Brno was probably the best Moto2 race of the season. In fact, it definitely was. For once, Miguel Oliveira qualified and fought at the front for the whole race. And what a fight it was. Between himself, Francesco Bagnaia, Luca Marini and later Lorenzo Baldassarri, there was some stunning action and, whilst it boiled down to what was ultimately a two-way scrap for the win between Miguel and Marini, that two-way scrap proved to be one of the highlights of the year.
Oliveira came out the victor of that battle against the comparatively inexperienced Marini, and with that he took the championship lead heading into this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix – KTM’s home round, as well as that of the title sponsor. A win for Oliveira this weekend would not only strengthen his position atop the championship, it would also be perfectly timed from the point of view of his employer and their backers. Furthermore, KTM are currently on two consecutive wins and the last time they had two wins on the bounce, they went and took a third in succession too. That was in the last three races of last season, where both Oliveira and Brad Binder dominated the 2017 series champion, Franco Morbidelli. A repeat at this stage in the season could put Oliveira well in the driving seat for the 2018 Moto2 World Championship with just under half the season remaining.
That said, last year was not such a great round for the KTM Moto2 squad, and especially for Oliveira. The Portuguese crashed out of turn eight when closing down the leaders, with what was quite a big high side. Meanwhile, Brad Binder could only manage seventh place, nine seconds off the win. It would be a surprise to see them so far away this year, but if Oliveira has a return to his usual 2018 qualifying form, it could spell disaster for the championship hopeful, when you consider the pileup at turn one last year.
Pecco Bagnaia needs to hit back on Sunday. He looked good after Assen, and Sachsenring had shaped up well for him before Sunday, but with bad luck in the German GP and just losing out in the battle at the end of the Czech GP, ending up third, he is now on the back foot in the championship. On the positive side, Bagnaia still looks like one of two strongest riders in the last races, and ultimately it has been circumstance that has seen him lose his championship advantage. Also, the second Sky Racing Team VR46 rider, Luca Marini, has turned up in the last couple of weekends, so if it is needed Bagnaia has a rear gunner.
But Marini is also out for himself, obviously, and as he proved last week he has the potential to fight strongly for the win himself. Marini has come almost from nowhere in the last three races, but the short summer break worked perfectly for him, as he was able to keep the momentum he built in the Dutch and German GPs – taking his first front row in Assen and first podium in Germany – into Brno where he fought for the victory for the first time. Now, he has gone 3-2 in the last two races, leaving the first position as the next logical step, right?
With the improvement in the second side of the Sky VR46 squad, it is even more critical that Brad Binder becomes a consistent podium/victory contender. Other than his win in Sachsenring, Binde hasn’t really featured at the front all season, at least not for a full race. His Germany win proved that he has the potential to be there, he just needs to be there more often, and the Austrian GP at the Red Bull Ring would be the perfect time for him to return to the podium.
Lorenzo Baldassarri has had a few difficult races. Assen was positive, and he could have won until he suffered the puncture. In Germany he dropped out before it was possible to judge what his potential was. Brno went better, though with a fourth place which could have been a podium, or even a win, but his tyre was destroyed by the end of the race, so he had nothing to fight with for the podium. He has taken some criticism, because he basically cost Bagnaia – a fellow VR46 Riders’ Academy member, and flatmate – the chance to fight for the victory in the last lap by passing him in the middle of the turn 11/12 chicane but ultimately he is out on the track for himself and he thought he would have the chance for the win, but to pass three riders in one lap is almost impossible. For sure, he cost himself and Bagnaia the shot at the victory with the move he made, but he had to try, because if he didn’t try, for the sake of another rider, there is no point in being there – it’s mid-season, you wouldn’t expect team orders at this stage, so why he should be expected to help someone from another team is a little strange. Anyway, this weekend presents a fresh opportunity for Baldassarri, and with Lorenzo, you just don’t know what you are going to get.
The weather looks like it is going to play its part this weekend. Rain is predicted for the whole weekend, and last year, when it rained, the track was a disaster – riders were crashing almost by the second and reaching the barriers with regularity. Safety is definitely a weak point of the Red Bull Ring, and several riders have spoken of their worry ahead of the race weekend about the danger in wet conditions, so hopefully those concerns will be alleviated, either by fair weather or by decent track conditions, although both are unfortunately unlikely.