Jerez de la Frontera has produced some of the most scintillating racing in MotoGP’s history. Many famous last lap battles have been fought at the Angel Nieto circuit: Doohan vs Crivillè, Rossi vs Gibernau, Marquez vs Lorenzo, to name a few. More recently, it was the sight of Fabio Quartararo’s first-ever race victory in the premier class, as well as the site where he became the youngest ever pole sitter in the premier class.
Quartararo comes into his favourite circuit as the current championship leader. However, it is still very much all to play for in all the championships, as we really get into the European leg of the competition. So without further ado, let’s get into all the action from qualifying at the Jerez GP.
Moto3: Rookie sensation Acosta struggles
Age before beauty, isn’t that how the old saying goes? Well, it certainly seems that it’s the turn of the more experienced riders to top the timesheets as we get back to more familiar tracks.
Pedro Acosta, the superstar rookie, is currently leading the lightweight championship by a massive margin of 31 points. However, it appears that for the first time, he may be struggling. Acosta had his first crash in the world championship class during the morning’s free practice session (a relatively smooth get off, rider ok) and was forced to go through Q1. He did manage to progress into Q2 but left it to the dying stages of the session to put in his lap, all while experiencing twitchy judders and slides from his Red Bull KTM bike. Acosta lines up in P13 on tomorrow’s grid, and while many will be expecting him to make a stunning comeback as he has previously, I’m not so sure. While Acosta will be leading the championship no matter what happens in this race, tomorrow could be a great chance for his rivals to take back some big points.
This is where the experienced riders have clearly got the edge. Tatsuki Suzuki, a race winner in Jerez last year, took his third consecutive pole position at the circuit and is clearly eyeing up another victory. Suzuki has had a bit of a difficult beginning to his season – missing out on preseason testing affecting his performance in the opening round, and crashing out of the Portuguese GP. However, he looks like a man in form around the Jerez circuit, and it’s always good to see the Sic 58 team successful at Jerez – the site of Marco Simoncelli’s world title win.
Unfortunately for Suzuki, though, many competitors are lining up to fight him for said victory. Andrea Migno joins him on the front row, and after claiming the fastest ever lap around the circuit in FP3 this morning, many thought it should have been he who claimed pole position. However, Moto3 wouldn’t be Moto3 without silly qualifying tactics, and Migno missed the opportunity to get another time attack lap in. However, he has been supreme across the weekend thus far, and he would be my favourite for the win tomorrow.
More men looking to fight for victory will be the Petronas team riders – John McPhee and Darryn Binder. McPhee has thus far not scored a single point due to double takedowns in the Qatar opening rounds and a following hefty penalty in the Portuguese GP for fighting another rider after said takedown, next to a live track. As such, McPhee will be desperate to get his season going in Jerez, as he is not only holding hope to play a part in this year’s championship but also his future in on the line. McPhee needs to start impressing if he is to stand any chance at securing a Moto2 ride next year. Whereas Darryn Binder, who sits 3rd in the championship, was denied the chance to fight for points in the Portuguese GP after he was handed a last minute, controversial pit lane start minute before the race took place. Binder did have a nasty looking high side during qualifying but still managed a P7 starting position. McPhee will be starting from P6.
Finally, the last name in the mix for this year’s world title, Jaume Masia, has a lot of work to do, having qualified in P15. Masia has shown decent pace across the weekend but was another victim of poor tactics during the qualifying runs and took the chequered flag before he was able to put in a fast lap. Of course, in Moto3, a poor qualifying position is less of a disadvantage than in the other classes. It will still be a struggle for Masia to contend for victory tomorrow. The best he can hope for is to stay on the bike and take a good haul of points.
Moto2: Lowes looking to bounce back
In Portimão, there was a change at the top of the standings when Sam Lowes was high sided out of the race just 1 corner in. As Remy Gardner went on to take a podium finish, he also took control of the intermediate class championship and is looking supreme so far this weekend.
Gardner took a stunning pole position with a lap that was the fastest ever recorded for the Moto2 class at Jerez and even more impressive. He secured that time in just his second go around the track during the opening minutes of the qualifying session. Gardner has registered strong times across the weekend thus far, and we all know that the last time he took a pole position, he also took the race victory. In my eyes, he’s the favourite for this race, if only because he seems to be the only Moto2 rider who can make up time in the tricky final sector of the circuit, which would give him the legs in any of his rivals, should the race come down to a last lap shoot out.
But as ever, the Moto2 championship is extremely competitive, and many will be coming for Gardner’s crown. The first man in line is Fabio Di Giannantonio, who lines up alongside Gardner. After disappointing results in the Doha and Portuguese GP’s, he is hungry for a good result. As it stands, I don’t think DiGi quite has the pace to run with Gardner, but a burst of race adrenaline can make magic happen, so there’s no reason to count him out.
A more likely candidate to trouble Gardner, though, is the man in P3 – Marco Bezzechi. The Italian was hotly tipped at the beginning of the season as the man who would be challenging for the title this year, and he has taken a very decent haul of points in the opening rounds. However, he is yet to step on the podium in the 2021 campaign, as he seems to be suffering from rear tyre drop off a lot earlier than many of his rivals. Bezzechi has been in that top 3 across all FP sessions of the weekend, and he took his first Moto2 podium in Jerez just last year, so he could be the man to take the early lead in tomorrow’s race.
