Three tenths decide the duel as the 2021 title rivals go toe-to-toe in a tour de force in Andalucia.
It’s the showdown that had been building all weekend: Ducati Lenovo Team’s Francesco Bagnaia vs Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™’s Fabio Quartararo. The duel that captivated the Championship fight in 2021, and the duel that we were waiting to spark again in 2022. After a weekend of speed from both at the Gran Premio Red Bull de España, Jerez was the place as the pair were in a class of their own to pull out ten seconds on the rest. In the end, Bagnaia held on for an emotional first win of the year, with Quartararo forced to settle for second but taking an outright points lead in the World Championship, only 0.285 off the win.
Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) broke clear of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) and Jack Miller (Ducato Lenovo Team) in the final laps to take third, and in doing so brings to an end Aprilia’s MotoGP™ concessions after six years.
As the lights went out, the roars went up as the thousands of trackside fans celebrated their return to the grandstands after three years away. It was the poleman Bagnaia who launched himself into the lead too, with Quartararo settling into second behind. Ducati Lenovo Team’s Jack Miller was third on the opening lap, ahead of LCR Honda Idemitsu’s Takaaki Nakagami, and Aleix Espargaro and Marc Marquez were literally elbow-to-elbow off the line – with the Aprilia diving under the eight-time World Champion into the opening corner only to run wide and allow the Honda back through into fifth.
Marquez was aggressive later on the opening lap as he fired up the inside of Nakagami to claim fourth, and Aleix Espargaro also squeezed through. Seconds later Pramac Racing’s Jorge Martin then crashed out for the fourth time in six races and, on his 200th Grand Prix appearance, HRC’s Stefan Bradl also hit the deck at the final corner.
Meanwhile at the front, only a handful of laps had been completed but the leading duo were already flexing their pace, edging further and further clear of Miller. By Lap 5 it was 1.5 seconds and thr gap just continued to grow. The Australian instead had to focus on hanging onto the final podium place, with both Marquez and Espargaro applying increasing amounts of pressure on the factory Ducati rider.
Darryn Binder (WithU RNF Yamaha) then crashed out at Turn 2, before a big moment in the World Championship fight: after a sluggish start, Alex Rins’ day got worse when the Team Suzuki Ecstar rider straight-lined his GSX-RR through the Turn 11 gravel trap after a big moment on the front end, and then Pramac Racing’s difficult day continued when Johann Zarco crashed out at Turn 5.
By half distance, Bagnaia had eked out an eight-tenth advantage and the Italian would maintain that gap up until the final three laps of the race. But then, a frisson of Jaws music: Quartararo sliced the lead in half and was starting to close in. Could Quartararo steal Jerez victory away from Bagnaia late on? The pair were pushing to the absolute limit, by then a mind-boggling 11 seconds clear of the rest.
They started the final lap with Bagnaia holding an advantage of just half a second. It would require something special from the reigning World Champion on the final lap, but as they came through the fourth and final sector Quartararo was closing and closing, just a quarter of a second away. But Bagnaia stood firm, withstanding the almighty pressure to take a vital victory in Jerez; a first for the Italian since the season-closing race in Valencia last year and a second for the Bologna factory in Andalucia in as many years. Quartararo’s third podium visit of the season saw him stretch out his Championship leader from nothing to eight points, however, with those 20 for second place proving very valuable.
Much like the duel for victory, the scrap for third took its time to come to life but when it did, it was a thriller. There were five laps left when Marquez made an inch-perfect move up the inside of Miller at Turn 5, and Espargaro behind knew he had to respond or risk seeing the Respol Honda clear off into the distance. And the Aprilia rider had an answer on the same lap as he braked hard and late into the final corner, heading through.
Marquez, meanwhile, was wide into the final corner and the front-end of his RC213V folded. But it wasn’t a crash, it was a number 93 classic: in true Marc Marquez style, he picked it up off of his elbow and continued on. Espargaro and Miller both swooped through to demote the eight-time World Champion to fifth though, and from there the Aprilia checked out, quickly pulling half a second out of Miller. But Marquez wasn’t done, risking it all on the final lap to take fourth thanks to a dive up the inside of Miller at Turn 8 in spectacular style.
Ahead of them, though, Espargaro was coming across the line to take a pivotal podium for the Noale factory. Not only does the Spaniard sit second in the standings, the rider eight points adrift of Quartararo, but Aprilia officially lost their MotoGP™ concession status after six long years. Behind Marquez and Miller in fourth and fifth was Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Joan Mir in P6, the 2020 Champion coming into late contention but not quite able to find a move on the those ahead.
Nakagami eventually came across the line in seventh, four seconds clear of Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing) in a slightly muted eighth. The erstwhile Championship leader picked off rookie Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing), but the latter matched his best MotoGP™ result despite that in ninth. The final place inside the top ten went the way of Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Brad Binder.
Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team), Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol), Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) and Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) completed the points.
And so we head for Le Mans with a little chance to recharge, and Quartararo out in front in the Championship. He doesn’t arrive from the top step, however, so can the Frenchman fight back on home turf? We’ll find out in two weeks – join us for the SHARK Grand Prix de France!
1 Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) – Ducati – 41’00.554
2 Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) – Yamaha – +0.285
3 Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) – Aprilia – +10.977
Francesco Bagnaia: “It’s a beautiful day. We struggled a lot at the start of the season, during the tests, and we never stopped working. I had the luck to race in Portimao. Even with the pain, I was able to fight to have the same feeling again as last year, and finally this weekend everything went well. I’m so happy. I’m so happy we are back at our potential, or more. Because, last year in this track, we were struggling more compared to Fabio – Fabio was unbeatable – and today, we have done an incredible job. So, I want to say thanks to all the people who have helped me this week with my shoulder problems, and I just want to enjoy today, and give a huge hug to my family at home, to my girlfriend that is at home with my little dog. I’m so happy.”
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