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MotoGP 2024: Jerez — Swings and Roundabouts

Image source: MotoGP

This weekend served to remind us why we love MotoGP and why Formula One has become so boring; the word is unpredictability. It is frequently said that Hollywood scriptwriters couldn’t come up with anything to match a MotoGP weekend and, on the evidence of Jerez, they’re right. If Liberty Media had trouble convincing the board that spending $4 billion buying the rights to MotoGP was a good idea, then surely any doubts were dispelled once and for all after both the American and Spanish rounds.

Before the Spanish weekend, there were thousands of permutations of possible events; during the Sprint race, a thousand more were added and then, if the Main race was slightly processional by comparison to the Sprint race, it was still a thrilling, nail-biting fight to the line, with more action than in a season’s-worth of Formula One.

Image source: MotoGP

In these reports, I try to avoid giving a blow-by-blow account of what happened, because you all will have watched it, so there’s not much point. If you missed it, there are a hundred other websites you can visit to get the lap-by-lap action.

But a race weekend such as this gets me so fired up and excited that it’s hard not to try and re-live every moment by writing about it. In my previous post, I talked about all the off-track action which can sometimes overshadow what is happening on track. Not this weekend. For once, all the who-will-ride-where shenanigans were pushed firmly to the background as two incredible races unfolded.

Image source: MotoGP

The Sprint race was the full embodiment of why we love MotoGP, even if it led to disappointment for fans of many of the riders. Even joy at Fabio Quarataro’s incredible podium finish – from 23rd on the grid to 3rd at the flag, including overtaking eleven riders on the first lap! – was barely dented by his demotion after he became the first of several riders to suffer at the hands of the tyre-pressure rule; incredibly, the first time this has happened all season. At least the penalty is now time added to the rider’s race time – eight seconds in a Sprint race and 16 seconds in the Main race – rather than an outright disqualification from the race results. It’s still terribly unfair and we can only hope that saner heads will prevail in the future and the low-pressure rule rescinded.

Yes, Quartararo’s result was aided hugely by the carnage ahead of him but, by any account, it was a brilliant ride. That it resulted in Daniel Pedrosa’s (apparently, he wants to be called Daniel now, not Dani…) promotion to the podium was a result that no one could be unhappy about. Why he is not still racing is beyond me and, I’m sure, many other onlookers. There can be no doubt that KTM’s current form has a lot to do with Pedrosa’s input; you only have to look at other test riders’ wild card race performances to understand that. They can barely get into the points, let alone challenge for a podium and, yet, Pedrosa was looking as if he’d never been away.

Image source: MotoGP

The sight of three riders crashing at the same corner, in line astern on the same lap, was astonishing, especially as many other riders on multiple laps, managed not to crash. If it had been oil on the track, then it would be understandable but it seems it was ground water seeping up from the sub-surface that created a damp patch that could be missed by millimetres, or ridden over with disastrous results. Binder fell into the latter category and it must have been galling.

Binder got a rocket launch, as he always seems to do in Jerez, to lead into the first corner before being overtaken by Jorge Martin, and ran strongly up to his balletic crash in company with Alex Marquez and Marco Bezzecchi. Really bad luck and no blame should be attached to the riders; when you’re pushing as hard as these guys are, then even an inch off line can affect drive onto the following straight; one kilometre an hour into a corner can be too fast; a foot later in braking can mean running wide. And unexpected water on the track can spell disaster.

Image source: MotoGP

The main race might have seemed processional from the outside, as is always the case when there are few changes for the lead but, in fact, it was a mesmerising battle between Bagnaia and Marc Marquez. Once Jorge Martin had thrown away the victory – and a potentially huge lead in the championship – then the race gave all the indications of being a straight run to the flag. But that prediction failed to take into account Marc Marquez. Once he had despatched Marco Bezzecchi, Marquez wasn’t permitting Bagnaia any relaxation time as he relentlessly pursued the factory Ducati on his year-old model.

