Into the unknown: the behemoth beckons at the British GP
Six kilometres of unadulterated speed? This is Silverstone, and it normally serves up a storm
Monday, 23 August 2021
After a year in which the paddock was unable to race the behemoth that is Silverstone Circuit, the FIM MotoGP™ World Championship is ready to saddle up and go again at one of the fastest and longest venues on the calendar. And for many, it’s a step into the unknown. Two of the top three in the standings have zero racing laps of the venue in MotoGP™, and the other finished outside the top ten as a rookie. So is everyone ready for another showdown?
Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) is the rider for whom the italics on zero racing laps apply. The Championship leader does have experience at the track on a MotoGP™ bike and qualified fourth in 2019, he just didn’t make it further than the exit of Turn 1 after being unsettled by a rider ahead and going down. Could that prove crucial? The track has often been good turf for Yamaha though, especially in the hands of Jorge Lorenzo, so that should be a firm tick in the pro column.
Speaking of Yamaha, there will be some different faces in the Iwata stable at Silverstone. Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) remains, steadfastly on the search for another solid finish as he races at Silverstone for the final time in MotoGP™. But joining Quartararo in the Monster Energy Yamaha garage is now Cal Crutchlow as he moves from filling in for Franco Morbidelli to filling in for Maverick Viñales, so there’s a new face joining the ranks to replace Morbidelli: Jake Dixon. The Moto2™ rider takes on the premier class for the first time this weekend, and on home turf no less. He has experience on bigger capacity machinery from his days in BSB, but MotoGP™ is a whole new challenge – and what a track to take on.
But back to the top three, and Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) as the aforementioned “outside the top ten as a rookie”. After his storming of the podium late on in Austria though, that is nevertheless some valuable experience to add to his current form heading into the weekend. And Silverstone has been painted Ducati red before. On the hunt for that maiden win, Bagnaia is now the closest challenger to Quartararo but by literally nothing in terms of points, so can he sustain his momentum and stay ahead, or even cut that gap?
Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) will be keen to stop that happening and take back his previous position as top Ducati in the standings. As it is, he’s now second Ducati and fourth overall. He also has the added challenge of not having ridden Silverstone on Borgo Panigale machinery before. Rookie teammate Jorge Martin, by definition, is the same, but the number 89 will arrive with a bounce in his step after a win and a podium across two stunning weekends at the Red Bull Ring. And what about Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team)? The Australian had a more muted double header in Austria but he’s the rider in the top five with the most experience of the track on his current machinery, or similar.
Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar), meanwhile, is the rider in the top three heading into a complete unknown. It seems a long time ago now to rewind back to before he was the reigning Champion, but as a rookie in 2019 his season was temporarily derailed by a crash in testing at Brno – and he missed the British GP. So he’s not done a single MotoGP™ session at the venue, but in some good news, the Suzuki most definitely has.
The 2019 British GP was an instant classic. There have been a few of those in the last few years, haven’t there? But it truly was, with Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) just coming out on top against Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). Rins has therefore shown the recent strength of the Hamamatsu machine around the venue, even when pitted against the man who took pole by four tenths with a new all-time lap record of a 1:58.168, when not too long ago the question was who would break the two-minute barrier. Suzuki also won the 2016 event with Maverick Viñales. So the bike has form, can Mir and Rins add more? The reigning Champion will hope so as he stares down the chance to leapfrog Bagnaia, and Rins will too as he goes through a difficult season in 2021 so far.
So what about Marc Marquez? The eight-time World Champion was the obvious favourite heading into Silverstone the last time we did, but since then he’s been through the biggest upheaval in his career. In Austria, however, he looked like he’d made another step forward in his recovery and his form, able to dice it out at the front for longer than we’ve seen – Germany aside – so far in 2021. And he led the way into pitlane late on at the Red Bull Ring, thinking the rest would follow as he gambled to try and win his second race of the season. And they all did, except one… but more on him later. Marc Marquez will have taken heart from another bit of progress though, so what can he do at Silverstone? And can fellow Honda rider Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), who impressed in Styria, get back in the mix along with teammate Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) and Marc Marquez’ teammate Pol Espargaro?
And now, back to the headline stealer in Austria: Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and another of those instant classics. The South African will arrive on the crest of a wave, and KTM in the midst of what’s become another frontrunning season, but Silverstone is a very different challenge. How will the Austrian factory measure up? The last time MotoGP™ raced there, a top ten was a realistic target. Now, they expect far more. So will the step they made from 2019 to 2020 be apparent immediately? Or will less data mean more time needed out the box for both Binder and teammate Miguel Oliveira, who is likewise a race winner this season and will hopefully also be better recovered from his Styrian GP practice crash?
Aprilia likewise arrive with a little less recent data given the gap in events at Silverstone, but the Noale factory also have an RS-GP that was given a complete overhaul. Can they continue to hit the ground running and get in that fight? Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) was incredibly close to getting that podium last time out before losing ground in the final stages, so the goal will remain that top five finish aka a best in the MotoGP™ era.
