Spanish MotoGP winners and losers | Bagnaia wins as Marc Marquez saves a fourth

Round five of the 2022 MotoGP World Championship saw the series head to Jerez for the Spanish GP and, as always, it went better for some than others.

Francesco Bagnaia, 2022 Spanish Grand Prix podium. - Gold and Goose.

THERE were plenty of winners, and of course a bunch of losers, when MotoGP visited Jerez for the Spanish Grand Prix at the weekend. But, exactly who won in Andalucia, and who lost?

Winner - Francesco Bagnaia

Entering the ‘winners’ section of one of these articles for the first time this year Francesco Bagnaia, who made the holeshot in Jerez from the pole position he won on Saturday, and then proceeded to lead every lap on his way to winning the Spanish Grand Prix in record time. 

After a rocky start to the year at the flyaway races, Bagnaia’s season was put on the ventilator in Portimao. The Italian made a strong comeback from the back of the grid to eighth, after a qualifying crash which damaged his shoulder. 

After Portugal, Bagnaia was at last happy with his feeling on the bike, and he carried that into Jerez five days later. Despite being unable to adhere to a regular weekend running plan because of his injury, Bagnaia was able to show strong pace throughout the weekend, particularly on Saturday, when he took that aforementioned pole position. 

In the race, he made his first good start of the season on the GP22 Ducati, out-braked Fabio Quartararo into turn one, and kept the Frenchman at bay throughout the 25 laps. 

That was a critical point for Bagnaia. Coming into the weekend, Quartararo was the overwhelming favourite to take victory. In 2019, the Frenchman took his first premier class pole position at the legendary Spanish track, and in that year’s race only Marc Marquez was able to better the pace of the #20, before Quartararo was forced to retire thanks to a broken gear lever. 

In 2020, Quartararo dominated both the Spanish and Andalucian Grands Prix at Jerez as MotoGP returned from its pandemic-induced lay-off, and last year he was on his way to another demolition of the MotoGP field when arm pump saw him drop to the lower reaches of the points, and handed the win to Jack Miller.

With the arm pump of last year sorted, it seemed that it would take a disaster for Quartararo to not be victorious in Jerez, but Bagnaia nailed the most important part of the race. 

Overtaking in Jerez is difficult for two reasons. Firstly, the track is tight, and the only overtaking zones, really, are hard braking points (two of which come at the end of the longest straights on the track, which is not of benefit to a Yamaha rider); and, secondly, the temperatures in Jerez mean that following another bike sends the front tyre pressure and temperature way above the ideal operating window. So, it is hard to follow, and to overtake you have to push hard on the front tyre that is already struggling from being behind another bike in the first place. 

Therefore, track position at the start was key, and that is what both Bagnaia and Quartararo understood, but, unfortunately for Quartararo, Bagnaia’s execution was slightly better in the moment, and the Italian took his first win of the season, reducing his championship deficit to the #20 to 33 points. 

Winner - Fabio Quartararo

So, Bagnaia seems to be ‘back’, but it was still a positive day for Quartararo. The Frenchman came into the Spanish race level on points with Alex Rins in the championship, but Rins had a bad qualifying and made a mistake (possibly due to his own front tyre pressure and temperature), so scored no points. 

Additionally, Quartararo beat Aleix Espargaro, who came into Jerez third in the championship, and leaves second in the championship seven points behind the Frenchman. 

Quartararo’s Portuguese-Spanish double podium represents his first back-to-back podiums since he was second in San Marino and Texas last year, but his ride was more important than just points. 

After the race, Quartararo expressed that he knew his front tyre was overheating and that the pressure was getting high, but, in comparison to when this had happened before, he rode better, and managed the situation well to take 20 points. Had he made the holeshot, the race might have gone his way, but as it was there was no way he could get close enough to Bagnaia to attack without putting his front tyre in a dangerous situation. 

Of course, Jerez was not a regular MotoGP race. The dominance both Quartararo and Bagnaia demonstrated on Sunday in Spain was such that Quartararo could sit between 0.5 and 0.9 seconds behind Bagnaia relatively comfortably, knowing that there was no pressure from behind. So, it might be interesting to see whether the reigning World Champion can manage a similar situation regarding the front tyre in the same way when there are rivals closer behind. But, overall, it was a positive improvement compared to, for example, Aragon last season, when he finished eighth, 16 seconds off the win.

There were also rumours that Quartararo is close to re-signing with Yamaha for 2023 in Jerez. Over the course of the first races of the season, and in particular in Portugal and Spain, Quartararo has proven himself to be indispensable to Yamaha. The next closest M1 to Quartararo in Jerez was Franco Morbidelli, who finished 15th, 27 seconds behind his teammate. 

