A Resurgent Toprak… Ducati Under Attack

After successive championship titles with Ducati, reigning champion Alvaro Bautista seemed untouchable at one point. Everyone remembers the absolutely insane dual between Alvaro and Toprak at Portimao at the end of last season. For me, it was the best race I’ve ever seen and I’ve been watching motorcycle racing for the best part of two decades, through the glorious Valentino Rossi battles with everyone in sight. Toprak gave everything in that race and still came away second best, Bautista onboard the factory Ducati, ultimately prevailing for a second world championship title.

Toprak Razgatlioglu Picture courtesy of ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team

Fast forward to a new season and a highly motivated Toprak, with a point to prove. Toprak may not come across as a rider with a chip on his shoulder, or appear outwardly angry, at least his demeanour seems to be that of the complete professional. However, it wasn’t that long ago where a test with the MotoGP factory Yamaha team didn’t prove to be as impressive as many thought. Certainly Monster Energy Yamaha Team Manager, Massimo Meragalli was very diplomatic when asked about the lap times Toprak had set. Toprak himself, had been open about his desire to move into the MotoGP paddock and no doubt felt disappointed a move never transpired for the 2024 season.

Signing a contract with the Rokit BMW Motorrad Factory team for 2024, many thought the move would be a disaster given the form of the BMW team, with both then factory riders Scott Redding, and Michael Vd Mark struggling to reach consistent form. Toprak’s manager and close friend, Kenan Sofuoglu hinted at the nature of these dismissive comments when being interviewed by Eurosport commentator, James Toseland on the grid for the WorldSSP race on Sunday.

If extra motivation was required, Toprak certainly didn’t look like he needed it over the Misano round. With a first triple win for BMW and a first triple for Toprak since the Indonesian round in 2022, Ducati are now very well aware they’re in a dog fight.

Toprak Razgatlioglu Picture courtesy of ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team

Race 2 saw rookie Nicolo Bulega (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati), get an impressive launch off the line securing the hole shot into turn 1. Toprak however, ended up down in 5th. Never one to get ruffled, you always felt the outcome of the race was still well within the grasp of Toprak.

Hunting down Bulega lap by lap, Toprak was beginning to ramp up the pressure, up to 2nd, Toprak was putting in blisteringly fast laps, a fastest lap of 1:33.3 saw him slash the gap to the young Italian ahead. Towards the halfway point of the race Toprak had caught and passed Bulega and didn’t slow down. With 7 laps remaining, Toprak held a lead of 3.5s to Bulega.

The final lap saw Toprak with an unassailable lead of 5s, doing a stoppie across the finish line perfectly summing up what we all love about watching Toprak race. A flawless weekend for Toprak and a marker laid down. If there was any further doubt about his achievement you only had to look further down the field for the rest of the BMW’s. Scott Redding (Bonovo Action BMW) 12th, Garrett Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW) 18th, and Michael Vd Mark (Rokit Motorrad BMW) with a DNF.

Toprak Razgatlioglu Picture courtesy of ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team

In his post race interview, Toprak said that he was “relaxed and enjoying the bike“, however, saying that chatter was affecting him in the final two corners and improvements could still be made. Toprak leads the championship with 179 points, 21 points clear of Bulega in 2nd, something not been done by a BMW rider for 12 years. Up next, Donington Park, and a favourite track for Toprak, no doubt a rather scary thought for the rest of the field given his recent dominance.

When pressed about the future of Toprak and whether or not he will stay in WorldSBK, Kenan Sofuoglu hinted at a potential move to MotoGP, telling James Toseland “it will happen sooner, rather than later.”

Moto3: Misano Masterclass from Alonso!

Image Credit: MotoGP

Glorious sunshine today in San Marino and yet another glorious Moto3 race to match. Rookie teenager David Alonso took his 3rd victory in 4 Grand Prix’s here in Misano.

The Colombian wonderkid Alonso clearly a title contender now and after a thrilling last lap, saw Alonso snatch the win from Leopard Racing’s Jaume Masia and KTMs Deniz Öncü to victory. 

Image Credit: Aspar Team

Image Credit: Aspar Team

AS IT HAPPENED

A great start from Ayumu Sasaki and took the lead into turn 1, but it was short lived as pole sitter Masia got by Sasaki on the brakes into turn 4. Front row starters Sasaki and Kaito Toba swapped places in the early parts of the opening lap only for Toba to go from 2nd to 5th on lap 1 as Diogo Moreira and David Alonso blasted by.

It was the first front row start since 2019 for Kaito Toba, 51 races. Long overdue from the Japanese Squadra Corse rider.

 

Masia was keen to get on with it in the early stages of the race and quickly pulled a gap to over a second to the chasing pack behind. The more the group fought and diced with other, the better it was for Masia in the opening stages. Masia just able to concentrate on his own race and mind his own business at the front.

Coming to the end of lap 3, Öncü was now at the head of the pack and had a gap to Masia of 1.229 seconds to chase down. The group started to realise that the more they fought the better it was for Masia, so allowed Öncü to chase Masia down.

