The Frenchman is on a charge and his rivals will be delighted to look back at his domination at the venue last season. But this is 2021, and nothing is guaranteed…
Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) is a man on a mission. After not even starting the season with a podium, the Frenchman regrouped and refocused for round two, taking a resounding victory in the Doha GP before in Portimão we saw more of the same. And the same was not simply the fastest man on Sunday, but also a tactical masterclass in when and where to attack, and whom, before deciding where to pull that final pin. His two wins rocket El Diablo to the top of the standings and very much make him the man to beat. The next track on the calendar is one at which he dominated twice last year too, and although it was in the heat of July, that makes good reading for him. So who’s going to stop Quartararo’s roll?
The closest to doing so in Portugal was Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team), and the Italian did it from the fourth row of the grid. Had he not fallen foul of Yellow Flags in qualifying, where an electrifying new lap record got scrubbed off, could he have challenged? It’s a tall order but Pecco has taken a big step forward so far this season. Jerez, however, hasn’t been the kindest to Ducati of late… although that means another podium or challenge at the front would be an even bigger statement. His fellow Borgo Panigale machines of teammate Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) will also want a lot from Andalucia, as both look to bounce back quickly from crashes, for Zarco one that saw him lose the Championship lead.
Bouncing back is also the mission for Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP). After a masterclass in the season opener, Viñales just lost out in Doha and then a difficult qualifying – with two laps scrubbed for the most infinitesimal track limit infractions – in Portugal put him on the back foot. Despite a bad start and getting swallowed by the pack, however, he stays third overall with 11th place doing enough to keep Zarco at bay. Back on home turf, reset and reloaded, can Viñales unleash the pace he showed in round one and take the fight back to his teammate? And what about Petronas Yamaha SRT?
It’s fair to say the first two rounds of the season weren’t what the grid’s newest Independent Team had been expecting, with both Franco Morbidelli and Valentino Rossi seeming out of position for team and rider. Morbidelli put that to rights in Portugal as he was top Independent Team rider and only just off the podium in fourth, so can he keep that rolling in Jerez? And can the ‘Doctor’, back on familiar turf and with more track time, bounce back from a tough few first races of the season?
Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar), meanwhile, was back on the podium last time out. And last year, that sparked his run for the crown. However, the reigning Champion said the venues so far and a few more aren’t their ideal circuits for starting to go on a similar run just yet, so will it be ‘just’ a podium challenge again? Or more? Teammate Alex Rins will be eager to right wrongs from last time out too after a stunner in Portimão was cut short by a crash out of second, so could he stay in with Quartararo this time around?
Jerez is also good news for a few others on the grid, and one must be Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing). Last year as a rookie the results didn’t come, but some of the South African’s FP4 pace was an eyebrow raiser… and that was first time out. Now, his sophomore season started at a tough track for KTM and a venue he’d never raced – the MotoGP™ class didn’t compete in Qatar last year – and then Portimão, where he took an impressive and hard-fought fifth that raised the eyebrows of the podium finishers. Jerez is somewhere he has more experience and a few good memories to boot, having won in Moto3™ from the very back of the grid. Teammate Miguel Oliveira, after a tougher home race this time round, will also be focused on taking the Austrian factory back to the front as the pendulum he’d had since round one starts to swing back towards the other side of the garage.
There is, of course, an elephant in the room in the shape of eight-time World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). His return in Portugal was a successful one as he took seventh, and he was understandably emotional after completing his first race since Valencia 2019. More time has passed since lights out on the Algarve for Marquez to continue his recovery, and now it’s Jerez he’s facing down. Scene of his crash, but also scene of previous glory as well as much more familiar turf. What can he do? And can Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) take a step forward as he fends off Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) in the Honda battle? There’s also test rider Stefan Bradl back on track doing a wildcard for HRC in Jerez, so he’ll be an interesting benchmark as ever.
Speaking of benchmarks, Portugal saw Aprilia continue to home in on a good few. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) put in another impressive ride to equal the Noale factory’s best result in MotoGP™ in sixth, and he’ll want to continue his roll to underline the steps forward made by the nearly all-new package. After a certain Andrea Dovizioso took the RS-GP for a spin recently at the very same Jerez too, was there any feedback from Dovi to Noale, or was it a taster for rider more than a data-gathering exercise?
In the battle of the Moto2™ graduate rookies, meanwhile, Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama Racing) is now back ahead of Doha podium man Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) as the latter crashed on Saturday in Portugal and is now sidelined until at least Mugello. He’ll be replaced by Tito Rabat, and Bastianini will be looking to gain a little more ground on Luca Marini (Sky VR46 Avintia) too. The Beast has been consistent, but Marini did seriously impress in Free Practice in Portugal so it’s starting to come together.
And so we arrive in Jerez, with one man on a roll and a host of contenders looking to stop him in his tracks. The Gran Premio Red Bull de España is always a classic and 2021 will be no different, with so many storylines already emerging there’s almost too much to take in. But try your best, with lights out for the MotoGP™ class set for 14:00 (GMT +2) on Sunday the 2nd of May!
MotoGP™ Championship top five:
1 Fabio Quartararo – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP – Yamaha – 61
2 Francesco Bagnaia – Ducati Lenovo Team – Ducati – 46
3 Maverick Viñales – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP – Yamaha – 41
4 Johann Zarco* – Pramac Racing – Ducati – 40
5 Joan Mir – Team Suzuki Ecstar – Suzuki – 38
*Independent Team rider
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