MotoGP: Portuguese Grand Prix Winners and Losers

MotoGP's 2023 season opener had some stand out moments and, of course, from those moments there were winners, and there were losers.

Francesco Bagnaia, Maverick Vinales, Marco Bezzecchi, on 2023 MotoGP Portuguese Grand Prix podium. - Gold and Goose

The opening MotoGP weekend of the year was one notable for its attrition and its revolution. The Sprint race arrived, and several riders made their early exits. Here are our calls for the winners and losers of the 2023 MotoGP Portuguese Grand Prix.

Winner - Francesco Bagnaia

This is a fairly straightforward and obvious one. If you enter a weekend with 37 points on offer from two races, start both of those races from the front row, and win both to take the maximum 37 points away from the weekend, and the points lead with it, it simply cannot get better. 

If we were doing ‘rider ratings’ here, we could mark Bagnaia down for missing pole position, or not topping every session by half-a-second as the reigning World Champion. But, the reality is that Bagnaia missed pole position for a magical lap from the most-talented rider in (at least the recent) history of motorcycle short circuit road racing. It’s hard to blame the Italian for that. 

Not only was Bagnaia’s personal performance a superb way for him to begin his first-ever title defence (he moved up to MotoGP the year after he won the Moto2 title, so did not defend in the intermediate class), but the performance of his rivals were pretty poor from a points perspective. 

We will touch on some of them later in more detail, but Bagnaia’s nearest challenger, Maverick Vinales, scored in two races what Bagnaia scored on Sunday alone; the aforementioned most-talented rider is already 30 points behind Bagnaia, has a broken thumb, and has a double-long-lap penalty to serve at his next race; Bagnaia’s closest challenger in 2022, Fabio Quartararo, is 29 points behind Bagnaia, and has a motorcycle which can neither qualify nor race well; and, finally, Bagnaia’s factory Ducati teammate, Enea Bastianini, left Portimao with no points and a broken shoulder blade.

If you can think of a way that this should have gone better for Bagnaia, please do let us know in the comments section of your preferred social media platform.

Winner - Aprilia

There are plenty of reasons why Aprilia can be disappointed with their weekend in Portimao, but also plenty why they can be pretty pleased. 
Sure, they are behind Ducati and Bagnaia in all three championships, but Maverick Vinales was able to challenge the #1 Desmosedici of Bagnaia right until the end of the Grand Prix on Sunday. 

Vinales’ performance on Sunday showed that he can win races, and his aggression on Saturday might not have achieved more than a fifth-place finish in the Sprint, but it was also something which he has generally failed to show in the past - think back to Silverstone or Misano last year. The #12 proved he should have what it takes to win in MotoGP this year, and maybe even fight for the title. 

For Aleix Espargaro, the weekend began in a difficult way on Friday, when his brother, Pol, crashed heavily in the second practice session, breaking his jaw, his dorsal vertebrae, and suffering a lung contusion. But, although his results were not the strongest, there were signs from Espargaro that the potential is there, although he would undoubtedly have preferred to finish ahead of Fabio Quartararo on Sunday.

The biggest problem for Espargaro was qualifying. He was the slowest rider in Q2, partly thanks to a crash at turn 13, and that left him with too much work to do in both races. 

The next race is in Argentina, where Aprilia and Espargaro both scored their first MotoGP win last year. It was a particular weekend, with freight delays causing a shortening of the race weekend from three days to two, but at the same time the new MotoGP format has reduced practice time, making the three days of 2023 somewhat comparable - in that respect - to the two-day Argentinian weekend of 2022.

Winner - Pedro Acosta

Pedro Acosta had an up-and-down 2022, with injuries keeping him out of multiple races, but also two wins in his rookie Moto2 campaign - in Mugello, and in Aragon. 

It was the wins which dictated the expectations for Acosta in 2023. Nothing less than a championship will do this year for the #37, who is expected to make his way up to MotoGP in 2023. 

