By now the dust has settled and the sun has set on one of the most iconic tracks MotoGP ever go to – Circuito de Jerez – and oh wow, did it produce yet another stunner of a race. The MotoGP race looked decidedly set to give Fabio Quartararo his first hat trick of wins in a row, both at the Jerez circuit and in this 2021 season. Quartararo had an untouchable pace, made no mistakes in any of the Free Practise or Qualifying sessions, and bagged his 11th pole position, the 4th in a row for him at the Jerez circuit.
It seemed as if the only hope any of the fields would have at stopping Quartararo win, would be if the man himself made a mistake, or if the Ducati’s of Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia, who qualified in 3rd and 4th, could use their holeshot devices to get ahead of him in turn one.
As it was, the factory Ducati men did exactly that. As the lights went out, Jack Miller took an early lead in the race, followed by Franco Morbidelli, and close behind were Pecco Bagnaia and Fabio Quaratararo. Of course, in the past this may have been enough to entirely deny Quartararo the victory – historically the Yamaha M1 has found it incredibly difficult to pass other bikes when mired in a pack because of the noticeable lack in top speed. However, the 2021 chassis seems more than capable this year of finally giving the Yamaha boys a fighting chance, and in just 4 laps, Quaratararo was able to pass the three in front of him and then comfortably break away, despite Miller’s valiant determination to chase him down, which saw both of them do laps in the 1:37.7 range – a new race lap record.
Quartararo led the race with a good 1.5 second lead over Miller for 11 laps, and it looked as though the victory for him was a certainty, and Yamaha would win the first 4 races of a season for the first time since 1980.
However, MotoGP is nothing if not dramatic. On lap 15, the gap between Quartararo and Miller started steadily decreasing, which had many commentators wondering whether Quartararo was easing off his pace or even potentially suffering from a dud tyre. Within just 2 laps, Miller caught and overtook him for the lead. After that, it just got worse for the Frenchman, who plummeted like a stone through the order, with his lap times consistently 2 seconds slower than the rest of the field.
Quartararo finished the race in P13, and it transpired that he had become afflicted with a very sudden case of ‘arm pump’ (or Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome, to give it its proper scientific moniker) which was the reason for his startling drop in competitiveness. It’s hard not to feel sorry for Quartararo, who must have endured terrible pain to even finish the race and take valuable championship points. He was easily going to win, were he not unfortunate enough to be afflicted with the arm pump, but unfortunately, you don’t get ‘moral’ race wins.
With Quartararo’s hindered performance, Jack Miller was on his way to take a race victory for the first time in 6 long years, and his first ever in dry weather conditions. Miller led the final 8 laps of the race in perfect form. He didn’t miss a single apex, nor did he look at any point as though he were susceptible to make a mistake, even with the pressure of his team mate, consistently hounding him throughout the remainder of the race. Miller has had a difficult season opener in his first year in the factory Ducati team. A dud rear tyre in the Qatar GP cost him the chance to fight for the podium, and in the Doha GP, he not only had a controversial clash with Joan Mir in the race, but also became afflicted with ‘arm pump,’ which saw him take two 9th place finishes – not where anyone expecting him to finish after such promising performance in the pre-season tests. Even worse, in the Portuguese GP, which followed him having his own operation to drain the excess fluid from his arm from the ‘arm pump’ debacle, he crashed out of the race, and it seemed as though his future in the factory team was seriously in doubt.
However, he fought against the negativity that has followed him online. He worked quietly across the weekend to ensure that his performance was as competitive as it could be, and when the opportunity to win arrived, he took it with both hands. Even more impressive, was the fact that Miller’s win was the first time a Ducati has won in Jerez since Loris Capirossi managed it in 2006. Jerez is not typically a Ducati friendly track, with the copious amount of tight corners, and the Ducati’s rather dismal turning ability.
Ducati higher-ups made no secret of the fact that they were taking a risk in promoting both Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia to the factory team, as Ducati have traditionally preferred to have older, more experienced rider at the helm of their MotoGP efforts. Yet it would seem that Jack and Pecco have found something in their riding styles that allows them to turn their huge Desmosedici’s in a way that the displaced Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci were not able to do.
Speaking of Pecco Bagnaia, he hounded his team mate across the entire length of the race, with the gap between them never at any more than 1 second. He took a well-deserved 2nd place and with it, became the championship leader in the premier class for the first time. Bagnaia, in contrast to Miller, has thrived in his opening tenure in the Ducati factory team, having taken podium finished in the opening round, Portugal and now also in Jerez. Arguably, he also should have managed a podium in the second Qatar race, but a mistake late on robbed him of the opportunity to fight for the podium. Nevertheless, it seems that the confidence of getting a factory ride has been just the boost the 2018 Moto2 world champion needed, and while he may have emerged as the surprise contender for this year’s title, I don’t doubt he is a worthy contender.
