So where were we? After five weeks the memory needs a refresh, but a quick glance at the world championship classification is enough for the memories to resurface once again. The holidays are over and on Friday the MotoGP riders will be back on track for the first of two consecutive GPs in Austria, the start of the last part of the 2021 season that so far has only seen one rider dominate, and that’s Fabio Quartararo.
It goes without saying that he is the man to beat, the Frenchman has won 4 of the first 9 races and the tally could have been even better without problems with his arm in Jerez and his leathers in Spain. Fabio has not only been fast, but also very consistent and in fact he is the only rider to have crossed the finish line in every Grand Prix. In other words, he’s a pretty tough customer to deal with for all his opponents. The plural in this case is a must, because at the halfway point it cannot be said that there is any real opponent for the Yamaha rider.
If we look at the standings, we find Zarco 34 points behind, Bagnaia 47 and Mir 55, three riders however, who have not managed to score even one victory. One point further behind (-56) is Miller, who has won two races, then Vinales at -61 and Oliveira another 10 points down. Here we have to stop, because the heart could also put Marquez among the eligible candidates, but the brain prevents it for the moment.
So let's go back to the Red Bull Ring, a track designed for Ducati and KTM, less so for Yamaha, which in any case doesn’t go so badly even on those straights if Quartararo scored a podium in 2019. In any case, for Fabio, they could be two weekends of (relative) suffering and for the red bikes an opportunity not to be missed if they want to continue to have dreams of winning the world championship. Because the maths, as we have seen, is on the side of the Frenchman and someone now need to start drastically reducing his advantage.
In Borgo Panigale they have at least three riders who can win (Pecco, Jack and Johann) and they have to do it, perhaps even by monopolizing the podium, and at this point the face of the championship could really change. Even KTM and Honda could lend a hand, not to mention that Vinales is now a maverick and it is difficult for him to think about team orders. The real problem is that with 'ifs' you will never win the World Championship, so you have to go from theory to practice and here the Austrian double-header takes on a completely different aspect. It is no longer a battle with Quartararo, but also internally within Ducati to see who becomes the brand and team leader.
On paper, it could be anyone. Bagnaia is constantly improving and, if we ignore the error at Mugello, he has managed to do well even on tracks where the Desmosedici usually struggles. Miller is the only one who has managed to win but he is still in search of consistency, something that Zarco has never lacked, and in fact the Frenchman is the best placed in the standings. In other words, all three have shown strengths and weaknesses and now the time has come to eliminate the latter, just like Quartararo did.
Continuing with the ups and downs would only mean playing Fabio's game, so in a couple of weeks we will have to figure out who is the red hunter chasing the blue hare. Assuming that Ducati manages to maintain its advantage at the Red Bull Ring, a question that (as we learned in Qatar) only the track can answer…