Patience is rare in Moto3 and as Moreira set the fastest lap of the race, was up on the back wheel of Öncü and trying to get by. Both Öncü and Moreira gradually starting to reel Masia in.

Meanwhile, Sasaki was being hounded by the young wonderkids Munoz and Alonso, but championship leader Daniel Holgado was 10th. Holgado seemingly not making much progress at the start of lap 6. A long way still to go in the San Marino Grand Prix but Holgado needed to get a move on soon.

Lap 6 and Öncü was clearly dialled in now. Fastest lap of the race and Öncü  halved the gap to Masia in front on the opening two sectors of the lap. Masia only had a 0.280 seconds gap to Öncü in 2nd. Öncü was close enough on the final corner to try and go for the lead into turn 1 at the start of lap 7.

A quarter of the race gone now and we had Masia leading with Öncü on his back wheel and just behind those two was Moreira. A lead group of 3 fighting it out for the win in the sunshine in Misano.

 

Masia’s pace slowing brought the pack back together. At this point it looking more and more likely we will have a big group of riders soon all fighting for the win. Öncü gets it wrong dropping him back to the group with Sasaki and Alonso and Munoz in 3rd. Öncü with it all to do again to catch the leaders.

Halfway through the race and after Masia’s early getaway we now have a lead group of 7 lead by Masia all interchanging positions especially at turn 4 which is a favourite spot for overtakes.

Onto lap 11 now and coming out of turn 10 Masia makes a mistake and opens the door for the rest to come through. Öncü and Munoz don’t need a second invitation and pounce on Masia with Öncü now taking over the lead of the race with Munoz 2nd and Masia in 3rd.

Through the fastest section of the track turns 11, 12 and 13, Masia chases down and gets by Munoz. A great overtake and Masia was eager to get back in the lead.

With 8 laps to go Öncü was leading as Masia set the fastest lap of the race in 2nd, with Munoz 3rd. Holgado looked like his championship lead of 13pts was going to shrink in Misano as Holgado was currently in 11th place.

7 laps left and the pace was heating up with Alonso setting the fastest lap of the race just as Öncü received a track limits warning mid way through the lap. Öncü lead from Masia 2nd, Alonso 3rd and Munoz 4th. This quartet of riders all still had a great opportunity to take the victory. Öncü now with his track limits warning had to be inch perfect for the remainder of the race.

Munoz at the end of lap 15 on the last corner made a great move up the inside of Masia. Munoz now hunted down Öncü and we know after Öncü wiped out Munoz last weekend in Barcelona. Munoz would be looking for revenge in the final few laps to take the victory away from Öncü.

Masia hadn’t given up though and through his favourite fast section of turns 11, 12 and 13 gets by Munoz and up into 2nd.

With only a couple of laps left now in the race, Öncü lead with Masia close behind in 2nd. Alonso and Munoz needed to get up to the leaders if they still wanted to win the race.

Öncü on the penultimate lap of the race resisted the pressure from Masia and Alonso as we headed into the last lap it could of been any of the top 3 to take the win. Munoz after a scare earlier settled for 4th.

THE LAST LAP 

Öncü lead into turn 1 as Alonso set the fastest lap of the race.  Alonso got by into 2nd place with only 6corners left of this San Marino Grand Prix.

Onto the final few corners of the race, Masia went up the inside of Alonso just as Alonso ran wide. Masia then dove up the inside of Öncü. 3 of them side by side through turn 14. Masia managed to block Öncü to take a position but opened the door for Alonso to swoop into the lead and hold on to take the win in Misano. What a last lap and what a win for the Colombian wonderkid David Alonso. The 3rd victory in the last 4 races for Alonso and took this win by just +0.036 seconds to Masia in 2nd. Öncü taking 3rd.

With Daniel Holgado finishing way down in 16th place, its set the championship alight. Only 21pts now separate the top 5 riders in the championship. With a brief break next week before we then set off to India. Sasaki, Masia, Öncü and now Alonso will all be thinking they can overtake Holgado and take championship glory.

Image Credit: MotoGP

Race Classification

Image Credit: MotoGP

Round 5 WorldSBK, Misano, Race 2

The earlier Superpole race saw Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing Ducati) claim his second win of the weekend, after the race was red flagged with only 3 laps remaining. Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) finished 2nd, with Rinaldi (Aruba.it Racing Ducati) rounding out the podium.

WorldSBK Round 5 Misano Picture courtesy of HRC

Conditions were again ideal for racing, and Bautista was looking to make it 14 wins out of 15 races so far this season. Doing so would cement his name in the history books as the first rider to achieve it. Iker Lecuona (Honda HRC) was declared unfit to race due to a leg injury sustained in the Superpole race.

Lights out then for race 2, and it was Toprak with the hole shot into turn 1 looking to make life difficult early on for Bautista. Bautista was in 2nd, Rinaldi 3rd, Bassani (Motocorsa Ducati) 4th, Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) 5th, Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) 6th. Both Kawasaki’s then got through on Bassani, moving Rea and Lowes into 4th, and 5th respectively. Vierge (Honda HRC) 7th, Locatelli (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorlsSBK) 8th, Redding (Rokit BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) 9th, and Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team) 10th.

