MotoGP: Grand Prix of the Americas Winners and Losers

Check out our winners and losers from the 2023 MotoGP Grand Prix of the Americas from the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

2023 MotoGP Grand Prix of the Americas podium. - Gold and Goose

The 2023 MotoGP Grand Prix of the Americas was a strange race in that it was both spread out and incredibly tense. Of course, some riders emerged from that better than others. 

Winner - Alex Rins

It was not a hard decision to choose the first rider one the ‘winners’ list for the Austin MotoGP of 2023. Alex Rins rode superbly all weekend, qualifying on the front row, and then finishing both races on the podium - including that outstanding victory in Sunday’s Grand Prix. 

Rins’ victory came despite the Honda, rather than because of it, as much as Luca Marini might like to claim the RC213V was the best motorcycle at COTA. The 2023 Honda has no rear grip, which is important in the race at the Circuit of the Americas because of the number of slow speed corners from which the riders accelerate extremely hard. This disadvantage was made more clear in the Sprint on Saturday, when Rins was sucked back into the pack thanks to a mistake he made at turn 12 early in the race, than on Sunday when he spent most of the race in relative freedom. 

It was also a disadvantage that was reduced because of Rins’ style, and because of the non-choice in rear tyre that saw everyone choosing the soft. More rear grip from the tyre reduces the effect felt from a motorcycle lacking in rear grip, and the #42’s smooth, Moto2-like style - as Takaaki Nakagami put it - meant Rins was able to use more momentum and less throttle to go fast, whereas his fellow Honda riders were doing the opposite.

Rins’ proficiency on the front end of the Honda was also clear. He was extremely fast - the fastest, arguably - in the long sequence of direction changes that stretches from turn one to turn nine, one-and-a-half sectors of the COTA lap. 

It was towards the end of this section, between turns six and seven, that Rins passed Valentino Rossi to win the 2019 edition of the Grand Prix of the Americas; it was there that he passed Aleix Espargaro to take over second place in the Sprint last Saturday; and it was there that he passed Francesco Bagnaia early in the race in the Grand Prix last Sunday. 

Of course, Bagnaia re-passed Rins, but later crashed, and thereafter Rins’ race management also proved stellar. He gave neither Fabio Quartararo nor Luca Marini a hope of passing him for the win, which he took, in the end, in fine style. 

The victory was an important one for several reasons. Firstly, Rins became the first rider other than Marc Marquez to win with Honda since Cal Crutchlow in 2018 at the Argentinian Grand Prix, which, incidentally, was where Rins picked up his first MotoGP podium. 

This is important because it shows Honda that there is another way to win other than Marc Marquez. Marquez might be the best rider in the history of the sport, but he has also spent much of the last three years unable to race. That’s not to say that HRC should or will just ignore Marquez from now on, but there might be additional weight placed on the voice of Rins within HRC’s technical discussions than there otherwise might have been. Or, maybe not.

Other importance came from that Lucio Cecchinello’s LCR team has been without a race win for as long as Honda’s non-Marc-Marquez riders, and without a podium since Cal Crutchlow finished second at the 2019 Australian Grand Prix. 

Finally, and not really related to MotoGP, Rins put the #42 on the top step just a few days after the death of Hyundai World Rally driver Craig Breen, who ran the #42 as his career number in the World Rally Championship, and who crashed while testing ahead of Rally Croatia, which begins tomorrow (21 April 2023), on the Thursday before the Grand Prix of the Americas began. There is not really any meaning to that, but it was a kind of comforting coincidence.

Winner - Tony Arbolino

It is not confirmed yet, but Tony Arbolino seems to be putting himself in position for a MotoGP ride in 2024.

Although the #14 was cut way adrift of Pedro Acosta and Aron Canet at the season opening Moto2 race in Portimao, he is the only rider to have finished on the podium in all three intermediate-class Grands Prix in 2023, going 3-1-2 to start the year. 

Although Arbolino was beaten by Acosta in Texas, the Italian rode well and now leads the championship by seven points, over Acosta, despite the Spaniard’s two wins, since Acosta was only 12th in Argentina. 

It seems that these two - Acosta and Arbolino - will be the two primary contenders for the Moto2 world title this year, and probably the only riders likely to progress from the intermediate class to MotoGP in 2024. 

For Acosta, his destination is almost certain - it will be either Tech3 GasGas or the factory KTM team - but for Arbolino there is less certainty. His manager, Carlo Pernat, is also the manager of Enea Bastianini, and, reportedly, has a strong relationship with Ducati. Since Fabio Di Giannantonio seems to be the only Ducati-mounted MotoGP rider incapable of fighting for a podium or a win at the moment, an opening at Gresini could be there for Arbolino. 

A second option could be at RNF Aprilia, whose Raul Fernandez has not fulfilled his promise at the start of the season. In defence of Fernandez, we are three races into his Aprilia career, in Argentina all of the Aprilias struggled, and in Texas his ride height device malfunctioned in the same way that caused Aleix Espargaro to crash. Nonetheless, there could be an opening for Arbolino at Razlan Razali’s team.

