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2022 MOTOGP THRILLS AND SPILLS | MotoGP

As we take a breath ahead of the second half of the intriguing MotoGP season, let’s recap the 2022 season’s thrills and spills so far

As we take a breath ahead of the second half of the intriguing MotoGP season, let’s recap the 2022 season’s thrills and spills so far

How to judge MotoGP 2022 as it takes a much-needed summer break? Could we call it intense? Certainly. A period of 11 races in 17 weeks in countries as far flung as Indonesia, Argentina and the USA testifies to that. Has it been faster? Mostly. Technological strides have resulted in new lap records at six of the 10 tracks we had previously visited, and new race records at seven. And could we call it surprising? With Enea Bastianini, riding in a satellite team, winning as many races as anyone else, sure. And thats before we mention the fortunes of Aprilia.

2022 MOTOGP THRILLS Enea Bastianini, MotoGP race, Qatar MotoGP, 6 March 2022

Perhaps most pertinent of all is whether it has been exciting. On the back of seven years of some of the closest, most dramatic racing in the history of the class, 2022 has only occasionally delivered on that front. Any sport would struggle to deal with the departure of two of its main stars – Valentino Rossi permanently and, all being well, Marc Marquez only temporarily. But it hasnt just been their absence that has given this season a different edge.

2022 MOTOGP THRILLS Marc Marquez, MotoGP race, Spanish MotoGP, 1 May 2022

Restrictions to the electronics packages of MotoGP machines, implemented by Dorna for 2016, has led to advanced development in two specific areas that have had knock-on effects for the show: aerodynamics and ride-height devices. The class is still close: the top seven have been covered by less than 10 seconds in six races to date. What has been more concerning is the occasional lack of overtaking. The Spanish and French in particular showcased how Michelins current front tyre cant deal with the extra pressures of braking brought on by ride-height devices and advanced aerodynamics.

2022 MOTOGP THRILLS Jack Miller, Grand Prix of the Americas race, 10 April 2022

On those occasions, group of bikes circulated at the head of the race at close to identical speed, albeit several metres apart with no chance of passing. Riding styles have changed as a result of mechanical development, as Andrea Dovizioso (RNF Yamaha) explained so eloquently, When you are braking, everybody is locking the front – everybody. If youre already on the limit because you are locking the front, this means you are not able to brake even two metres later. The winglets give you downforce but if you have the slipstream, the downforce (acts in) the opposite way. This means you have to brake early.”

Aleix Espargaro, Catalunya MotoGP race, 5 June 2022

Thats not to say the year hasnt been without excitement, incident or indeed drama. Races two and three of the year – held in Indonesia and Argentina – came close to not happening, with the brand-new Mandalika Circuits track surface breaking apart on race day. Only a rain shower saved the main event from descending into farce. Then world events conspired so as equipment didnt arrive in time for the beginning of the following round in Argentina.

Fabio Quartararo, MotoGP race, Indonesian MotoGP, 20 March 2022

At that point, there was as little rhyme or reason to the racing. Nine different riders scaled the podium in the first three races of the year, a first since 1952. There were several false dawns in that time, too. Brad Binders (Red Bull KTM) second place and Pol Espargaros (Repsol Honda) third in Qatar gave the impression both KTM and Honda would be genuine contenders this year. Meanwhile, reigning champion Fabio Quartararos (Monster Energy Yamaha) early struggles on Yamahas underpowered and largely unchanged YZR-M1 suggested his title defence would be fruitless. All three charges would prove hopelessly misguided.

Fabio Quartararo, MotoGP race, Portuguese MotoGP, 24 April 2022

Only when we returned to Europe did the championship take some kind of shape. It was in Portugal where Quartararo romped to a maiden victory of the season. From there, the 23-year old was close to flawless, claiming further victories in Barcelona and Germany. But it was his performance at Mugello, when he heroically fought among a trio of faster Ducatis and pushed Francesco Bagnaia (Lenovo Ducati) all the way, which really stood out and marked his current performance level well above the competition. The championship was only going one way after he crushed his enemies at the Sachsenring. But an uncustomary mistake at Assen the following week has given others hope.

2022 MOTOGP THRILLS Francesco Bagnaia, Italian MotoGP, 27 May 2022

Few would have believed Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) to be capable of pushing Quartararo hardest thus far. But the Catalan has done exactly that. Sure, the inconsistency of Bagnaia and the myriad injury issues faced by Marquez has contributed to that. But Espargaro and Aprilia have surprised everyone by a four-month period of sustained excellence. The RS-GP has been the grids most consistent performer over 11 races, showing podium potential at every track.