Next lap of 21 laps and Bautista takes the lead for the first time using all the top end speed of the yellow Ducati to scream past Toprak down the straight.

With 19 laps to go, Toprak now had the other Ducati to worry about with Rinaldi sizing him up for the pass. He made the move stick and Rinaldi moved up into 2nd. Meanwhile Bassani got back past both factory Kawasaki’s and into 4th.

Next lap and Bautista had pulled out his lead to 1.6s. Further back it was Redding 10th, Oettl (Team GoEleven) 11th, and Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW) 12th.

With 16 laps to go, and a stark warning for the other riders, Bautista put in the new fastest lap a 1:33.936, and extended his lead to 2.7s in the process. Meanwhile further back Vierge had now caught the back of the factory Kawasaki team mates, and was also looking for the pass. In 3rd place Toprak held a gap of 2.6s over Bassani in 4th.

Then with 14 laps to go, drama for Alex Lowes who crashed out of the race, losing control of his Kawasaki before it plunged into the gravel. He looked unhurt, and was able to walk away.

Next lap and Redding got mugged by both the GYTR Yamahas, as first Gardner, and then Aegerter got past, 11th and 12th respectively. That dropped Redding down to 14th, and then Brad Ray (MotoxRacing Yamaha) seized the opportunity and dived through. Redding now in 15th, lost 3 places in a few corners, another disappointing race for the factory BMWs.

WorldSBK Round 5 Misano Picture courtesy of KRT

Just over half race distance and Redding had now dropped down to 17th, he seemed furious and could be seen shaking his head as he came past his pit board. Meanwhile at the front, Toprak was slowly reeling Rinaldi in and the gap was cut down to 0.2s.

With 8 laps remaining the factory BMWs were now in 16th and 17th, with the two satellite bikes of Gerloff and Baz ahead of them. The Texan, Gerloff, was best placed in 10th.

Next lap and Bautista had a commanding lead of 5.0s and was looking as comfortable as he had all season long. Meanwhile having caught Rinaldi, Toprak dived up the inside of the Italian to move into 2nd. The Turkish rider held a gap of 7.8s over Bassani in 4th. Bassani then held a gap of 1.0s over Rea, with Rea holding a gap of 1.9s over Vierge in 6th.

Not willing to concede his place to Toprak in front of his home fans, Rinaldi then ran into turn 1 too hot, collected the rear of Toprak in the process and crashed out. Toprak stayed upright and held onto his position, while Bassani was now in podium contention.

With only 5 laps remaining, Petrucci had now caught the back of Locatelli in 6th and was looking for the pass. Further back it was Oetll in 8th, Gerloff 9th, and Gardner in 10th. Drama for Baldassarri (GMT94 Yamaha) who went down into turn 3, his race was over.

With 3 laps to go, reigning BSB champion Brad Ray, seemed to suffer a mechanical issue and went back to the pits his race over. That allowed both Rokit BMWs of Sykes, and Redding to move up into 13th and 14th respectively.

WorldSBK Round 5 Misano Picture courtesy of KRT

Last lap, and Bautista crossed the line with a gap of 8.4s over Toprak in 2nd. That made it 14 wins of the first 15 races in a season, and moved him into the history books. Bassani 3rd, Rea 4th, Vierge 5th, Locatelli 6th, Petrucci 7th, Gerloff 8th, Oetll 9th, and Gardner 10th.

Result top 5:

  1. Bautista (Aruba.it Racing Ducati)
  2. Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK)
  3. Bassani (Motocorsa Ducati)
  4. Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK)
  5. Vierge (Honda HRC)

Championship top 3:

  1. Bautista – 298
  2. Razgatlioglu – 212
  3. Locatelli – 150

Round 4 WorldSBK Catalunya, Spain, Race 2

The earlier Superpole race saw Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing Ducati) claim yet another win, and make it 2/3 wins across the weekend so far. Could anyone break this Ducati dominance?

WorldSBK Catalunya, Spain, Round 4, Race 2. Picture courtesy of Honda Racing Corporation.

During the sighting lap rain began to fall, playing on the minds of the riders. Although it wasn’t enough to be declared a wet race.

Lights out then for race 2, and once again you guessed correct, it was Bautista with the holeshot into turn 1. Toprak (Pata Prometeon Yamaha WorldSBK) was in no mood to witness the Ducatis clear off into the distance again, and quickly launched an attack on both of them, getting through on Rinaldi (Aruba.it Racing Ducati), before passing Bautista into turn 5 to briefly take the lead. It was now the factory Ducatis 2nd and 3rd, with Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team) in 4th, and Locatelli (Pata Prometeon Yamaha WorldSBK) in 5th.

