Bagnaia Still on Top as Moto2 Heads to Barcelona

This weekend the 2018 Moto2 World Championship heads to Barcelona and the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya for round seven of the season, with Pecco Bagnaia leading the championship from Miguel Oliveira and Lorenzo Baldassarri. Major changes have occurred in Montmelo since the World Championship was last there: firstly, the entire circuit has been resurfaced after riders claimed that they would be unable to return to Barcelona last year when the track was in a terrible condition – fortunately the new surface offers plenty of grip. Secondly, for the first time since Luis Salom’s fatal crash in 2016, the World Championship will be using the original layout, with the two high speed right-handers to end the lap. Adaptations have been made to the track in the corner which Salom crashed (was turn twelve, now thirteen), the whole corner has been widened, as has the run-off area, which has also been given a healthy coating of gravel to satisfy safety demands. However, the old turn ten will still be unused, because of the issue with run-off on the exit of that corner which is unavoidable thanks to the F1 chicane that has been used by all MotoGP classes for the last two years, so the tighter turn ten will be used, meaning the left flick at turn eleven will also be used, so for the first time the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya will consist of fourteen corners.

Coming into this round, Miguel Oliveira will be hoping to continue his winning form after picking up his first victory of the season last time out in Mugello to break the Italian domination of the intermediate class so far in 2018. Miguel last won in Mugello in 2015, a win which launched his championship challenge after a difficult start to the season. Pecco Bagnaia is unlikely to buckle in the way that Danny Kent did in the second half of 2015, but in turn Miguel is much closer to Bagnaia in the championship than he was to Kent back in the Brit’s World Championship year and as has been said many times since 2015, when Oliveira starts winning it is hard to stop him – the last part of 2017 is testament to that.

But Oliveira could have a tough job to beat Alex Marquez, who won in Barcelona in superb style last season, beating Tom Luthi by 4.452 seconds and 5.322 ahead of Oliveira. It has not been the start to the season that Marquez would have been hoping for: no wins and only three podiums, in Qatar, Texas and Le Mans. Furthermore, Alex has started to be shown up by his rookie teammate, Joan Mir, who took his first podium in Le Mans and took another in Mugello last time out where he beat Marquez by 3.203 seconds. Tyre wear seems to have been the major issue for Marquez this year, losing out in the final stages in the battle with Bagnaia in Austin, as well as in Le Mans, and in Mugello he fell away in the final five laps also. If he wants to win this weekend he is going to have to address this issue.

And that is assuming that he has the speed to go with the tyre longevity. Particularly, whether Marquez has the speed to beat his teammate. Joan Mir has made huge progress in the first six rounds of the 2018 season, his 2019-2020 MotoGP deal with Suzuki is testament to that, and the next step for him is to take his first intermediate class victory. Mir was victorious in the Barcelona Moto3 race last season, a win which included a tough move on Jorge Martin in the entrance to the chicane section of last year’s layout. A repeat of his Moto3 result of last season would propel the rookie into genuine championship contention, and would also be a huge worry for anyone trying to beat him to that title.

“Anyone”, such as Francesco Bagnaia. The Italian has been sublime this season, with only a ninth in Argentina providing any blots on his copy book. He may have missed the podium last season and, whilst that was not ideal with Oliveira winning, it was important points for the championship fight which looks as though it could go all the way to Valencia with so many riders involved in the scrap. Furthermore, Bagnaia was one of the two fastest riders on the track in the last five laps of the Mugello race, only Mir able to match his pace. Being faster than the KTM of Oliveira in the final laps with the conditions how they were in Italy was very impressive, and positive for the future. Unfortunately, it was not a great weekend for Bagnaia last year in Barcelona, when he finished over twenty seconds away from the win in thirteenth place. He will, not just want, but need more than that this season. This weekend, Bagnaia needs to be on the podium; he needs to stabilise the championship.

Bagnaia’s fellow VR46 Academy rider and flatmate, Lorenzo Baldassarri, could really do with another win this weekend if he is to be back in genuine championship contention. Of all the contenders, including the rookie Mir, Baldassarri is the one with the biggest question mark over his head – you just do not know what he is going to do. For example, he could be dominant like in Jerez, or maybe he will struggle to be in the top ten like in Austin. Realistically, Balda should have won in Mugello, but a mistake on the exit of Borgo San Lorenzo on the final lap gave Oliveira the only chance he needed to take victory away from the number 7. Perhaps that disappointment will fuel Lorenzo’s charge to the podium or maybe even the victory this weekend, similarly to how the eagerness to bounce back from a difficult Austin round led to his dominance in the Spanish Grand Prix.

In injury news, Remy Gardner is back this weekend after his motocross crash before Jerez in which he broke both legs. However, it is uncertain whether Gardner will be able to complete the weekend, so don’t be surprised to see Hector Garzo once again hanging around the Tech3 garage this weekend. Last weekend, Garzo finished fourth and seventh in the two European Moto2 World Championship races in Montmelo, so he is in tune with the track and at a decent speed – he is ready to come in if he needs to.

Featured image courtesy of Gold & Goose/Red Bull Content Pool

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