2021 FIM MotoGP World Championship
Round 12 – Silverstone
Silverstone is one big, beautiful, bastard of a track. It’s the longest one on the calendar, and when it’s not making the Pom commentators breathless with awe at its fast-flowing corners, it’s a lake and no one can race on it.
Happily, it did not rain this weekend, and more than 60,000 Pom race-fans flocked through the gates to welcome the MotoGP circus back to England.
The pack had been re-shuffled yet again.
Cal Crutchlow was now sporting Yamaha Factory blue to go with Maverick’s old bike, which he was to race in front of his home crowd.
Fellow Pom and Moto2 racer, Jake Dixon, had been press-ganged onto the bike Cal was riding last round, which is actually Morbidelli’s vintage Petronas Spec B Yamaha, and Rossi got to enjoy his fourth team-mate this year.
For his part, Vinales had been cut free from his contract, and will be testing his new Aprilia at Misano, and maybe racing soon after.
We were also informed Petrucci was off to the deserts of the Dakar next year to hang with Toby Price, who will probably eat him on Day Five and cannibalise his bike for parts.
Alex Rins had also been put on notice by Suzuki that he best start bringing chocolates instead of crash-gravel to his pit.
But the biggest news of all was the imminent return of Andrea Dovzioso. At the time of writing, Lin Jarvis, had confirmed the verbal agreement Yamaha had reached with Dovi. That agreement was that he would get Franki’s vintage Yamaha for the rest of this year, and in 2022, he’d stay in the satellite team but with a full Factory bike. Franki would take Maverick’s place beside Fabulous in the Factory team. As to who would replace Rossi next year? Shrugs all ’round at this stage, but a few names are being tossed around.
And it was with all this new and exciting stuff swirling though the paddock that hostilities commenced on Friday.
Marc Marquez was the stand-out here. His bike was sporting a new thumb-brake – the fitment of which proved to be somewhat academic. Marc crashed in FP1 at the sensational speed of 274km/h coming into Maggotts, tucked and rolled, and somehow staggered away unhurt – though eagle-eyed watchers would have seen him clutch his bad arm. He certainly looked shaken.
It turns out he got some gravel in his right eye, and after rubbing at it, managed to scratch it, so it was rather teary according to Alberto Puig. But he was back in FP2 – albeit hiding behind his closed visor as he sat in his pit garage.
This time, it was Fabulous’s turn to chuck the gravel in the air. An awkward low-speed high-side saw his leg cop a nasty twist, and him limping around for the remainder of the weekend. It didn’t seem to affect him on the bike and he was consistently fast.
When FP3 rolled around, Aprilia advised everyone it would be withdrawing Savadori from the race. Still suffering from Dani Pedrosa’s flaming disaster in Austria, young Lorenzo’s days on the Noale machine seem numbered with the arrival of Vinales.
But this was to be the weekend Aprilia turned the corner, and made history, with Aleix Espargaro finally hauling his bike onto a podium.
This was not the weekend Marc Marquez turned a corner. He crashed again in Warm Up, and Alberto Puig was finally forced to concede that Marc was still not fully fit, and the HRC bikes he’d been telling everyone were flawless, needed some work.
Pol had managed to get his Honda on pole, so it’s obvious Puig has finally scared him enough for him to perform – but the first three rows were an interesting mix. Bagnaia and Fabulous sat beside Pol on the front row.
The second row was Jorge Martin, Marc Marquez, and Aleix Espargaro. The third, Miller, Rossi and Zarco. And none of them had anything approaching the race-pace of Fabulous.
The race was an exercise in nerves and tension for everyone except Fabulous. But that first lap was magnificent. Pol certainly hared off into the lead after the first corner, pursued by Fabulous and brother, Aleix, on his big-winged Aprilia. Bagnaia, understanding there was much at stake, came charging through on that crucial first lap, and shoved himself into second. Behind all this, Jorge Martin and Marc Marquez were squeezing on each other in Turn Seven, and then Marquez just blindsided Martin in Turn Eight, and they both went down. Marquez later apologised to Martin, for what it was worth – but the desperation of the eight-time world champion is lost on no-one in the paddock.