The Spaniard faced pressure throughout the Moto2 race on Sunday from Aron Canet, but in the final three laps he leapt away from his compatriot, and took a commanding win. The race was not without errors from Acosta, with two rear slides on the exit of turn five - one more significant than the other - but there was never a moment when he looked weaker than Canet, who himself put in a great performance. 

If Portimao is anything to go by, it is going to be a long season for the Moto2 field. 

Loser - Augusto Fernandez

KTM loves Pol Espargaro, it loves Brad Binder, and it has only just signed Jack Miller. None of those are likely to be forced out of the Austrian manufacturer’s four MotoGP spots for the incoming Acosta, unless relationships severely sour in the next couple of month. 

Augusto Fernandez, though, has only one season in the KTM ‘family’. He won the Moto2 world title in that season, but in comparison to his teammate last year, Pedro Acosta, his standing within KTM is relatively low. 

Fernandez did not finish the Sprint in Portimao, but that was down to a bike issue. He also finished well in the Grand Prix, taking 13th place, ahead of the factory Yamaha of Franco Morbidelli. It was by no means a bad weekend for Fernandez in Portugal, and yet the performance of Acosta in the Moto2 race means he is pretty much immediately under pressure for his ride. 

It is hard to know exactly where Fernandez should be finishing in order to persuade KTM that they should keep him, but considering the two factory bikes were in the battle for fourth, maybe top 10s are what Fernandez needs. For a MotoGP rookie on a bike which has not won a dry race since 2021, this seems incredibly harsh. But, this is MotoGP, and this is KTM, ‘harsh’ is more or less the whole point.

Loser - Marc Marquez

In WorldSBK, Toprak Razgatlioglu races incredibly aggressively. His late-braking style, combined with his desperation to prove his superiority in every race, more or less, makes for superb displays of racecraft and bar-to-bar combat. In Jonathan Rea, he found a fantastic opponent, who could take what he was given, and not really complain about it. In 2021, this became notable whenever a third rider became involved in the battle. It caused confusion, and desperation for the outsiders who managed to get themselves in a battle with Rea and Razgatlioglu. 

When Scott Redding finished second to Razgatlioglu in the second race at Most in 2021, he said afterwards: “The way Toprak was overtaking at the end was very desperate and I don’t like that,” as reported at the time by 

Redding was overtaken in the final corner, and lost the race as a result. He won the next day, by escaping from Razgatlioglu in the second full-length race of the weekend.

Redding’s anger at Razgatlioglu’s move was generally met with opposition, because there was no contact between the two, and, in the final corner of the final lap, the rules are mostly thrown out (check the 2005 Spanish Grand Prix, if you like, or the 2015 Dutch TT). 

And that is the key with Razgatlioglu. His overtakes are, generally, incredibly aggressive, and occasionally nudging past the limit of acceptability, but he is almost never putting someone on the floor. 

When you ride aggressively and, more importantly, when you race aggressively, it is important to bank the clean-aggressive moves to be able to have something to fall back on if something goes wrong. 

On Sunday, something went very wrong for Marc Marquez, who broke his thumb in a crash which took out Miguel Oliveira with some severity. Both the Spaniard and the Portuguese are out for this weekend’s Argentinian race, and Marquez has a double-long-lap penalty to serve in Texas at the Grand Prix of the Americas. The incident also involved Jorge Martin, whose knee Marquez made contact with on his way to Oliveira, and who crashed later on. 

Although Marquez has banked plenty of clean-on-the-limit passes since 2013, what currently (perhaps unfairly) stands out more is arguably his Argentina 2018 debacle, which saw him almost take out Aleix Espargaro, and actually take out Valentino Rossi, after being given a ride-through penalty for riding backwards on the grid. 