Next lap of the 20 lap race, and Bautista blasted past Toprak down the long straight and back into the lead. The Yamaha R1 had no answer to the power of the Ducati V4. Next was Rinaldi to pass Toprak and retake 2nd. Positions were as follows: 1. Bautista 2. Rinaldi 3. Lowes 4. Toprak 5. Locatelli 6. Vierge (Honda HRC) 7. Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team) 8. Lecuona (Honda HRC) 9. Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW) 10. Bassani (Motocorsa Ducati). Drama for a deflated Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) yet again, who crashed out of the race alongside Malaysian rider Syahrin (Petronas MIE Racing Honda Team). Both their races were over.

Next lap and Alex Lowes, who had an impressive start to the race made a great pass on Rinaldi to take 2nd. Meanwhile Kawasaki team mate Jonny Rea, who had only started in 10th after a DNF in the Superpole race, moved through on Vierge to take 6th. The light rain had cleared off, and the race was perfectly dry.

With 17 laps remaining Bautista had a gap of 0.3s to Lowes in 2nd. Rinaldi was in 3rd. Swiss rider Aegerter (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) was up to 10th after getting through on Bassani, who had opted for a harder SC0 front tyre which did not seem to be paying off. Further back Scott Redding (Rokit BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) was also struggling and was down in 13th.

Next lap and Rinaldi blasted past Lowes down the straight to retake 2nd. Both Lowes and Rinaldi were having much better rides compared to race 1. Meanwhile Bautista extended his lead to 1.2s. Further back Rea was looking to catch the leaders, and was sizing up Locatelli ahead of him for a pass.

With 14 laps to go Toprak out braked Lowes into turn 1 to move into 3rd. Both of the Ducatis were now clearing off into the distance, with Bautista holding a gap of 1.5s to his team mate. Positions were as follows: 1. Bautista 2. Rinaldi 3. Toprak 4. Lowes 5. Locatelli 6. Rea 7. Vierge 8. Lecuona 9. Gerloff 10. Aegerter.

With 12 laps remaining Bautista had now extended his lead to 2.3s. Rinaldi held a gap of 2.5s to Toprak in 3rd. Meanwhile Isaac Vinales (Team Perdercini) retires due to a mechanical issue. BSB current champion, Brad Ray (MotoxRacing Yamaha), was in 17th.

At half race distance there was a 4 way battle for 8th between Lecuona 8th, Aegerter 9th, Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing) 10th, and Gerloff 11th. Meanwhile at the front Bautista had extended his lead to 3.9s, while Rinaldi had a gap of 3.5s. Lowes held a gap of 1.0s to Locatelli in 5th.

With 7 laps remaining, Bautista was once again clear into the distance, out in front with an unassailable lead. Rea finally made his move on Locatelli to move into 5th. The day got worse for Scott Redding, as he was forced to retire due to a mechanical issue. Locatelli hadn’t given up his place lying down, and the young Italian was trying to put pressure back on Rea.

Next lap and positions were as follows: 1. Bautista 2. Rinaldi 3. Toprak 4. Lowes 5. Rea 6. Locatelli 7. Vierge 8. Lecuona 9. Aegerter 10. Gerloff.

With 4 laps left Bautista now had a commanding lead of 6.7s, while Rinaldi in 2nd had a gap of 3.2s.

WorldSBK Catalunya, Spain, Round 4, Race 2. Picture courtesy of Honda Racing Corporation.

Penultimate lap and Aegerter was all over the back of Vierge, and looking for a pass into 7th place. Further back Gardner (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) was in a disappointing 13th, after a good race 1 yesterday.

Last lap and it was Vierge who got through on Locatelli into 6th. Meanwhile Bautista crossed the line to make it 3/3 wins across the weekend, as well as his second clean sweep of wins in Catalunya. Toprak pipped Rinaldi to the line to take 2nd, driving up the inside of the last corner with much better traction, Rinaldi had lost massive time on the last lap, and his tyres were cooked. The race finished: 1. Bautista 2. Toprak 3. Rinaldi 4. Lowes 5. Rea 6. Vierge 7. Locatelli 8. Aegerter 9. Lecuona 10. Gerloff.

Result top 5:

  1. Bautista (Aruba.it Racing Ducati)
  2. Razgatlioglu (Pata Prometeon Yamaha WorldSBK)
  3. Rinaldi (Aruba.it Racing Ducati)
  4. Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team)
  5. Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team)

Championship top 3:

  1. Bautista – 236 pts
  2. Razgatlioglu – 167
  3. Locatelli – 133

 

 

Round 4 WorldSBK Catalunya, Spain, Race 1

Early May here in Barcelona, and already the temperatures were scorching, nearing 30 degrees Celsius air temperature, and 50 degrees on track.

WorldSBK Catalunya, Spain Round 4. Picture courtesy of WorldSBK

With news earlier in the week that reigning champion, Alvaro Bautista would be extending his contact with Aruba Ducati for at least another season, it all meant there would be no easing off of the gas. His rivals would need to step up the game if they had eyes on his world championship crown, or indeed stopping him in Catalunya this weekend.

Lights out then for Race 1, and it was Bautista (Aruba.it Racing Ducati) with the hole shot into turn 1, followed by his team mate Rinaldi behind in 2nd. Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) 3rd, Toprak (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) 4th, and Aegerter (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) in 5th.

