Time for a Moto3 rethink?
It was hard to know what to make of Sunday’s Moto3 offering at Montmeló. On the one hand, there was drama and excitement from start to end, a contest across 41 minutes that had you on the very edge of your seat the entire time. But on the other, this strayed too far toward downright dangerous with so many near misses it was almost impossible to count.
Of all the weekends for a race like this to take place, the one that followed the tragic events of Mugello wasn’t it. As if a 15-rider fight for the win wasn’t wild enough, leader Jeremy Alcoba sat up through turn 13 on the penultimate lap (as did Pedro Acosta, then in second), refusing to lead onto the straight. Then it all kicked off, 13 bikes bunching up, crossing the line 0.7s apart. The braking antics into turn one were genuinely scary.
It didn’t end there. First Ayumu Sasaki high-sided out of turn seven, taking the Leopard Hondas of Dennis Foggia and Xavi Artigas down. Miraculously the Japanese rider escaped with minor injuries and will make a full recovery. Then Izan Guevara crashed at turn ten, narrowly avoiding a host of other names. And Sergio Garcia just held off Alcoba to the line to win his second race in three by 0.015s.
Add that to the other list of scares, which included John McPhee high-siding out of the lead in front of the pack at turn two, with Tatsuki Suzuki and Andrea Migno crashing to take avoiding action, plus Gabriel Rodrigo so nearly taking out Pedro Acotsa’s front tyre when weaving on the start finish straight, and this was uncomfortable viewing. Thrilling, yes. But uncomfortable. Especially with the events of the previous round still fresh in our minds.
After the race Alcoba described the unenviable task of a Moto3 rider, attempting to plan their position on track. “When you hit sixth gear at the end of the straight and you see six riders with you, it was a bit scary because someone passes you and brakes hard, his bike is moving, you have to think what is my position, what do I do, and how do I finish the corner. It’s a moment, one second you have to think of all of this.” And Garcia summed it up. “We have to push and we don’t have to think in that moment, to think if it is scary or not.”
The scares weren’t limited to the public. The FIM Stewards were so dismayed by the morning’s events, they summoned every single Moto3 rider and team boss to a meeting soon after the race concluded. There, riders were instructed actions such as Alcoba’s on the penultimate lap would lead to immediate disqualification in future races. One Moto3 name I talked to wasn’t impressed. He spoke of the danger Alcoba had caused, bunching the pack together, meaning they were eight abreast braking for turn one. He was forthright in his view that the Spaniard was fortunate in the extreme to remain on the podium here.
Alcoba didn’t shy away from the truth when pressed on his tactics. “This is Moto3. You need to think about the last straight,” he said. “If you are in fourth position, maybe you can finish first. But if you start the last lap first, you maybe come to the first corner in tenth, and didn’t have the possibility for victory.” He comes across well, and yes, his tactics were effective. But they were potentially lethal. And this isn’t the first time in the past season and a half that Alcoba’s actions in a race have courted controversy.
The race seems to have brought many current frustrations with the class to the fore. The tactics of certain riders for one. The sitting up, and allowing riders by, was one thing. And then the weaving on the start-finish straight was another. Both must be stamped out, and fast.
Also the fact the class rarely rewards the riders that have worked on pace best through a weekend has to be factored in. McPhee was an obvious example. There was a clear mistake on his part which caused his crash. But the only way to break the pack was establish a gap big enough through the curves that precede the straight. There was clear frustration in Mark Woodage’s, crew chief of McPhee, recent exchange with Rodrigo on Twitter. “Your pace was strongest all weekend and deserved minimum (a) podium,” it read. “It’s (a) shame Moto3 has gotten like Mario Kart with slow riders able to run at the front.”
He had a point. Rodrigo was able to run low 1'49s for fun through free practice. But after lap 8 on Sunday, he managed to do that just once with the constant dicing at the front slowing the group considerably. It meant a rider that qualified 25th (Acosta) was leading by lap one. And a rider than qualified 19th (Garcia) won the race. Racing of this kind almost renders the work done on Friday and Saturday meaningless.