2022 MOTOGP THRILLS Aleix Espargaro, Fabio Quartararo crash, Dutch MotoGP race, 26 June 2022

For his part, Espargaro has grown into his role as the biggest pain in Quartararos backside. Rather than being a one off, his and Aprilias debut premier-class victory in Argentina were a platform on which he built. Not even the embarrassment of celebrating a lap early in Barcelona could keep him down. After admitting to simply being slower than the Yamaha man in Germany, he produced a career-best ride when pushed off track at Assen a week later, rising from 15th to fourth in a comeback that was worthy of Marquez.

2022 MOTOGP THRILLS Francesco Bagnaia crash, German MotoGP race, 19 June 2022

It’s fairly typical of Ducati that, despite having a bike on the podium in each race so far this year, Johann Zarco (Pramac Ducati) is the highest-placed Ducati rider in the championship, and 58 points off countryman Quartararo. Bastianini looked capable of pushing for the title after victory at Le Mans, his third in seven races, but has since fallen apart. Bagnaia has perhaps been the biggest disappointment, needlessly crashing out of races in Qatar, France and Germany, mistakes at odds to his flawless victories at Jerez, Mugello and Assen. Now 66 points back of the championship summit, dont bet against a Bagnaia revival in the nine races to come.

2022 MOTOGP THRILLS Fabio Quartararo leads, Takaaki Nakagami and Alex Rins crash, Francesco Bagnaia behind, Catalunya MotoGP. 5 July 2022

There was also a painful reminder of the perilous nature of a post-pandemic economy. A day after the Spanish GP, Suzuki dropped the bombshell news it intends to step back from MotoGP at the end of this year. At the time riders Alex Rins and Joan Mir (Ecstar Suzuki) were in title contention. But such a jolt has understandably affected them badly, with the team suffering three double non-scores in the five races since the announcement.

MotoGP championship standings
  1. Fabio Quartararo 172pts
  2. Aleix Espargaro 151pts
  3. Johann Zarco 114pts
  4. Francesco Bagnaia 106pts
  5. Enea Bastianini 105pts

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2022 Moto2 World Championship

Like names from a hat

Does anyone actually want to win the Moto2 World Championship? Not one rider has put forward a convincing case 11 races in. On the back of Remy Gardner and Raul Fernandezs total domination last year, this years series has been wide open by comparison. Seven riders have won races and 11 have stood on the podium. All of which has culminated in the championships top three heading into the summer break just one point apart.

Jake Dixon race start, Moto2 race, Dutch MotoGP, 26 June 2022

On the back of stunning preseason performances at Jerez and Portimao, reigning Moto3 champ Pedro Acosta (Ajo Kalex) came into the year as the bookies favourite to take the crown, with teammate Augusto Fernandez second. But both were outshone in the early flyaway races by Celestino Vietti (VR46 Kalex), who convincingly won in Qatar and Argentina, either side of finishing a strong second in Indonesia. Yet the Italian has only shown championship form on occasion since then, his brilliant last-lap win in Barcelona – arguably the race of the season so far – one of them.

Aron Canet, Moto2 race, Catalunya MotoGP, 5 June 2022

It wouldnt be unfair to state Vietti is still top only because his rivals have, like him, lacked consistency. Aron Canet (Pons Kalex) has racked up five podiums and showed the resolve of a champion at Jerez by finishing second, just seven days on from fracturing the radius bone in his left wrist. But his campaign has been one of a stop-start nature. He crashed out of potentially race-winning places in Austin, Portugal and Italy before a car crash in mid-June left him with damage to his face. He then had to retire from the Dutch TT due to excessive nose bleeds when on the bike.

Pedro Acosta, Moto2, German MotoGP, 17 June 2022

Similarly, Ai Ogura (HTA Kalex) has shown flashes of brilliance. The Japanese hopeful that has the weight of Hondas expectations on his shoulders won his first GP at Jerez after previous top-three finishes in Argentina and Austin. But he was never among the fastest names in the four races that followed. Only at Assen, when he recovered from 15th place to finish a fine second, did he display the kind of speed that is worthy of his third in the standings, one point off the lead.