Next lap and with Toprak mounting pressure on his team mate Locatelli, he did eventually make the move into turn 3, moving into 4th. Redding (Rokit BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) had been penalised grid positions for irresponsible riding and had to start from 16th, although he had made a great start and was now up to 11th. Drama for Oliver Konig (Orelac Racing Movisio) who went down into turn 4, and his race was over. At the front Bautista had a gap of 0.5s to Rinaldi behind in 2nd.

Next lap and positions were as follows: 1. Bautista 2. Rinaldi 3. Rea 4. Toprak 5. Locatelli 6. Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) 7. Aegerter 8. Vierge (Honda HRC) 9. Gardner (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) 10. Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK).

Then, with 17 laps remaining, the race is red flagged due to a crash by Eric Granado (Petronas MIE Racing Honda Team) into turn 12. He was conscious as they stretchered him off the track and taken to the medical centre. The race would be restarted with 17 laps still remaining.

Lights out then for the second time, and once again it was Bautista with the hole shot into turn 1, followed by Rinaldi 2nd, Bassani 3rd, Rea 4th, Locatelli 5th, and Toprak in 6th. Drama then for Redding as he seemed to slam into the back of Baldassarri (GMT94 Yamaha) into turn 10, both riders plunged into the gravel with bits of fairing everywhere, and their respective races were over. Meanwhile at the front, things were getting spicy between fellow Italians, Rinaldi and Bassani in the battle for 2nd, with Rea behind in 4th.

Next lap and Rinaldi barged up the inside of Bassani after the latter had briefly taken 2nd to retake the position, gloves were definitely off at this stage. As the ‘red mist’ descended, Bassani then stuffed it up the inside of Rinaldi into turn 10, although he caught the back of the Ducati in the process sending a helpless Rinaldi flying off into the gravel. Rinaldi was not at all happy, giving a sarcastic ’round of applause’ to his fellow countryman after that incident. Positions were as follows: 1. Bautista 2. Bassani 3. Rea 4. Toprak 5. Locatelli 6. Aegerter 7. Lowes 8. Vierge 9. Lecuona 10. Gardner.

With 14 laps left Bautista put in the new fastest lap, a 1:41.747, and held a gap of 1.8s to Bassani.

WorldSBK Catalunya, Spain Round 4. Picture courtesy of WorldSBK

Next lap and Bautista extended his lead to 2.3s. Meanwhile further behind Toprak was right on the back of Rea, and you sensed a pass was coming. The Kawasaki had previously struggled in very hot conditions. Meanwhile Bassani was given a long lap penalty for his contact with Rinaldi, which he immediately took and rejoined in 5th.

With 12 laps to go Bautista had now extended his lead to 4.1s to Rea who was now in 2nd, with Toprak behind in 3rd who had a gap of 1.2s to his team mate behind in 4th, Locatelli. Meanwhile further back it was, Aegerter 6th, Lowes 7th,  Vierge 8th, Gardner 9th, Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing) 10th, and Brad Ray (MotoxRacing Yamaha) 15th.

With just over half race distance covered, Bassani got back through on Locatelli into turn 10 to take 4th. Meanwhile further back there was a battle for 7th between Lecuona and Lowes. Further back again and there was a 3 way  battle for 9th between Vierge 9th, Gardner 10th, and Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW) 11th. The young Aussie, Gardner, then got through on Vierge to take 9th.

With 7 laps to go, Vinales crashed out into turn 10 his race was over. Meanwhile at the front and clear out in the lead, Bautista had now ramped his lead up to 8.6s, and looked comfortable, and was nearly out of sight of the chasers behind. Toprak was still right on the back of Rea, although the Kawasaki was looking much better in the hot conditions, and Rea was holding his own. Disappointment then for Lowes who went down into the downhill turn 7 losing the front end, he had been looking good up until that point. Toprak held a gap of 1.9s to Bassani behind in 4th.

With only 5 laps remaining Bautista now extended his lead to 9.5s and was making it look easy. Rea continued to hold off Toprak and held a gap of 0.3s.

Next lap and Locatelli retook 4th, getting through on Bassani. Bassani paying for his earlier fight with Rinaldi no doubt, as he was struggling with grip. Bassani was 5th, Aegerter 6th, Lecuona 7th, Vierge 8th, Gardner 9th, Gerloff 10th, with British rider Brad Ray in 14th.

With 3 laps to go, Aegerter was having a great race for a rookie, and took 5th getting through on Bassani, with a nice clean move up the inside of the Ducati. Meanwhile out of sight in the lead, Bautista was entering turn 1, as Rea and Toprak were entering the final corner onto the straight, such was his sizeable lead of 11s. Further back Petrucci was battling Gardner for 10th.

Last lap and Toprak eventually made his move on Rea down the straight and into turn 1, out braking the Kawasaki and getting his bike stopped as only Toprak can do, Rea had no answer and dropped into 3rd.

