Not that we needed it, but the Dutch TT was a reminder that anything can happen in MotoGP™. Heading to The Cathedral of Speed, World Championship leader Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) boasted a 34-point lead over Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) after winning for a third time this season at the Sachsenring.
However, that Turn 5 crash and Espargaro’s subsequent heroic comeback means heading into the summer break, the Frenchman’s advantage was cut to just 21 points. Dutch TT race winner Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) won his third race of the season – Ducati’s first at Assen since Casey Stoner’s 2008 triumph – and is now 66 points down on Quartararo, with Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) 58 points off top spot in P3.
So what does this all mean for the Championship when the riders return at the British GP for the remaining nine races of the season? Well, Assen saw a shift in momentum. The pendulum swung Espargaro’s way for the first time since the Spaniard beat Quartararo to the podium at the French GP. From Le Mans to Germany, El Diablo was able to finish P2 in Italy and win both the Catalan and German GPs in commanding style, stretching his lead from just four points to those aforementioned 34.
Uncatchable? Some thought so. Given the form the reigning King of MotoGP™ was showing and with the following two tracks coming in the form of Assen and Silverstone – both circuits he won at in 2021 – things were looking a tad grim for the chasing pack. Especially for Pecco, who had suffered his third DNF in four when he slipped out of second place at the Sachsenring. The Italian’s deficit sat at an uncomfortable 91 points. A mountain and then some to climb.
But an uncharacteristic “rookie” error from Quartararo in the Netherlands has blown the title race back open. Pecco is now a three time winner in 2022, like Quartararo and Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™), but his four DNFs have so far hindered his Championship attack. But the fact is when Pecco has been on the podium, it’s been on the top step. If a bit of consistency can be found, there is no doubt Bagnaia has the pace to make life difficult for Quartararo and Espargaro in the upcoming races. Clawing back large hauls of points in the latter half of a campaign is something we’ve seen before from Pecco, too.
Espargaro’s historic Argentina victory remains his one and only win of his Grand Prix career, but that run of four consecutive P3s has kept him well in the hunt. If it weren’t for Quartararo taking Espargaro into the gravel with him at Assen's tight Turn 5 left-hander, the gap would be considerably smaller. But on the other side of the coin, that P15 to P4 recovery will have injected Espargaro and Aprilia with yet more confidence that they can turn up to any circuit in the world and be one of the quickest packages on the grid. If not the quickest.
Confidence is racing through the Noale factory’s veins, especially now Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) has claimed his first podium with the Italian outfit. Top Gun will be a crucial weapon in Espargaro’s arsenal in the next few months. And at this moment in time, Quartararo doesn’t have that with Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) struggling for form.
Zarco’s name isn’t really being mentioned in the title race, despite the Frenchman sitting ahead of Pecco in the overall standings. The disappointing P13 in Assen came after a good run of results that saw him pick up three podiums in six races, but that illustrious maiden premier class win still eludes Zarco. Still, the number 5 shouldn’t be ruled out.
And then there’s another three time 2022 winner: Bastianini. It’s been a spikey campaign for the Italian sophomore, having finished a best of P8 in the races he hasn’t won. Bastianini remains a title contender, but like Pecco, consistency needs to be unearthed – and quickly – if Quartararo and Espargaro are going to be reeled in.
Heading into the final nine races of the campaign, the top five in the World Championship look like this:
1. Fabio Quartararo – 172 points (3 wins, 3 podiums)
2. Aleix Espargaro – 151 points (1 win, 4 podiums)
3. Johann Zarco – 114 points (0 wins, 4 podiums)
4. Francesco Bagnaia – 106 points (3 wins, 0 podiums)
5. Enea Bastianini – 105 points (3 wins, 0 podiums)
67 points splitting the top five, 225 points left on the table. The 2022 title race is on!