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After a strange year, Moto GP finally returns to the fabled Bugatti Circuit at Le Mans in its rightful place on the calendar. The French GP is one of the premier events on the Moto GP calendar; it is a great track that generates excellent racing. Add the fact that two of the top five riders are French, and we’re in for an exciting weekend. Pair those ingredients with a splash of rain hovering around central France, and the world’s most competitive motorsport may raise the entertainment level even higher.

The Two Muskateers

Fabio Quarteraro is the home hero this weekend

After waiting 21 years for a winner, France got it through Fabio Quartararo last year. The then Petronas Yamaha rider’s maiden win in Jerez sent a country into raptures. His strong performances in the customer Yamaha team meant he got offered a ride with the factory Yamaha squad. El Diablo replaced Valentino Rossi in the offseason, and he’s started impressively. After four races, Quartararo took victory in Portugal and Doha; the Frenchman is loving life on the full-fat Yamaha.

However, it isn’t just Quartararo that is exciting the French fans. Moto GP veteran Johann Zarco burst onto the scene in 2016 for French outfit Tech 3. After excelling on a satellite bike, Zarco joined the KTM factory programme. Unfortunately, the move panned out hopelessly as both rider and team found great difficulty in working together. For 2021, the old Zarco has returned on the Pramac Ducati machine. The Ducati’s are incredibly fast in a straight line, plus their qualifying speed has been superb. Zarco probably won’t be in the championship fight, but that makes him all the more dangerous; he is going for race wins in 2021. Second is the best he’s achieved thus far; Zarco is desperate to stand on the top step of the podium.

Can Pecco Bagnaia Maintain His Consistency?

Pecco Bagnaia is the championship leader, despite not winning a race

Italy’s Pecco Bagnaia is the championship leader, despite not winning a race. His metronomic consistency is underpinning his current success. The factory Ducati isn’t the fastest bike in race-trim; nonetheless, it is mightily fast in a straight line and qualifying. His teammate Jack Miller was the winner two weeks ago in Spain; he’s another rider itching to fulfil his potential with a championship challenge.

The significant difference in this year’s championship is the struggles of Moto GP’s big names. Valentino Rossi is 21st in the championship standings with just four points to his name. The Doctor is enduring a miserable time on the Petronas bike. Marc Marquez is finally starting to emerge into his old form after missing nearly a year with an injury. Marquez still requires time to adapt to the menacing Honda motorcycle. In his absence, the world witnessed how difficult it is to ride that bike; Marquez must show patience to get back to his best.

Qualifying Report: Fabio Quarteraro Takes Pole in Dramatic Session

Fabio Quarteraro is on pole

In a dramatic wet/dry qualifying session, home hero Fabio Quartararo snatched a last gasp pole position. With a minute left in the session, Honda held a front-row lockout as Marc Marquez was on provisional pole position. It seemed as if that would be that as most riders weren’t improving. Then, in the dying seconds, both Yamaha riders started setting the fastest sector times. Maverick Vinales went fastest to get pipped by teammate Quartararo as the track began to dry out. Jack Miller joins them on the front row. Marc Marquez will start sixth, one spot behind the other home rider Johann Zarco. Valentino Rossi enjoyed the best session of the season so far as he grabbed ninth. Q1 claimed some big scalps as reigning champion Joan Mir and championship leader Pecco Bagnaia got knocked out. They will need to come through the pack tomorrow to maintain good positions in the championship standings.

Final Classification

  • 1st Fabio Quarteraro – Yamaha
  • 2nd Maverick Vinales – Yamaha
  • 3rd Jack Miller – Ducati
  • 4th Franco Morbidelli – Petronas Yamaha
  • 5th Johann Zarco – Pramac Ducati
  • 6th Marc Marquez – Repsol Honda
  • 7th Taka Nakagaami – Honda
  • 8th Pol Espargaro – Repsol Honda
  • 9th Valentino Rossi – Petronas Yamaha
  • 10th Miguel Oliveira – KTM
  • 11th Lorenzo Savadori – Aprilla
  • 12th Luca Marini – Ducati
  • 13th Aleix Espargaro – Aprilla
  • 14th Joan Mir – Suzuki
  • 15th Alex Rins – Suzuki
  • 16th Pecco Bagnaia – Ducati
  • 17th Danilo Petrucci – KTM
  • 18th Iker Lecuona – KTM
  • 19th Alex Marquez – Honda
  • 20th Tito Rabat – Ducati
  • 21st Brad Binder – KTM
  • 22nd Enea Bastianini – Ducati

Stat-Pack

Honda is the most successful manufacturer at the French Moto GP with 53 wins. Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez are the active riders with the most wins at Le Mans with four wins each. Track length – 2.6 miles. Weather – Rain and intermittent showers forecast throughout the day. Race start time at 1 PM BST.

