2021 MotoGP Round Four – Jerez
Gran Premio Red Bull de España
Everyone’s favourite race-track delivered one of the most likeable of podiums – a teary-eyed, national-anthem singing Jack Miller, a sincerely smiling Pecco Bagnaia, and a joyous, chest-pounding Franky Morbidelli, who told everyone his mighty third place was just like a win – and it sure seemed like that given the vintage Yamaha he’s been given to pedal.
The weekend began with championship leader, Fabulous The Ever Topless, full of gunslinger intent and swagger. He was chasing a hat-trick win at Jerez, his poo smelled of strawberries, and the sun shone brightly from between his mighty buttocks. His Practice and Qualifying affirmed him to be the man to beat, and he sat on pole, radiating conquest.
Marquez, not so much. Everyone is still looking at him. And he knows everyone is looking at him, and expecting him to suddenly start smashing lap-records as he was doing before his humerus went to Jesus – which was, incidentally, at this very racetrack last year. Marquez certainly put in some fast laps, but then he also smacked into the air-fence twice, and added a sore neck to his list of woes. As he explained in a pre-race presser, he physically felt exactly the same as he did at the last race – which is to say nowhere near 100 per cent. And that was before he visited the jumping castle barrier at 180 km/h.
This round also saw the return of Tito Rabat, who was replacing a healing Jorge Martin, whose debut season in MotoGP was both brilliant and brutal. And young Bradl was also on hand in a wild-card ride on the prettiest red-white-and blue Honda anyone had ever ridden. But things generally looked pretty grim for HRC and their basket full of Marquez eggs.
Rossi was having another awful weekend on the track, languishing at the bottom of the time sheets – but he did manage to secure a massive sponsorship deal to field a two-bike MotoGP team in 2022, and was in discussions with all the manufacturers, so maybe that was where his head was at.
One of those teams is Aprilia – and once again, Aleix Espargaro looked threateningly fast on the all-new Aprilia, which has to be one of the meanest-looking race-bikes out there. The Pom commentators certainly talked him up, but I was having none of it. Both the Espargaro brothers are just journeymen grid-fillers in my eyes. Pol is busily crashing his HRC Honda every chance he gets, and all Aleix seems capable of is a quick lap or two, without having anything to offer on Sunday. Dovizioso’s return to the paddock on an Aprilia seems imminent.
Jerez is a track not much loved by Ducati. It’s tight and technical, and the Bologna Bullets don’t seem able to use their horsepower advantage like they can on tracks with longer straights.
But Jack Miller knows what is at stake this year. He smashed his way into third on the grid, and looked as determined as I’ve ever seen him to produce a decent result. Ahead of him sat Morbidelli and Fabulous, as you would expect on a track that favours the Yamaha’s corner speed. Behind Jack sat Pecco in fourth, Nakagami in fifth, and Zarco in sixth. Rins and world champion, Mir, sat in 9th and 10th, behind Aleix and Vinales – who looked somewhat bewildered by his sudden lack of pace.
None of the KTMs were up to scratch, and Binder could only manage an 11th, a mere tenth of a second ahead of test-rider and wildcard, Bradl, on his pretty Honda.
But it was certainly close in terms of times. Fabulous on pole, set a time of 1.36.755. Miguel Oliveira, in 16th, was a mere second off that pace. So once again, there was not a lot in it, and when the red light went out, we saw just how little there was between them.
Jack was first into Turn One, followed by Morbidelli, Bagnaia, and Fabulous. Zarco had launched himself from 10th to 6th by the second corner, and Alex Marquez launched himself into the rocks. Binder followed suit a few corners later, and was soon joined by Rins.
Fabulous sailed passed Bagnaia on Turn 13 on the second lap, grabbed third spot, and set off after Morbidelli and Miller with furious intent. Espargaros’ Aprilia sat in fourth, its mighty wings akimbo, just ahead of Bagnaia.
