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.
It has been a busy day at the Misano circuit. At a private test organized by Ducati, Maverick Viñales got his first taste of the Aprilia RS-GP, Franco Morbidelli rode a superbike again for the first time, and factory test riders carried on with the work of testing developments on the MotoGP machines.
There was a surprisingly long list of riders on track at the test. Ducati test rider Michele Pirro was present, along with Johann Zarco, Pecco Bagnaia, and Luca Marini on Ducati Panigale V4 streetbikes. Stefan Bradl was testing the Honda RC213V MotoGP machine, Dani Pedrosa and Mika Kallio were present for KTM, Franco Morbidelli was riding a Yamaha R1, and Matteo Baiocco was alongside Maverick Viñales in the Aprilia garage.
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.
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.
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
Kurt Trieb designed the engine of KTM’s RC16, which has won as many races as Ducati’s Desmosedici over the past season and a half. Trieb tells us about his design philosophies and reveals that the RC16 isn’t a 90-degree V4
KTM entered MotoGP four years ago and is already battling with rival manufacturers who have been racing in the premier class for decades. Only Yamaha has won more races since the start of 2020, with KTM’s five victories equalling Ducati’s win rate and bettering that of Aprilia, Honda and Suzuki.
At the heart of KTM’s RC16 is its engine, the same 1000cc 90-degree V4 configuration used in Ducati’s Desmosedici, Honda’s RC213V and Aprilia’s RS-GP. At least, that’s what we always thought. Except that our recent chat with KTM’s Head of Engine Development Road Racing Kurt Trieb revealed that the RC16 isn’t a 90-degree V4, after all.
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!”
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.