Andalucia GP – A Carnage Under the Sun and a Certain French Lad
July 27, 2020
Sunday that went by taught us how different seemingly similar things can truly be and yet have so many things alike at the same time. With the first-ever time MotoGP having back-to-back races at the same track, it was expected to borrow heavily its script from the previous Sunday, albeit with the absence of an extremely key element, but more on that later. The Andalucia GP was well expected to be an even more treacherous affair than the one on the previous Sunday was a given as it was supposed to get hotter and it did.
What followed was a carnage under the fire breathing sun and above a seething track which threw our mental scripts for the race into the fiery pits of hell. The race pushed the riders and their machines into a peak test of their respective endurance, proving a trap too hard for many. However, there was a certain French lad who was categorically immune to whatever happened behind him, and what happened behind him defined just how spectacular his victory was on Sunday. This is why the late great Nicky Hayden had once said, “This is why we line up on a Sunday”, implying anything can happen during a race and ‘anything’ did happen this Sunday.
Andalucia GP – A Phenomena called Racer’s Grit
As much as for its main race, the Andalucia GP will also be remembered for its weekend leading up to it. Through Thursday till the last riders came across the finish line on Sunday, it was a display of the sheer grit, unfaltering focus, and pure unadulterated passion. If the previous race weekend a showcase of how scary and torturous the injuries can be for the MotoGP riders, this weekend showed us how very different the minds and bodies of elite athletes like MotoGP racers are compared to the normal mundane flesh bags like us. The likes of Alex Rins, Cal Crutchlow, and the reigning world champion Marc Marquez, have all suffered serious injuries and all of them were on track. All their injuries were serious enough to command respect and concerned healing, and yet here they were on Thursday, all wanting to race.
All three got a go-ahead by doctors at the circuit for the race, which surprised many while a few asked if the procedure has any significance at all. However, Marquez’s interview afterward and then the release of the clip by MotoGP on their social media handles proved just how tough it was for Marquez to pass the test. If you have broken a bone and needed physiotherapy afterward, it would have been a rather unnerving video to watch. Both Rins and Crutchlow had gone through a similar level of a stress test on their will to race and both had cleared it as well. What the human mind can do and how far one can push their bodies can be witnessed in how these MotoGP riders deal with their injuries. However, the sheer competitive mindset and an undeniable passion these racers have for that feeling of winning is something that is beyond most mortals to even fathom.
Alex Rins has participated in both FP1 and FP2, constantly analyzing what and if he was capable to deal with the stress of riding a MotoGP motorcycle on the track. He sat out FP3 to recover and participated in FP4 and Q1, ending up 20th on the grid just ahead of Marquez brothers, Alex Marquez having failed to clock a faster lap due to a fall during Q1 was just behind Rins. Cal Crutchlow had faired much better as he finished 13th on the grid after Q1 and was ahead of Andrea Dovizioso’s nightmare 14th position after qualifying. The Brit is known for his toughness and among the most resilient riders out there, the pictures of his hand after operation stitched and swollen weren’t for soft heart, but he went out finishing ahead of a fir factory Ducati rider who has finished on a podium just 6 days back on the same track, that is some performance.
Marc Marquez’s injury, its repercussions on the championship were a far more talked about than Rins and Crutchlow’s and that is a rather sad part, but an obvious one. After getting clearance from doctors at the circuit to race, Marquez had decided to sit out Friday practice sessions to give his body another day to heal. They already had enough data from the last race and the bike was set up fine for an effort to try and set a fast time to enter Q2 directly for Marquez. If anyone could do it, that would be Marquez, the paddock believed. However, Marquez could not achieve that but was still within a second close to the lead times in the session. With MotoGP this close in its current era, a second slow meant Marquez was left to fight in the Q1. But before that, it was FP4, where the HRC target was to see if Marquez can string at least 6-7 laps together in one outing. Marquez did that, twice, and his pace being within 1.2 seconds to the top. A phenomenal achievement whichever way you look at it.
However, after his second stint, when he went back to his pit, he started to feel an excess swelling and the pain had increased. He discussed with the team and they decided to try once again and if he didn’t feel better, he would come back into the pits. And he did, the feeling had worsened and his strength had decreased. They decided, to give it one last shot in the Q1, and the result was the same, Marquez returned to pits a lap after he left in Q1 and went straight to his trailer. Shortly after it was declared that Marc Marquez had withdrawn from the race. It would be his first race miss in his premier class career and since 2011 after he suffered a nasty crash fighting for the Moto2 championship against Scott Redding, an injury that threatened to blind him in an eye and ending his career.