Three laps in, and Fabulous was in very hot pursuit of Miller. Mir, in seventh, stalked Nakagami, who was himself not far off Aleix Espargaro. There are not a lot of overtaking spots in Jerez, and the track does tend to offer highs-speed single-file processions, which was pretty much what was happening here.
Except Fabulous was not interested in processionals. He slammed past Miller into Turn 3 on the next lap and within a few corners was almost half-a-second ahead.
Marquez was back in 12th, Rossi in 17th, and the Age of the Gods looked very much to be in its twilight period. For Rossi, his now age-old lament of “no rear-tyre grip” was running on repeat, and with diminishing credibility. No-one else was having those issues with their Yamaha, not even Vinales, who was just running true to form and being inconsistent.
Marquez’s issues were and are entirely different. He is injured, and his recovery, if it comes, will take a while. Hope does not heal a rider faster, and only Marquez, his doctors, and HRC really know what’s going on.
It was around this time in the race that Bagnaia started to torment Aleix Espargaro. A pass looked inevitable, and it may be the new Aprilia chews tyres faster than is helpful. Either way, it doesn’t accelerate like Bagnaia’s Ducati, and Pecco put Aleix behind him down the short Jerez straight.
It was now Taka’s turn to torment the Factory Aprilia rider, and it was Zarco’s turn to pass Vinales for eighth place. And it was Bastianini’s turn to seek the solace of the rocks. Rins and Binder had rejoined the race by this stage, but they were nowhere near enough to see Vinales pass Zarco back in an epic battle for eighth no-one actually cared about.
Thirteen laps from the end, Fabulous had a solid 1.3 second lead over Miller, who was 2.3 seconds ahead of Morbidelli and Bagnaia. Binder returned to the gravel at the halfway point of the race, and Marquez found himself in 10th entirely due to the attrition rate.
Two laps later, the funky stuff started happening. Fabulous’s arm pumped itself into failure, Miller closed hard up on him, and Bagnaia passed Morbidelli going into Turn 13.
Ten laps from the end, Fabulous just started riding backwards. Miller passed him going into Turn One, and try as he might, the Frenchman just started losing time. The fade was fast, and arm-pump is a bastard. You can’t just “harden up” and ride around it. Your arm stops working, and on a 300hp race-bike, that is never a positive development.
Miller now began to gap the rest of the field, pursued by Bagnaia and Morbidelli, who was riding his aging non-factory Yamaha like a man possessed just to keep the two Factory Ducatis in sight.
As the laps counted off and the end approached, Fabulous’s day got worse and worse. Almost everyone passed him, and five laps from the end, he was lapping three seconds slower than Miller.
Now it was Jack’s race to lose – and given his perennial form, there was every chance he would make an error and allow Bagnaia to steal the show, or simply chuck it away – which explains why his pit started putting away things that might be broken should Jack returned to his garage with a sour face.
But Jack held his nerve, and he brought it home.
It was a Ducati one-two in Jerez of all places, and though Morbidelli tried very hard to catch and pass Bagnaia, it wasn’t to be. They all ended up powering over the line separated by a second, give or take a tenth.
“Those last seven or eight laps were the longest of my career,” he said in his post-race interview, which was slightly delayed to allow him to collect himself and wipe away his tears.
Once again, the world’s greatest sport delivered the full range of human emotion – from Fabulous’s devastating physical betrayal, to Jack’s supreme triumph.
Of course, this win will certainly give Jack the mental boost he might have been missing in the weirdo opening rounds, and we might finally see him at the pointy end, and even on the top step, more often.
But one win does not a championship make. Binder won a race last year, and now seems destined to flub about in mid-field until he finds a track that suits the KTM. Oliveira also won a race in 2020, and is now fighting for places no-one cares about. Mir looks lackadaisical, Rins is trying too hard, no-one even sees Petrucci on the TV anymore, Rossi seems to be wrestling with demons none of us can understand, Marquez is not right, and things are as bizarre as they could possibly be in MotoGP.
The championship is anyone’s at this stage. Which is the perfect way to enter France and lay it all on the line once again at the legendary Le Mans circuit in two weeks’ time.
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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