Can anyone stop Quartararo at Catalunya?
Barcelona has been happy hunting ground for the Frenchman, but the grid are reset and reloaded to try and derail his roll
Wednesday, 02 June 2021
Not since 2016 have Yamaha won at Mugello, but Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) put in a stunner last time out to take back to the top step and make it four Yamaha wins in the first six for the first time since that very same year. Joining him on the podium, for the first time since 2014 at the Italian track, there was no Ducati. The form book took a twist and instead it was Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Miguel Oliveira putting the cherry on top of an impressive weekend for the Austrian factory, and reigning Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) getting back on the rostrum. Now, as the paddock heads for Catalunya – and a new Turn 10 – what can we expect?
As ever… Quartararo. The Frenchman won last year at the venue despite a late charge from a Suzuki train headed by Mir, and it’s where he was on pole as a rookie and took his first premier class podium. Now recovered from arm pump surgery and back to his best, the Frenchman must surely arrive as favourite. But teammate Maverick Viñales, who said they lost their way with the bike somewhat on his side of the garage after his stunner in Qatar, will be aiming to stem the flow of momentum and get back alongside el Diablo at the front, and Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) will be looking for a less dramatic start to his race to claw back his impressive earlier form in 2021 too. And can Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) get further into that top ten?
2020 at the track plus a podium last time out teases that the biggest threat may be Mir, however. Both he and Team Suzuki Ecstar teammate Alex Rins had some serious speed at Mugello, and the reigning Champion and his teammate completed the podium in Barcelona last year. Are we now on to the promised better venues Mir cited earlier in the season? And are we about to see that same metronomic brilliance at slicing through to the front appear week in week out?
Rins, meanwhile, is more a man looking for redemption. After speed and progress to the front in the last few, crashes have then ended the Spaniard’s races and he’s left with a mountain to climb. Having shown how fast he is in the latter stages of 2020, if Rins can stay on he’ll be another name to automatically add to the podium fight… and that added to his rostrum at the venue last year.
At KTM though, the trajectory is already back on the up after an incredibly impressive charge in Italy. The Austrian factory didn’t come out the blocks swinging with the same armoury as 2020 earlier this year, but it surely would only have been a matter of time… and Mugello says yes. It was not only another podium, but also another top five for the second KTM across the line as Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) equalled his best of the year so far despite never having ridden Mugello in MotoGP™ before. A new chassis and some serious juice were on show as Binder even equalled the top speed record too… where will they shuffle into the fight in Barcelona? Can that form continue?
Ducati, meanwhile, arrive from a slightly more muted weekend. It was supposed to be their turf at Mugello, but with Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) crashing out early on after having been the fastest Borge Panigale machine, it was left to Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) to pick up the baton. And he put on a real show duelling Quartararo early on, before then just slipping from the podium places into fourth. He’s second in the standings, however, and is always a threat. His teammate Jorge Martin also returns from injury this weekend, so that’ll be something to keep an eye on in the Pramac garage.
So what of Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team)? The Queenslander can’t be counted out either, despite a more solid Italian GP compared to his stunners preceding it. But he was happy with good points and being near the front to the finish, with a record at Mugello that hadn’t been kind. Will Barcelona see Miller bring it back to the fight for the podium?
At Honda, that fight for the podium remains the goal. After some impressive pace at times, it’s not fully come together yet in 2021, although Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) has been fourth, equalling his best. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) remains under the microscope as the eight-time World Champion continues his return, teammate Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) is still finding his feet and Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) hasn’t quite had the form shown last year yet. For all three though, it’s familiar and true home turf… and they’ve got some impressive CVs at the venue. Can they reset and impress once again at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya?
Aprilia Racing Team Gresini, meanwhile, continue their roll in 2021, with Aleix Espargaro leading the charge. And last time out may have been home turf for the factory, but this time it’s home turf for him as he hails from right next to the track. With a good record there and continued momentum, what can the Noale factory do in Barcelona?
The gap for Quartararo in the points is now more substantial, but it’s not yet a whole race win. So one Grand Prix is all that that could turn it on its head. Will that happen in Barcelona or will the Frenchman continue his catch me if you can? We’ll find out in the Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya, with lights out for the MotoGP™ race at the earlier time of 13:00 (GMT +2).
MotoGP™ Championship top five:
1 Fabio Quartararo – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP – Yamaha – 105
2 Johann Zarco* – Pramac Racing – Ducati – 81
3 Francesco Bagnaia – Ducati Lenovo Team – Ducati – 79
4 Jack Miller – Ducati Lenovo Team – Ducati – 74
5 Joan Mir – Team Suzuki Ecstar – Suzuki – 65
*Independent Team rider
Gardner vs Fernandez: another clash of the Titans at Catalunya?