WorldSBK Catalunya, Spain Round 4. Picture courtesy of WorldSBK

Taking his first win of the weekend, and making an ominous statement with the dominance of it, Bautista crossed the line in 1st, followed by Toprak in 2nd, Rea 3rd, Locatelli 4th, Aegerter 5th, Lecuona 6th, Bassani 7th, Vierge 8th, Gerloff 9th, Petrucci 10th.

Result top 5:

  1. Bautista (Aruba.it Racing Ducati)
  2. Razgatlioglu (Pata Prometeon Yamaha WorldSBK)
  3. Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK)
  4. Locatelli (Pata Prometeon Yamaha WorldSBK)
  5. Aegerter (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorlsSBK)

Championship top 3:

  1. Bautista – 199 pts
  2. Razgatlioglu – 138
  3. Locatelli – 117

 

F1 Weekend Preview: It’s all Change for Baku

After what felt like an extremely long time, Formula 1 is back with a street race in Baku. However, while the winner and fastest team may be predictable, the weekend format has changed. There will be six sprint weekends this season, starting with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, but after a vote, the sprint weekend format is drastically different.

Sprint Saturday

At the last Sprint in Brazil Magnussen started on pole. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

For those that didn’t know, there was rumour and discussions amongst the teams regarding the structure of a sprint weekend from the start of the season. A vote was taken and it has been decided that qualifying for Sunday’s race will be on Friday with Saturday becoming ‘Sprint Saturdays’.

A one-hour Sprint Shootout will determine the grid for the Sprint just a few hours later. This makes Saturday a stand-alone day meaning teams don’t have to worry about where they finish affecting them for Sunday’s Grand Prix. 

The reason for this is that Pirelli hasn’t been able to make enough tyres for the season so this is the solution Formula 1 has come up with. Another reason will likely be in the name of entertainment for the viewer. 

There will be many opinions floating around about the changes, but this will be the format for all six events this year so we will have to wait until the last one to see if this is a format that will work for Formula 1 in the future.

Formula 1 Cars on track again

It has been a month since we last saw the teams take to the track in Melbourne for what ended up being a chaotic race with many controversies and lots to talk about. However, we are now back on the streets of Baku but the results could be a familiar story.

Verstappen won in Australia but the other teams weren’t too far behind. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

Red Bull will likely be very dominant again with their overall raw pace. But in the break, other teams have been able to go away and develop their cars because, unlike in the summer, there has been no mandatory factory shutdown. 

With this in mind we could see Alonso push his way past the Mercedes, or will they have done enough to stay ahead? George Russell has said there will be plenty of changes to the car for this race.

For those long-suffering Ferrari fans they will have their fingers crossed the team managed to pull out some development to make their car and strategy more reliable, while McLaren fans will be hoping for more pace. There are many reasons to watch this weekend but the progression of some teams will go unnoticed but is worth keeping an eye on.

A sport or a show? F1 keeps finding itself on the wrong side of the line

First things first, sport is meant to be entertaining. The unpredictability, the drama, and the displays of skill and athleticism are all reasons why we watch it. 

The third standing start of the day caused chaos in the first corner. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Sometimes Formula One falls short on the first two, hence the introduction of the budget cap, sprint races and many other rule changes brought in over the years in an attempt to ‘spice up the racing’. How ironic it is that on the weekend where Michael Masi returned to the F1 paddock for the first time since Abu Dhabi 2021, the talk is once again about how the rules have been applied in ways they weren’t intended – and the debate on how far Formula One should go to supply entertainment reignited once again.

It looked like the race was heading to a very predictable conclusion, with Max Verstappen cruising to victory, as Lewis Hamilton looked to be doing just enough to hold on to second from Fernando Alonso. That predictability was shattered, however, when Kevin Magnussen lost a tyre after hitting the wall. The Dane pulled off-track, but with his left rear stricken on the racing line, people’s thoughts understandably turned to a virtual, or even a full, safety car. This was initially the case before the decision was made to red flag the race, as the amount of debris on the circuit would have led to the race finishing under the safety car.

Many drivers voiced their astoundment at this decision, both during and after the race. There had already been one red flag, after Alex Albon had crashed out, in another situation where it seemed like a safety car would be sufficient. This second stoppage meant there would only be two laps of racing action left, effectively giving fans a super short sprint race. Which turned out to last less than a sector, with three accidents before turn three leading to a final stoppage, and the race finishing under the safety car – exactly the scenario that the race directors were trying to avoid.

The red flag led to what could be known as ‘Schrodinger’s lap 56’. On the one hand, the lap never happened, as the final restart was carried out using the positions from the end of lap 55. On the other hand, both Alpines, Nyck de Vries and Logan Sargeant had been eliminated from the race in the chaos, with Carlos Sainz receiving a 5-second penalty for spinning Alonso, even though the Aston Martin had now technically lost nothing in the spin. In normal situations, a 5-second penalty is annoying, but this penalty effectively equalled a disqualification, dropping Sainz to the back of the field with no chance of recovery.

