The anticipation in the lead-up to Round 3 was incandescent. Marquez had been cleared to race, and had Jesus chosen the same weekend to return, the media would still be pointing its cameras at Marc.
I will admit I was also intrigued. I’d seen the Insta pics of him training, but hoiking weights is a bit different to smashing out 25 hard laps of the Portuguese roller-coaster known as Portimao. Especially when you’ve not been on a MotoGP bike for 250-odd days.
The peanut gallery had typed itself into a frenzy on social media, anticipating Marc’s imminent smashing of the field followed by an unimpeded conquest of this year’s title in the not-too-distant future. And there looked to be a vibe in the pits as well, as the rest of the racers awaited the Healed One’s return to the Colosseum.
The first practice session was damp. Patches of the track where still drying as Marquez wheeled his Honda out to see what was what. I figured he’d do one of two things. He’d either cruise around and see how it all felt, or he’d nail his massive testicles to the nearest wall so the competition knew he had returned.
He did the latter, and briefly put himself into first place, until the zesty application of Bagnaia, Rins, and Zarco, nudged him back a few places. Still, it did look ominous, and lots of riders were staring blankly at the timing screens as they absorbed what they’d just seen.
Nothing much changed for FP2. Fabulous and Miller put some of their cards on the table and Marquez was relegated back into sixth. Was he foxing? It was impossible to say.
The crucial FP3 rolled around, and the Rookie Supreme, Jorge Martin explored the gravel big-time at Turn 7. He broke his arm, his ankle, and gave himself some concussion. Welcome to MotoGP, was all I could think.
Some big names ended up in Q1, among them Marquez, who was seen shaking his formerly broken arm and rubbing it on his chair. But Mir, Rossi, Pol, and Binder, were all struggling to understand Portimao. Nakagami was sitting it out in a sling from an earlier high-speed get-off, but as the session ended, Mir and Marquez found themselves in Q2.
Interestingly, Marquez and Mir had been together for most of the session. Marquez basically shadowing Mir as if to say “Remember me, sport? I’m the reason you have a championship and I’m the reason you won’t have one again…” Mir was Po-faced the whole time. He plays his emotional cards very close to his chest, that boy.
Qualifying 2 revealed many things. The most important being how serious the officials are about enforcing the Yellow Flag thing. Bagnaia’s record-breaking lap saw him kicked off pole and relegated to 11th because he says he did not see the yellow flag which came out when Oliveira and then Zarco ploughed the earth with their failures. This was still better than Vinales’s rather lamentable 12th spot, though. Marquez found himself in a creditable sixth, arm-shaking or not. Ahead of him sat Fabulous on pole, followed by Rins, Zarco, Miller, and Morbidelli.
Racing gets underway!
Once again, the Ducati hole-shot devices worked a treat, as a relatively bruised field hurtled its way to Turn One. Miller and Lecuona were both fresh out of arm-pump surgery, Nakagami was a ball of stoic suffering starting from the back of the grid. Petrucci, whose arm had fallen out of its socket the previous round, and then fallen back in, was also aching, as were Oliveira and Zarco – and Marquez was still rubbing and shaking his arm.
But Zarco led out of Turn One, followed very closely by Rins, Marquez, Miller, Mir, and Fabulous. Two corners later, Mir gave Marquez a hard nudge, as if it so say: “Yeah, I remember you. Now you remember what MotoGP racing feels like”.
And fair point to Mir. It’s all well and good cutting a few laps in Practice and Qualifying. But when the high-speed meat-grinder starts up, best you be on you’re A-game. So Marc gave Mir’s back tyre a bit of a kiss on the next lap and they were even.
Fabulous was having none of it. He passed Marc as did Miller, while Rins and Mir set themselves up to stalk Zarco at the front. Vinales reverted to his 2020 form and headed to the rear of the field to race Salvadore – who must be wondering when Aprilia will take him out the back, shoot him, and sign Dovizioso.
Lap Three saw Fabulous begin stamping his authority on the field. He passed Miller for third, while Binder also made his way past Marquez – who clearly had not been foxing with all the arm-shaking, and was now in ninth.
Pol chose this time to return to the pits so Puig could glare at him in hatred because his Factory Honda was not playing. Rins chose this moment to pass Zarco and grab first spot, only to be hosed down the short Portimao straight by the Frenchman as they started the next lap.
Miller then folded his front-end and slid his way out of the race, and was seen sitting his pit like a red-leathered thundercloud. His season was clearly not shaping up as he had hoped. At the pointy end, Rins had once again passed Zarco, as had Fabulous, and in short order, Mir had also smashed past the Frenchman.
Oliveira was not going to repeat his 2020 conquest of his home track. He went down to look at the rocks, as Bagnaia began to work his way up the field and kept Marquez in ninth when he passed him.
Rossi, who has never liked Portimao, appeared completely disinterested in doing anything but riding around with his brother, Luca Marini, near the back of the field.
The five front-runners had now started to gap the field a touch, and were engaged in their own challenges. Portimao is a hard track to pass on, but Zarco once again managed to grab third place from Mir, then ceded it back when he ran wide, as Fabulous relentlessly closed down on the leading Rins.
Binder had made a great fist of it thus far. He’d started on 15th, and had worked his way into 6th past Aleix Espargaro, and was not all that far from the leaders. But there looked to be no catching Fabulous, who confidently relegated Rins to second, and started piling it on.
Ten laps in, everything settled into a super-fast procession at the front, as Bagnaia seized 6th from Binder and started chasing Morbidelli in 5th.
Fabulous and Rins had moved some 1.6-seconds ahead of Mir and Zarco, while Morbidelli and Bagnaia contended for the almost-podium almost a second back from them. Zarco managed to blaze past Mir down the straight, and Rossi exited the race after failing to deal with Turn 11.
Fabulous was being flawless out front, but Rins pursued him doggedly, until he too entered the rocky vegetables at Turn Five, and it was pretty much game over six laps from the end.
Fabulous was now four seconds clear of anyone – and barring some kind of blonde moment, the race was his to lose. Bagnaia was not done with Zarco, and the two of them began to wrestle for 2nd, until Zarco also wiped himself out. The Portuguese gravel was full of broken dreams that day, and the pits were full of people with their faces in their hands.
Morbidelli, on his vintage Yamaha, was now closing on Mir in third, and second-place Bagnaia, who looked to be struggling with his rear tyre. But it was not to be.
Fabulous sailed over the line, daylight followed him for almost five seconds, then came Bagnaia with Mir on his wheel, and Morbidelli. Binder and Aleix followed, and behind them came Marquez, 13-seconds shy of the winner.
Marquez returned to the pits emotionally overwrought. I thought he was disappointed not to be at the front, but it was not that – he was just overwhelmed to be back. Yes, his arm was sore, yes, he had the crashers to thank for his seventh spot, but he had beaten his brother – and most importantly, he had finished a race.
Oliveira had rejoined the race after his off, and Vinales, some 23 seconds off the pace, had managed to beat Marini to 11th. Everyone scored points except Oliveira, who was maybe hoping Marquez Junior would have founnd the gravel like he usually does.
And that was the Roller-Coaster. Podiums thrown away, emotions running high, disappointment, pain, and triumph in every garage.
Some people will say the real championship begins now. The nonsense tracks have all been done, and we head to Jerez, beloved of Rossi, Marquez, and pretty much all of them. But 75 points have been up for grabs, and the French are starting to quote Napoleon and swagger around the place. The Yamahas look strong, the Ducatis can still hose everything down the straight, and the Suzukis will always be in contention.
And I’ll bet you thought last year was great, huh?
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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