There is little choice for Yamaha but to throw everything at Quartararo’s contract and hope that it is enough, as for Quartararo there are options. 

Quartararo probably would have expected to win in Jerez, given his previous form there, but that he leaves for his home Grand Prix at Le Mans in a couple of weeks as the outright points leader, with 33 points over Bagnaia, ahead of a race at a track which has generally suited Yamaha in the Michelin era is positive for Quartararo, who needs to bank points ahead of what could be a difficult race for him and Yamaha in Italy. 

Winner - Marc Marquez

The final ‘winner’ of the Spanish Grand Prix is Marc Marquez, who returned in Jerez after being somewhat absent in Portimao. 

Portugal saw a subdued Marquez, who was only just as fast as his brother, LCR Honda’s Alex Marquez. In Jerez, however, Marquez was back to something more similar to his best, with only Takaaki Nakagami - who we know by now is always strong in Jerez - within eight seconds of Marquez for Honda. Pol Espargaro had an anonymous race, and Alex Marquez was almost 13 seconds behind the #93 in 13th at the finish. 

Marquez spent most of his race sat behind Jack Miller, unable to out-brake the Australian into either turn one, turn six, or turn 13. Eventually, Marquez was able to invent something in turn five, turning inside Miller in the long, double-apex right-hander, and, when Miller fought back in the straight, Marquez simply out-braked him around the outside. 

Visibly, Marquez was hesitant on the front end throughout the race. There was a significant portion of the world feed broadcast spent watching from Miller’s rear-facing on-board camera as Marquez probed for a way through. And, from that camera, it was clear that, although he could see how to make the move happen, Marquez could not create the overtake because he lacks the front-end feeling and confidence he had with the previous-generation RC213V. 

While, in Portimao, Marquez ignored the existence of his animalistic instinct to fight absolutely for every position; the fight between the part of his brain that wanted to fight absolutely for each place, and the part that knew finishing the race and collecting the points was the most important thing, was more evident in Jerez, and peaked a turn 13 on the same lap he passed Miller. 

He lost both the front and rear simultaneously, and picked it up on his knee and elbow - a save out of the Marquez textbook, the type of save which has become less frequent recently. That he lost the front might point to a continued lack of front confidence, but that he saved it might point to that front feeling coming back. Time will tell.

Both for Marquez and for HRC, the race must have been a relief. Marquez rode a great race for the first time in 2022 at a circuit where it was perhaps not expected. He exceeded expectations for the first time this year in Jerez, which in the past is what Marquez has done every week. He is figuring the new bike out and, no doubt, he and HRC will progress further with it in Jerez as they test there today (2 May 2022). 

Winners - Special Mentions

Of course, Marquez lost the podium in Spain. The aforementioned save saw him slide wide, which allowed Aleix Espargaro - who was overtaking Jack Miller as Marquez lost the front - to pass underneath. It was a tough race for Espargaro, who had the corner speed to go away from Marquez and Miller, but not the empty track to use it. But he took both his and Aprilia’s first ever consecutive podiums in the premier class, and the #41 remains well within championship contention. 

Espargaro is part of this week’s ‘special mentions’ section, which exists this week because there were a lot of ‘winners’. Another was Ducati, whose GP22 won for the first time with Bagnaia; while Marco Bezzecchi matched his career best finish of ninth; and Aron Canet finished second in the Moto2 race, six days on from surgery on the broken radius from the Portimao turn two pile-up. There was also Izan Guevara, who won the Moto3 race with a stunning outside pass into turn 13 on the final lap, out-smarting everyone else fighting for that win, including teammate and championship leader Sergio Garcia. And, finally, Jaume Masia, who took his third successive podium having found consistency that simply did not exist in his arsenal before 2022, and looks to be a genuine title contender. 

Loser - Jorge Martin

Onto the ‘losers’ now, and where else to start but Jorge Martin. The Spaniard was taken out in Qatar by Bagnaia. Fine, this is racing, it happens, and it was not his fault, in any way. But, the crash in Indonesia two weeks later, the crash in Portimao, and the crash on lap one in Jerez were all unnecessary mistakes from a rider who reportedly has a factory contract already in his pocket. 

Martin’s talent is without question: his win last year in Austria; and the podium after a complicated practice in Argentina a proof of that. But the mistakes are too much in year two. Four crashes in the first six races of the season mean Martin has only 28 points in the championship. He is 13th in the points standings, and 61 behind Quartararo. Already, his championship is as good as over, and there are still 15 races to go. 

In fairness, it would have been quite possible to put the Pramac Racing team for which Martin rides in this position. Sure, Martin crashed, but he also struggled all weekend with rear grip, as did Johann Zarco. This meant that Martin - a one-lap expert - qualified only 10th, 1.4 seconds slower than pole-sitter Bagnaia. 

