Jerez MotoGP: How Bagnaia and Quartararo left everyone standing

MotoGP

Why the MotoGP world numbers one and two were on another level at Jerez and why downforce aero is so important at the twisting Spanish circuit

Pecco Bagnaia leads the 2022 MotoGP Spanish Grand Prix

Bagnaia holds Quartararo at bay at Turn 13 on the first lap – both were masterful and faultless throughout the race

Yamaha

During pre-season testing Pecco Bagnaia announced it would take six or seven races to have any idea about the contenders for the 2022 MotoGP world championship. And during pre-season testing Marc Márquez insisted that the fastest riders of 2022 would be Bagnaia and Fabio Quartararo.

Thus Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix – round six of 21 – was the race that finally brought the MotoGP title battle into some kind of focus after so much chaos and weirdness at three of the first five races: strange tyres in Indonesia, the Argentine freight disaster and two days of rain in Portugal.

Bagnaia and Quartararo were on another level at Jerez. Both were four-tenths of a second faster than everyone else, when four-tenths of a second usually covers the fastest ten or so riders in a MotoGP race.

Last year’s Jerez winner Jack Miller did everything he could to stay with the Italian and Frenchman but it didn’t take long for the Aussie to realise that would end in disaster.

“The two boys up front clicked up a gear and rode off into the sunset”

“I tried to go with those two boys up front – then on lap four they sort of clicked up a gear and rode off into the sunset,” said Miller, who won last year’s race after Quartararo had arm-pump problems, which dropped him from first to 13th.

It makes sense that Quartararo and Bagnaia are shaping up to the be the strongest title contenders, because they were the standout riders last year, winning half of the races between them and finishing first and second in the championship.

Bagnaia was perfect at Jerez – pole position record, lap record and race record – confirming what the rest of pit lane has known since round three in Argentina, when he charged through the pack from 13th to fifth, after his crew had changed the set-up of his GP22 during morning warm-up, dialling in the settings he had used late last year when he was just about unbeatable – five poles and four wins from the last six races.

Pecco Bagnaia Fabio Quartararo and Aleix Espargaro on the podium at the 2022 MotoGP Spanish GP

Bagnaia’s first win of 2022, ahead of Quartararo and Espargaro, proved he’s good friends with his Desmosedici again

Ducati

Now Bagnaia has regained that super-sweet feeling he needs to brake scary-late and dive into corners with devastating speed. During the Jerez weekend his engineers hardly touched his bike settings, allowing the 25-year-old to focus on his riding, so he could extract the absolute maximum from his machine.

“We started here with the same strong feeling we had at Portimao last week, so I can brake hard and enter fast,” he said. “This was something we were missing and finally we’ve found it again. Now I can do what I want to do – you are fast when you can ride your bike and put it where you want.”

Although Bagnaia is using 2021 settings he is still riding a GP22 which is different to the GP21 and has advantages over the old bike.

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“Last year I was braking harder but now I can enter corners so much faster and close the line more, because it [the fairing] is smaller. This is the biggest difference between the two bikes.”

Bagnaia now stands 33 points behind championship leader Quartararo, with 375 points still up for grabs.

Jerez has been Quartararo’s happiest hunting ground ever since he graduated to MotoGP in 2019, the sweeping curves of the Andalusian circuit suiting both the Frenchman’s riding technique and the Yamaha’s character. Until last weekend he had started every MotoGP race he had contested at the track from pole position and would’ve won the previous three, without the arm-pump issues he had last year.

In other words, if Bagnaia and Ducati can beat him there then Yamaha must be worried.

Quartararo threw everything he had at Bagnaia but it wasn’t enough. Their duel was high-tension throughout, because the pressure on the leader never relented; one tiny mistake and Quartararo would’ve been through. But Bagnaia was metronomic and faultless – and so was Quartararo – so there wasn’t a single overtaking manoeuvre between the pair during the 25 laps.

Fabio Quartararo in the 2022 MotoGp Spanish Grand Prix

Quartararo gives vain chase. It was a delight to have the awesome Jerez fans back for the first time since 2019

Yamaha

Both men knew the race would to be a straight two-way fight and both knew the start would be everything, because it was a hot day and whoever was the hunter rather than the hunted would have problems with front tyre pressure and therefore grip.

Quartararo briefly got alongside Bagnaia before Turn 1 and that was as close as he got to leading.

“I made one of my best starts,” said the winner. “With this bike I’ve always struggled a bit to not have wheelies at the start but this time everything went well. I just closed my line at Turn 2 because I heard Fabio there and I was very scared about the last corner [on the first lap] because last year he was exiting from Turn 12 [the penultimate corner] very fast, so on the first lap I closed my line there and then I tried to set my pace.