Fast and poised to put on another spectacular show, Silverstone always creates some incredible racing… and there’s no reason to doubt 2021 will be any different. Buckle up and strap in for more as MotoGP™ go racing at 13:00 (GMT +1) on Sunday the 29th of August!
MotoGP™ Championship top five:
1 Fabio Quartararo – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP – Yamaha – 181
2 Francesco Bagnaia – Ducati Lenovo Team – Ducati – 134
3 Joan Mir – Team Suzuki Ecstar – Suzuki – 134
4 Johann Zarco* – Pramac Racing – Ducati – 132
5 Jack Miller – Ducati Lenovo Team – Ducati – 105
*Independent Team rider
Mission: momentum! Moto2™ take on Silverstone
It could be a pivotal weekend for the intermediate class standings as Silverstone welcomes Moto2™ back on track
Picture the scene: you’ve bounced back from your toughest race of the season to take a stunner of a win, and in doing so you’ve wrestled back the momentum and closed the gap to your teammate, the Championship leader. What you probably want less than anything as the next round on the calendar is a track you’ve only ever raced once before, in a different class, that’s familiar turf for the rider you’re chasing. But such is the challenge for Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) as Moto2™ arrives at Silverstone.
There’s good and bad news all round though. For Raul Fernandez it’s that he qualified on the front row when he did race at Silverstone in Moto3™ in 2019, and that his speed this year in the intermediate class hasn’t particularly correlated with whether he’s raced a venue 20 times or two. It’s just correlated with being extremely fast, very consistent, and largely error-free.
For Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo), the rider atop the standings, the same can be said but his previous experience also makes for good reading – including on Moto2™ machinery. Silverstone saw him take his second best result of the 2019 season, a fourth place, on his last visit to the track and he may not have been quite in the driving seat at the Red Bull Ring but he remains so in the standings. That’s why risk vs reward is key, isn’t it? Because not every race will be a win. And 2021 Gardner did in Austria what 2021 Gardner does very well: keep his head when it doesn’t quite go to plan, and bring it home for some valuable points. Will the Aussie make it his mission to strike back?
Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46), meanwhile, had an even tougher bump down the order from Styria to Austria. Taking his first win of the season in style first time out at the Red Bull Ring, his second weekend at the track saw him come home in a muted 10th place. He’ll want revenge but hasn’t got the same experience of Silverstone as many, so he’ll be pushing to cut any initial deficit quickly.
One rider with a lot of experience, however, is the home hero: Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team). The Brit has plenty of kilometers – or more fittingly, miles – under his belt at Silverstone, and he’s had a bit of a tougher run of late but took a solid fourth last time out as a good springboard heading onto home turf. Can he get back on the podium in front of a home crowd who’ll be cheering him on? He’ll certainly be pushing to the limit to try.
The last Moto2™ winner at Silverstone is the rider on the other side of the Elf Marc VDS Racing Team garage though: Augusto Fernandez. And after a start to the season he describes as on the pace but crashing away the points, the Spaniard has managed to keep digging deep to find a seam of impressive consistency of late. His best ever in terms of the rostrum, in fact, with three in a row. Will that continue at a venue he’s tamed more recently than anyone?
Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), on the other side of the coin, faces the same conundrum as Raul Fernandez as he arrives on the crest of a wave, in his case a first intermediate class podium, to a venue he doesn’t know well. Can he reel in the others who also count on a little less experience of Silverstone who’ve been pipping him on Sunday – the likes of Raul Fernandez and Bezzecchi – to stay in that frontrunning postcode?
Ogura is also now equal on points with Fabio Di Giannantonio (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) too, but the Italian will be pushing to make his experience – including a top six in 2019 – count in trying to pull that gap back out. And what can Aron Canet (Kipin Energy Aspar Team) do? He needs to find some consistency as he’s already found impressive podiums, but he’s only just inside the top five, one point ahead of Augusto Fernandez and only three ahead of Ogura down in eighth. The fight behind Lowes in the standings is only getting tighter…
19 points now separate Gardner at the top from his teammate in second, and the two arrive with two very different hills to climb at Silverstone. Can Raul Fernandez hit the ground running? Can Gardner turn the tables? Or will those snapping at their heels in the standings come out swinging in the Monster Energy British Grand Prix? We’ll find out on Sunday the 29th of August, but make sure to tune in for Moto2™ at the later time of 14:30 (GMT +1).
Moto2™ Championship top five:
1 Remy Gardner – Red Bull KTM Ajo – Kalex – 206
2 Raul Fernandez – Red Bull KTM Ajo – Kalex – 187
3 Marco Bezzecchi – Sky Racing Team VR46 – Kalex – 159
4 Sam Lowes – Elf Marc VDS Racing Team – Kalex – 114
5 Aron Canet – Kipin Energy Aspar Team – Boscoscuro – 83
Will Silverstone pit the veterans against the rookies?
