Raul Fernandez

The 2022 MotoGP Silly Season: The Slow Burn Starts

Despite the fact that almost the entire MotoGP grid started the year without a contract for 2023 and beyond, it has been extremely quiet on the contract front so far this year. The only new contract announced was the unsurprising news that Pecco Bagnaia is to stay in the factory Ducati team for the next two seasons, with that contract announced between the Mandalika test and the season opener at Qatar.

The general feeling seems to be one of wanting to wait and see. An informal poll of team managers at the Sepang test suggest that they expected to wait until Mugello at the earliest to start thinking about next year. At the moment, it seems likely that major moves will not be made until after the summer break.

But that doesn't mean there won't be any major moves made, however. There are growing rumors of talks having started behind the scenes among several key players. If these talks play out as expected, the grid could see look rather different in 2023.

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The 2022 MotoGP Silly Season Primer: Who Is Likely To Move Where Next Year?

It is the second week of January, and there as yet no substantial rumors of MotoGP rider contracts being signed. Compared to recent years, that is a bit of a late start to Silly Season, given that all but a handful of riders have their contracts up for renewal at the end of 2022.

In past years, January has been a hive of activity. In 2020, there were rumors over the new year period that Maverick Viñales was being courted by Ducati, with Yamaha forced to make an early announcement to keep the Spaniard in the Monster Energy factory team (and we all know how that turned out). A couple of weeks later, rumors followed that Ducati had signed Jorge Martin, and at the end of January, we learned that Fabio Quartararo had been signed to the factory Yamaha squad, displacing Valentino Rossi.

Two years earlier had seen a similar story, with Yamaha signing both Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi up in January, in time for the team launch. And to think, Valentino Rossi bemoaned Casey Stoner's move to Repsol Honda for the 2011 season as a decision taken early, when the deal was sealed after the Jerez round of MotoGP in early May, 2010.

By those standards, the current lack of movement on the contract front almost qualifies as tardiness. Riders are not jumping on contracts early, and factories are not pushing hard to sign riders before they get poached by someone else.

A different environment

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Valencia Moto2 & Moto3 Review: Neil Morrison Winners And Losers, At Cheste And In 2021

After a dramatic finale in Valencia, we look at the big winners and losers from the final race and indeed the 2021 season as a whole.

WINNERS

Aki Ajo

It’s quite the feat to manage two world champions in the same year. And quite another to have team-mates fighting for one of those gongs, as Aki Ajo did with Remy Gardner and Raul Fernandez in the Moto2 class. But it wasn’t just about the Finn’s eye for rider selection. Up to the final round, the battling team-mates remained respectful without tensions ever bubbling over.

During the final round, Fernandez attempted to unsettle his elder team-mate. He hovered around Gardner in free practice, passing, sitting up, watching from behind. Even in the race, the Spaniard slowed the pace to make the Australian’s life difficult, back in the pack.

For this, Ajo has to take great credit. As Massimo Branchini, Gardner’s crew chief testified, “Inside of the box we don’t want fighting. Aki’s so strong about this. We have two riders that use their heads, and don’t create tension. We go to eat together. Everything is shared. Both guys are very clever about this.”

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Algarve Moto2 & Moto3 Review: Neil Morrison On Growing Pains, KTM Tyre Choice In Moto2, Darryn Binder, And Keeping Raul Fernandez Happy

Another dramatic day of Moto2 and Moto3 action at the Algarve GP saw one world champ crowned, while another man took a monumental step toward his.

Acosta champ despite growing pains

There was something approaching skepticism with regards to Pedro Acosta in the autumn of this year. The Tiburon de Mazarron’s incredible start to life in the Moto3 world championship had raised expectations to such an extent that a recent run of results in which he scored 7th, 8th and 3rd places in just his 14th, 15th and 16th GPs could be considered something of a crisis.

But this showing demonstrated he had lost none of that spark as he swept to his sixth win of the season to become the second youngest GP world champion in history at 17 years of 166 days old, just one day older than record holder Loris Capirossi, when he swept to the 1990 125cc title in Australia. When it really mattered, Acosta showed the mentality and the brass of a champion.

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Algarve MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Real Bravery, Moto3 Madness, The Best Bike On The Grid, And Honda's Tire Choices

Seventeen down and one to go. Also, two down, one to go. That is the story of Portimão, in a nutshell. But the raw numbers are not what matters. The most interesting part is how we got there, and the stories that we found along the way.

