2021 FIM MotoGP World Championship
Round 13 – Aragon
It was a round that was meant to be all about Maverick’s glorious arrival at Aprilia. Now he’d show the doubters! He’d fire Noale’s missile right up the nose of his former Factory Yamaha team, and trumpets would sound!
Except none of that happened. In fact, Vinales was so profoundly off the pace, it was hard to even notice him lumbering around on the Aprilia so he waved a flag to ensure people noticed he was still here.
Vinales finished in 18th, some 27-seconds behind the winner – and maybe somewhat gallingly, two spots behind Cal Crutchlow, who was squiring Maverick’s old factory Yamaha around.
Only Luca Marini and Valentino Rossi were slower – but one of them has retired, and the other one is waiting for the retired one to get his Aramco millions and sort his new team for next year – and am I alone in thinking Rossi and his half-brother are just going through the motions this year?
Anyway, it didn’t much matter. Aragon served up a race we will talk about for a long time. The last three laps saw a duel between Pecco Bagnaia and Marc Marquez which, if we had bards, they would be singing about it. Seven magnificent overtakes by Marquez – each of which was magnificently returned by Bagnaia, who ultimately took one of the most deserved victories I have ever seen.
It was amazing to see. Bagnaia held his nerve from the start unto the very bitter (for Marquez) end. Pecco raced as hard as he had ever raced before, defended every tough overtake by the Spaniard, immediately returned serve, and declared at the end that his first MotoGP win was “A real dream come true!”
It was also the first race this season that an Italian had won. And I’m thinking, because I am hearing things, there is still some unfinished business to come out of it.
That unfinished business concerns Marc Marquez. The word is that Marc was not at his best duelling with Pecco. Which is why Pecco was able to fend him off. This, in my mind, very much cheapens Pecco’s win – which was one of the hardest-fought I have ever seen. But there is some truth to Marc’s on-going issues.
I understand Marc is having shoulder issues. He was, if you’ll recall, having shoulder issues before he broke his arm, but I can only imagine how exacerbated the shoulder stuff has become following an impact that was strong enough to break the humerus, which is attached to the shoulder joint.
As it turned out, and if you were watching, Marc crashed twice in Practice. Not big offs, but big enough for him to reach a tentative arm up to his shoulder each time. There was doubt in his garage he would even complete race distance, despite how fast he was in Practice.
In fact, the buzz was that HRC was planning to pull him out of the season at the end of this race, his home race, and send him off to get surgery on his shoulder and rest him up for next year.
You only had to see how he held himself after one of the hardest-fought battles he’s ever had to see how much that shoulder was bothering him. Had that been a clockwise track, I doubt he would have finished as well as he did.
But let no-one ever say Marquez isn’t tough as nails and up for it, no matter how much he’s hurting. There must have been more than enough adrenaline splashing trough him during his fight with Pecco to deal with any pain he might have been in. So I take nothing away from Bagnaia, and neither does Marc.
Pecco set a lap-record in Qualifying, and led from start to finish – except for those seven times Marc briefly passed him.
As for the rest of them? Well, they were all off having their own race several seconds behind the two front-runners. For most of the round the field was strung out in a big line, with only a few battles here and there for minor placings.
In the lead up to the race, the main points of interest were Fabulous being bitten on the neck by an insect during Practice, and then giving his gloves to a devil-horned girl in the crowd who was holding a sign offering to exchange McDonald’s for those gloves. And you thought Rossi fans were weird, huh?
The other point of pre-race interest was Zarco riding 900km on a 1981 Ducati Darmah 900SS – from his home in the south of France to Aragon in Spain, accompanied by some of his team. And apparently joined by Jack Miller, who rode from Andorra on a Diavel, so the PR lines went, but we think he may have been on a Harley. It’s unclear.
As it turned out, the trip must have kicked some of the escargot out of the Frenchman. I’m thinking 900 kays on an old Darmah would do that to anyone. He started in 10th and finished in 17th, just ahead of Vinales.
Championship leader, Fabulous, was also one of the fast boys who managed to ride backwards during the race. He started in third, and steadily worked his way back to eighth. He spent most of the race scrapping with Nakagami and Martin for that position.
Reigning World Champion Mir was once again indifferent in Qualifying, and started seventh. But he hammered his way through to third – a position which Miller occupied for the first part of the race. But as Bagnaia and Marquez piled on the speed, Miller first drifted back to be passed by Aleix Espargaro, who was clearly keen for another podium, and then by Mir, who relegated Aleix back to fourth.
Alex Marquez fell off on the first lap. No-one was surprised and no-one seemed to care. Honda has redoubled the manufacture of fairings spurred on by the Marquez brothers, both of whom have crashed more this year than the rest of the field put together. Marc has had 18 oopsies. His brother…well, people stopped counting a while back.
Bastianini had his best finish of the year so far. He secured a solid sixth place, just behind Jack, and just in front of Brad Binder, but as I’ve said – all of this was happening a fair way behind the super-tense contest at the front.
Marquez shadowed Bagnaia for the whole race. Marc was never more than a few tenths off Pecco’s back wheel. It was obvious he was stalking him, and just as obvious he would eventually make the pass. Lap after lap, Pecco would blast down the main straight and see his pitboard ominously stating Marc was right behind him. But Pecco never waivered.
In the corners, Marquez would close up. In the straights, Pecco would pull away. Over and over, lap after lap – and then three laps from the end Marquez went for it in Turn Five.
He passed Pecco, then Pecco passed him back in Turn Six. Marc tried again in Turn 15. Pecco passed him back in Turn 17. And this went on for three stand-and-watch-the-TV laps.
Marc’s last roll of the dice saw him pass Pecco in Turn 15 again, but then he ran very wide while Pecco kept his line and took the chequered flag two corners later.
It was sensational to watch.
As will be the wash-up from all of this, given Marquez has to wheel his aching shoulder onto the bike again this weekend at Misano – and everyone at HRC knows these back-to-back rounds are very hard on him.
The championship hasn’t changed all that much. Fabulous is still a long way in front of Bagnaia in second. With Mir, Zarco and Miller all quite capable of making it interesting for those two.
What will happen to Marquez in these coming rounds is anyone’s guess, and we all look forward to Andrea Dovizioso’s return next week. Maverick might even try a little harder too.
Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.
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