Raul Fernandez

Assen MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Viñales' Bombshell Aprilia Move, A Wide Open Rider Market, And Who Can Stop The Yamahas?

Saturday at Assen only deepened the enigma that is Maverick Viñales. After being fastest in both sessions of practice on Friday, the Monster Energy Yamaha man added FP3 to his belt in the morning, then finished second in FP4. That result was a little deceptive, however: he started FP4 on a used soft tire with 15 laps, nearly two thirds race distance, on it, and put nearly race distance on it, ending with a couple of 1'33.7s. For context, the race lap record at Assen is 1'33.617, set by Marc Márquez on lap 4 of the 2015 race. Viñales' second run was on a new medium tire, assessing tire choice for the race.

Seven days ago, Viñales was just twelfth fastest in FP4, and qualified in 21st. The contrast could not be greater with Assen. Here, he qualified on pole position, smashing the lap record and becoming the second rider to lap the Circuit van Drenthe in under 1'32, after teammate Fabio Quartararo posted a 1'31.922 in his first run during Q2. Both Monster Energy Yamaha riders ended with laps of 1'31.8, Quartararo posting three 1'31s to Viñales' two. But it was Viñales who was the quickest of the pair, taking pole with 1'31.814.

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Le Mans Moto2 & Moto3 Review: Neil Morrison On The Real Rookie Of The Year, Why Le Mans Is A Crashfest, And New Faces On The Podium

Neither race was a classic in France, but Moto2 and Moto3 still produced plenty to talk about last weekend. Here, we’ll dive into some of the more pressing matters in both classes.

Fernandez’s star rises

Anything Pedro can do, Raul can do better. All weekend long 20-year old Raul Fernandez demonstrated once again why his future is among the paddock’s big talking points. The rookie was untouchable in France, scoring a maiden Moto2 pole position before maintaining his cool in the opening laps when those around him lost theirs.

In a frenzied opening, when riders navigated a dry but patchy track on slick tyres, a number of podium contenders crashed out between laps one to four, Aron Canet, Augusto Fernandez, Joe Roberts, Sam Lowes and Xavi Vierge among them. A lap later and Fernandez coolly slotted by early leader Marco Bezzecchi to assume control. And from there, he held firm, even when team-mate Remy Gardner advanced to second and attempted to reel him in. There were no signs of the arm-pump issues that slowed him in the closing laps of the Spanish Grand Prix. As Bezzecchi said post-race with a shrug, “he was just faster.”

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Portimao Moto2 & Moto3 Review: Neil Morrison On Rookies Ruling The Roost, Americans Racing, And Strange Stewarding

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.

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Portimão Moto2 & Moto3 Review - Neil Morrison On Two Titles Clinched, Remy Gardner's Win, Sam Lowes Digging Deep, And Raul Fernandez Dominating

This was as fun as it looked. The grandstands may have been empty and the paddock quiet, but the Algarve International Circuit lived up to its billing as a spectacular circuit. Not since Turkey’s fabulous Istanbul Park in 2005 had grand prix racing come to a new venue as jaw-dropping and thrilling to the naked eye.

Riders raved about the swoops, the undulations and the blind crests. Sunday showed the 4.6km layout could provide half decent racing, too. For the opening races lived up to the surroundings, with Moto2 and Moto3 serving up vintages high on adrenaline, spectacle and stress that had the championship fight go right the way to the wire. Here are some of the big talking points from the small classes on the last weekend of the season.

Italian Revival

For Enea Bastianini, his directive was clear: a top four finish was enough for a first world title no matter where his rivals finished. If Sam Lowes wasn’t victorious and Luca Marini was, he simply needed a top eight. Thoughts that the Algarve International Circuit (a track unknown to him but not his three rivals) could throw up a banana skin were dashed early. Enea was an impressive fifth at the close of day one.

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