For the first time since the Plague set about changing our world, fans returned to a MotoGP race. Certainly not the 140,000 Catalunya normally hosts, but some 20,000 sun-baked Spaniards were dotted through the massive grandstands, doing their Spanish best to sound like 140,000.
Conditions were perfect throughout the weekend, and the track had undergone a bit of an upgrade. The notorious Turn 10 had been “fixed”, and made “safer”. The arc of the turn had been increased and everyone agreed that it was better – and then proceeded to crash their brains out on it.
Rins went one better. He got on his pushbike and rode into the back of a stationary van while checking his watch, broke his arm, and was out of Sunday’s race.
Vinales had not broken anything, and had not fallen off, but he had been complaining to Spanish media about how maybe he shouldn’t have signed with Yamaha.
Yamaha’s response to Top Gun’s under-performance followed by deep-and-meaningfuls with the media? It removed his mate and crew-chief, Esteban Garcia, and replaced him with the ancient and ever-grumpy Silvano Galbusera. You’ll recall Galbusera was Rossi’s crew-chief for a while – until Rossi showed him the door and the old fellow went to yell at Cal Crutchlow in Yamaha’s testing program.
The Practices were revealing and fascinating for a few reasons. Marquez was still looking to be towed around, and he found a willing player in Jack Miller. As they exited the pits together, Jack looked at Marc and rubbed his thumb and forefinger together in the universal sign of “This is gonna cost ya”. Marc rubbed his fingers in return, as if to say: “Yes, it is. Just send me the invoice”. And both teams had a laugh about it all.
Except I would suspect HRC is laughing through an on-going and ever-increasing veil of tears. Especially when Jack just out-rode Marc and wedged himself into second on the grid.
Morbidelli was once again hugely impressive, pedalling his vintage Yamaha around at a great pace – clearly at peace with being the fastest bloke on the slowest bike.
Rookie Jorge Martin had returned, but visited the gravel traps a few times as he was getting his eye back in. He even managed to bin it on the sighting lap just before the race started, so he has a way to go yet, I’m thinking.
Zarco looked menacing once again, and Oliveira (who is a qualified dentist) was also sinking his perfect fangs into the grid, but it was all about Fabulous once more. He appeared to be unconquerable, both in hot laps and race pace.
He was on pole yet again, followed by Miller and Zarco. Oliviera was fourth, Morbidelli fifth, and Vinales, fresh from being glowered at by his new grandfather, managed sixth. But there was not much in it. Less than a second separated the top 18 riders, and even Rossi was starting look better – The Doctor finding himself in Q2 for the first time in ages, and 11th on the grid, just behind the world champion Mir.
So it’s quite a way from the start line to Turn One at Catalunya. And everyone expected the Ducatis to beat Fabulous to Turn One and then to try and hold him back in the opening stages. The fear was he would once again make a break, turn into Jorge Lorenzo, and start reeling off metronomic laps no-one could match.
And so it was. Miller was first into Turn One, followed by Fabulous and Oliveira, who then passed Fabulous in Turn 7 and relegated him to third. I know KTM signed Binder for three more years just before the race, but it’s really Oliveira the Austrians need to be looking at.
It also looked as though Ducati’s traditional straight-line speed advantage was not affecting the KTMs anymore. Oliveira was not being hosed down the straight by Miller, and then Jack ran wide into Turn One and the Portuguese dentist was in the lead.
Fabulous immediately tried to capitalise on Jack’s mistake, but ran wide himself, and was immediately pasted by Mir (who looked to be trying much earlier in the race than he usually does) and Aleix Espargaro. Zarco was back in sixth, but no-one was writing him off just yet, because no-one was gapping anyone at this early stage.
And then Zarco lashed past Fabulous. It seemed like the Disrupt Fabulous plan was working. Quartararo looked entirely disrupted. Marquez looked a little disrupted too when Binder gave him a nudge, but he recovered and was looking closely at Zarco’s rear wheel.
Oliveira was charging hard at the front, trying his best to create a gap to Jack, and Aleix, who was doing his best to get past Jack. Mir was in a solid fourth, followed by Fabio, and Marquez, who’d squeezed past Zarco for the first time in what has seemed ages.
