For the third time in as many races, the rookies lit up the smaller classes in Portugal, and now may harbour genuine title hopes…
Raul on a roll
You can count on one hand the number of riders that have impacted the Moto2 class as immediately as Raul Fernandez. A podium in one of his first two races? Only three did it before (Hafizh Syahrin, Maverick Viñales and Alex Rins). And now the 20-year old joins Viñales as the only rider to have won a race in their first three appearances.
By that measurement, Fernandez is fairly special; not even Marc Márquez or Joan Mir adapted this quickly. And for a rider that scored ‘just’ two wins and two podiums in the junior class across three years, it would be fair to say few saw this coming.
In Portugal, the scene of his dominant final Moto3 appearance, he fought through from a poor qualifying (tenth) and methodically picked off the men in the seven-rider lead group. In both Qatar races, the Spaniard had challenged the leaders early on, only for tyre life to slow him as the race edged toward the end. But here, no one could live with him in the final six laps, as he first passed Joe Roberts, then Aron Canet to pull clear and win by 1.6s.
The 2020 MotoGP season saw a curious debate arise. The valve issues which Yamaha suffered at the first two races at Jerez saw the Japanese factory have points deducted and have to manage the remaining 12 races on just three engines for each rider. Franco Morbidelli, already disadvantaged by having to run the 2019 machine, rather than the supposedly more better 2020 Yamaha M1, had just two engines to last the season.
After winning the first two races, and taking a clean sweep of the podium at Jerez 2, the 2020 Yamahas disappeared. Fans and media wrote the M1 off, declaring the bike to be a disaster. The results seemed to justify that designation. Maverick Viñales finished ninth or worse in 7 of the remaining 12 races, and crashed out disastrously in Austria. Fabio Quartararo finished eight or worse in 7 of 12 races, crashed out of two others, and slipped from championship leader to finish the season in eighth. Valentino Rossi had four DNFs, and missed two more races due to a Covid-19 infection, ending the season fifteenth, the worst season in his very, very long Grand Prix career.
The first race in Europe is in the books, and we are halfway back to normality. Unlike Qatar, at Portimão the riding was all done in daylight, meaning the wild variation of track temperatures was far more limited. The weekend was held in more consistent conditions, at a more agreeable time, in a more congenial location.
More importantly, the grid was complete once again. After an absence of eight months, Marc Márquez finally lined up on a MotoGP grid again. And finished a MotoGP race, for the first time since Valencia 2019. None of this was a given, after the long and difficult road to recovery he faced. Three operations, a bone infection, and endless hours of physical therapy paved the long, hard road back for Marc Márquez. It was a journey without a fixed duration or a sure destination. To line up on the grid, and to cross the finish line 25 laps later, was a victory all of its own.
Moto2 standings after Portimao:
Results and summary of the Moto2 race at Portimao:
MotoGP standings after Portimao:
Results and summary of the MotoGP race at Portimao:
The Moto3 standings after Portimão:
Results and summary of the Moto3 race at Portimao: