, a family, my representatives, who also advise me what can be the best for me.”
Yet there was a caveat. Fernandez did say that he will meet with KTM bosses over the summer to discuss the specifics of his future further. “I have only spoken with KTM and this summer I want to sit down with them (to speak).”
If and when Fernandez does move up to MotoGP, no one can say he hasn’t earned it.
21 months is a long time in any sport. But for Augusto Fernandez it felt like an eternity. The 23-year-old was back on the Moto2 podium for the first time since that infamous race at Misano in September, 2019 with a combative ride at Assen, a just reward for recent efforts.
It’s been a tough time. Fernandez had to live in the shadow of Sam Lowes through last year as he searched for the right feeling with Dunlop’s new front tyre, introduced at the start of 2020. He switched crew chiefs for this year, but alternated back and forth between Kalex chassis options in preseason and the opening two races, giving the impression he was lost.
But the rider from the Balearic Islands has been knocking on the door, re-finding some crucial confidence and feeling with the Kalex chassis at the Spanish Grand Prix. But early crashes at Jerez, Le Mans, Mugello and the Sachsenring didn’t convey as much as he continued his search for a first podium for Marc VDS since switching to the team ahead of the 2020 season.
“I could be here all day explaining how it was,” he said after his fine third place at Assen. “It was hard mentally. I was expecting to be fighting for the championship last year. But we didn’t feel good. Last year I didn’t find the feeling with the bike in any race, honestly. Thanks to my friends, family and myself – we always believed in me. We always believed I had the potential to be there. We just kept working with this. I never gave and in the end, it’s paying off. It’s not done yet, because I’m here to win. But a podium is a good step. This feels amazing. We have a good energy for the holidays and I’ll keep working to be constantly here for the second half of the season and be back winning.”
Canet opts out
Last year it seemed Aron Canet and the Aspar team was a match made in heaven. A rider from the Valencian region racing for a Valencian team, aboard a chassis – the Boscoscuro – capable of pole positions and regular top six results.
But the news Canet has signed for Sito Pons’ team for 2022 and ’23 is no great surprise. There have been rumours the 22-year-old has been seeking a Kalex chassis after growing dissatisfied with the fickle nature of the Boscoscuro. Canet has blown hot and cold this year, scoring two fine, unexpected podiums in Portugal and Germany. But aside from that it’s been grim: four DNFs and just one other top ten finish.
In Germany there were conflicting messages. Aspar team boss Gino Borsoi told pitlane reporter Simon Crafar that Canet’s second place was in part due to some new, small changes to his Boscoscuro package. Yet after the race, the rider said that wasn’t the case. “We didn’t change anything (in terms of new parts),” Canet said. “Now we have the same setting as Portimao. At Jerez that setting was really, really bad. I did some crashes during the weekend. Here at the Sachsenring, I don’t know why, but I felt really good. we need to understand why on one track it’s good, and on another it’s really, really bad.”
Pons, who has fought for the Moto2 world title with Pol Espargaro, Maverick Viñales, Alex Rins and Augusto Fernandez in previous years, can hardly be satisfied with his team’s current performance. Hector Garzo has shown promise on occasion. But Stefano Manzi’s two top ten finishes won’t cut it in a team used to success. In that respect, the signing of Canet makes total sense.
Foggia finally finding consistency
There was a time earlier this year when Dennis Foggia appeared incapable of stringing a set of sessions together, never mind races. But the Italian has been revitalised over the past month with his fine victory at home at Mugello the starting point.
In June’s four races, Foggia has been on the podium in three (he fought among the leading group in the other) with his Assen triumph the most impressive of the lot. He led 17 of the 22 laps and stretched the lead group apart with his speed. At first 13 men contested the lead. Then it was seven. By the final lap there were three. His race pace was genuinely impressive, with 20 of his 22 laps in the high 1m 41s-low 1m 42s. And no rider had an answer for him when he decisively hit the front at Ramshoek with four to go.
The outright speed of his Leopard Honda helped of course. But Foggia was flawless in the closing laps. “It was not easy to stay in front all race,” he said. “I knew I had good pace. I saw many riders took a penalty. But I was so confident with the bike and won. I changed something in my mind, but also on my bike with my team. We are working on the development of my bike because KTM now is so strong in the last nine races. KTM won eight races. Now I’m focussed on the championship and the next race if it’s possible again to come back on the podium.”
Maybe – just maybe – as he rises to third in the world championship, Foggia is finally becoming the consistent contender his talent merits.
Acosta back from the brink
On Sunday we could add ‘being run over, taken to hospital and missing qualifying’ to the list of obstacles Pedro Acosta appears able to overcome with the minimum of fuss, along with ‘pit lane starts’ and ‘lack of experience’. The Moto3 championship leader was in typically bullish form after he literally went from the hospital bed to the chequered flag, taking fourth place on a challenging weekend.
Acosta could consider himself lucky not just to have escaped serious injury after Riccardo Rossi ran over his chest. His crash at the close of FP3 came after he had misjudged his final exit, taken the chequered flag and continued to push as though his weekend depended it. The 17-year old could well have incurred a penalty from the FIM Stewards for brainless riding.
Yet he showed all the resolve of a champion a day later to fight through from 18th on the grid. That was “our biggest challenge,” according to team boss Aki Ajo. Acosta was actually as low as 20th after the first lap, but rode intelligently and with patience – virtues with which few riders of his age are blessed – to reach the top six by lap 16. Although just out of reach of the podium fight – he came home fourth – Acosta ended the season’s first half as he has been throughout it: box-office viewing with few obvious weaknesses.
Fenati v Fernandez – what really happened?
There was a Moto3 penalty with a difference handed out on Friday. Max Racing Husqvarna team-mates Romano Fenati and Adrian Fernandez were handed two Long Lap Penalties for Sunday’s race after the pair came to blows in the team garage after FP1.
Fenati was incensed with Fernandez’s riding at the close of the session, and began gesticulating in his direction once they took the chequered flag. He was apparently further angered by his young team-mate brake-checking him when the pair stopped for a practice start on the back straight after the session finished. It continued once both returned to the garage, with the pair squaring up to one another, before Fernandez was literally carried outside by older brother Raul.
The FIM Stewards’ decision to punish them both stated they were “found to be riding in an irresponsible manner and after arriving at the pit box displaying aggressive behaviour with another rider.” And all of this happened one day before team owner Max Biaggi’s 50th birthday.
On Saturday rumours abounded regarding the role of Adrian’s older brother Raul, saying he had been involved, as well. Yet he cleared this up on Sunday. “My brother is there and I try to help him,” Raul told Spanish broadcaster DAZN after his victory. “When I saw there was a mess, which always happens with him (Fenati). My brother is 17 and he is 25. In Spain that’s a crime. All I did was take my brother in my arms and take him out of the box, because it didn't seem fair to me.
“I did not get into anything and I want this to be clear because some in the media wrote, with all due respect, nonsense, without asking and without knowing. This has to be clear. I represent the colours (of KTM), a brand and they cannot dirty my image in this way. I want to clarify this, because all I did was separate them and take my brother out of the box, because when the other (Fenati) blows a fuse, what happens happens.”
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