I was overjoyed to see Valentino circulating in sixth, but that, like my joy, was not going to last. He rode backwards, once again citing rear-grip issues.
Up front, things had become weird by the second lap. The Espargaro brothers were leading a race. Pol was ahead of Aleix, and Bagnaia, with Fabulous half-a-second behind them, and closely pursued by Miller and Mir.
And then Fabulous made his move. He speared past Bagnaia, a rock-solid and clean pass for third, and set his sights on the Espargaro family. They were doomed. It was obvious.
Behind him, Mir, in sixth, was the fastest man on the track and he was making Jack Miller work hard for fifth place, which was strange, because Jack had been pretty quick all weekend, but seemed to be struggling early in the race.
Fabulous was all business. He slammed past Aleix coming into the Loop, which also allowed Pecco to come past the Aprilia rider, who suddenly found himself in fourth. But not for long. He struck back, and you could almost see the championship hopes die in Bagnaia when that happened.
Four laps in were all it took for Fabulous to pass Pol. And it was a beautiful pass. When Quartararo is on his game, he’s magnificent to watch, though I’m sure Pol would not agree.
And then Fabulous just piled it on and disappeared. Bagnaia was bumbling about in fourth, Mir and Rins on his tail, Miller just behind them, and Rossi, now in eighth, was beginning his progression to the rear of the pack.
Aleix passed his brother, relegating Pol to third, and the two Suzukis started to pull Bagnaia to pieces. All of this was as dust to Fabulous, who was now 1.4-seconds ahead and putting in the fastest laps of the race.
Two laps later, Rins passed Mir, and felt that fourth place was not good enough. He could see the Espargaro brothers just ahead, and he knew how crucial it was for his career that he a) not fall off, and b) maybe grab a podium.
So as Fabulous kept on going faster and stretching his lead out, Rins set about breaking Pol’s heart – which has always been a fragile thing. The Loop, a slow left-hander and fave passing spot was where he chose to do it.
And then he went after Aleix. Bagnaia’s day kept getting worse. Miller had passed him to grab sixth, and it looked like Jack maybe had something left to give.
The race become somewhat processional at the halfway point. Silverstone is a long track, and it’s very wide, and there are quite a few places to pass and more than one racing line to choose from. Jack was making the most of it, and was the fastest man on the track at this point. No-one was catching Fabulous, who was now three seconds ahead of the daylight that was behind him.
He was, however, rocking a soft front-tyre and everyone was wondering if it was going to go the distance. I was wondering if Aleix would go the distance. Surely something awful would happen to him to deny him the podium. It always did.
Rins passed him on the next lap to grab second place, and I thought that was the collapse. Jack was coming. Binder was coming. Alex Marquez was coming. Hell, his own brother, Pol, circulating solidly in fourth, might decide to try for a podium.
Miller turned it up some. He passed Mir, grabbed fifth place and started to look with great interest at Pol, and how much therapy the brothers would need if Jack passed them both. Then he passed Pol.
Bagnaia kept going backwards. Binder put paid to him and took eighth place, as Miller seriously started working at Aleix. Mir also started going backwards some three laps from the end, and Fabulous was already celebrating.
At the end, Miller did not manage to pass Aleix. I’d like to think he chose not to out of the goodness of his great heart. But that’s a lie. Jack would have passed him if he could and sentimentality be damned.
He settled for a very, very close fourth place, just a second behind the happiest Spaniard on earth.
Rins was also smiling in a very deserved second, and Fabulous was celebrating a crushing victory, and a big new lead on the championship ladder.
But you’d think Aleix had won the championship, such was his joy, and the joy of the Aprilia team at its first ever podium.
There is no doubt Maverick is now high-fiving himself at his new contract with Aprilia. The bike is certainly competitive. And Maverick has always believed he was too.
I guess we’ll find out sooner rather than later. And Dovi will be back as well. It will be like the old band reforming, or something.
Everyone has two weeks to think about everything before we reconvene at Aragon. Not the least of which will be how anyone’s going to break the stranglehold Fabulous has on the championship. Poor Bagnaia has already surrendered. And while the gap to Fabulous is substantial, it’s not yet insurmountable.
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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