The final man on the Jerez podium was Franco Morbidelli, who took 3rd place on a 2 year old Yamaha A-spec machine. He also finished as the highest Yamaha rider, which has to be a kick in the teeth for the higher ups in Yamaha, as they still refuse him an up to date, factory spec package. Talking to BT Sport, team manager for Petronas SRT Wilco Zeelenberg, revealed that Morbidelli already has a contract in place to stay with the Petronas team, which is affiliated with Yamaha, for 2022, and I think everyone is hoping that Morbidelli will be given a factory bike next season. After all, if they don’t, Yamaha will regret it, as Morbidelli will be a very hot commodity, having proven that he is astoundingly competitive even on outdated, less powerful machinery.
Other impressive rides came in the form of Taka Nakagami, who was very much upholding Honda honour, as he finished in 4th, yet again just missing out on a podium finish. Nakagami has struggled in the opening rounds, as he has been given an up to date, full factory spec bike for the first time in his MotoGP career, however he has had a resurgence of the brilliant form he displayed last year this weekend, after the LCR team fitted the 2020 chassis to his bike. Since then, the change has been monumental, with Nakagami managing to find something extra with the change in chassis. I genuinely hope that the man can achieve his first premier class podium this year – it’s been a very long time coming.
I also have to commend Aleix Espargaro, who was disappointed with another 6th place result, after he demonstrated impressive pace across the weekend, and having managed a 4th consecutive Q2 appearance. Aleix is truly proving that the Aprilia is on its way to becoming a truly competitive bike, and again, his is another name that I want to see get on the podium this year – he has given Aprilia everything over the last 5 years, and it would be good to see him rewarded.
Finally, Marc Marquez also had an impressive ride, achieving 9th in the race, despite giving his worst qualifying performance in his premier class career, having started from P14. Marquez had two, monster crashes across the weekend, and I don’t mind telling you that they frightened me half to death. Two, over 100mph crashes at the circuit that almost ended his career? My heart was in my mouth when Honda revealed that he was taken to hospital after the first big crash. Luckily, the hospital has confirmed that the right arm bone is now as strong as the left, which must be a relief for many. If Marquez can still manage a top 10 finish in a very difficult weekend, I’m sure that his prior amazing form will come back to him as he continues to recover.
Now, unfortunately, I must discuss the disappointing performances, starting with Alex Rins. Rins displayed pace to rival Quartararo’s, and many were hoping to see him make an excellent jump off the line and get into the battle with him throughout the race. However, he crashed early in the race and despite remounting, the damage was done. Even more frustrating, was the fact that Rins was consistently putting in very fast laps, and ended the race as the fastest man on track. With two pointless scores in a row, it will be difficult (though not impossible) for him to make a mark on the title fight. Rins’ potential is massive, and I truly believe that his talent combined with the Suzuki’s capabilities is truly a championship winning partnership – he just needs to iron out the mistakes.
Another disappointment was Maverick Vinales. I don’t like to say anything bad about Vinales, because he has shown, time and again that he really is a very competitive rider, not to mention the abuse he has received online recently which is despicable and upsetting. However, the fact remains that Vinales’ future in the factory Yamaha team must be looking fairly uncertain. Vinales took a 7th place finish, even after displaying impressive pace on all the tyre allocations across the weekend, and with the Yamaha as competitive as it is this year, he should have been much higher up the order, especially as Jerez has always been a complementary track for the Yamaha’s. Whilst he was the highest placed factory Yamaha rider, this was only because Quartararo suffered an injury. Maverick has got a contract in place for 2022 in the factory team, but if he doesn’t start taking wins and podiums with more regularity, I have to say, it looks like Yamaha might be lining up another swap between the Petronas and factory team seats.
Finally, the elephant in the room; Valentino Rossi. Jerez has always been a Rossi track – who can forget the famous toilet celebration from Jerez? Not to mention, it is the site of his most recent podium finish, where he came 3rd in last year’s second race at the venue. This year, Rossi ran the race with the exact same pace that he had in last year’s GP, which is impressive considering his age. Unfortunately, while that time may have been good enough for 3rd last year, this year it translated into 17th, and as an extra kick in the teeth, meant he finished behind his brother, Luca Marini, a rookie. The Doctor is still one of the best riders in the world – absolutely no one can dispute that. Unfortunately, the competition is only going to get faster, and I feel that Rossi may have just reached his limit. With no word from Petronas on whether or not they have signed an extension for Rossi’s contract, you have to feel that, if he can’t perform at a track he loves, it might just be time for the GOAT to hang up his leathers.
So, Jack Miller won the Jerez GP after late drama saw fit to rob Fabio Quartararo of the crown. Miller is obviously a very popular winner, and it is wonderful to see him bounce back after facing a really tough season opener. Will Le Mans spring another surprise winner on us? We’ll have to wait and see! The French GP gets underway with Free Practise on Friday 14th May.
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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