It’s race week again, and this week it is the turn of the classic, Jerez de la Frontera, the scene of the famous 12+1 Angel Nieto celebration, and more recently, the racetrack that gave Fabio Quartararo his first victories in MotoGP. Of course, the newly returned Marc Marquez has been dominant at this particular track in recent years, and it has also been a favourite for the Doctor, Valentino Rossi, in his race-winning days. But before you get too excited about that, I’m going to throw it back to the Portuguese GP and discuss all the action we witnessed there.
Moto3: Carnage, penalties and a new wonder kid!
I don’t know if there will ever be a circuit that produces a more hectic race for the Moto3 class than the Algarve. Last year’s title-deciding race was chaotic, with Foggia completing two long lap penalties and still carving his way through the field to end up on the podium, Arbolino starting from almost last and fighting his way up to the top 5, and the eventual championship winner, Arenas, getting beaten backwards by multiple riders over successive laps.
Luckily, on the return to this wonderful track, we were gifted another stellar race of pure chaos.
Pedro Acosta, the 16-year-old wonder-boy, came into the Portuguese GP as the championship leader, having taken an impressive 45 points from the opening doubleheader. However, many were wondering if the performance could have simply been a fluke, and if we wouldn’t get a clearer notion of the rookie’s realistic potential in the more difficult rollercoaster track that is Portimao. Acosta though doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo that he’s meant to be a rookie, as he rode another, incredibly talented race to take his second victory, in just his 3rd ever race on the world stage. Whilst he didn’t ride a perfect race, there were a few hair-raising mistakes on the last few laps including a big headshake on the final corner, he kept his cool and really showed the true calibre of his racing pedigree. There’s still a very long way to go in this year’s championship, and everything can happen in Moto3, but Acosta goes to Jerez with a comfortable 31 point lead over his closest rival, and is very much staking his claim on this year’s title.
McPhee loses out again!
Last year’s hero, Dennis Foggia, made life much easier for himself in last week’s race, having bagged a front row start and no double long lap penalties. As such, we were able to see Leopard Honda back up at the sharp end of the race, a welcome sight after their two disappointing outings in Qatar. Foggia rode a strong race, and was always looking good for a podium finish. In my opinion, he deserved the race win, having led so many laps of the race, and with last year’s heroics still fresh in my mind, however a second place finish was a strong result for him after the struggles in Losail, and I am sure he will be a much more threatening figure in the championship from here on.
Andrea Migno, the polesitter in Portimao, also ran a clever race, and bagged himself decent points with 3rd place. The experienced Italian must be hoping to move up a class this year, and with more strong performances like the one he gave in Portugal, that just might be possible. As a VR46 Academy rider, there must be more potential in Migno than he has shown in recent races, but he has achieved a place in a good team with the Snipers outfit, and maybe this 3rd place is just a hint of the form that is to come this year.
Again, the biggest losers from this race were John McPhee and Jaume Masia. Both came into 2021 as the outright title favourites, but neither has managed to capitalise on their true potential thus far.
McPhee remains pointless after the first three races. Crashes caused by other riders took him out of both Qatar races, and fighting a rival in the gravel trap during a live race resulted in a huge penalty for the Portuguese GP. McPhee was forced to start the race from the pitlane, with a 10 second time penalty just to add insult to injury. In a track that is as one line as Portugal and with the heft time penalty, it’s no surprise that McPhee didn’t manage to take a points finish, and from here on, he cannot afford to make any mistakes if he wants to play any part in this year’s championship. In a year that will most likely decide his future in the sport, this is a worrying prospect.
Masia on the other hand is the only one to fault for his less-than-expected points tally as we enter the fourth round. Don’t get me wrong, I think Masia is an incredibly talented rider, who is still very much in contention for the world championship this year, however, he needs to eliminate the mistakes from his form. Masia should have been a podium finisher in this race, but a mistake left him crashing on the last lap, and though he remounted and scored precious points from a 9th place finish, I have to say that in both the Doha GP and last week’s race, I was expecting him to have a lot more points in his pocket. Of course, there is still a lot of time left in this championship so let’s not wave the chequered flag for Masia just yet.
