MotoGP Jerez 1: Darryn’s dilemma, Ducati dominance, Marquez’s malady and balls to the wall Brad
Donovan Fourie raced motorcycles for 26 years with varying degrees of success, gave rider coaching for 15 years with mostly great success and has pushed buttons on his keyboard for nearly twenty years with success coming any day now. He’s also been watching MotoGP, and its earlier forms since Kevin Schwantz first said “Howdy” in Europe and happily describes himself as “a MotoGP nerd”, a title that hasn’t earned him the success with ladies he was hoping for. Still, he persists:
We are all sick of this COVID-19 thing, so let’s ignore it for now as we stare at this screen and drift into a world of fearless motorcycle heroes putting life and limb – literally – on the block for the title of MotoGP Champion, a privilege we have been denied for 245 because of that COVID thing we are still temporarily ignoring, but at last we are back on track – literally again – for the Jerez 1 race. Quartararo put on a helluva performance to win, Rossi had tyre problems followed by a technical fault on his bike and Pol matched his best ever dry weather finish. Those are not the headlines, though.
Darryn Binder had a torrid time at Jerez, mostly experiencing a plague of a more mechanical nature after his gearbox packed up during FP1. Then, his brake calliper somehow ate his brake disk during practice on Saturday, and then his brake reservoir somehow exploded on Sunday morning, covering him with brake fluid.
With that, he managed 22nd on the grid. Not bad after around four and a half successful laps of practice.
During the race, he did his usual charge through the field, waiting for the others to brake, counting to three and then braking himself. With that, he crossed the line in fifth with two laps to go and the leader mere metres away.
The problem here lies in Darryn’s old bugbear – he’s a tad too tall and too heavy for a Moto3 bike, an issue that has been eased slightly by a new, customised fairing compliment of KTM. It has done wonders for his top speed but doesn’t help when he is on the gas, grabbing desperately for acceleration, out of Jerez’s famously slow last bend. More than once, the South African was out-dragged to the first corner, and to the line, by a host of rivals, so he was not only trying to make up places but having to make up time first.
That’s why, halfway through the penultimate lap, he made a somewhat desperate move into turn-nine that caused him to get out of shape and slide off the track. The truth is that if he had started the last lap not right near the front, a victory would have been unattainable.
You do what you have to. Hopefully, a deal will be struck for Moto2 soon. The paddock knows the inside story and knows that he could be formidable on a bike where his height and weight count less.
Us mere mortals are always gleefully grateful for any addition to traction, but for the demigod world of MotoGP, life is more complicated. More rear-end grip means less sliding into corners and less spinning out of them. Again, us mere mortals see no downside to this scenario, but in the etheric plane of Grand Prix, the rear wheel is used for steering.
If the rear does not step out, steering is reliant on the front wheel, the small and fragile front wheel that is not as good at coping with all this pressure.
What is interesting, after absolutely sucking throughout the Jerez test, Jerez practice and Jerez qualifying, Dovizioso managed a podium in the race. All this while suffering from new tyre issues and on a track Ducati is traditionally shocking at. Imagine how well they will go at the Austrian double?
Marquez did many amazing things during the Jerez race – he achieved another classic save through the treacherous turn four, and then made a comeback worthy of John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, riding from 16th to third. He then had that sickening highside where his front wheel struck him, snapping his humerus in two and leaving his arm flapping limply as he tumbled through the gravel trap.
The big question I asked is, why? Why lose the front? Why push so hard that you crashed?
Usually, that would be part and parcel of a MotoGP rider’s day, but this day was different. During FP4, a session on Saturday afternoon that does not count towards any qualifying position and the session riders use to focus entirely on race pace, Marquez was able to run consistently between half and a full second faster than anyone else. He was clearly on another level.
More so, this championship is only 13 rounds long and severely compacted over very few weeks. Marquez was one of the riders that pointed out the danger of injury.
During the race, he effortlessly passed Vinales for the lead and was comfortably pulling away. So, with such a dominant pace, why push so hard that you lose the front in turn four?
Okay, mistakes happen, but then he makes a storming comeback, gets into third and flings it into the scenery. Again, why? Especially when Vinales was right in front of you and Quartararo was out of reach?
The enthusiastic Marquez supporter would point that this is how he is – always on the edge and always pushing. This is what a MotoGP star does, except it isn’t. Push like hell on a hot track while there is danger in injuring yourself is what rookies do, not eight-times world champions that are currently untouchable.
People have said that, should another rider win the championship because of Marquez’s injury, there will always be an asterisk next to the rider’s title that happened only because Marquez was injured.
To that, I say, bollocks!
The champion is the person who can accumulate the most points at the end of the season, and if you miss a whole lot of rounds because you injured yourself by pushing too hard when you didn’t need to, then you are not a champion.
