Analysis

Aragon Moto2 & Moto3 Review: Neil Morrison On Raul And Augusto Fernandez, The Spat At Aspar, And Toprak And Deniz

The Moto2 race at Aragon may have been more sedate than the MotoGP outing, it offered up a tremendous exhibition of grit, while Moto3 threw up a number of interesting talking points.

Fernandez on another level

The standout take from Raul Fernandez’s 2021 campaign isn’t the blinding speed, or the five wins, the first Moto2 rookie to achieve as many since Marc Marquez in 2011. It’s his reaction to any form of adversity. Just as he did at Assen in June, the 20-year old bounced back from a crash in the previous race with an imperious victory at Aragon with the biggest winning margin on the year (5.4 seconds).

But this one was the most special to date. Just nine days before, Fernandez broke the fifth metacarpal bone in his right hand in a near stationary bicycle accident at his home outside Madrid. The hand was operated on two days later, and he arrived in Aragon admitting the injury was “bad news for fighting for the title.”

But aside from a moment in FP1 when he seemed to tweak the injury during a moment on the kerbs, Fernandez’s handicap never looked apparent as he confidently took control of the race from Sam Lowes on lap four. From there he never looked back, and trimmed his deficit in the title race to 39 points. Even team-mate and championship leader Remy Gardner held his hands up after the race. “I have to say, man, Raul was on another level with his pace. I couldn’t match that. He’s doing an incredible job. He’s a tough opponent.”

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Aragon MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Real Marc Marquez, Perfect Pecco, The Mahindra Mob, And Fabio Saves His Bacon

In the week before the Aragon MotoGP round, I confidently predicted that Marc Marquez would win his second race of the season. The race proved me wrong: Pecco Bagnaia took a stunning victory at the Spanish track, Ducati's first since Casey Stoner in 2010. But the race also showed that the confidence I had in Marc Marquez was justified.

For 15 laps, Marquez sat patiently behind Bagnaia, as the pair set a pace which no one else could follow. Then, the Repsol Honda rider started to inch closer to the Italian, nipping at the heels of the Ducati, putting Bagnaia under more and more pressure. And with three laps to go, he unleashed an all out attack, diving under Bagnaia at Turn 5, Turn 1, Turn 15. Bagnaia countered perfectly each time, finally clinching the win when the Spaniard ran wide in a last, desperate attempt to get past at Turn 12.

Pecco Bagnaia won the Grand Prix of Aragon. But Marc Marquez didn't lose it. He was simply beaten by the better rider on the day.

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Aragon MotoGP Saturday Round Up: An 'Ordinary' Marquez, Bagnaia's Blitz, And Ride-Height Devices Explained

Marc Marquez arrived at Aragon as the clear favorite to win. Based on his record – five wins from seven races, and crashing out of the lead in a sixth – and on the fact that this is a counterclockwise circuit, like the Sachsenring. Before the Sachsenring, Marquez had a seventh, a ninth, and three DNFs, but he went on to win the race in Germany with ease, despite still not being completely fit.

Marquez arrived at Aragon – his third most successful circuit - with a seventh place, an eighth, a fifteenth after a fall, and a first-lap crash with Jorge Martin. If the pattern is to repeat itself, then surely Marquez is on for another win at the Motorland Aragon circuit?

Two crashes on the first two days suggest that may be harder than we all thought. The first crash, on Friday, was a simple mistake of the kind that most riders make – picking the bike up a fraction to avoid running into the rear of his brother Alex' LCR Honda, getting onto the dirty part of the track, and sliding off, furious at his own foolishness.

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Aragon MototGP Friday Round Up: Hidden Pace, Silly Crashes, Fast Ducatis, And Maverick's Debut

With 21 riders covered by less than 1.3 seconds at a track over 5 km long, it is hard to pick a winner after Friday. Take Jack Miller's stellar lap out of the equation, and it's even closer: the gap between Aleix Espargaro in second place and Joan Mir in 21st is precisely 1 second; Espargaro to Enea Bastianini in tenth is exactly two tenths of a second; Espargaro to Danilo Petrucci in fifteenth is half a second. If ever you needed an example of just how close the current era of MotoGP is, Friday at Aragon delivered.

Of course, Friday being Friday, it is a little early to be reading anything into the times. Especially at a track like Aragon, where the lap is 1'49 long. You don't get very many of them to the pound, as the saying has it, with riders doing 18 or 19 laps a session, rather than 22 or 23 laps at a track like the Red Bull Ring. Mess up a lap, or crash out, as Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, Pecco Bagnaia, and Iker Lecuona did, and you can lose a lot of track time. And that, in turn can mess up your plan for the day.

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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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