More unfortunates in the Portuguese GP were Darryn Binder and Jeremy Alcoba. Binder received a very late penalty, given to him just before the race, of a pitlane start due to alleged touring on the racing line during qualifying; presumably, this was due to him breaking off the slipstream that many other riders were attempting to take advantage of. This massively impeded Binder’s race, as he had no warning of the penalty, and thus was not prepared for the catch-up race he was forced into. As such he took no points in the Portuguese GP, a punishment that did not fit the crime. Whereas Alcoba, who also had a pitlane start with a time delay due to the fight with John McPhee, did manage to score some points but arguably had the pace to be fighting for a podium.
Finally, I want to shout out some incredible performances by Niccolo Antonelli: who followed up his impressive podium finish in the Doha GP with a very solid 6th place in Portimao, and Gabriel Rodrigo: who was given a long lap penalty and still managed to fight his way back up to the leading group and finished in 9th place.
Moto2: Unlucky Lowes misses out
While many find Moto2 races the more sedate of the world championship stages, it is undeniable that last week’s Portimao race was nothing like a typical intermediate class race.
There was drama from the get go as Sam Lowes, who had taken a perfect 50 out of 50 points from the opening double header, high-sided out of the race at the first corner in a rather shocking turn of events. Whilst Lowes had looked to be in the fight for the victory over the weekend, he wasn’t necessarily the favourite to take the race win, but with him out of the race, all viable contenders really started to scrap for the podium places.
The biggest surprise of the Moto2 category thus far has been Raul Fernandez, who already managed a front row start and a podium finish in just the opening two rounds of his rookie season in the intermediate class; however, it was Portimao that he was waiting for to spring the real surprise. Of course, in last year’s Moto3 race in Portugal, Fernandez was untouchable, winning the race by a massive margin of seconds – almost unheard for the class famous for its tight-knit, photo-finish race ends. As such, he was an unlikely favourite coming into the weekend, despite his rookie status. But much like Acosta, Fernandez is not performing like the rookie he is. Though Fernandez qualified poorly, he was easily able to cut through to the front pack, and when tyre drop off began to affect all of the riders ahead of him, he sailed off to take his maiden Moto2 victory, and he will certainly have set some tongues wagging about a potential MotoGP seat.
Youngster Aron Canet impresses
The entirety of the top 7 finishers in last week’s Moto2 race was a clear cut above the rest of the field, with each of them consistently running a pace that was almost 2 seconds faster than those behind them, and thus it was a 7-way scrap for the podium positions. With Fernandez able to keep his tyres better than his rivals, the remaining podium positions were hard fought for, but Aron Canet proved himself to be ‘best of the rest.’ Canet was astonishing in his Moto3 career and was easily the best rookie in Moto2 last year, but it has been a struggle for him to get close to the podium places in the intermediate class. Luckily, however, he has broken that particular duck, and I am sure he will make his way back to the top step of the podium, now that it seems everything is clicking into place for him.
Remy Gardner shows his talent!
The final podium position came down to an extremely entertaining scrap between Remy Gardner and Joe Roberts, which Gardner narrowly won, even if there was contact between the two on the run down to the final corner. The Australian rider leaves Portimao as the championship leader and has very much staked a claim on this year’s title. Being the son of Wayne Gardner meant that we have always expected to see him in the top class at some stage, but this year he is showing audiences his class as a rider in his own right and I am delighted to see him looking strong. I also take nothing away from Joe Roberts, who did a phenomenal job at hounding the podium positions, and I am sure his first race win is coming.
The fight for 5th, 6th and 7th was a lively scrap throughout the race, with Augusto Fernandez just barely triumphing over Marco Bezzechi and Xavi Vierge. For Fernandez, this is a welcome return to the dynamic form he had in the 2019 season, where he emerged as the surprise contender to Alex Marquez’s title fight. He struggled in 2020 when he was last minute moved into the Marc VDS team as Marquez’s replacement, but it seems that he has worked out the kinks now, with two very solid top 6 performances taken from the last two races. Marco Bezzechi did lead the Portimao race for some time, but struggled with tyre drop off much earlier than his competitors, and as such did well to take another decent points haul into Jerez. Whilst Bezzechi should surely still be considered a title hopeful this year, he hasn’t had the dynamic start to the title fight that his rivals have, with no podiums since his win in Valencia 2020. However, Jerez was the track where he scored his first podium in the intermediate class so potentially it is where he will also take his first podium finish of the 2021 season.