With four race weekends behind us, and eight different riders on the podium, the MotoGP championship fight is hotting up. With championship favourites crashing out and terrible luck for many riders, here’s a run-through of the 2021 season so far and who to watch out for throughout the rest of the season.

Qatar (Losail International Circuit) – 28 March

Qualifying:

Bagnaia (Ducati)

Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha)

Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha)

Race Result:

Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha)

Zarco (Pramac)

Bagnaia (Ducati)

The season opened with a thrilling race around the Losail International Circuit in Doha, Qatar. Maverick Viñales came through to win an outstanding performance to take the win against a very competitive field. The Qatar GP also showcased the Ducatis as a bike to watch this year, with Zarco and Bagnaia in second and third respectively. 2020 champion Mir came in 4th after a mistake at the last corner, and Quartararo finished up the top 5 on the Monster Energy Yamaha. Morbidelli, a championship favourite at the start of the season, rode poorly, finishing in 18th place.

Doha (Losail International Circuit) – 4 April

Qualifying:

Martín (Pramac)

Zarco (Pramac)

Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha)

Race Result:

Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha)

Zarco (Pramac)

Martín (Pramac)

Race weekend two in Doha saw Quartararo beginning his bid for the championship, outsmarting the other riders to win. It was also a good weekend for the Pramac Ducati riders, who both qualified and finished the race in the top three. Rins finished in 4th for Suzuki with Viñales in 5th. It was another poor week for the Petronas Yamaha riders, with Morbidelli in 12th and Rossi out of the points in 16th. The rider with the most disastrous start to the season was clearly Alex Marquez, who crashed out for the second weekend running. Already at this stage, it was clear that this season would not be easily called, with so many riders in the mix.

Portugal (Algarve International Circuit) – 18 April

Qualifying:

Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha)

Rins (Suzuki)

Zarco (Pramac)

Race Result:

Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha)

Bagnaia (Ducati)

Mir (Suzuki)

The reign of Quartararo continued in Portugal, where he qualified first and then went on to win the race, completely outpacing his rivals. Bagnaia was able to take the second step on the podium, with 2020 champion Joan Mir in third after a dramatic race that saw Zarco crashing out from second place, ultimately finishing 13th. Morbidelli finally got some good points on the board after a tough start to the season, finishing 4th, with Binder in 5th for the Red Bull KTM team. This was not the biggest story of the weekend, of course, with Marc Marquez returning and finishing an impressive 7th in his first race back after a 9-month injury break. This race was plagued by crashes, with Zarco, Rins, Rossi, Miller and Espargaro unable to finish the race. This affected Jack Miller hugely as he needed a good result following a reasonably poor start to the season.

Spain (Circuito de Jerez – Angel Nieto) – 2 May

Qualifying:

Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha)

Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha)

Miller (Ducati)

Race Result:

Miller (Ducati)

Bagnaia (Ducati)

Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha)

The Spanish Grand Prix was the race that Miller needed. The Australian rider took his first dry race win after championship leader Quartararo, who led for a lot of the race, had to back off with arm pump issues. An unfortunate end to a stellar start to the season for the Frenchman, who only picked up a few points, finishing 13th. Bagnaia made it a one-two finish for the Ducati team, a result they were not expecting in Jerez, with Petronas Yamaha rider Morbidelli improving one place on his Portugal finish to take the final step on the podium. Takaaki Nakagami finished an impressive 4th after flying through the field towards the end of the race, with Mir taking 5th, another good set of points for last year’s champion.