Although it might not come to that. Experts predict that should everything go well with the surgery, Marquez could be back on his bike as soon as Brno at the beginning of August. That would mean he misses only this weekend’s second Jerez round, and that would put him at a maximum, if Quartararo wins again, 50 points behind, leaving 11 rounds to catch that up. That would mean four and a half points per round. It’s a big ask for any rider, however, last year Marquez averaged 7.9 points per round more than the rider in second. If the injury doesn’t hamper him too much, he could do it. Therein lies the next problem.
As this is being written, Marquez is in Barcelona prepping for surgery tomorrow. The doctors will then panel beat his arm back together. It sounds simple – big plate, lots of screws, simple job. Nowadays, surgeons are so good that they can make the arm stronger than it was before the injury, and modern physio techniques mean recovery of the soft tissue happens in no time.
It might not just be the bone, though. The radial nerve spirals down the humerus bone and is often damaged when such an injury happens. That nerve controls wrist and finger movements and is vital for pulling the throttle and controlling the brake lever. Herein, things could get complicated.
If there is no damage to the nerve, he might be back in as little as three weeks. If there is some damage, he might only be back only at Misano, three weeks after Brno. If it is very damaged, it could be much longer, potentially career damaging.
Even so, all may not be lost entirely. Mattia Pasini, the Italian Moto3 and Moto2 star, sustained an injury while riding MX and has permanent nerve damage to his right arm, resulting in him being unable to use a brake lever.
Not a problem – the flexible Italian simply had the lever put on the left handlebar, and had a somewhat stellar career thereafter.
The same could happen to Marquez. And he would probably carry on winning.
The Marquez fans will be insufferable after that.
Balls to the wall Brad
We had bets during the (extremely long) offseason on where Brad Binder would finish in his debut race. The average prediction was somewhere around 12th place – a remarkably accurate one given his eventual finish of 13th.
His debut was a tentative one for his legions of fans in South Africa. After all, we had seen him conquer Moto3, we had seen him prevail in Moto2 despite sub-par machinery, but MotoGP is another beast entirely. The most difficult machines in the world against the top riders? And on a KTM, a bike that has so far proven to be a career killer?
No one would admit it, but in the mind of everyone was the image of Brad Binder, South Africa’s saving grace, lapping tentatively at the back of the field, unable to come to terms with the 280hp monster, and unable to match the fierce rivalry that is MotoGP.
Fears were eased slightly during the Wednesday test when he was able to lap between sixth and twelfth for the majority of the sessions. And then he ended off the last session on Friday in third.
There was much rejoicing.
Saturday went a little less well when the South African placed 13th on the grid, although with a gallant performance in Q1 that saw him nearly outpace his experienced teammate, Pol Espargaro. But that is all one-lap wondering. How would 25 laps of MotoGP in the punishing heat of southern Spain work out?
Quite well, for the first six laps, where he sat happily in seventh, a few metres behind his teammate and only 3.3sec off the leader.
Then it all went rather wrong. Heading into turn five – a medium-paced right-hand loop that leads on to the back straight, Binder locked the front wheel under braking, managed to steady it, but then lost the front again when he tried to turn. Once more he saved it but took a trip through the gravel trap, getting a little stuck in the process, costing him 26 seconds and leaving him in last place.
I say that all went wrong, but on a more cosmic level, it might have been just the right thing. Until that point, uncertainty reigned – can the bike last? Can the tyres last? Can I last?
The impact of these questions have definitive consequences when you’re seventh and hoping for a good result. When you are stone last, 16 seconds behind the next rider, you have nothing to lose, so you pin it.
And pin it he did, closing the 16-second gap to Bradley Smith in just 12 laps and gapping Tito Rabat four laps after that. He was 17.8 seconds behind Alex Marquez after he rejoined the track and only 2.2 seconds from him when the race ended 18 laps later.
That’s against the guys in front of him. His gap to the leader was even more impressive. After he went off, he was 29.8 seconds from the leader. At the end of the race, he was 29.6 seconds off. He caught up by 0.2 of a second.
Indeed, Fabio Quartararo was probably managing the pace at the front, controlling his five-second lead, but then Binder lost somewhere between two and two and a half seconds passing Smith and Rabat. Besides that, he’s a bloody rookie. He should be playing with Alex Marquez in 12th place, not matching the pace of the leaders, regardless of how hard they are pushing.
Now there is a big problem for everyone else on the grid, possibly caused by Binder’s run-off. He now knows he is fit enough to ride hard for an entire MotoGP race, and he knows his tyres can last – on the second last lap, Binder achieved a lap time of 1min 38.9 matching his best lap of the race and, on that lap, being 0.7 seconds faster than anyone else on track.
He knows he can do. It’s highly possible that this weekend, he will.