Mir then passed Aleix coming into Turn One, and Fabulous got around Aleix four corners later. It was becoming a most intriguing chess-game of a race.
But not for Pol. It was the usual race for Pol, which ends in the rocks with lots of helmet grabbing and arm waving.
Oliveira had now managed to eke out an 0.8-second lead over Miller, Mir, and Fabulous, while Aleix had fallen into the weakened arms of Marquez, who grabbed fifth place from him, just as Zarco rocketed past both of them to grab fifth place for himself.
Vinales was back in eighth, working out how he was going to explain himself to his cranky grandfather, and Binder was just behind him.
Petrucci remodelled his KTM in Turn 9, clearly pre-occupied with his forthcoming WSBK career, just as Marc Marquez passed Aleix for sixth spot, and Fabulous got his head down and relegated Mir to third, as Jack seemed to fade back a touch into fourth.
It made no difference to Oliveira, who was now more than a second in front of them all, and riding brilliantly. Behind him, Mir and Fabulous engaged, but gaps were appearing all along the line, just as Taka Nakagami was handed a Long Lap Penalty for shortcutting his way through Turn One and Two.
This is when the new Turn Ten claimed its first victim of the race – none other than Marc Marquez folded himself into the rocks, and made Catalunya his third DNF in a row – a career first for him.
Nakagami was then given a second Long Lap Penalty for not complying with his first Long Lap Penalty in a timely fashion, and Fabulous had closed appreciably on Oliveira – the gap now less than half-a-second.
Aleix felt this was the right time to take his turn crashing at Turn Ten, and Fabulous felt it was time to pass Oliveira, and he picked Turn Five to do just that.
Bagnaia had now managed to pass Binder for seventh spot and no-one had even seen Rossi for the entire race thus far. Which was fair enough. Whatever slight improvement the Doctor had found in Practice was no longer evident. He was languishing back in 13th. And then Turn Ten ate him as well.
But Miguel Oliveira was not languishing. He passed Fabulous down the straight, and 11 laps from the end, Zarco also made his move on Miller, relegating the Aussie back into fifth.
Oliveira was once again gapping Fabulous, and little pairs of riders began to slowly form as the racers set about dealing with the closing stages of the race.
Nine laps from the end, Zarco ate Mir down the straight – he was always going to – and Miller soon did the world champion over as well, relegating him to fifth, and almost into the clutches of Vinales, who was lapping a second faster than Mir.
Oliveira was half-a-second up on Fabulous, and there was a serious gap back to Zarco, Miller, Mir, and Vinales. There were now four distinct groups of two riders hammering away at each other.
Fabulous chased Oliveira, Miller pursued Zarco, Vinales hunted Mir, and Binder shadowed Bagnaia, until he finally got past him four laps from the end of the race.
Oliveira had been running 1:40.6s almost the entire race. His precision was freaky. And suddenly, it all got too freaky for Fabulous, and he began to disrobe. Zarco passed him and Fabulous ran wide into Turn 2.
I saw him rummaging in his leathers, then I saw him throw his chest protector away and continue racing with his race suit wide open.
Oh well, I thought, he’s about to be black-flagged. And this will make him crazy and he really will take all his clothes off.
But no black flag appeared. And then Miller passed him, and he passed Miller back, so open leathers or not, he was still interested in a podium.
Four corners from the end of the race, Fabulous copped his first three-second penalty. The following day, he copped another three-second penalty. He ultimately was relegated to sixth, behind Vinales and Mir.
None of which took anything away from the superb race Oliveira rode. The Portuguese dentist sailed over the finish line a mere tenth of a second ahead of Zarco, who may well have caught him in another lap or so. But it’s not really a sport of wishful thinking, is it?
Miller got a well-deserved third, and while Fabulous Nude-araro still leads, his lead is a mere 14-points from Zarco, who is edging ever closer to doing his first back-flip in a long time. So long, in fact, I’m wondering if he can still do one without ending up in traction – and I hope to find out very soon.
We have a week to catch our breath, and then the circus re-appears in Germany, and then at Assen the following week – and then there’s a five-week break, so the racers can go and hang out with supermodels on sunny beaches.
Which is only right and proper.
MotoGP 2021 – Round Seven
Catalunya – Race Results
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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