After the declaration, Marquez met the media for the first time since his horrendous crash in the first race of the season. His debrief which can be seen here on the MotoGP official site showcases how much Marquez had to go through during the surgery, Thursday test on the circuit for fitness clearance, and then afterward during the FP3, FP4 and Q1 before finally giving up on the idea of racing under the circumstances. The whole scenario showcased just how incredibly passionate, deeply competitive, and unimaginably hungry for winning Marc Marquez truly is, and the only man he competes with is himself, the rest of the world truly does not matter. It is in essence a perfect example of the mentality the elite athletes have.
Andalucia GP – 25 Laps of Agony
Coming back to the main event, it was over 400 C ambient and 590 C on track just before the start of the race. Riders wore ice jackets around their necks, took as much as fluids as they could take while their bikes were force-fed cold air to keep them cool for as long as it was possible at the start line. Once the lights went out though, it was Quartararo who nailed his start perfectly with Yamaha’s new holeshot device, something that he failed to do last time around. He was followed by Vinales and behind him was Rossi who also had a great start.
Rossi went ahead of Bagnaia who started from 3rd on the front row. All this while further down the grid, disaster struck for Tech3 KTM team as Factory KTM rider, the rookie Brad Binder made a rookie mistake and caused Oliveira to crash while also destroying Smith’s early start aspirations on his Aprilia RS-GP. The contact also caused Binder to take a detour on the gravel meaning when I joined back, he was dead last.
Up ahead Quartararo was already setting in into a blistering rhythm and knowing he would soon go too far to catch, Vinales tried overtaking him but went wide at the final corner. This had let not only Quartararo take the lead back but also let Rossi take second behind him. Behind the trio, the two Pramac riders followed but a small margin had already built up. Bagnaia could not capitalize on his grid position and his GP20’s acceleration at the start and was now trying to enter podium place again while his teammate Miller was just ahead in fourth.
By Lap 6 Quartararo had already built a three-second lead over Rossi whose pace was no match to that of the French sensation. However, Vinales had a better pace than Rossi but just was not able to pass him as the veteran remains among the latest breakers in the paddock. The new setup that Rossi’s team found out was performing well, the Italian showing a much better pace under hot temperatures and intense consistent pressure by Vinales. By lap 10, however, Vinales challenge had tapered off a bit as Bagnaia started to make forward motion. Soon after No. 63 passed his teammate Miller and then Vinales to enter podium places. Now he had the master and boss-man VR Academy, Rossi in his sight.
By this time, the ravaging sun had reached its peak with more than a few points on the track displaying torturous 630 C. This also coincided with an oncoming series of DNF’s for a lot of riders. Miller had just passed Vinales for the fourth position when he crashed out of contention. Just up ahead it Bagnaia overtook Rossi and found himself in 2nd place. Bagnaia had easily opened up a gap over Rossi who had started struggling with his tires now. Bagnaia looked comfortably set for his first podium in MotoGP class, a great result especially after the hugely disappointing rookie year in 2019. Vinales on the other hand did not look comfortable at all as Morbidelli had found a great rhythm and overtook Vinales to take fourth, inching closer to a long-pending first podium.
However, it was not. With 9 laps to go the engine of Morbidelli’s Petronas Yamaha SRT machine gave up, causing a massive heartbreak for the Italians and his fans, which essentially is everyone. This was Yamaha’s second DNF due to mechanical failure after something similar happened with Rossi in race 1 a week ago, but more on that later. Morbidelli wasn’t the only victim of mechanical failure, with just 6 laps to go and a famous second place comfortably in view, smoke started to come out of Bagnaia’s GP20, it took the race direction more than a lap to have a black flag out while Rossi, Vinales and a Nakagami a bit further back raced behind him scared of any oil that the Ducati in the front might be leaking on the track.
Gladly, the moment Bagnaia saw the message on his dashboard about the black flag he pulled to the side of the track. He’s heartbroken and dreams of a podium finish given date in the future. However, everyone saw how Bagnaia had proven to be the best Ducati rider throughout the weekend and he was rather good during the last weekend as well. Bagnaia has started to show the consistency and top place affinity for which Ducati had brought him finally. The learning from the rookie year and the factory spec GP20 under him have made him a much better rider.
With Bagnaia gone, the original trio was back on the podium places, Rossi was still in second while Vinales had managed to recollect himself and was again having a better pace than Rossi. However, it was still hard to pass Rossi. Up at the front, Quartararo was in a different postcode already with more than a 9-second gap already between him and Rossi. His performance was reminiscent of another Yamaha rider, a certain Jorge Lorenzo, who took three world championship on a Yamaha, riding it in an exactly similar devastating dominance. With final laps approaching, Vinales finally got a chance and pounced on it when Rossi went a bit wide in Turn 9. Now in the second position and having a faster pace than Rossi, the Spaniard managed to get a few bike lengths ahead of Rossi instantly.