Of course, safety has to come first in Formula One, and the safest way of clearing up debris after an accident is ensuring that no cars can come near the marshals, hence the need for safety cars and red flags. But the amount of red flags and safety cars in recent seasons has led to rumblings that they are used as a tool to close up the pack and inject excitement into races which seems a foregone conclusion. This alone isn’t a bad thing, as long as it is clear when this is going to happen, so viewers, drivers and teams aren’t left guessing what decision the FIA will make today. Team bosses made comments in a similar vein, with Christian Horner and Toto Wolff being in rare disagreement that they want to see races finish under a green flag, but it should be clear what the procedure is with late-race incidents.

Fans want to be left on the edge of their seats by what they are seeing out on track. If it feels necessary to stop a race to add to that excitement, then perhaps the sport has bigger problems that no amount of flag-waving will solve.

 

 

RedBull on Pole but no Front Row Lock Out

Perez took pole while his teammate suffered a driveshaft issue in Q2 meaning he will start P15. Alonso was unable to capitalise on his speed in practice, managing P3 with Leclerc getting P2 before his penalty is applied. This is how it happened during Qualifying.

Q1 began like normal, with the faster teams choosing to stay back while everyone else took to the track. It wasn’t long before the incidents started to bring out the yellow flags.

De Vries nearly caused the first red flag of Qualifying by locking up and spinning into turn 1. However, he was able to use the run-off and get his car going again.

With 10 minutes to go, Norris made contact with the wall on the way into turn 27. The team worked hard to get his car back out, hoping for a red flag but unfortunately, they couldn’t make it work. Norris will start in P19 and was forced to watch as his teammate went front strength to strength.

Alonso warming up for his spin. Image courtesy of Aston Martin F1 Media

Alonso went for a quick spin on his first fast-lap run. He managed to keep the car out of the wall by completing a full 360. He appeared to get on the power early out of turn 10, he overwhelmed the rears and went around.

There were plenty more mistakes in Q1 than in any of the practice sessions. The drivers were complaining about the track, saying it was not where they wanted it but had to stick to the strategy. The grip just wasn’t with them in the session after the Formula 2 race.

After having a lap time deleted for track limits at turn 27, Sargent spun, bringing out only a yellow flag as he got going again. He lit up the rears heading through turns 22 and 23 which he had been having problems with all weekend. 

Alpha Tauri tried to recover from De Vries’ incident but they seemed to be having poor luck in Jeddah. Both drivers were out in Q1 with Tsunoda in P16 and De Vries in P18.

Williams joined them with Albon couldn’t make it out of Q1 but qualified P17 while Sargent still had issues getting a lap together and damaged the car on his final run meaning he goes away in P20.

De Vries making his way around Jeddah. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Area

Q2 has most people out on soft tyres, apart from RedBull, who at this point could potentially come out on the wet tyres and still go fastest.

9 minutes left and Verstappen came over the radio with what he thought was an engine issue. He managed to limp home for the team to have a look at the car and potentially solve the problem. However, within seconds of being back in the garage, the double-world champion was out of the car and out of qualifying. RedBull have since reported it as a driveshaft issue. Cue an angry Verstappen making his way through the pack on Sunday.

Meanwhile, his teammate set a lap time good enough for P2, just behind Alonso. Behind them, Sainz had a big moment narrowly missing the wall and being able to carry on. In P11 with only 2 minutes to go, it was very important for the Spaniard to put in a good lap.

Alfa Romeo and Haas went about qualifying very quietly but had strong sessions each. They made up the remainder of the eliminated cars from Q2, joining Verstappen. 

Out in Q2, Hulkenburg, Zhou, Magnussen, Bottas, and Verstappen.

Q3 seemed to be wide open now that Verstappen was out. However, we were looking at a potential pole for Alonso for the first time since 2012. Perez was out to stop that and pick up the pieces of his teammate’s problems.

The First runs were done, and Perez was half a second in front of Leclerc in P2 with Russell in P3. Alonso wasn’t far behind but it appeared there was more pace to come out from the only RedBull in the session. 

Both Alpines made it into the top 10 for a strong qualifying for both drivers after a not-so-great weekend in Bahrain. Ocon starts in P6 while Gasly starts in P9. Piastri joined them for his first Q3 session and made a good effort against his more experienced rivals, but starts P8 with Leclerc’s penalty.

Hamilton was not able to get the most out of the car. Image courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

Hamilton will not be pleased with starting P7. Still unable to adapt to the car properly while Russell starts in P3 after Leclerc’s penalty is applied. This was the story for the Silver Arrows during qualifying who had a generally mixed session. However, in a race that has a 100% chance of a safety car, they will be looking to use their reliability to gain points tomorrow. 

Ferrari had a decent qualifying for them, but none of that matters with Leclerc’s penalty. He will start P11 while Sainz will start P4, alongside Russell. If they want to mount a challenge on Verstappen and RedBull this season they will need to take advantage of having the reigning world champion behind them suffering from reliability issues.

Tomorrow will be an extremely interesting race to watch with Verstappen and Leclerc starting out of position and Alonso hunting down the remaining RedBull at the front of the pack. Can Russell take advantage of his good starting position or will Sainz get ahead? Will there be a safety car or red flag which changes the race, probably, but it’s worth watching to find out.