But before we return to the fripperies of motorcycle racing, something that really matters. On Saturday evening, on the road which runs from the circuit to the harbor town of Portimão, a horrific accident happened. On a section of road which had traffic measure in place to control the flow of traffic leaving and coming to the track, a police motorcycle hit a taxi head on.

It was a massive impact. The police officer died as a result of the collision, and the occupants of the taxi, the driver and a journalist, Lucio Lopez of MotoRaceNation, were badly injured. Journalist Simon Patterson, who saw the crash in his van, and photographer David Goldman, who was driving back to his hotel with passengers in his car, both stopped and immediately rushed to the taxi, which had caught fire. They pulled Lucio Lopez and the taxi driver from the car, just before it exploded.

The right stuff

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Emilia-Romagna Moto2 & Moto3 Review: Neil Morrison On Raul Fernandez' Crash, A Marc VDS 1-2, And How Foggia Turned His Season Around

Sunday’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix hosted three dramatic races which each had huge ramifications for each championship. Here, we take a look at the big talking points from the Moto2 and Moto3 classes.

Raul Tumbles…

For 14 laps on Sunday, this really looked like the race where Remy Gardner’s Moto2 title challenge would come apart. After title rival Raul Fernandez crashed out of qualifying, the Australian had a golden opportunity to gain a much-needed grid advantage. Instead, he changed front tyres mid-session, saw two of his late times chalked off because of yellow flags, and by the third his front had cooled down enough it lost optimum performance.

Sunday was looking much graver. Not only was he mired in the pack, facing a Long Lap Penalty for taking down Somkiat Chantra when contesting eighth place, Fernandez was putting in the kind of performance that confirms he is the next superstar of grand prix racing. Starting from ninth, he was on course for an eighth win of the season – a feat no rookie had achieved in the 72-year history of the intermediate class, never mind Moto2.

The Spaniard’s own weekend had been complicated. If one was to point to a weakness in his make up, Raul’s riding in wet and mixed conditions would probably be it. But he gave no ground away to Gardner all weekend. There was also the small matter of his feelings toward KTM. Veteran Spanish journalist Manuel Pecino had reported the rider from Madrid, who turned 21 on Saturday, was “angry” in the extreme at the Austrian factory’s decision to not find brother Adrian a permanent seat in the Moto3 class for 2022.

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Misano Moto2 & Moto3 Review: Neil Morrison On That MotoE Controversy, New Dunlops, Mental Coaches, And Nurturing Talent In Moto2

Ding ding: Torres v Aegerter in incredible MotoE finale

Even the most ardent opponent of electric mobility would need a heart of stone to remain unmoved by the finale of the 2021 MotoE World Cup. The double-header at Misano had everything you’d want in a championship showdown: three of the four title contenders challenging for victory in race one, before two of them faced off in race two. It also included that crucial ingredient which is so crucial in gaining wider recognition: controversy.

There was plenty of that on Sunday, as Dominique Aegerter’s last lap move on Jordi Torres took the Catalan down and, for a few minutes at least, handed the Swiss rider the title, sending Spanish fans and members of the media to collect their pitchforks and demand a penalty. The FIM Stewards came to a swift conclusion: Aegerter was handed a 38-second penalty for the move – the equivalent of a ride-through penalty – demoting him to twelfth, handing Torres the crown by seven points.

Was this right? Clearly Aegerter had to make the move, with the championship on the line. He was in front of Torres when contact was made, and he didn’t technically run off track. As he explained, “He knew I'd be coming from the inside just like in the previous laps and that I would brake later than him. He kept his line which resulted in touching my rear wheel and him crashing out of the race.”

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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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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - ‘Factories shouldn’t have the possibility to lock young riders for five years’

Red Bull KTM’s hugely successful rider programme has got other factories worried – is that a problem or not?

The tighter and more competitive MotoGP becomes the more everything matters.

MotoGP’s current technical regulations guarantee that all the bikes have similar performance. Thus the rider becomes an ever-more important part of the equation because he or she is the surest way of making that vital difference.

So how do you find the best riders? You open your wallet, of course. But what if someone else has flashed the cash before you and locked a talented youngster into a long-term deal?

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