“Clinica Mobile always has something good to give you for the race”

“Fabio was the man to beat today and I knew if he was in front the only problem for me would’ve been front tyre pressure, because in this heat it would’ve been very high. It was difficult for me to be any faster because the rear was sliding, because of the track temperature and I was having a bit of front lock with the front tyre on the brakes.

“We did a good thing by stopping trying to adapt this bike to me and just leaving the bike the same, so I can ride it. Finally I think I’m back to my best shape like I was last year.”

Bagnaia wasn’t only fast, he was also brave. The right shoulder he injured the previous weekend at Portimao was still causing him pain and weakness.

“I was very worried about the race because in warm-up I rode without painkillers and I was really difficult, but the Clinica Mobile always has something good to give you for the race,” he grinned.

Quartararo never gave up the chase but after the first few laps he knew his only hope was that Bagnaia might crack under pressure.

Alex Rins in the 2022 MotoGP Spanish Grand Prix

Former joint points-leader Rins had a disastrous Jerez – too little front downforce had him losing the front on the throttle

Suzuki

“I knew if I couldn’t overtake him in the first two or three laps it was going to be difficult for our front tyre and that’s what happened,” he said. “That’s why I stayed a bit far behind him, but it was impossible to ride with the front, which was sliding so much, moving and feeling like chewing gum.

“On the last lap [which he started 0.478 seconds behind Bagnaia] I had to try but I couldn’t do anything to get closer. I was a little closer at Turn 10 and I tried to do Turn 11 really fast but I went wide and I knew then that it would not be possible to overtake [at the last corner].

Jerez has always been a bit of a nightmare in the heat, regardless of the surface. It’s also the kind of circuit where riders and engineers have to get everything just right to create a good race pace. No one else was in Sunday’s race, with the battle for third between Aleix Espargaró, Marc Márquez and Jack Miller taking place ten seconds further back.

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Downforce aerodynamics is particularly important at Jerez because riders make the lap time through the layout’s fast, on-throttle sweepers – Turns 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 11 and 12 – where the obvious aim is to get on the throttle as early and as hard as possible.

When the rider opens the throttle the balance of the motorcycle shifts to the rear tyre, which reduces load on the front tyre, which reduces grip, so the bike runs wide and the rider must ease off the throttle, losing time.

This is one reason why Ducati has had such a poor record at the track, until recently. The last time Ducati won a race there – if we acknowledge that Quartararo would’ve won last year’s Spanish GP if he hadn’t had physical problems – was in 2006, with Loris Capirossi.

Because the Desmosedici’s superior horsepower means nothing at Jerez unless the riders can get on the throttle through those sweepers, which they couldn’t, until Ducati perfected its downforce aero.

Of course, you need just the right amount of downforce – not too little and not too much.

Brad Binder in the 2022 MotoGP Spanish Grand Prix

Binder struggled to tenth – too much front-downforce caused him to keep losing the front in the faster corners

Red Bull

This is one reason why Suzuki and KTM struggled at Jerez. Suzuki’s GSX-RR has less downforce than any of the other bikes, while KTM is still struggling to get its RC16 to work correctly with its new-for-2022 big aero.

Joan Mir did well to bring his GSX-RR home in sixth, but he was lapping six-tenths of a second slower than the leaders around a circuit which you’d think would suit the bike’s excellent corner speed, while Alex Rins, who went to Spain as joint championship leader, had a disastrous ride to 19th, after losing the front at Turn 11, leading to a frighteningly fast excursion through the gravel trap.

“It’s like when you rent a kart and get one that doesn’t turn”

“We suffered a lot – whenever I entered a corner and touched the throttle I lost the front,” said Rins. “It’s like when you go karting – you rent a kart and you get one that doesn’t turn.”

Brad Binder was KTM’s top finisher in tenth, six seconds behind Mir and 20 behind Bagnaia. He had the opposite problem to Rins – too much front downforce, which overloaded the front tyre in faster corners, when aero is at its most effective.

“It doesn’t matter how slow or how fast I go through those corners I keep washing the front, so the last sector I’m losing so much time,” said Binder on Saturday. “Through those two fast rights [Turns 11 and 12] I’m really struggling to keep the front grip, so the front tyre keeps washing on me [sliding and tucking] and that’s not a good place to have that feeling.”

Yamaha went into 2022 pre-season testing evaluating two different aero sets – its 2021 set and a new set with bigger wings and sidepods. Quartararo immediately understood that the bigger wings hurt the M1’s speed on long straights but give him better acceleration out of corners, thanks to more load on the front tyre and reduced wheelies. That helped through Jerez’s fast sweepers.

We will have to wait and see if that helps him at the next race at Le Mans, where the two slowest corners are followed by the two longest straights.