Championship standings are tight!
It’s tight at the top in Moto2, especially with unforeseen title challenges coming from a rookie, an Australian and maybe even Lowes’ own teammate, but that’s why you should never discount Moto2 as boring – motorcycle racing can always spring a surprise on you!
Moto GP: Marquez back, Rossi at the back, and Martin on his back
On Sunday 18th of April, Marc Marquez saw a chequered flag at the end of a race for the first time in over 500 days. The weekend was a rollercoaster in more ways than one for the returning 8x world champion, and as he entered his pit box after the race (where he achieved a very impressive 7th place, as the highest finishing Honda rider) his emotions were visible for the whole world to see. As a huge fan of the number 93, it is hard to describe the joy I felt at seeing him back on a racetrack, where he belongs. But I think that even those who would not claim to be Marquez fans, must have felt for the man as he openly sobbed in his pit box, after what must have been a strenuous ride on the notoriously tricky Portimao rollercoaster track. Of course, P7 (whilst an incredible achievement for a rider who hasn’t been on a GP bike in over a year) will not be enough for Marquez, and I think it heralds a promise of the 93 returning to the dominant form he has been known for, which is wonderful news indeed for any fan of his. However, if he wants another title, he’s going to have to contend with the younger generation, who have certainly taken advantage of the champion’s absence.
Yamaha still looking strong!
Fabio Quartararo left Doha with his fourth race win in the premier class, and his first race win in a non-Spanish track, and many have opined that he is a far calmer, more collected individual than the one we saw struggling at the end of the 2020 season. In short, after the Doha GP, many critics were tentatively heralding him as a title contender, but only if his Yamaha M1 did not run into trouble in tracks that do not favour the notoriously finicky bike. Whilst Portugal is not entirely reflective of many track in the European leg of the championship, Quartararo himself said that Portimao would be the real test for the M1’s competitiveness, and it looks like the bike could be very competitive indeed.
Quartararo won the Portuguese GP by setting blisteringly fast laps across the entirety of race distance, with a pace that no one could match. His victory in Portimao ensures that he goes into the Jerez weekend, where he took his first ever victories in the premier class, as the championship leader and I reckon he’s eyeing up a third consecutive victory, especially with the confidence he will have gained from taking wins at tracks that have previously not favoured him all that much.
Dark house Rins still lurking!
But, these are the best racers in the world, so he’s definitely got a fight on his hands. Alex Rins was my personal pick for championship favourite this year, and I think he’s displaying that potential very well thus far this season. Whilst Rins may not have taken big points hauls in the opening rounds of the Doha GP, he did manage P6 and P4, at a track that does not favour the Suzuki’s. As well as this, his performance in Portimao was impressive, as he was the only man able to stick with Quartararo, and despite crashing out while trying to stay with the Frenchman, the potential is there. In more traditional tracks, I think the Suzuki man will spring a surprise – if he eliminates his tendency to crash when good points are on offer.
Most impressive in the Portugues GP was Pecco Bagnaia, who should have taken a sensational pole, but was denied due to a yellow flag infringement. Bagnaia cut his way through the field to take 2nd in the race, and you have to wonder, had his pole position not been taken away, could he have featured more heavily in the fight for victory? Bagnaia really held up honour for the Bologna Bullets in Portugal, after Jack Miller and Johann Zarco crashed out while hunting for podium positions, and the astonishing rookie Jorge Martin had a nasty high-side in Practise and was unable to take part in the race. The step up to the factory Ducati team has clearly done wonders for Bagnaia’s confidence, and I think it won’t be long before we see him take his maiden premier class win.
The reigning world champion, Joan Mir, was back to form in the Portuguese GP, managing a clever, if gruelling, race to take his first podium after securing the 2020 title. Of course, as the reigning world champion, his was always going to be a name that many were expecting to see at the sharp end, and it seems as though, much like last year, the current champion only needs to sort out his qualifying, and we would be guaranteed to see him winning races with ease.