Augusto Fernandez, Moto2 race, Dutch MotoGP, 26 June 2022

And only in recent weeks have the Ajo Kalex duo of Fernandez and Acosta started to look like contenders. The weight of expectation clearly weighed heavily on the formers shoulders early in the year, as he crashed out of Argentine GP at the first corner before coming home a listless ninth in Austin a week later. But dominant wins in France and Germany then the Netherlands have drawn him level on points with Vietti with nine races to go.

Celestino Vietti, Moto2 race, Argentinian MotoGP 3 April 2022

Similarly, Acosta had been hitting his stride by late June. After a series of rookie mistakes, the Murcian showed his class at the French GP, where he took pole position before crashing out of the lead. He followed that up with a stunning victory at Mugello, becoming the youngest winner in the history of the intermediate class at just 18 years and four days of age. His second place in Germany put him within 58 points of the summit, but a training crash two days later broke his left femur and put him out of Assen and quite possibly title contention.

Moto2 championship standings
  1. Celestino Vietti 146pts
  2. Augusto Fernandez 146pts
  3. Ai Ogura 145pts
  4. Aron Canet 116pts
  5. Tony Arbolino 104pts

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2022 Moto3 world championship

A two-way fight

There used to be few certainties in racing, aside from Moto3 producing the closest, most unpredictable contests of the day. But even that has been turned on its head on occasion this year, as three of the best riders have shown it to be possible to win races that havent been down to sheer potluck, a complaint voiced in recent years.

Izan Guevara, Moto3 race, German MotoGP, 19 June 2022

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, series organisers Dorna has been keen to keep costs for competing in the junior categories as low as possible. Thus, technical advances have been minimal over the past three seasons, meaning there is a grid of relative parity. But there has been ample evidence over the first 11 races to see those minimal tweaks by KTM, which also provides machinery for the GasGas, Husqvarna and CFMoto entries, has put Honda – still racing with its 2019 machine – on the backfoot.

As a result, even preseason favourite Dennis Foggia (Leopard Honda) has struggled to keep up with the unerring consistency of Aspar GasGas duo Sergio Garcia and Izan Guevara. There was good reason the Italian Foggia was tipped to dominate this year. Not only had he pushed 2021 champ Pedro Acosta hardest during a spirited second half of the previous year; he dominated preseason testing despite suffering from sickness. And his ride through to sixth place in Qatar from the back of the grid and dominant victory in Indonesia did little to dispel this theory.

Izan Guevara, Moto3 race, Dutch MotoGP, 26 June 2022

But Garcia – and the rebranded KTMs – soon began to show their class. There have been few finer examples of holding ones nerve on the final lap or clinical overtaking than what he showed during brilliant victories in Argentina, Portugal and Mugello. Hes been the model of consistency, finishing in the top two in every race bar two.

The same can be said of 17-year old Guevara. Only a mechanical failure in Argentina prevented him from finishing each race in the top seven. And hes been seriously fast. He won by 1.9s in Barcelona and 4.8s in Germany – the kind of margins not normally seen in this category. Add in the manner of his maiden victory of his season at Jerez – passing Garcia and Deniz Oncu (Tech3 KTM) around the outside at the races final turn – and there is reason to suspect he has a touch of magic about him. Just three points separate the teammates after 11 races.

Sergio Garcia, Moto3 race, German MotoGP, 19 June 2022

Meanwhile, Foggia has struggled to hold onto their coattails. The Honda has been unable to match the braking prowess of the KTMs. Listless showings at Jerez were the result. Bad luck has also played its part, as he high-sided out of the lead when riding over a tear-off at Mugello, before his chain jumped the sprocket in Barcelona the following week. But a lack of composure has also been costly, most notable when he crashed out at Assen, leaving him 67 points in arrears.

Other riders have threatened to get in on the act. Jaume Masia (Ajo KTM) was the form man in the class from Austin to Le Mans, a four-race spell when he racked up two impressive wins. But he has since fallen away. And Ayumu Sasaki (Max Racing Husqvarna) recovered from a horrifying free-practice collision at Mugello, in which he broke his left collarbone and sustained a serious concussion, to claim a maiden GP win at Assen.

Moto3 championship standings
  1. Sergio Garcia 182pts
  2. Izan Guevara 179pts
  3. Dennis Foggia 115pts
  4. Ayumu Sasaki 113pts
  5. Jaume Masia 107pts
REPORT // NEIL MORRISON
PHOTOGRAPHY // GOLD@GOOSE