Catching the leader was never a given but Marquez dug deep and reeled Bagnaia in, before we had a few corners of argy-bargy. To be honest, it looked like it would always be difficult for Marquez to make not only the move stick but also for him to get away once in front. Bagnaia might have been patchy this season but his performance in Jerez showed that, when he is on form, there is very little chance of beating him. It also showed that he is not afraid to get his elbows out and meet Marquez’ challenge on equal terms which, of course, he is going to have to do more often as Marquez continues to get up to speed on the Ducati.

Image source: MotoGP

Marquez’ rivals have every right to be worried about him. He’s not yet found the limits of the Ducati, as he himself said post-race; “I am smooth, the lap times are coming – this brings me confidence and more confidence. Still, I’m not having crashes through over-riding, so I still have some margin to understand where’s the limit.” Picture the other 21 MotoGP riders holding their heads in their hands, wondering just how they are going to beat the six-time world champion.

What was even more impressive was how fired up both Bagnaia and Marquez were by their battle. Of course, it could all have been so different had they taken each other out; then the boxing gloves would have been laced up but, to our advantage, it was a tough but clean fight between two of the best riders on the grid. Bagnaia has rarely had to fight tooth and nail with another rider for the lead of a race, leading to some onlookers to put him down as boring to watch but there can be no doubt that he is as brave as anyone. His tyres must have been shot towards the end of the race but that didn’t stop him from setting his fastest race lap by two-tenths of a second on lap 23, with only two laps left to run.

Image source: MotoGP

An interesting statistic about Marquez is that no other Ducati rider, either in pre-season testing or any race this season, has been faster in left-hand corners than Marquez. Through turns seven and eight at Jerez – the scarily fast left-handers – Marquez was mighty, which enabled him to attack at the turn nine right-hander. It would have been interesting to see, if he made the move stick, whether he could have resisted what would undoubtedly have been a strong response from Bagnaia but we will never know as Bagnaia fought fire with fire and came out on top.

You have to wonder whether Marquez was being a little cautious in the final laps, mindful of the fact that he was battling with Ducati’s factory superstar while also potentially seeking a seat at the top team in 2025. Another incident taking both of them out, as happened at Portimao, wouldn’t have pleased the Ducati hierarchy any. Of course, Marquez might have been settling for a safe second place but it certainly didn’t look like it, being a mere 0.4 seconds behind Bagnaia at the flag: that’s not a rider who has backed off…

Image source: MotoGP

As usual, both Honda and Yamaha had dire race weekends, Quartararo’s Sprint performance notwithstanding. Nor was there much to promote a sense of hope in the post-race test on Monday. Honda’s team riders tried a ‘new’ RC213V, as developed by test rider Stefan Bradl, but described it as ‘not the right direction’, while another development showed more promise for the future.

Yamaha tried a new aero and a new chassis, neither of which offered any significant gains, but at least both manufacturers are trying hard, rather than showing signs of throwing in the towel. Of course, spending big bucks on Quartararo’s new contract shows that Yamaha has no intention of giving up and we just have to hope that both Yamaha and Honda return to the front sooner rather than later, if only to spice up the already fantastic show.

Le Mans is up next and who would bet against it being another thriller? One factor to bear in mind is the Ducati GP24’s propensity to suspension chatter when track grip is high, as it is at Le Mans. Jerez is notoriously un-grippy, which is why Bagnaia was able to run at such a fast pace. Conversely, the KTMs were bothered by chatter in Jerez.

Image source: MotoGP
Harry Fisher
Harry Fisher
From an early age, Harry was obsessed with anything that moved under its own steam, particularly cars and motorcycles. For reasons of a financial nature, his stable of fine automobiles failed to materialise, at which point he realised that motorcycles were far more affordable and so he started his two wheel career, owning, riding, building and fixing many classic bikes. Then came the day when he converted his love of bikes into a living, writing, filming and talking about them endlessly. The passion for four wheels never left him, however, and he has now converted his writing skills into singing the praises of cars in all their infinite variety. Bikes are still his favourite means of getting around but the car in its modern form is reaching a level of perfection that is hard to resist. And they're warmer in winter....
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