The technical parity that has brought the grid’s 12 Hondas and 16 KTM – GASGAS – Husqvarnas to an almost identical level has brought about unheralded variety (17 different riders have won in the class since the start of 2019), and racing of the most dramatic kind. There have been suggestions an increase in capacity could bring about change.
But a recent announcement from the Grand Prix Commission this week confirmed technical development in the class will be frozen until the end of 2023 to ensure cost control. The change, it seems, will have to come from the riders. And it has to come. As there are only so many bullets that can be dodged.
Fortnights don’t come much better. Buoyed by his first win of the season the week before, and confirmation he’ll be stepping up to MotoGP in 2022, Remy Gardner was flawless once again in Barcelona. The 23-year showed ice cool racecraft, weighing up team-mate Raul Fernandez from laps twelve to 19 before breaking clear in the final three laps. “In the beginning tried to break away but I didn’t want to burn up the rear. I tried to be smooth. But I saw there was 0.5s to second the whole time. Raul came by, made a push and I thought, ‘Ok, I’ll follow you.’ I knew I had more in me and had half the race to study him. I planned to pass him with two laps to go but saw an opportunity to go by at turn one and thought, ‘Let’s just do it!’ Then I got the hammer down. I couldn’t be happier.”
Asked whether confirmation of the MotoGP deal had given him the extra focus, Gardner insisted it made no difference. “It has been signed back a while (ago). We’ve got to focus on the Moto2 World Championship; not think about next year. There’s still no mental relief. There are still many races to go and a championship to fight for.” He’ll take some stopping from here.
Experience crucial for Fernandez
Fernandez had no answer for his team-mate in the closing laps and was adamant the better man had won. In the post-race press conference, he never once mentioned Gardner by name, instead talking about ‘he’ and ‘him’. There is no acrimony between the pair, but after a sensational run of five podium finishes in his first seven races in Moto2, he knows he’s in the midst of a title fight. But, as he was keen to point out to everyone soon after, he has under half a season of experience in this class, compared to Remy’s five. “At the moment we have a very similar speed but he has more experience. This is my ‘mistake’,” said Fernandez. “In the race I tried to push but I couldn’t because the front tyre was destroyed. I’m really happy. But he is stronger than me at the moment. I can’t fight with him. I think I can, but I need more experience.”
Vierge finds his groove
He’s been banging on the door for some time. But Xavi Vierge finally returned to the Moto2 podium for the first time since October 2018. It had been a long wait, and the Catalan has experienced some bad fortune in the past year, as well as performing below expectations. But he started well, was clinical in his passing of Bo Bendsneyder for third and expertly kept Marco Bezzecchi at bay in the closing laps to take Petronas Sprinta’s first podium in the intermediate class. “It was a long time that I haven’t been here,” said the Catalan. “Today was like a victory. For five or six races we’ve had the speed to fight but something always happened. I knew today I couldn’t make a mistake and that Remy and Raul had a bit more rhythm than the rest. But my plan was to start well and try to follow them. Bo started so good so I followed him. But when he started to struggled, I overtook him and pushed until the line. This little confidence is so important for us to fight every weekend for these positions.”
Rodrigo: mind more important than bike
Sixth place fellow below the expectations Gabriel Rodrigo had set himself in Barcelona. But there was still a good deal to admire in a weekend in which he scored a sixth career pole. It has been a decent turnaround from the Argentinean, who really lost his way at the close of 2020. On Saturday, he mentioned conversations with a psychologist over the winter months had been key to his improvements in 2021. “After last year I decided to go to a psychologist because I had two years very up and down and feeling like I was not controlling well my ups and also not my downs. I wasn’t feeling well with myself. So, I was pushed from people around me but I was the first one. I wanted to do it. I think it was the change for me. More important than over the bike, I’m more happy. I’m enjoying life and before maybe not that much. So, I think it’s the best thing I did in the last years. I’m feeling really well, so still a lot of work to do about myself, but feeling on a great moment. So trying to enjoy it.”
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