Since VR46 is unlikely to change from its current pairing, Arbolino is unlikely to end up there, but Yamaha’s lack of a satellite team could play into Arbolino’s hands. At the weekend, Jack Appleyard interviewed Yamaha Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis, about the Iwata marque’s plans for its 2024 rider line-up, for the MotoGP world feed commentary. 

This interview came after Jarvis had attended a private test in Jerez at which Toprak Razgatlioglu, the 2021 WorldSBK champion, tested the Yamaha YZR-M1 MotoGP prototype.

One conclusion from the interview seemed to be that Razgatlioglu had not done enough at the test to convince Yamaha that they should put him in MotoGP alongside Fabio Quartararo. Another conclusion was that Yamaha is currently favouring the option of sticking with Franco Morbidelli as the second rider in its factory MotoGP team if Morbidelli can show enough speed to warrant retaining his place. A third conclusion from the interview was that, if Yamaha is to replace Morbidelli, it is most likely to do so with a rider currently in MotoGP; someone who has existing experience of riding and racing MotoGP bikes. 

Over the past winter, one such rider that could take that second Yamaha seat was rumoured to be Jorge Martin, who was reportedly fairly unhappy with Ducati for choosing Enea Bastianini over himself for the second seat, alongside Francesco Bagnaia, in the Bologna brand's factory team for 2023. As a result, and as a result of his one-year contract which has him currently at Pramac Ducati, Martin could be out of the Ducati structure at the end of the year and on his way to Yamaha. Should such a switch happen, a new seat would be opened up, and it could well be filled by Arbolino. 

Arbolino’s current performance level is key to him being considered for MotoGP rides, and continuing to challenge Pedro Acosta will only serve to help him in making his case for getting a ride as the 2023 season continues.

Loser - Yamaha

Only two winners and two losers this week, the first of the latter being Yamaha, who scored their first podium of the 2023 MotoGP season in Texas.
So, why are they ‘losers’? Mostly because of the bike, which is still too slow.

In Argentina, there seemed to be great hope for Yamaha, as Franco Morbidelli sat in front of several Ducati riders for several laps in both the Sprint and Grand Prix, yet not once was he annihilated in a straight line.

In Texas, however, it was different, and perfectly demonstrated by Luca Marini’s pass on Fabio Quartararo, in which the annihilation which Morbidelli avoided was dealt to Quartararo between turns 11 and 12 at COTA. 

The difference between COTA and Termas de Rio Hondo, where the Argentinian Grand Prix is held, is that the main straight in Termas is preceded by a third-gear corner, whereas all of the straights at COTA are preceded by first-gear corners. This means that Yamaha is able to use its corner speed advantage to reduce its straight line speed deficit in Termas, but not in Texas, where it has to accelerate from a lower speed. 

The problem for Yamaha is that its engine is not powerful enough, and also that it does not have enough aerodynamic downforce to prevent wheelie. The problem is then compounded, because to use more power it needs more downforce, but to have more downforce it needs to have more power to push through the drag created as a by-product of the downforce-generating wings in the straights. 

The simple answer is “build a V4”, but Lin Jarvis explained to the Paddock Pass Podcast that such an answer is actually not very simple at all, because it would take two or three years to have a competitive V4, and by then it will need to be redesigned for the 100% non-fossil fuels in 2027.

The positive for Yamaha is that Tom O’Kane’s input has likely not been truly felt yet since he only joined Yamaha from Suzuki over the past winter. Whether O’Kane will be able to completely reverse Yamaha’s fortunes remains to be seen, of course, but it is clear that Fabio Quartararo’s patience is not infinite. 

Loser - Alex Marquez

The reason that Alex Marquez is a ‘loser’ in Texas is actually, in a way, a positive. Without trying to become “EverythingIsAwesome-Down”, Marquez should have been on the podium in Texas in both the Sprint and the Grand Prix, and you could fairly argue that he could have won at least one of the races, too. 

But, in the Sprint, he threw up in braking for turn 12 and crashed as his helmet filled with his lunch; and in the Grand Prix he was taken out by Jorge Martin, who was wide in turn two, probably oblivious to the location of Marquez to his right-hand-side on entry to turn three, and lost the front with no warning before he made the third apex of Sunday’s race. 

So, it was a pretty unfortunate weekend for the #73 Gresini Ducati rider, but the fact is that he is a legitimate podium threat, seemingly, everywhere MotoGP goes. In Portimao he was there in the battle for fourth in the Grand Prix, he was on pole in Argentina before finishing third on Sunday, and he had podium pace throughout the weekend in Texas. 

Alex Marquez is a ‘loser’ in Texas because he missed out on two top three finishes, but the reality remains that, in 2022, if he would have finished on the podium with LCR Honda it would have been a significant shock, yet, in 2023, if he wins at the next race in Jerez, it would feel quite normal. 

The 2023 MotoGP World Championship continues at the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez on what in the UK is the first Bank Holiday weekend of three in May, although the race is actually in April - 28-30 April, to be precise.

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