LAST TIME IT WAS THE ITALIANS, THIS TIME IT'S THE SPANISH AND THEY MEAN BUSINESS!
Pic: Jorge Martin/motogp.com
After our look at the Italian Mob in the previous instalment, this time we look at the Spanish Armada that is making waves on the Grand Prix scene. It seems that its safety in number for the massed ranks of riders that are currently making their way in the highest echelons of motorcycle racing. While the Italian riders have Valentino Rossi to look up to, the Spaniards have Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo (and likely Valentino too, let’s not kid ourselves) and with nine of the last eleven MotoGP World titles between the two of them, they’re well-placed for the adulation adorned on them. If you include Joan Mir in that stat, Spanish riders have actually won ten of the last eleven, with Casey Stoner the only fly in the ointment in 2011.
All this talk of Spain gives the feeling of warm sunshine, vastly different from the blanket of snow that’s currently laying on the ground outside the window here. But we digress. In 2022, there will be eight Spaniards in the MotoGP class but how many of those have the tools to challenge the ominous Italian uprising that is building across the Mediterranean Sea? Seemingly, there aren’t too many candidates despite the numbers swelling the MotoGP ranks at least. The biggest question mark sits over the biggest star, Marc Marquez, as the eight-times World Champion is currently side-lined with Diplopia (double vision) caused by a training crash prior to the Portimao GP. It is the same injury that ended his 2011 Moto2 campaign at Sepang which at the time caused a great deal of concern as to the future of the reigning Moto3 World Champion. Marquez made a full recovery and went on to secure the Moto2 title in 2012 and the MotoGP crown in his maiden 2013 season.
2020/21 is well documented as to the injury and recovery for Marquez and this year he returned to winning ways; winning not just at the anti-clockwise circuits of Sachsenring and COTA that favour the Flat track specialist, it was Misano that was the most telling win of the season. As if to reinforce the importance of winning at a clockwise circuit, Marquez flexed and pointed to his right bicep as he crossed the line, indicating his recovery was almost complete. There are mitigating circumstances to his win, however, to finish first, first you must finish. Then, just as the Marquez was looking good to get involved in the title fight to re-establish his place on the podium, a training accident curtailed the season for Marquez. It’s almost as if all the near-misses of his career have conspired against him in two big, career-threatening injuries. There is no guarantee that Marc will recover enough from this latest setback, as only rest and recouperation can fix the nerve damage and time will tell on that front. Fingers crossed we get to see the MotoGP maestro return to full fitness and take the fight to the young guns.
Joan Mir and Alex Rins both had seasons to forget in MotoGP aboard their Suzuki GSXRR machines. Mir, the 2020 MotoGP World Champion, failed to win a single race in the defence of his maiden crown while Rins showed glimpses of speed and podium pace but ultimately spent too much time picking gravel out his crevices after sliding out of contention with alarming regularity. It’s unlikely the Suzuki pilots will mount a serious title challenge in 2022 unless the factory can add much-needed horsepower to their steeds, but podiums are certainly not out of the question. Add both Espargaro’s, Maverick and Alex Marquez to the list of 2021 struggles and unless serious improvements can be made to close the Ducati gap, it’s going to be another difficult season for the MotoGP Spaniards.
Pramac Ducati have unearthed a diamond in Jorge Martin; the MotoGP Rookie of the Year excelled both pre and post injury in 2021. A huge crash at turn seven in practice for the first Portimao GP precluded the former Moto3 World Champion from the next three races before tentatively returning at Barcelona. The start of the season brought a sensational Pole Position for the second Qatar race followed up by his maiden MotoGP podium thrust Martin into the limelight before things went awry at Portimao. The Martinator recovered sufficiently to take his second pole position of the season and then a win in Austria, the maiden win for Martin and for his Pramac Ducati squad. Closing the season with a strong second place at Valencia, Martin emerged from the season as one of the brightest Spanish prospects aboard his Ducati GP21 – right rider, right bike? Probably.
It's the younger Spanish generation that are really catching the eye, though. The rapid rise of Raul Fernandez has really caught the attention of the fans despite his rather dour demeanour; poor old Raul rarely looks happy. In 2020 he shone occasionally in Moto3 but nothing earth-shattering, so it was with some surprise that Aki Ajo moved him up to Moto2 alongside Remy Gardner for 2021. What followed was a season-long battle with his teammate for the Moto2 crown, only losing out to the Aussie by four points as the final chequered flag dropped. Fernandez won eight races to Gardner’s five in his rookie season, one more than the great Marc Marquez achieved in his maiden Moto2 season.
After keen interest from Yamaha, a seemingly hasty announcement came in August that Fernandez was moving to MotoGP, again with Gardner, but at the press conference something wasn’t right, Fernandez clearly wasn’t happy. At the end of the season Fernandez pointed out that Gardner had all the support for the title and his side of the garage were left to fend for themselves and that despite this he was the moral champion. A transition to MotoGP is underway and it will be interesting to see just how quickly he adapts to the not-quite-competitive KTM.
The departure of Fernandez to the big class has opened the door for other to shine in the intermediate class of ’22. Series regulars Augusto Fernandez, Jorge Navarro and Aron Canet will return but are in real danger of being bypassed by more riders than just Fernandez. Fermin Aldeguer, the CEV Repsol Moto2 Champions, has huge potential at such a young age. Not electing to route via Moto3, Aldeguer has raised more than an eyebrow or two in his stand-in rides in Moto2 Grand Prix this season. Finishing twelfth in his maiden Grand Prix at Mugello was an impressive debut, before coming home seventh at Aragon. Aldeguer then lifted the CEV European Moto2 title ahead of teammate, Alonso Lopez, making it a stellar season for the 16-year-old, who makes his full Moto2 season debut in Qatar next March.
Speaking of stellar seasons, Moto3 World Champion, Pedro Acosta, steps into the Moto2 void left by Raul Fernandez. Acosta impressed the whole paddock with his early season exploits – taking second place in the opening GP of 2021 at Qatar immediately followed by winning from Pit Lane at the same venue just seven days later. Acosta went on to finish on the podium in his first four races before finishing out of the top five for three races as a series of peaks and troughs defined the remaining two thirds of the season. Rivals for the Moto3 crown included fellow countrymen Sergio Garcia who, but for three no-scores in the final four rounds, could have been much closer in the championship chase.
Jaume Masia, Izan Guevara, Xavi Artigas – both of whom finished ahead of Acosta in the 2020 Junior World Championship – Ivan Ortola, and Carlos Tatay will all be battling for the Moto3 title in 2022 while this year’s CEV Repsol Junior World Championship victor, Dani Holgado also joins the fray with fellow rookies David Muñoz, and David Salvador. Let’s not even get started on the Hawkers European Talent Cup winner, Maximo Martinez - we’ll save him for next year!
There is no doubt the force is strong within the Spanish ranks, how many have the potential to make it to MotoGP will remain to be seen but it would be foolish not to think that the mercurial talents of Acosta, Aldeguer, Artigas and Garcia to name but four aren’t already on the list of a few manufacturers for the coming years, which means the future of MotoGP is in very safe hands.