After an incident packed weekend, we look at some of the big stories coming out of the British Grand Prix in the junior categories, including a massive day in the Moto2 title race and one of the more dominant Moto3 showings in recent times.
Gardner stakes his claim
By season’s end, Raul Fernandez may rue his decision to talk up his chances so confidently on Friday. Fresh from a stunning victory in Austria, the 20-year old was full of swagger after topping FP2. “In the last race I did one click in the mentality,” he said that afternoon. “Now I know I can fight for the title, I am very strong in all conditions, all tracks.”
If those comments were aimed at intimidating team-mate and championship leader Remy Gardner, they had the opposite effect. The Australian wasn’t one for headline times through practice and qualifying. Yet on Sunday he produced arguably his best performance to date in a high-stakes battle with Marco Bezzecchi to win his fourth race of the season. Crucially, Fernandez buckled, crashing out of seventh on lap 15 at Farm curve With hindsight, it was perhaps best to leave his talking to after the race.
To give Fernandez his dues, there was certainly reason to turn the screw. Gardner looked pressured after coming home seventh in Austria, and Fernandez looked capable of showing up to yet another track and showing the kind of consistency that has become a hallmark of his season. But Silverstone has long been one of Gardner’s favourite tracks. There were certainly no signs he was contemplating championship connotations as he and Bezzecchi went at it for 14 laps, with Jorge Navarro and Sam Lowes behind.
Gardner was brilliant at Village (T13), while the Italian was stronger into Stowe (T7). The pair exchanged the lead on countless occasions, before the 23-year old edged a lead out to 0.4s on lap 16. For Bezzecchi, there was no way back. “It was a long race," the Australian said in the post-race press conference. "The last seven laps, when I took the lead, I put my head down but couldn’t break the gap. It was 0.3s all the way to the finish. It was really tough, and I couldn’t break it. It was just about keeping that consistency all race.”
“The two Austrias were a bit of a disaster for me. The first Austria was a mistake on my behalf, the second one, the first corner ruined the whole race. I can’t lie, it’s good to be back on the podium. We didn’t get the front row yesterday, that was annoying. But it was the day to bring 25 points home. Can’t complain, it’s good to be back.”
Fernandez ultimately came unstuck by a lack of rear grip. “I wasn't able to avoid the crash. The rear tyre was sliding out a lot from the first lap and I didn't have a good feeling,” he said. From talking big on Friday, the world championship now looks to have swung decisively in Gardner’s favour. 44 points is a long, long way back.
Bezzecchi: making soft last the key
There were more than a few raised eyebrows on the grid when Dunlop confirmed Marco Bezzecchi has chosen its soft rear. Gardner was sure the Italian’s decision would play into his hands. “For me more than 10 laps (with the soft) was impossible,” said the Australian. On Friday the tyre supplier had advised the Moto2 field against running it over a race distance, with concerns the drop in performance was too pronounced. But pole sitter Bezzecchi gambled, one of only three men to do so (along with the MV Agustas of Simone Corsi and Lorenzo Baldassarri).
There was no drop, and Bezzecchi posted his fastest lap on the penultimate circuit. Even Gardner was perplexed as to how his rival made it last the distance. “This all started in Austria 2,” Bezzecchi said. “I had a crash in qualifying on Saturday. Then in the race I put the hard tyre because with the soft I was ****, not fast. In the race we had something else which meant we weren’t fast. This was strange – the previous Sunday I had won.
“So here when I saw the tyre plan, I wanted to work a bit more on the soft to see if I could have more for the beginning, and the end. I tried it yesterday morning and when I put in the used soft I made a very good time. I thought it was possible. In the end today the temperature didn’t come up. I was a bit afraid but I took a gamble and said I’d try. The first lap, when Sam passed me I stayed behind and I was very aggressive on the gas to make more temperature. As soon as the temperature came, I could be very fast. So, this is why.”
Navarro of old finally shows his head
There wasn’t just slight variation with Dunlop’s rears. Moto2’s sole tyre supplier brought a softer front tyre to a race for the first time since Qatar. That appeared to have a transformative effect for the two Speed Up Boscoscuro bikes, namely Jorge Navarro. The Spaniard enjoyed his best weekend of the year, qualifying second and finishing third, a first podium since the final race of 2019.
“I don’t know why here we are fast,” said the 25-year old when asked where this speed had come from. “During the last (races) we were making many changes on the bike. but each change to fix a problem created another problem. Here we say ‘Basta!’ (Enough!) We just put the bike (settings) of 2019 and ride. Just petrol and tyres. We were very, very fast. Maybe this track suits my riding style because I used to ride smooth, making corner speed.”
