Analysis

Aragon MotoGP Preview: Quartararo's Challenge, Hot Conditions, And Maverick Viñales' New Challenge

These past two pandemic-stricken season have been strange years for me as a journalist. Instead of heading to race tracks almost every weekend, I have been sat at home, staring at a computer screen to talk to riders. There have been ups and downs: on the plus side, we journalists get to talk to more riders than when we were at the track, because computers make it possible to switch from one rider to another with a couple of mouse clicks, rather than sprint through half the paddock from race truck to hospitality and back again. I no longer waste hours in trains, planes and cars, traveling from home to airport to hotel to race track. And it is easier to slip in a quick hour on the bicycle between FP1 and FP2, which has undoubtedly improved my fitness and prolonged my life.

But the downsides are major: it is no longer possible to knock on the door of a team manager to ask a quick question, or check some data with IRTA, or stop a crew chief or mechanic in passing to ask something technical. Casual conversations do not happen. I miss friends and colleagues, people I have worked with for years, through many ups and downs. And though I don't miss the travel, I do miss the scenery, and the locations.

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Counterclockwise: Can Marc Marquez Rule At Aragon As He Did At The Sachsenring?

Marc Marquez has had a rough 2021 so far. Since his return from the injury which kept him out of MotoGP for almost the entire 2020 season (the only exception being Jerez, where he sustained the fractured humerus in the first race, and overstressed the first plate inserted to fix the bone during practice for the second), he has struggled. His record: ten race starts, six crashes (one each at Mugello, Barcelona, Austria and Silverstone, and two at Le Mans), and twelfth in the championship with just 59 points. Of the six races where he has been classified, he has finished fifteenth, ninth, eighth, seventh twice.

Oh, and first. Marquez came to the Sachsenring as an underdog, despite winning at the circuit every year since 2010, in the 125cc, Moto2, and MotoGP classes. He arrived off the back of a crash at Barcelona, and then cemented his underdog position by 'only' qualifying on the second row, missing out on pole for the first time since 2010. But by the end of the first lap, the Repsol Honda rider had taken the lead, and would not relinquish it.

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Silverstone Moto2 & Moto3 Review: Neil Morrison On Gardner Pulling A Gap, Bezzecchi Figuring Out The Softs, And Romano Fenati Cleaning Up

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.

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Silverstone MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Unfazed Fabio, Trouble With Tires, Close Races, Aprilia Joy, And Marquez' Madness

The question MotoGP fans and followers were asking themselves over the summer break was how much of his 34-point championship lead Fabio Quartararo would be able to hang on to after Ducati ruled two races in Austria and Suzuki hoovered up the points at Silverstone. The best the Monster Energy Yamaha rider could hope for was to claw back a few points at the British Grand Prix, and then hope to manage the points gap to the end of the season. The question in everyone's mind was how much of Quartararo's lead would remain, and whether his lead would even be in double figures.

It hasn't turned out that way. Quartararo finished third and seventh in the two races at the Red Bull Ring, and managed to extend his lead to 47 points by the time MotoGP left Austria. At Silverstone, the Frenchman dominated, adding another victory and stretching his lead to 65 points. With six races left in the 2021 MotoGP season (probably, Covid-19 permitting), the championship is Quartararo's to lose.

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Silverstone MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The Pole That Wasn't, A Reversal Of Fortunes, And Aprilia's Auto-Adjuster

In the dying minutes of the Q2 session for MotoGP, it looked like we were witnessing a miracle. Jorge Martin flashed through the second sector nearly a second and a half up on the best time at that point. If he kept up that pace, he would be on his way to destroying the Silverstone pole record held by Marc Marquez, set on the newly resurfaced track back in 2019. Martin looked to be on his way to being the first rider to break the 1'58 barrier and lap the track in the 1'57s.

He lost a little ground in the third and fourth sectors, but as he flashed across the line, he left the MotoGP world speechless: a time of 1'58.008, 0.160 faster than Marquez' record from 2019. More impressively, it was nearly nine tenths faster than the 1'58.889 which had put Pol Espargaro on provisional pole, before the Pramac Ducati rider had so thoroughly demolished his time.

Could it be true? We waited for Race Direction to cancel Martin's time, but it stood for a very long time, until well after the checkered flag had been waved. The lap was too fast, but with little time to check, we had to believe that Jorge Martin once again pulled something exceptional out of the bag.

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Silverstone MotoGP Friday Round Up: Cold Crashes, Risk vs Reward, Ducati's Big Step, And Why Silverstone Is Such A Tough Track

It's only Friday, so the times don't mean all that much. You don't win MotoGP races on Friday. But you can certainly lose them, and even lose championships if you're not careful. Especially on a Friday.

That was the lesson of Silverstone, as both Marc Marquez and Fabio Quartararo found to their cost. Marc Marquez had a fairly simple lowside, but managed to do so at 274 km/h at one of the fastest parts of the circuit. Quartararo's crash was much, much slower – 75 km/h, rather than 274 – but could have been much more serious. The Frenchman lost the rear, then the bike tried to flick him up and over the highside, twisting his ankle in the process.