The Australian took his first win of the year in wily style at Mugello. But now we head onto home turf for the rookie… who remains the closest challenger
Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo) was already a Grand Prix winner heading into Mugello, but he’d not yet been on the top step in 2021. The Australian has ironed out his form to almost perfection this season, although the cherry missing from the top was that win. Now, after defeating his teammate on the last lap in one of the closest Moto2™ finishes of all time, it’s mission accomplished.
For Gardner, the pressure has certainly eased. With a new KTM MotoGP™ deal already signed and that win ticked off, he can concentrate fully on keeping that consistent record. Will he ease off though? And what about teammate Raul Fernandez? The rookie keeps on impressing and he may have ultimately lost at Mugello, but it was another tour de force. And the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is more of a known quantity, so Fernandez and Gardner will be tough to beat. For the rest, and each other.
Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46) remains third thanks to his consistency, and the Italian – who has made a habit of such clean last laps that he’s now gained from a couple of high profile late penalties for riders ahead of him – but he’s still looking for that step to bridge the gap to those ahead. For Joe Roberts (Italtrans Racing Team), on the losing side of that penalty, Mugello was the opposite. He may not have stood on the podium but the American took a leap forward that he’ll want to continue in Catalunya, and get some revenge for the rostrum lost. Can he keep that form?
Both Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) had been two of those often just up the road in 2021, but now consistency is biting a little harder as both suffered a DNF at Mugello. For Lowes, it was from second when chasing for the lead and Diggia a little further back, but both will have a clear focus: finish. Finish well. And pick up some more big points as Roberts homes in…
The rookie battle, behind Raul Fernandez, is also heating up as Tony Arbolino (Liqui Moly Intact GP) continues his storming of the front, and Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) remains an impressive performer. Can they keep their roll going and make life harder for the riders who, so far, have just had the edge?
After one of the best Moto2™ duels ever, Barcelona is poised to let battle recommence. The intermediate class go racing at the slightly later time of 14:30 (GMT +2) at the Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya, so make sure to tune in!
Moto2™ Championship top five:
1 Remy Gardner – Red Bull KTM Ajo – Kalex – 114
2 Raul Fernandez – Red Bull KTM Ajo – Kalex – 108
3 Marco Bezzecchi – Sky Racing Team VR46 – Kalex – 88
4 Sam Lowes – Elf Marc VDS Racing Team – Kalex – 66
5 Fabio Di Giannantonio – Federal Oil Gresini Moto2 – Kalex – 60
Familiar turf calls for Acosta
Can the Championship leader hit back at Catalunya?
His advantage remains impressive at the top, but Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo) has been more of a top ten points scorer in the last two races. The rookie continues to impress and he did just take his first front row though… and now we return to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, aka much more familiar turf. Even for a rookie. So can he get back on the roll that saw him previously enjoy the biggest leading margin in the Championship… ever?
The pressure does remain less than some of the whirlwind around the number 37 would suggest, however. He can DNF twice and his teammate would have to win both races for his lead to be cut to nearly nothing… and it would still be his lead. Aforementioned teammate Jaume Masia (Red Bull KTM Ajo) will be keen for the deck to shuffle his way though, and after another podium to put some bad luck to bed he’ll likely be a threat again. Gabriel Rodrigo (Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3) likewise, who took his very first podium at the venue in 2018 and arrives off the back of his second taken in Mugello. And can Sergio Garcia (Solunion GASGAS Aspar Team get back in the mix?
Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing) has had speed before his victory too, and he’ll be aiming for more consistency after taking his second win last weekend. Darryn Binder (Petronas Sprinta Racing) is another looking to get back in the groove at the front as he was earlier in the season, and the South African also took his first Grand Prix win at the venue last year, so it’s good turf for him.
One rider with exceptional consistency, however, is Ayumu Sasaki (Red Bull KTM Tech3). The Japanese rider put in an incredibly impressive ride on Sunday and is now third overall. Showcasing some metronomic ability to run at the front in 2021, the number 71 is converting flashes of speed into a sustained campaign so far. He already has a pole position and podium, just not this season… and the standings say it may be only a matter of time.
The flotilla of home heroes, the veteran Italians up in the mix and the likes of John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) and Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) will be keen to make sure they’re in the freight train fight too though, so who will come out on top in Catalunya? Acosta? Masia? Another previous winner? Or for some, will the aim remain the long game?
We’ll find out at 11:20 (GMT +2) on Sunday as Moto3™ rev up in Montmelo.
Moto3™ Championship top five:
1 Pedro Acosta – Red Bull KTM Ajo – KTM – 111
2 Jaume Masia – Red Bull KTM Ajo – KTM – 59
3 Ayumu Sasaki – Red Bull KTM Tech3 – KTM – 57
4 Sergio Garcia – Solunion GASGAS Aspar Team – GASGAS – 56