Who to watch this season:

Fabio Quartararo:

Throughout the course of the 2021 season, Quartararo has been the most consistently impressive rider. Without the issues surrounding his arm in Jerez, he would likely have been on the podium for the third time, possibly even taking a third win in four races. He has become a favourite for this year’s title with such impressive form, but will his injury stop that? Fabio had surgery on his arm on Monday 4th May and hopes to recover in time for his home race at Le Mans next weekend. If his recovery takes longer, questions will begin to emerge over whether he can fight to take the championship, having lost points while recovering.

Francesco Bagnaia:

Bagnaia is another rider who has shown the importance of consistency this season. Despite not winning a race yet this year, he has been on the podium three times, finishing the other race in a still-impressive 4th. The 2018 Moto2 champion has shown impressive skill throughout this year, and if this continues, he will continue to play an important role in the battle for the title.

While these two riders are the most consistently impressive so far this year, many have a good chance of battling for the championship win. 2020 champion Joan Mir is also not out of the running, having finished between 3rd and 7th in every race so far this year, leaving him 4th in the standings. Maverick Viñales is also thoroughly impressive this year, winning the first race out and recording the fastest time at testing on Monday 4th May. With so many strong riders competing closely this year, in addition to a likelihood for even more surprising crashes throughout the field, the championship is still very much up for grabs. With such thrilling racing this early in the season, MotoGP will continue to be one to watch throughout the year as the championship fight gets closer and more dramatic.

The news we’d all been waiting for was finally announced on Saturday. Marc Marquez will return to MotoGP in Portugal following a 9-month recovery from an arm injury. But will he be able to battle for wins when he returns, or will he linger at the back of the grid?

Injury and recovery: What do we know?

Marquez was ruled out of MotoGP following a serious high side crash at the Spanish GP in Jerez, Spain, in August 2020. After a fracture to his right humorous, he had surgery to have a plate fitted to the bone to aid his recovery. Despite trying to come back at the following race, he could not get further than qualifying after damaging this plate. This led to a second operation being necessary, ruling him out for the rest of the season. He then endured a further set back when he had a third surgery in December, where a bone graft from his hip to his arm was performed in the hope of aiding recovery. This was expected to require up to 6 months of recovery but such a strong athlete as Marquez is, he’s back racing much sooner.

What can we expect in Portimao?

One of the fastest and most successful men ever to compete in MotoGP is back – but is he ready? He is definitely not coming back to an easy track, that’s for sure. Turn 1 at the Portimão track subjects the riders to the highest g-force that they’ll ever experience on the track, aside from when crashing. Having only tested on a Honda RC213V-S street bike, a bike without carbon brakes, becoming comfortable on the bike again is not an easy feat. Following such a long recovery, will Marc be more careful and ensure he can continue racing, or will he go flat out? Only time will tell.

Marquez was also unable to take part in testing or the first two races in Doha and has, of course, not been able to ride a competitive bike since his accident. So many are wondering whether he will be competitive at all. But if anyone can do it, Marc Marquez can. He was able to come back from a Moto2 crash which seriously affected his eyesight, for which Marquez says the recovery was much worse than it was for his arm injury. He had surgery on a serious vision issue following a crash in Sepang 2011, leading to major concerns over whether he’d ride again. Coming back from that to win so many titles proves the strength of this rider and indicates the fight he will put in to compete for championships once again.

The Honda rider can also be reassured that there are no expectations of immediate success from the team. They are aware that they cannot possibly put any more pressure on Marquez’s return that he will not already have put on himself. Despite such a long break, this talented rider will immediately aim for the top and is unlikely to stop until he gets there. With replacement Stefan Bradl managing a best finish of 11th in the two Doha GPs, while Pol Esparagó finished a best of 8th, the team are not battling to stay at the top of the championship standings. They are, therefore, able to give the rider time to acclimatise to MotoGP and take a few races to reach his full potential, if that is possible following such a serious injury.

So many unanswerable questions:

With the entire weekend yet to start, we can’t predict how it will go for Marquez and the team, but that makes it even more thrilling. His season could be incredibly exciting or truly disappointing, depending on how quickly he can get back to the front of the grid over the course of the season. Our main hope is that he can compete again following his break with no issues or incidents. While he may not win the title, he will expect to be strong from the start, and I can’t wait to see if it’s possible.

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