Jerez MotoGP: Bagnaia finds old form to take first victory of 2022

The Andalucian round at Jerez saw a return to form for the Ducati Lenovo team, with main man Francesco Bagnaia taking victory for the first time in 2022.

Ducati Lenovo man and 2021 championship runner-up Francesco Bagnaia took victory at Jerez – his first win of the 2022 season.

Ducati turnaround

Despite a Ducati motorcycle taking two wins in the first four races of 2022, the Italian manufacturer was in a spot of trouble in the opening rounds of the season. Because the two wins mentioned above were taken by an independent team (Gresini Racing) running a GP21 (last year’s Ducati MotoGP bike), and not the factory-backed Ducati Lenovo team running the latest GP22 machines. In the opening five rounds of the championship, the two factory riders, Jack Miller and Francesco Bagnaia, only managed one podium finish between them, picking up three retirements along the way.

The Andalucian round at Jerez saw a massive turnaround for the squad, with Bagnaia taking his first win of the 2022 season. Further driving home this point is the manner in which the Italian dominated the weekend – setting a new qualifying lap record to taking pole position on Saturday and backing it up with a lights-to-flag victory on Sunday.

The signs of the turnaround had been there for some time – the Italian team managed to put both its bikes on the front row at Austin two races ago and picked up a podium finish in the race. At the previous race in Portimao, too, Miller was fighting for the podium, before crashing out in an attempt to overtake Joan Mir. Bagnaia, meanwhile, staged a valiant comeback from the very last grid spot to take 8th at the chequered flag, despite riding with an injured shoulder from a qualifying crash.

The injured shoulder continued to plague the Italian at Jerez, but the team had a much better weekend overall, chiefly because it was able to get a full two days of practice ahead of the race (the first two days at Portimao were rain-affected). This allowed Ducati to fine-tune the set-up on the GP22, which was already headed in largely the right direction.

It was championship leader Fabio Quartararo who seemed to have the most ominous pace in practice, able to hammer out mid-1:37s for fun. But Bagnaia was not far behind the Yamaha rider. So confident was the Frenchman on the Yamaha that he even tried the hard rear tyre in FP4 – a tyre that nobody else in the field dared to venture out on. Even on the less grippy but more durable rubber, he was able to stay in the 1:37s, but he eventually conformed and went with the medium rear for the race.

Two-horse race

That left Quartararo (starting from second) and polesitter Bagnaia on exactly the same tyres and very similar race pace. Both men got blistering starts as the lights went out, and Quartararo came very close to making an overtake on the Ducati man on the opening lap. But he eventually held second position. From here, he shadowed Bagnaia for a few laps, getting very close to the tail-end of his Ducati on a number of occasions, but never making a move for the lead. Over the next few laps, though, Quartararo dropped back a little, with the gap growing to half a second and then three-quarters of a second. The Yamaha man would later reveal that he was struggling with high front tyre temperature and pressure following the Ducati.

Neither rider made a mistake, and the gap stabilised around the 0.7-0.8 second mark for most of the race, with almost identical lap times for the pair on most circuits of the 4.4km Jerez circuit. But of course, Quartararo knew he would have to make a move before the end of the race. On lap 20 of 25, he trailed Bagnaia by around 0.75 seconds. As he began his push forward, he closed to within 0.4 seconds by the end of lap 23. But he left it a little too late and could only close the gap to 0.285 seconds by the time the chequered flag was thrown.

Second place and an extension of the championship lead doesn’t sound like a bad result. And it isn’t. But the Yamaha has a serious top speed disadvantage this year, because of which victory opportunities on that bike are realistically limited to the tracks that don’t feature a very long straight. Jerez was one such track, and victory eluded him, even though he had the pace to match the race winner. It’s important for Quartararo’s championship defence that he picks up the maximum 25 points at the track where it’s possible.

Best of the rest

Intense as it was, the battle for the lead saw no overtaking moves. But the squabble for the final podium spot was an action-paced affair – a three-way dogfight between Jack Miller, Marc Marquez and Aleix Espargaro. Miller held third for much of the race, fending off Marquez using his Ducati horsepower and strength in the braking zones. But Marquez managed to find a way past the Australian on lap 19. Almost immediately, though, he made a mistake at the final corner of the lap, entering hot and losing the front as he tried to muscle the bike into the corner. Of course, he pulled off another one of his awe-inspiring saves, propping the bike up on his knee and elbow, and managing to keep going. The episode did cost him one position, though.

At the same time as this happened, Aprilia man Aleix Espargaro was making an overtake of his own on Jack Miller. Not only did he manage to get past the Australian, but Marquez’s scare meant that Espargaro inherited third spot. The Spaniard had a lot of pace in reserve, which he was unable to unleash because of the bikes ahead of him. With the track ahead now clear, he eased off into the distance, opening up a gap of over 1 second.

Having recovered from his scare, Marquez slotted in behind Espargaro but was immediately passed by Miller into Turn 1. The pair then engaged in a dogfight in the closing stages of the race, with Marquez eventually getting the better of Miller. Behind them, Joan Mir was the top Suzuki finisher in 6th, his teammate (and joint championship leader coming into this round) Rins only managed 19th place after a massive near-crash moment at the fast Turn 11.

2022 MotoGP championship standings

As the dust settles in Jerez, Quartararo now sits seven points clear in the lead of the championship. Trailing him, somewhat surprisingly but certainly not undeservedly, is Aprilia man Aleix Espargaro, who has had a seriously impressive start to his 2022 campaign aboard a significantly improved motorcycle. Bagnaia’s victory sees him move up to fifth in the points standings, but 33 points behind the leader.

Next up is Le Mans in two weeks’ time – Fabio Quartararo’s home race and another track without a very long straight, where the Yamaha should go well. The Frenchman will be keen to make amends and capitalise in front of his home crowd.

Also see:

FIM MiniGP India Series to kick off in July, offers path to MotoGP

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: