Analysis

Silverstone MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Unfazed Fabio, Trouble With Tires, Close Races, Aprilia Joy, And Marquez' Madness

The question MotoGP fans and followers were asking themselves over the summer break was how much of his 34-point championship lead Fabio Quartararo would be able to hang on to after Ducati ruled two races in Austria and Suzuki hoovered up the points at Silverstone. The best the Monster Energy Yamaha rider could hope for was to claw back a few points at the British Grand Prix, and then hope to manage the points gap to the end of the season. The question in everyone's mind was how much of Quartararo's lead would remain, and whether his lead would even be in double figures.

It hasn't turned out that way. Quartararo finished third and seventh in the two races at the Red Bull Ring, and managed to extend his lead to 47 points by the time MotoGP left Austria. At Silverstone, the Frenchman dominated, adding another victory and stretching his lead to 65 points. With six races left in the 2021 MotoGP season (probably, Covid-19 permitting), the championship is Quartararo's to lose.

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Silverstone MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The Pole That Wasn't, A Reversal Of Fortunes, And Aprilia's Auto-Adjuster

In the dying minutes of the Q2 session for MotoGP, it looked like we were witnessing a miracle. Jorge Martin flashed through the second sector nearly a second and a half up on the best time at that point. If he kept up that pace, he would be on his way to destroying the Silverstone pole record held by Marc Marquez, set on the newly resurfaced track back in 2019. Martin looked to be on his way to being the first rider to break the 1'58 barrier and lap the track in the 1'57s.

He lost a little ground in the third and fourth sectors, but as he flashed across the line, he left the MotoGP world speechless: a time of 1'58.008, 0.160 faster than Marquez' record from 2019. More impressively, it was nearly nine tenths faster than the 1'58.889 which had put Pol Espargaro on provisional pole, before the Pramac Ducati rider had so thoroughly demolished his time.

Could it be true? We waited for Race Direction to cancel Martin's time, but it stood for a very long time, until well after the checkered flag had been waved. The lap was too fast, but with little time to check, we had to believe that Jorge Martin once again pulled something exceptional out of the bag.

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Silverstone MotoGP Friday Round Up: Cold Crashes, Risk vs Reward, Ducati's Big Step, And Why Silverstone Is Such A Tough Track

It's only Friday, so the times don't mean all that much. You don't win MotoGP races on Friday. But you can certainly lose them, and even lose championships if you're not careful. Especially on a Friday.

That was the lesson of Silverstone, as both Marc Marquez and Fabio Quartararo found to their cost. Marc Marquez had a fairly simple lowside, but managed to do so at 274 km/h at one of the fastest parts of the circuit. Quartararo's crash was much, much slower – 75 km/h, rather than 274 – but could have been much more serious. The Frenchman lost the rear, then the bike tried to flick him up and over the highside, twisting his ankle in the process.

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Silverstone MotoGP Preview: Unknown Favorites At A Glorious Track

It is hard to overstate just how different Silverstone is from Spielberg, where the last two MotoGP rounds were held. Sure, both have very high average speeds – Silverstone at 179.7 km/h is among the fastest tracks on the calendar, and Spielberg's 188 km/h is the fastest of the season – but that is pretty much where the similarity ends.

Silverstone has 18 corners, where Spielberg has only 10. The Austrian circuit is 4.3km long, while Silverstone is 5.9 kilometers. The Red Bull Ring is three fast straights with a bunch of corners holding them together, while Silverstone is a complex of flowing corners and combinations of turns which present a real challenge to get right. Oh, and Spielberg has steep climbs and sweeping drops, built on the side of a mountain (the clue is in the name, SpielBERG), while Silverstone is pretty much flat as a pancake, built around an old airfield on the top of a hill.

The way you make the lap time at Silverstone is very different to Austria. Carrying speed through the fast, flowing sections such as out of Luffield and through Woodcote and Copse is crucial, as is negotiating the changes of direction at places like Maggotts and Becketts, or the section through Abbey, Farm, and into Village. There are places to make up ground on the brakes – into Stowe, through Vale, and into Brooklands – but the surest route to success is by having a bike which carries corner speed and changes direction willingly.

The right character

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Replacing Maverick Viñales: Will The Engine Rules Allow Morbidelli Or Rossi To Move Up To The Factory Team?

Maverick Viñales' decision to leave Yamaha at the end of the 2021 season raised all sorts of questions. Who would take his place in the factory Monster Energy Yamaha team? Can Franco Morbidelli be bought out of his contract with the Petronas SRT team? And if Morbidelli goes to the factory team, who do Petronas take to replace Morbidelli?

Valentino Rossi added another layer of complexity to those questions at the Styria Grand Prix by announcing he would be retiring from MotoGP at the end of this year. Now, Yamaha had not one, but two seats to fill. Where would Yamaha find two riders ready to move up to MotoGP? Do Petronas look to the WorldSBK paddock, or at Moto2? Do they want young riders, or should they look at veterans like Jonathan Rea or Andrea Dovizioso?

The race that weekend saw the issues around Yamaha and Viñales multiply exponentially. Viñales' abuse of his Yamaha M1, holding the bike on the stop in fifth gear in frustration caused Yamaha to finally lose patience with the Spaniard. He was first suspended, then had his contract terminated with immediate effect, leaving Yamaha with a seat to fill for the remaining seven races of 2021.

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Austria Moto2 & Moto3 Review: Neil Morrison On RF Doing It For The Haters, Gardner's Rough Weekend, And Moto3 Shenanigans

As ever Moto2 and Moto3 threw up a plenty of intrigue at the Austrian Grand Prix with two close races. Here, we dive into some of the more pressing matters in both classes.