From the start of the 2020 season, Navarro struggled to adapt to Dunlop’s new front tyre profile. His form and he rarely looked capable of repeating his 2019 feats, when he racked up eight podiums. Asked if the softer front this weekend was key, he wasn’t sure. “Honestly I am not 100% sure because I didn’t try the hard tyre,” he said. “I started the weekend with the soft. I saw P1 and said, we don’t change anything!”
But team boss Luca Boscoscuro was adamant the softer rubber was key. “The comeback of Navarro is because at this track one new front tyre arrived,” he told Simon Crafar on Saturday. “For the style of Navarro, the style of this tyre is very close to the one in 2019. In 2020 the front tyre changed, the rules were frozen (so we couldn’t) modify the chassis. And my riders don’t have a good feeling (with Dunlop’s 2020 front).”
This was a timely reminder of Navarro’s talents after a desperately disappointing year.
Triumph: Moto2 to 2024
Triumph will continue to supply the Moto2 class with engines for three further years from 2022, it was announced at Silverstone after a highly successful two-and-a-half seasons. The switch to the triple cylinder 765cc engine at the start of 2019 has been responsible for 34 new lap records in the subsequent time, while the current Moto2 packages appear to prepare riders better for MotoGP: see Brad Binder and Jorge Martin, rookie winners in 2020 and ’21 respectively.
“The Moto2 race engines were developed to breathe more freely, rev higher and increase peak power,” said Steve Sargent, Triumph’s Chief Product Officer. “All of that was intended to challenge the riders and teams, and provides a great spectacle for the fans. Our ambition entering Moto2 was to raise our brand profile and credibility on the world stage with perfect platform to demonstrate Triumph’s reliability and performance. The project has delivered everything we aimed for and more.”
Sargent also revealed Triumph is hoping to make fine tune its package further in 2022. “We don’t want to stand still. Next year we’ll go with a closer ratio gearbox. The engine is incredibly torquey. That gives teams more options on set-up and get the gearing optimal for more corners at a circuit. At the bottom end of the engine in the primary gear we found a way to reduce inertia, mass and friction. That should help engine to deliver more peak power.”
Fenati: Total domination
Moto3 is the wildest, most random class going, we said. The closeness of competition and variety of success suggests that’s all true for the most part. But at Silverstone Romano Fenati appeared hellbent on disproving that theory, topping each session before blitzing the field for his first win of the season – only three riders in Moto3 history have topped each of the weekend’s session (Maverick Viñales at Mugello, 2012, Danny Kent at the Sachsenring in 2015 and Jorge Martin at the 2018 Italian GP). Add to that fact he obliterated the year-old lap record on Saturday morning by a full second and this was a demonstration
So why was Fenati so strong here? The Italian has long been a fan of fast corners, and flowing layouts. Silverstone is most certainly that. “The (first sector) is the strongest part of the track for me,” he said on Saturday. “Especially I love the fast corners. The feeling with the bike and also with the track is incredible.” Also, one of his common complaints since switching to Husqvarna from Honda at the end of 2019 was a lack of comfort in heavy braking areas. “We lose a little bit in braking tracks, where there are hard braking (areas),” he said. ““We worked a lot on the braking stability. But here there isn’t hard braking – just one or two points. Here the feeling was amazing from the first lap and we didn’t change anything – just some preload and spring settings on the front.”
This may not be Fenati’s best season to date. But it’s one of his most consistent. He is one of only two riders to score points in each race (championship leader Pedro Acosta being the other) and there is a sense a more mature figure takes on racing now than the controversial figure from days gone by. “Now I’m older. I try and think more and more. I’m not another person but I try to stay calmer and try to analyse everything,” he said.
Fenati aside, you’d be hard pressed to find any rider more deserving of a podium than Niccolo Antonelli. The Italian had returned from the summer break reenergised only for a practice fall in the Styrian Grand Prix to break the third and fourth metacarpal bones in his right hand. He missed Austria two and originally aimed for a comeback at Misano. His presence at Silverstone was a surprise, never mind the fact he stuck with Fenati resolutely until three laps from the flag. Second place was his best result since May, 2019.
“We took a big risk after Austria,” explained the Italian of his recovery. “The hand was broken but I decided with the VR46 guys to not have an operation on my hand. I’ve had many operations so we thought it was better not to do it. This race was a risk because (we thought) I’d come back at maybe Aragon or Misano at the beginning. But I said to the guys at home that I wanted to try at Silverstone. We pushed a lot. At the beginning the hand was broken, but I started to move it, to try and do more things (with it). This helped me a lot. If I didn’t do this movement, it would have been possible. We took a risk but at the end I’m here so it was OK.”
The fact the race was stretched, and he wasn’t constantly on the defensive was helped. “The kind of race helped me a lot. I could stay with Romano even with this hand,” he said.
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