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Silverstone MotoGP Preview: Unknown Favorites At A Glorious Track

It is hard to overstate just how different Silverstone is from Spielberg, where the last two MotoGP rounds were held. Sure, both have very high average speeds – Silverstone at 179.7 km/h is among the fastest tracks on the calendar, and Spielberg's 188 km/h is the fastest of the season – but that is pretty much where the similarity ends.

Silverstone has 18 corners, where Spielberg has only 10. The Austrian circuit is 4.3km long, while Silverstone is 5.9 kilometers. The Red Bull Ring is three fast straights with a bunch of corners holding them together, while Silverstone is a complex of flowing corners and combinations of turns which present a real challenge to get right. Oh, and Spielberg has steep climbs and sweeping drops, built on the side of a mountain (the clue is in the name, SpielBERG), while Silverstone is pretty much flat as a pancake, built around an old airfield on the top of a hill.

The way you make the lap time at Silverstone is very different to Austria. Carrying speed through the fast, flowing sections such as out of Luffield and through Woodcote and Copse is crucial, as is negotiating the changes of direction at places like Maggotts and Becketts, or the section through Abbey, Farm, and into Village. There are places to make up ground on the brakes – into Stowe, through Vale, and into Brooklands – but the surest route to success is by having a bike which carries corner speed and changes direction willingly.

The right character

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Replacing Maverick Viñales: Will The Engine Rules Allow Morbidelli Or Rossi To Move Up To The Factory Team?

Maverick Viñales' decision to leave Yamaha at the end of the 2021 season raised all sorts of questions. Who would take his place in the factory Monster Energy Yamaha team? Can Franco Morbidelli be bought out of his contract with the Petronas SRT team? And if Morbidelli goes to the factory team, who do Petronas take to replace Morbidelli?

Valentino Rossi added another layer of complexity to those questions at the Styria Grand Prix by announcing he would be retiring from MotoGP at the end of this year. Now, Yamaha had not one, but two seats to fill. Where would Yamaha find two riders ready to move up to MotoGP? Do Petronas look to the WorldSBK paddock, or at Moto2? Do they want young riders, or should they look at veterans like Jonathan Rea or Andrea Dovizioso?

The race that weekend saw the issues around Yamaha and Viñales multiply exponentially. Viñales' abuse of his Yamaha M1, holding the bike on the stop in fifth gear in frustration caused Yamaha to finally lose patience with the Spaniard. He was first suspended, then had his contract terminated with immediate effect, leaving Yamaha with a seat to fill for the remaining seven races of 2021.

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Austria Moto2 & Moto3 Review: Neil Morrison On RF Doing It For The Haters, Gardner's Rough Weekend, And Moto3 Shenanigans

As ever Moto2 and Moto3 threw up a plenty of intrigue at the Austrian Grand Prix with two close races. Here, we dive into some of the more pressing matters in both classes.

Fernandez: this one's for the h8rs

It’s no secret motorcycle racers can take even the tiniest slight onboard and store it up for those dark days when motivation doesn’t come easy. For Raul Fernandez, his latest triumph was dedicated to those who had the temerity to cast doubt on his talents after a lousy showing the previous weekend. Well, lousy by his standards.

“I want to say thanks to my team, to my family, but especially to my haters, who one week ago said I would never get another podium,” he said from parc fermé. “Now I’m here again with a victory. This is for all of you.”

Raising his middle finger to the bad boys of the world wide web aside, this was yet another demonstration of Fernandez’s frightening ability. Seizing control of the Moto2 race on the third lap, he led a tense if processional encounter in which Ai Ogura, Augusto Fernandez and Sam Lowes all ran near identical times for the first 20 laps. “We were all lapping to the (same) tenth,” said Augusto of this encounter, after finishing third. “One tenth (off) and you could see you were losing something – crazy!”

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Austria MotoGP Race Subscriber Notes: Flag-to-Flag Timing, Racing Slicks In The Wet, Why Fabio Is Fast, And The New Marc Marquez

For the first time in four races at the Red Bull Ring, MotoGP managed to complete a race without being interrupted by a red flag. The riders did the warm up lap, lined up on the grid, took off once the lights went out, and completed 28 laps of the Spielberg circuit in one go. The last time that happened was in 2019.

Just because they went from lights to flag without interruption doesn't necessarily mean there was just one race, however. Where the two races in 2020 and last week's Styrian Grand Prix had been split by crashes, on Sunday it was the weather which divided the 2021 Austrian Grand Prix into effectively two separate events. Or perhaps even three.

There was a dry 21 laps, which saw three riders break away, Pecco Bagnaia leading Marc Marquez and Fabio Quartararo in a tense waiting game where it was obvious the outcome was to be decided in the closing stages, all three riders keeping something in reserve for the last couple of laps.

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