Another rider back to form was Franco Morbidelli, who suffered many mechanical issue indignities in the Qatar openers, and was publically scathing towards Yamaha and their ‘priorities,’ as he remains on the A-spec 2019 bike that he was given 2 years ago, despite finishing 2nd overall in last year’s championship. However, the disaster that was the Qatar rounds has clearly been put behind him, as he took 4th place, just behind the podium finishers, and with Jerez coming up, which is traditionally a strong track for Yamaha, let’s hope that Morbidelli will be able to mount a championship challenger from here on in – if only to show Yamaha where their true priorities should lie.
Despite the brilliance of the top 4 finishers in the Portuguese GP, I have to say that the hero of the race in terms of performance had to be Brad Binder. KTM had a breakout year in 2020, with many podium finishes and even their first race victory (which came at the hands of Binder in just his third ever MotoGP race). However, they have struggled to score points in 2021 so far, as it seems that Michelin’s front tyre allocations do not suit the RC-16, with all he riders complaining that even the hardest option tyres are ‘too soft.’ Luckily for the Austrian manufacturer, Binder is a racer at heart, and wrestled his struggling machine to P5, and not too far away from the podium finishers. Binder is another rider who, should he finesse his qualifying, could easily be standing on the top step very often.
In contrast to Binder, whilst last year’s Portimao race was very much a fairy-tale for home hero Miguel Oliveira, who took pole position, fastest lap and the race victory hat trick, on our return to the Algarve, it is safe to say that the fairy-tale turned into a horror show. Oliveira has been most vocal about the RC-16’s difficulties with the new Michelin tyre’s and suffered an embarrassing crash during his home race, and although he was able to get back on the bike, he was the only rider to finish the race without scoring a single point.
Another rider who suffered in Portimao was Maverick Vinales. Whilst Vinales took a sensational victory in the opening round, he has not been able to repeat such heroics, and worst of all, it is his new team mate that has been showing him up, by taking the exact same bike to the top step of the podium. Vinales finished the race in P11, having falling back to dead last on the opening lap, and running a pace that was over 2 seconds slower than his expected race pace. This is a crucial year for Vinales, as it is the first year he has the title of premier rider in the factory Yamaha team, so he needs to start matching Quartararo’s potential. That said Vinales is a phenomenal talent, and deserves his seat in the factory team – recently the man has been bullied by rabid fans on social media over his performance, and that’s terrible. No armchair critic, fan, or pundit should harass these riders who risk their lives to provide us with such excellent entertainment.
Unfortunately, speaking of Yamaha seats, I have to address the elephant in the room. Valentino Rossi will always be remembered as the greatest there’s been in the history of this sport, that’s just an undisputed fact. However, as a 42-year-old, in his 26th GP season and putting in some extremely dismal performances… how long should he take up a seat on the grid that could be going to an up and coming talent? Rossi has scored only 4 points in the opening 3 rounds. Of course, there is an argument to be made that he’s settling into a new team and is unsure around Portimao, but if he continues to struggle in Jerez – the site of his last podium to date – maybe it should be time for the GOAT to consider standing down.
Finally, I have to congratulate Taka Nakagami, who suffered a horrific crash in Practise that tore all the skin from his left leg, not to mention badly bruised his sternum and left him unable to do a qualifying run, thus meaning he started the race from the back of the grid whilst injured. Nakagami put in a heroic performance to snatch P10, having to fend off Maverick Vinales even on the run to the finish line. To finish the race with such injuries, and the handicap of last place on the grid, and take decent points is nothing short of heroic.
So there you are, a full rundown of all the most important action from the Portuguese GP. I for one am very excited that the Portimao circuit has been signed to our permanent race calendar because the rollercoaster produces incredible racing from all three categories. This week, the riders take on the famous Circuito de Jerez, and could Fabio Quatararo take three race victories on the spin? Will Marc Marquez be recovered enough to take on a podium challenge? Can Pedro Acosta continue his run of excellence? Will Marco Bezzechi take his first podium finish of 2021? There is a lot to play for in all three championships this year – and I for one am extremely excited!
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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