Lights out and away we go in Portimao
The first GP of the year always promises excitement, but with five riders injured before and during the race, and some unable to compete in the next GP in Argentina, fans got more than we bargained for.
Those who woke up at 2 AM on Sunday morning watched MotoGP history happen as the first-ever sprint race took place. Spaniard Marc Marquez began on pole position for the first time since the Japanese Grand Prix last year, with Francesco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin also qualifying on the front row.
As promised, the Sprint was full of drama. Joan Mir scraped but didn’t take out factory Yamaha Fabio Quatararo before low-siding out on the first lap. The Repsol Honda rider managed to escape uninjured. Quartararo fell to the back of the pack before taking 10th.
Enea Bastianini’s opening race with the factory Ducati team ended quickly after Mooney VR46 rider Luca Marini lost the front in turn 5, sweeping #23 off his bike. Bastianini fractured his right shoulder, he was declared unfit to participate in Portugal and will miss round two in Argentina.
Lenovo Ducati’s Francesco Bagnaia cemented his place as a World Champion by winning the Tissot Grand Prix, with Jorge Martin in 2nd, and 3rd place going to Marc Marquez.
An exciting Grand Prix followed an action packed Sprint. Francesco Bagnaia clinched 1st place, entering the second round in Argentina with a twelve-point lead. Factory Aprillia’s Maverick Viñales took second place, and VR46’s Marco Bezzecchi, took third.
Marc Marquez’s actions in the race caused controversy, within the paddock and between fans. Marquez bumped the Aprilia RNF rider Miguel Oliveira at the beginning of the race, but his mistake on lap three earned him a long lap penalty in the next round if he is fit to compete. At turn three the factory Honda rider braked late and T-boned Miguel Oliveria at his home Grand Prix.
Oliveira sustained tendon injuries to his right leg and was declared unfit to compete in the Argentine GP. Marc Marquez fractured his right hand and will not be competing in the second round either.
The reactions to Marquez’s crash are less than forgiving.
“For me they have to ban [Marquez] for one race minimum. If not… for me it’s ridiculous.” Aleix Espargaro stated.
Marc Marquez claimed he never tried to overtake anyone and that his front tyre was locked. Jorge Martin and Miguel Oliveira, the other riders involved in the incident, say that he was attempting a dangerous overtake.
Other injuries from the weekend included Pol Espargaro’s FP2 high-side at turn 10 in an epic crash that had the entire grid concerned. The GASGAS rider was declared unfit to race in Portimao and Argentina, with a lung injury, jaw fracture, and spinal fracture. Team owner Herve Poncharal is confident Pol will return to a ‘normal life pretty soon’.
Pecco Bagnaia has spoken out about safety issues at the Portimao track prior to and following the incident.
“Without this gravel, [the crash would not have been] as bad. Because it was a bad crash, but [...] when Pol arrived on the gravel, he started to accelerate.” Bagnaia said.
“It’s four years that we’re asking to change the safety of this track. The first time we arrived here in the track walk I did with my team, I sent a picture of the gravel to [then MotoGP safety officer] Franco Uncini, that was too big... Last year, when I took the gravel to the box, everyone was laughing at what I did.”
Luca Marini, who also crashed out of the GP, was amongst those speaking out about the issues at the track, “Every year is the same. In this track we need another [type of] gravel. But the track doesn’t change it.”
Pol’s older brother, Aleix Espargaro, believes it’s not the time to be angry, and that concern must first be expressed.
With four riders, Pol Espargaro, Miguel Oliveira, Marc Marquez, and Enea Bastianini, being declared unfit to compete in the second round of the world championship in Argentina on Sunday, it should be an interesting weekend for the championship.