Gardner’s own teammate, the astonishing rookie Raul Fernandez who took victory in Portimão in just his 3rd ever Moto2 race, is right in that championship hunt. After tasting victory last time out, I am certain he will be hoping to repeat his heroics. He has also been running at a good pace all weekend. With a starting position of P4, he could inflict a lot of damage on his unsuspecting rivals, who are probably not expecting a rookie to be challenging for this year’s title.
Of course, you cannot discount Sam Lowes. The rider who won both opening rounds in Qatar was very unlucky to make a poor start from pole position in Portugal. Unfortunately, in his desperation to keep hold of the leading group. He found himself out of the race very early on. Lowes has a good record in Jerez, having taken victory at the circuit in 2016, and is another who has been running a consistently decent pace. Lowes lines up in P5 for tomorrow’s race, so as British fans, let’s hope he doesn’t mess up the start this time!
In all honesty, I can’t see any other riders really making a bid for the victory in this race. Jerez is such a familiar track for the riders that it is hard to find that little extra something because all your competitors probably already know it’s there. Gardner does appear to have the fastest, most consistent pace of the front runners and the confidence in himself now that he’s moved into the competitive KTM Ajo team. For him to win the race tomorrow would be a big claim on this year’s championship title.
MotoGP: Miller improves, Marquez slides and Morbidelli vents.
Fabio Quartararo won the opening two rounds of the 2020 championship. Still, due to a mixture of an underperforming bike and the mounting pressure and stress of leading a world championship for the first time, he crumbled and suffered an ignominious fall from grace as the championship ended. This year, however, he has admitted to having seen a sports psychologist in the winter, which has strengthened his mental resolve, and he seems a changed character. He is markedly less emotional in the garage when giving his team feedback. This, combined with a competitive new chassis from his M1 Yamaha, has seen the Frenchman take an early lead in the championship this year after taking two stunning victories in Doha and Portimão.
As I stated before, Quartararo took his first wins in the premier class at Jerez in 2020, and he has looked like the favourite to win this year. He took pole position by a fine margin in today’s qualifying session, but more impressive was his race pace, which has been supreme on every race option tyre that he has tried across the weekend. Despite the pole position, Quartararo stated that he was disappointed that the lap times were not as fast as they could have been due to the slightly cooler conditions and has also expressed worries over the sensation of tyre wear which he did not get in the hotter conditions of last year’s race. However, these are immaterial worries when faced with the clear dominance he has displayed thus far. It will be a difficult job for any rider to deny him a 3rd successive victory tomorrow.
Difficult, but not impossible. Franco Morbidelli, Quartararo’ former teammate, also has a good record at Jerez, having qualified on the front down every year since 2019. Whilst this hasn’t translated into a podium for him at the circuit thus far, he is the only man who has been able to match Quartararo’s frightening pace – mostly on Medium tyres. Morbidelli starts in P2 tomorrow, which is an even more impressive achievement when you consider that late afternoon drama saw him having to pass through Q1 as his fastest laps in FP3 were disallowed. Morbidelli, of course, passed through, but it was a risky qualifying strategy that saw him bag his second place and involved a front end washout that he saved in truly magnificent style. Quartararo himself has marked Morbidelli to be his main rival in tomorrow’s race, and I have to say, I agree with him.
But what about the Ducati’s? Jack Miller has had a torrid start to his season as he dons the factory Ducati outfit for the first year, but Pecco Bagnaia has apparently found confidence from the promotion. Both boys in red qualified in P3 and P4, respectively. While their race pace may not be quite as strong as Fabio and Franco’s, the Ducati holeshot device is a fearsome thing and could catapult them into contention in the early laps of the race.
Also impressive across the weekend has been Aleix Espargaro, who proves that the Aprilia team really is about to be a truly competitive member of the MotoGP grid. Aleix is the closest rider, in terms of pace, to Fabio and Franco, and honestly, it is a disappointment to see him qualifying in P8, which would otherwise have been a triumph for the commonly backmarker RS-GP. I am not sure Espargaro will be able to get close enough to Fabio and Franco to feature in the race victory fight, but getting another top 6 would be a very good sign for the Italian factory team.
Further back, Marc Marquez, whose career was almost ended at the Jerez circuit last year, experience his first crash as he makes his comeback, and my word was it a big one. Marquez crashed at high-speed corner 11 when he was going at 120mph. He tumbled through the gravel trap before hitting the air fence hard. Marquez was clearly winded and experienced bruising to his neck and leg, as well as a concussion that sent him to the hospital for a CAT scan. Luckily his right arm was left unmanaged in the crash, but it knocked his confidence and he qualified in P14 – his worst ever qualifying performance in the premier class.
Other high speed crashes occurred across the day, with Brad Binder taking a mighty tumble while pushing for a position in Q2, and Pol Espargaro also following Marquez into the gravel at exactly the same corner. These crashes have been blamed on the fact that the Jerez circuit is slowly becoming too small for the massive speeds of the MotoGP bikes, as there is not enough run-off space available for the bikes to brake effectively. Unfortunately, this is a side effect of pushing speeds of 362.5kph, and it could be possible that we lose the amazing Jerez circuit from the MotoGP calendar.
The stage is set for some incredible racing in all the classes this weekend, but who will be victorious? All will be revealed, tomorrow…
This article was written by the fantastic Rebekah Lee, our resident Motorsport nut and MA Creative writing graduate. She’s been fascinated by all things motorsports since childhood – follow her on Twitter at @bekahjlee
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