For Pramac, Zarco crashed, too, in the race, in a bizarre incident at turn five where he appeared to just fall off the side of the bike. But, while Pramac is a satellite team, there are greater expectations on Martin, which means his lack of speed, combined with the crash, makes his weekend more of a disappointment than Pramacs. But, overall, not a good one for either Martin, his teammate, or the Pramac team as a whole.

Loser - Takaaki Nakagami 

The second ‘loser’ of the Spanish Grand Prix is Takaaki Nakagami. A strange one, since he finished only just over two seconds behind Marc Marquez, and was the top ‘Independent’ rider in seventh place, beating Enea Bastianini by 3.5 seconds.

It was actually a great race for Nakagami, and easily his best of the year. But, Ai Ogura won the Moto2 race. It was Ogura’s first Grand Prix win, and saw him close to within 20 points of intermediate class leader Celestino Vietti, who overall had a tough time in Jerez. 

Ogura’s win is different to when Nakagami won in Moto2 five years ago in Assen, or even in Silverstone later that same year. When Nakagami won, it sort of came from nowhere, while Ogura has been knocking on the door of a GP victory pretty much since he came into the World Championship in 2019. And, let’s be honest, Nakagami has not exactly excelled in recent times, unable to make the podium despite several opportunities in 2020; and unable to build on an overall positive 2020 in 2021. 

What might save Nakagami is the anticipated removal of Pol Espargaro from the Repsol Honda Team. Espargaro was on the podium in Qatar, but has not found anything like that form since, and if he is not renewed by HRC, perhaps Honda will take Ogura straight to the factory team, potentially saving Nakagami in LCR (although, perhaps they will then replace Nakagami with Somkiat Chantra, who won in Indonesia), and saving their own wallet from having pay the salary of 2020 MotoGP World Champion Joan Mir, or even ‘21 World Champion Fabio Quartararo.

Time will tell for Nakagami, but it is unfortunate for him that his best race of the season came an hour after the rider who is set to replace him won his first Grand Prix. 

Loser - Maverick Vinales

‘Loser’ number three is MotoGP’s number 12. A Top Gun-inspired helmet was not enough for Maverick Vinales to have, firstly, a good qualifying and, secondly, a good start. The Spaniard qualified 12th, and ended the first lap in 20th. He came back to 14th, scoring two points, but the point is his problem now in Aprilia is exactly the same as the one he had in Yamaha, where he also could not start. 

It would not be a shock to see Vinales figure out his qualifying problems, and, admittedly, Aleix Espargaro labelled his start “a disaster” in the MotoGP podium press conference, pointing out that the clutch is an area in which Aprilia need to improve. 

But, it is difficult to ignore the similarities between Vinales’ problems at Aprilia and those he had at Yamaha, where he would often start badly before matching the pace of the leaders in the final 5-10 laps. In Portimao, where he had a bad start, he matched the pace of the podium finishers late on, although in Jerez he was barely able to break into the 1’38s at all. 

With three podiums, including a win, for Aleix Espargaro in the first six races of Vinales, the pressure is mounting on the #12 to find results, because when Espargaro is third and Vinales is 14th, it is easy to draw conclusions about what the difference is between them. 

Losers - Special Mentions

Onto the “losers’ special mentions” section (for balance), and the first is Pol Espargaro, who was beaten not only by Marc Marquez but also Takaaki Nakagami, and spent almost his whole race looking up the exhaust pipe of Brad Binder’s KTM, in the end finishing 11th.

Second in the special mentions is Alex Rins, who made his first racing mistake of 2022 when he lost the front in turn 11. He saved it, but finished outside the points, losing 20 to Quartararo in the title chase. 

The third special mention is for the British Moto2 riders: Jake Dixon and Sam Lowes. Both crashed out of podium contention in Spain, Dixon taking Spanish teenage sensation Fermin Aldeguer with him. Somehow, despite Dixon clearly losing the front on his own and taking Aldeguer with him, the #96 Aspar rider was gesticulating at the Spaniard in the gravel trap after the crash, which was bizarre. 

A final special mention is for Honda’s Moto3 programme, which did not feature in the top 10 in Jerez, with British rookie Scott Ogden finishing as top Honda in 12th on the day. Honda’s Moto3 title contender Dennis Foggia spent most of the race shaking his head, and finished outside the points as Sergio Garcia, Izan Guevara and Jaume Masia populated the podium. After KTM (and Husqvarna, GasGas and CFMoto, if you like) dominated in Portugal, this Spanish embarrassment of Honda by the Austrian bikes is making Moto3 in 2022 look not dissimilar to Moto3 in 2013.