F1 Race Weekend Preview: Under the Lights for Race 2

2023 has officially begun with RedBull dominance in the desert. We move to the updated streets of Jeddah for race two. Most F1 fans will be hoping that this isn’t a continuing trend throughout the season, especially Ferrari and McLaren fans. However, Leclerc already has reason to potentially write off 2023 as a championship year. Aston Martin could be the surprise challenger for the season. 

Ferrari are on the back foot… already.

Leclerc before being forced to retire in Bahrain. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Area

If you haven’t heard by now, Charles Leclerc heads into the weekend with a 10-place grid penalty for taking a third Control Electronics power unit, taking him over the allocation for the season. The collective pain of the long-suffering Ferrari fans could be heard across the globe as the penalty was announced.

This comes after he was running in P3 before retiring at the side of the track in Bahrain having replaced his Energy Store and Control Electronics on his engine before the race began. 

While we will be hoping that Ferrari’s can sort out their reliability issues quickly this season, fans can take some solace from the curse of the first race winner. Since 2017, the driver who won the opening round has not gone on to win the championship, and last season Verstappen retired from the race before becoming a double world champion. So maybe Ferrari’s fortune will change?

Can Aston Martin be the 2023 underdogs?

Alonso coming home in P3 in Bahrain. Image courtesy of Aston Martin F1 Media

In a surprise to everyone who watched last season, Aston Martin have stepped up their game and look like real challengers for the 2022 top three. Alonso finished on the podium and pulled off some great moves, while a recovering Stroll managed to get P6, just behind Lewis Hamilton.

Mercedes had originally thought they would be fighting for wins or at least challenging for more podiums against Ferrari and RedBull, but now they are looking at a battle for third in the constructor’s championship with Aston Martin. 

As we visit different circuits throughout the year this will show off the different strengths of the teams so it will be interesting to see how the Mercedes factory team measures up to a Mercedes engine customer team during the season. 

Track changes. 

Saudi Arabia has provided us with an extremely fast circuit since 2021 and that is not about to change. They have, however, taken on some feedback from the drivers and adapted some of the corners to help with the visibility of the racing line. 

They have moved the walls at turns 8, 10, 14 and 20, with rumble strips added to the latter two to help the drivers know when they are outside track limits. 

They have also tweaked a few of the kerbs to deal with the newer cars while the chicane at turns 22 and 23 has been tightened to reduce speeds.

The clam before the storm in Jeddah. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Area

Qualifying on Saturday starts at 5pm GMT and the Race is at 5pm GMT on Sunday.

2023 Bahrain GP

The opening race of the 2023 F1 season was dominated by the RedBull team and the defending world champion Max Verstappen. His teammate Sergio Perez and the resurgent Fernando Alonso in the Aston Martin followed him home.

The race start. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

From the start Verstappen led away Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari, into turn 4 the Aston Martins came together but avoided damage after Stroll out-braked himself and clipped Alonso. This incident let the Mercedes drivers through to settle into P5 and 6.

Once the field had settled down Alonso started to close on Russell in the Mercedes, by lap 13 he had closed it completely and had a great battle with the British driver and eventually came out on top.

Further behind the McLarens weren’t having the greatest start to the season, Piastri retiring on lap 15 and Norris having issues meaning he had to pit numerous times and leaving him at the back of the field.

By lap 20 the first stops were completed and the field settled down. During the stops Ocon served a time penalty for a start-line procedure breach, unfortunately, he then gained another penalty for not serving the penalty correctly.

Verstappen was now leading by over 10 seconds but carrying on with soft tyres whereas every other team had moved to the hard compound.

Perez was now catching Leclerc and by lap 26 he was ahead of the Ferrari and moving to P2. Sainz in the second Ferrari was 4th but had fallen further behind and didn’t seem in the fight all weekend.

Mercedes tried to pit early to try and keep Alonso at bay but once the stops were over Alonso quickly caught Hamilton and after a great 2-lap battle the Spaniard pulled ahead and started to pull away in search of Sainz in the Ferrari.

Ferraris reliability issues then struck again with Leclerc stopping on track causing a brief VSC.

Once that was cleared Alonso set after Sainz and overtook him shortly after to move up to P3 and into the podium positions.

After 57 laps Max Verstappen crossed the line to take win 36 of his career, Perez second ahead of Alonso completing the podium. Behind them came Sainz, Hamilton, an impressive Stroll racing with two fractured wrists and a broken toe finished sixth.

Seventh was Russell in the second Mercedes, then Bottas, Gasly and Albon an impressive tenth in the Williams.

Eleventh was Tsunoda ahead of Sergeant, Magnussen, De Vries and Hulkenberg. The last two finishers were Zhou and Norris.

The only retirees were Ocon, Leclerc and Piastri.

After such a dominant performance RedBull will be confident they can once again dominate the season but with Aston Martin making big gains and Mercedes planning a big upgrade already, we will have to wait and see how the season progresses.

Round 2 is in Saudi Arabia in 2 weeks, Can they start to catch up already, we will have the answers in 14 days’ time.

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