The old hands may have an ace up their sleeve as Moto3™ face down Silverstone, with a nearly 6km-long lap waiting to be tamed
The MotoGP™ paddock didn’t grace the fast, flowing ribbon of tarmac that is Silverstone Circuit last season, and that could play a role in each class as we return to the Northamptonshire venue for the Monster Energy British Grand Prix. In Moto3™ it may have more of an effect than eslewhere, however, as some riders arrive with a CV as long as the Hamilton Straight and some arrive with what amounts to a blank slate.
Championship leader Pedro Acosta, being a rookie, has been riding at each 2021 venue for the first time on his Red Bull KTM Ajo Moto3™ machinery. But many of the tracks he’s conquered are ones he got to know in his tenure in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup and the FIM Moto3™ Junior World Championship – or pre-season testing. It makes his campaign no less impressive, but it begs a question as we head back onto British turf with Acosta 41 points ahead in the standings: is this first contact a real chance for those on the chase to fight back?
Closest challenger and Austrian GP winner Sergio Garcia (Valresa GASGAS Aspar Team) has done one weekend at Silverstone, 2019, which the stats gurus will remember was also the year he debuted in the World Championship; too young to even race in the season openers. Since then he’s added a whole lot of experience, of the podium and top step to boot, so can that little bit of extra track knowledge help him take advantage? He’ll be hoping so, but some of the riders lurking in the standings have even more.
There are two more key faces in the standings who have a single race at the track under their belts: Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing) and Ayumu Sasaki (Red Bull KTM Tech3), and both finished in the top eight in that 2019 race. However, both also count on a Grand Prix weekend’s worth of experience from 2018… it just doesn’t include the race itself as the track conditions put paid to that. Can they make that count?
Jaume Masia (Red Bull KTM Ajo), meanwhile, was back on good form at the Red Bull Ring and his Silverstone exploits take the previous experience counter to two. As well as those two races, he’d also been set to start second by just 0.001 as Jorge Martin pipped him to pole in 2018. Can he use his proven speed to turn the tables on teammate Acosta this time out?
Darryn Binder (Petronas Sprinta Racing) is next up of the Championship top eight. He’s raced the venue three times, plus the 2018 sessions, and the South African arrives looking to get back on his early season podium form too. Next is Romano Fenati (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team), who remains third in the Championship as his consistency and consistent speed rolls on, and he ramps up the count to six. He’s never taken a podium, however… that honour belongs solely to compatriot Niccolo Antonelli (Avintia VR46). Antonelli hits a magnificent seven previous races at Silverstone, plus 2018 but including that 2015 rostrum finish. Coming back from injury and now eighth, one point behind Sasaki, he’ll want to join the Japanese rider in finding a little more luck.
The real veteran on the grid at the British GP, however, is John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing). Fittingly, the home hero has eight races under his belt at Silverstone, stretching back to his third ever Grand Prix appearance in 2011 in the 125cc World Championship. After a rollercoaster start to 2021, his luck has turned a little of late and it’s four points-paying positions in a row for the number 17, including a sixth and a seventh. Can he outfox the opposition on home turf?
The Moto3™ class is seldom just a numbers game, however, and there are plenty of riders who’ll be joining Acosta in trying to hit the ground running. Fellow 2021 rookie Izan Guvevara (Valresa GASAGS Aspar Team) had a revelatory ride in Austria and will want to get to grips with the track, and the riders whose first full season was 2020 likewise face a race against the veterans, including Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) and Jeremy Alcoba (Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3), whose route to 2020 Rookie of the Year did not include Silverstone. His teammate Gabriel Rodrigo also needs a turnaround in form and will be one of those on the other side of the coin looking to use experience to his advantage, as will the likes of Andrea Migno (Rivacold Snipers Team) and Kaito Toba (CIP Green Power).
5.9km of fast, flowing tarmac awaits the Moto3™ class at Silverstone. Will it be a group showdown, or can someone break away? Will the weather stay dry or should we expect some rain to come to stay? And will experience really count once the lights go out and another 100.3km of Moto3™ racing gets underway… or will Acosta stay ahead of the game?
We’ll find out on Sunday the 29th of August at the slightly later time of 11:20 (GMT +1), so make sure to tune in!
Moto3™ Championship top five:
1 Pedro Acosta – Red Bull KTM Ajo – KTM – 196
2 Sergio Garcia – Valresa GASGAS Aspar – GASGAS – 155
3 Romano Fenati – Sterilgarda Max Racing Team – Husqvarna – 107
4 Dennis Foggia – Leopard Racing – Honda – 102
5 Jaume Masia – Red Bull KTM Ajo – KTM – 95