Fabio Quartararo went on to win his second MotoGP race in succession, becoming the most successful French premier class rider in history. Vinales and Rossi made up for the remaining podium places meaning it was the first Yamaha 1-2-3 since 2014 Phillip Island. Coming in at 4th was a stunning ride by Nakagami who showed his still deeply underrated racing talent and saved HRC some serious blushes on a year-old Honda RC213V. The Japanese rider benefiting hugely from some attention given to his needs by HRC technical director during Marquez’s absence. Mir behind Nakagami equaled his best MotoGP finish in 5th, he looked strong throughout the race and had he qualified any better, he would have been much closer to the podium.
Salvaging a 6th from a terrible qualifying in 14th was Dovizioso, who goes to Brno with third-best point tally. Ducati cannot be too happy nor too sad from the Jerez outings, especially when it seems to have gathered a lot of data regarding the most famous weakness of the Desmosedici, its chronic understeer. Pol Espargaro finished behind Dovizioso in 7th, however, his pace promised a lot more than that. It was also a rather tough weekend for KTM as three out of four KTM riders crashed out of the race. This includes the rookie Brad Binder who could not repeat his feat from last week and crashed out not too long after bumping his future factory teammate in the first lap.
Again, the top rookie was Alex Marquez who continues to learn the ways of the RC213V. He remains under the shadow of his brother and the talks around the Rookies like Binder, but he is improving all the time, and that should be a great motivation for him. Surviving the race which saw as many as 8 DNF’s due to various reasons, where season MotoGP riders looked like giving up due to the treacherous conditions. Staying the rubber side up, dealing with the notoriously bad-tempered Honda, Alex Marquez is someone who deserves more attention. He is a two-time world champion for a reason.
Behind Alex Marquez, Zarco crossed the line in 9th, faring better than what he did on the KTM. He is gelling well with the Ducati GP19, it would be interesting to see what he does with it in coming tracks where Ducati has been traditionally strong. He can turn out to be a dark horse soon enough. Alex Rins took in a 10th place after what has been a monumental effort, his injuries were at least as severe was Marquez, where torn tendons and ligaments were also there. Just riding around the circuit at race pace in such insanely hot and tough circumstances is an achievement, leave alone doing it with a broken shoulder. Alex Rins gritty ride will go down among the best rides of sheer grit.
Speaking of true grit, the Brit known to have dollops of it showed just how tough he was as he crossed the line in 13th, the final rider to cross it. At one point it looked as if he had given up and went to pits, but he then stayed on and rejoined the race to finish in points. Tito Rabat and Bradley Smith made it to 11th and 12th in the final rankings.
All is not Well in the Yamaha Paradise
Before the race, when the engine usage data came out, to the surprise of the most Yamaha seemed to have been going through its engine allotment rather fast. After Rossi’s mechanical issue in the season opener, it was found out that Rossi is already is on his engine 4 out of 5. His Monster Energy Yamaha teammate is actually fairing far worse with all of his engines now being opened, that’s 5 out of 5. The Petronas guys aren’t fairing any better as ell, with Quartararo and Morbidelli both already at par with Rossi with 4 out of 5 engines opened. Now with Morbidelli’s engine failure during the race, it is evident that Yamaha is having some serious reliability issues with its 2020 M1 engines.
This becomes even more of an issue as both Quartararo and Vinales are currently 1 and 2 in the championship with Morbidelli and Rossi both showing continuous improvement in their results. Yamaha cannot afford to let any of its riders take a penalty of starting from the pit lane due to taking up an extra engine over its allotment. With Marquez scoring zero points in the first two races, Quartararo is a clear title favourite with Vinales not too far behind. Then it is a matter of the Ducati’s, that like every other manufacturer is only on its 2nd engine for all its riders. Dovizioso might have traditionally suffered at Jerez, but he has taken extremely important 26-points out of these two staggeringly tough races.
Now, the championship heads to Brno and from then to Austria for back to back races. All these tracks are known to favour the brut power of the Ducati, while the company has never lost a race in Austria. Yes, Marquez is set to return but he will still not be 100% fit and three consecutive races are coming up. Thus, losing engines so fast can turn out to be a massive spanner in the works for Yamaha’s title aspirations. It is expected that even in the current state, the Yamaha’s can be as slow as 20kmph than Ducati’s on the straights of Red Bull ring. Now, with all its riders having doubts about the engine reliability, it might prove to be a task too much for Yamaha to continue its championship charge.
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