His over-aggression on that occasion in Argentina, and his over-aggression on Sunday in Portimao, harm his bar-to-bar reputation. Certainly, Valentino Rossi’s regular railings against Marquez and his style of racing has probably not helped Marquez’ case either (that, obviously, not being his fault at all), but when riders like Aleix Espargaro and Jorge Martin are complaining about the frequency of your over-aggressive moves, and saying race bans are required; and when teams, like Oliveira’s RNF Racing team, are calling for the FIM MotoGP Stewards to enforce harsher penalties on you, the situation is not great. 

In dirt bike racing, especially in AMA Supercross, the need to not ‘make enemies’ for the title contenders is often emphasised. Jason Anderson could have won the 2022 AMA Supercross 450SX title, but he kept picking fights with Justin Barcia and Malcolm Stewart, who cleaned him out in retaliation. Basically, Anderson lost the respect of Barcia and, more so, of Stewart, and so they took matters into their own hands.

Take-outs are much more acceptable in Supercross than in MotoGP. In Supercross, the speeds are much lower than in MotoGP, and the corners in many ways are designed to facilitate that kind of racing should a rider decide they want to engage in it. But, it seems naïve to think that Marquez has not made enemies for himself in Martin and Oliveira. They might not clean him out, but they’ll race him harder than they otherwise might, and, Marquez being on a Honda that doesn’t stop, turn, or accelerate, the #93 will have little to fight back with. 

So, not only has Marquez crashed himself out of three races by the end of the first race weekend of the season, he has also made recovering the 30-point deficit he now has to points leader Francesco Bagnaia much more difficult.

Loser - Yamaha

It would have been easy to choose ‘The MotoGP Riders’ as the final losers of the 2023 Portuguese Grand Prix. Certainly, the situation for motorcycle racing’s biggest stars right now does not look so good, since they are taking more risk for no more pay, and have an apparently much higher chance of being hurt in 2023 than they did in years past. 

But, we have had only one Sprint weekend, so let’s see how some more go before making particularly concrete judgments about what currently seems to be a pretty disastrous situation. 

Instead, let’s focus on Yamaha, who had a terrible weekend in Portimao. 

Most of Yamaha’s preseason was also terrible. They found more power from their inline-four engine, but they couldn’t make use of a soft rear tyre in a time attack. With qualifying now determining the grid position for two races, it is much more important than before, and so suffering with time attacks in 2023 is much worse than suffering with them in 2022. 

Yamaha seemed to find a way to resolve the issues with its 2023 bike on the final day of the Portimao test, when they went back to the 2022 frame, 2022 aero, and 2022-or-previous settings in conjunction with the more-powerful 2023 engine. 

However, Fabio Quartararo qualified 11th on Saturday, almost three-quarters-of-a-second behind the pole-setting Marc Marquez. That led him to be in a dangerous position in the Sprint, proven by Joan Mir who seemingly decided to ride into the side of the Frenchman and crash in the process, and so he did not score a point on Saturday. On Sunday, it wasn’t much better, as he got a bad start, was 15th at one point, and came back to finish eighth. 

Quartararo’s teammate, Franco Morbidelli, said in preseason that he had worked hard on riding more aggressively to suit the Yamaha YZR-M1’s aggressive style. But, he finished last of the 14 finishers in the Grand Prix, behind the rookie Augusto Fernandez. 

Yamaha’s current situation is quite dire. They cannot qualify well, which means they need to overtake. But, they cannot overtake, because the bike, although more powerful, is still too slow in a straight line, and when they are behind other riders Quartararo and Morbidelli are unable to use the one strength of the bike - corner speed. 

The only positive of the situation for Yamaha is that Suzuki left MotoGP at the end of last season, so Fabio Quartararo has one less factory to try to escape to. In any case, his deal runs out at the end of 2024, but it is without doubt that Quartararo’s trust in Yamaha, who promised him performance gains for 2023, is currently being eroded.

The second round of the 2023 MotoGP World Championship takes place this weekend at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina, for the 2023 MotoGP Argentinian Grand Prix.

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