After an adrenaline-packed Silverstone that saw Aprilia climb back to the top step at one of its iconic venues, it’s time to head to Austria and the Red Bull Ring – more usual haunts for Ducati and KTM. In fact, since the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix, the last five races at the venue have demonstrated a Ducati – KTM – Ducati – KTM – Ducati pattern in terms of wins. Those early glory days of Borgo Panigale with the return of MotoGP™ to the Red Bull Ring aren’t necessarily over, but they certainly have some serious competition. So does this hold any clues as to what awaits us in Styria this season?
In the red corner
Last year, reigning Champion Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) took glory in Austria and after a performance under serious pressure at Silverstone, when he arguably had the luxury of not pushing all the way, but still far, he must arrive as favorite and this year. Now with a good advantage in hand, after a tougher Tissot Sprint in the UK became a big chance to win from key rivals on Sunday, there is even less pressure now too. Pecco should be the rider in the spotlight.
Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing), however, took his first premiership win at the Red Bull Ring in 2021 – in fact, he started both races at the Red Bull Ring from pole in his rookie season, won the first and moved up on the podium. in the second. Now an even better rider and in reasonably good form in 2023, he is the closest to chasing Bagnaia after the British GP shuffle. After dropping out of class again on Sunday at Silverstone, it wasn’t a lack of speed that saw the number 89 drop valuable points, or really any fault of its own. But that’s how the cookie crumbled and after losing 10 points to Bagnaia in the Grand Prix at Silverstone, he certainly arrives in Austria thinking it’s a good chance to gain some back… on Saturday AND Sunday.
The stakes are high
Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) will probably have something to say about that. The South African claimed KTM’s second and most recent home win at the venue in 2021, rolling the dice for one of the biggest wins of all time – and arguably one of the best. He will be all out to win some more glory for the Austrian factory and his teammate Jack Miller will be the same. They’ve had serious speed in 2023 as well, wet or dry or sketchy, and have already made several visits to parc ferme. If there’s one place both riders will focus on razoring on a few more trophies, it’s here.
That home glory on offer also extends to GASGAS Factory Racing Tech3’s Augusto Fernandez and Pol Espargaro, both taking points at Silverstone. The former has not finished outside them all year and the latter produced an impressive weekend in his long-awaited return from injury. What do they have in the cupboard?
Also, no glory at home, but title sponsor glory on the line for the CrytoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team… and soon after Miguel Oliveira took his best result of the season so far, fourth, thanks to a truly impressive charge from 16th in the grid. He just missed out on the podium at Silverstone and will be aiming high, having also won at the Red Bull Ring in 2020 while riding with KTM. Teammate Raul Fernandez also took a top ten finish at the British GP but will look to keep moving forward.
That’s something Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) did in style at Silverstone. After qualifying 12th and taking the win, he became the first rider to win from P12 or lower on the grid since the 2006 Turkish Grand Prix. And he did so by beating the reigning Champion on the last lap. If that’s not a confidence booster for the next round, there probably isn’t one. Teammate Maverick Viñales was also strong at Silverstone and in this race at the front, and both will be keen to show that it’s not just the venue that suits them, but what they’re really capable of all round. Getting off to another blistering start as both riders made good progress off the line – and Aleix Espargaro said Aprilia’s work in the area certainly paid off. They will also have wild card Lorenzo Savadori with them, as this work is very much ongoing.
Looking to hit back
Then there’s Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team). Saturday was good as he took pole and then second in the Sprint as Bagnaia failed to score. But on Sunday, a first mistake in a while saw the Italian slide out when chasing Bagnaia, costing him 20 points on the Championship leader. He was also passed in the standings by Martin once again… but Austria is a chance to fight back. History has it that it will take quite a push to renew Bagnaia and Martin here, but Bezzecchi’s form this season has cared less about track records and more about relentless speed regardless of venue. Can he make a statement?
Another who wants to do it, but on the other side after a technical problem last time, is Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™). The number 73 took his first Tissot Sprint victory on Saturday, escaping and holding off Bezzecchi, and was right in contention for the podium on Sunday before this problem forced him to retire. With a new contract in his back pocket to boot, Alex Marquez will come with expectations, in the best way. Enea Bastianini (Ducati Lenovo Team) is another coming off a tougher Sunday. Pulled in after the back finish and will want the chance to show his steps forward as he returns to full fitness and back into the groove. Can it upset the apple cart ahead?
Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) and Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team), meanwhile, will want a lot more. Zarco had a good Sprint in fourth, but then a middling Sunday, and Marini failed to fully challenge ahead at Silverstone. Can they turn this around in Austria? And can Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) host his fellow Ducatis?
Full factory reset
Silverstone was tough for Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™ pair Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli. For Quartararo, wet qualifying in which he crashed out left him last on the grid and he didn’t improve much in the Sprint. However, on race day the Frenchman had a real charge so there were some positives until a collision with Marini saw him lose and then run over his own fairing. Just a year ago Quartararo was fighting for victory in Austria as well, something to remember as the Misano Test approaches and the 2021 Champion’s vocal expectations of some real progress continue to hit the headlines. Meanwhile, we now know that Morbidelli is leaving the factory, which adds an extra story arc. What can Yamaha find in Austria?
Finally, at Honda, the atmosphere seems to have changed. We know that Alex Rins is leaving the factory to replace the aforementioned Morbidelli – and we await confirmation of when Rins will return this season alongside Takaaki Nakagami at LCR Honda, with Iker Lecuona stepping down this weekend – but for the rest everything is up to you. at Honda.
In the Sprint at Silverstone, Marc Marquez rode behind Repsol Honda teammate Joan Mir to get a look at his bike in action. On Sunday the number 93 collapsed but had some positives to take from the weekend. The whirlwind of noise and rumors about the future, stretching back to the German GP, now seems to have passed more quietly, and in its place there seems to be an eight-time World Champion rolling up his sleeves and not accepting defeat, but what is needed here and now to return to glory. Information. Kilometers. Direction. Is this the reality inside? We can’t know for now, so we’ll just have to watch this space…
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