Fernandez: this one's for the h8rs

It’s no secret motorcycle racers can take even the tiniest slight onboard and store it up for those dark days when motivation doesn’t come easy. For Raul Fernandez, his latest triumph was dedicated to those who had the temerity to cast doubt on his talents after a lousy showing the previous weekend. Well, lousy by his standards.

“I want to say thanks to my team, to my family, but especially to my haters, who one week ago said I would never get another podium,” he said from parc fermé. “Now I’m here again with a victory. This is for all of you.”

Raising his middle finger to the bad boys of the world wide web aside, this was yet another demonstration of Fernandez’s frightening ability. Seizing control of the Moto2 race on the third lap, he led a tense if processional encounter in which Ai Ogura, Augusto Fernandez and Sam Lowes all ran near identical times for the first 20 laps. “We were all lapping to the (same) tenth,” said Augusto of this encounter, after finishing third. “One tenth (off) and you could see you were losing something – crazy!”

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Austria MotoGP Race Subscriber Notes: Flag-to-Flag Timing, Racing Slicks In The Wet, Why Fabio Is Fast, And The New Marc Marquez

For the first time in four races at the Red Bull Ring, MotoGP managed to complete a race without being interrupted by a red flag. The riders did the warm up lap, lined up on the grid, took off once the lights went out, and completed 28 laps of the Spielberg circuit in one go. The last time that happened was in 2019.

Just because they went from lights to flag without interruption doesn't necessarily mean there was just one race, however. Where the two races in 2020 and last week's Styrian Grand Prix had been split by crashes, on Sunday it was the weather which divided the 2021 Austrian Grand Prix into effectively two separate events. Or perhaps even three.

There was a dry 21 laps, which saw three riders break away, Pecco Bagnaia leading Marc Marquez and Fabio Quartararo in a tense waiting game where it was obvious the outcome was to be decided in the closing stages, all three riders keeping something in reserve for the last couple of laps.

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Austria MotoGP Saturday Round Up: A Record-Breaking Pole, 7-Day Déjà Vu, Hard Fronts, And Viñales' Future

The thing about back-to-back races is that everyone gets faster. Or at least, that's the idea. With an extra weekend of data under their belts, the teams should have a pretty good idea about the ideal setting for the bike at a track, and returning to a circuit where they had raced a week before, the riders should be able to navigate every corner, bump, and braking zone with their eyes closed.

The track should be better too. With a weekend of motorcycle rubber on the track to replace the residue left by cars, there is more grip for the riders to exploit. The stars should all be aligned for everyone to be faster the second time around.

As it turns out, that is only partially true. Johann Zarco raised expectations in FP1, smashing the pole record set by Jorge Martin the previous week by over a tenth of a second. In FP3, both Pecco Bagnaia and Fabio Quartararo dived under Martin's previous record as well, though they were still a ways behind Zarco's time. So in qualifying, surely Zarco's record would fall, and half the grid or more would be into the 1'22s?

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Austria MotoGP Friday Round Up: Rain Wrecks Plans, Riding Wet And Dry, Helping Marquez' Shoulder, And The Binder Brothers

We know that the weather in the mountains is changeable, but Friday at the Red Bull Ring took the cake. A bright, sunny morning, with ideal conditions for riding – so ideal that Johann Zarco sliced another tenth of a second off the outright lap record in FP1 – and in the last ten minutes or so of FP2 for the Moto3 class, a few drops of rain, and then lightning, and a hailstorm in 30°C heat. The MotoGP riders went out on a soaking track, but by the time the session finished, it was almost dry.

Iker Lecuona seized his opportunity. The Tech3 KTM rider had been quick enough on wets, but at the end of FP2, he swapped to slicks, and banged in a time nearly 3.4 seconds faster than anyone else had managed. Jack Miller was the only other rider to stick a set of slicks in at the end, though he was not chasing a time, but trying to understand how the medium slicks would work on a track which was still quite wet.

"I just went out on the mediums to understand how they work in quite a lot of water on the track," Miller explained. "Because it's quite stop-start here, you're putting a lot of weight on both the front and the rear tyre, and the medium definitely feels better. So I just wanted to understand how quickly I could get them up to temperature and working, and they worked pretty good."

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Austria MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Spielberg's Bad Vibes, A stiffer Front Tire, And Closer Second Races

The Red Bull Ring has faced much criticism in the six years since MotoGP started going back there, mostly about the safety of the riders on track. But one thing that gets overlooked is the circuit's propensity for generating drama off track. In 2020, we had Andrea Dovizioso announcing he would not be racing with Ducati again in 2021. In 2019, we had the drama with Johann Zarco splitting with KTM, with additional drama around Jack Miller possibly losing a place to Jorge Lorenzo, who would return to Ducati to take Miller's place at Pramac.

The year before, Yamaha had held a press conference in which management and engineers officially apologized to factory riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales for building a dog-slow bike that left them 11th and 14th on the grid. Spielberg was the place where Romano Fenati got into an altercation with the Sky VR46 Moto2 team, and was sacked in 2016.

So much discord and division. Perhaps the circuit is built on a conjunction of ley lines, or perhaps the Spielberg track was built on an ancient cemetery where the contemporaries of Ötzi were buried. Or perhaps the middle of a MotoGP season is when tensions generally reach boiling point. The latter explanation is the most likely, perhaps, though a good deal less entertaining.

Bouncing off the limiter

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