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10 things we learned from the 2023 MotoGP Spanish Grand Prix

From the reigning champion returning to form to a past master again showing his class and stewarding in the spotlight once more, there were plenty of talking points from MotoGP's visit to Jerez

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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Francesco Bagnaia bounced back to prove critics wrong with victory in the MotoGP Spanish Grand Prix.

Back-to-back grand prix crashes for Bagnaia had resumed doubts about his ability to handle pressure, but the Ducati rider brushed those aside at Jerez with his second main race victory of the season.

He now leads the championship again by 22 points heading to France, while KTM emerged from Jerez celebrating double podiums in the grand prix and the sprint to perhaps begin a genuine title challenge in 2023.

Yamaha and Honda continued to battle their inferior machinery, while FIM stewarding overshadowed everything as several penalty calls drew unified criticism.

Elsewhere, an old star returned to remind the world just why he is one of MotoGP’s best, while a new initiative from the FIM and Dorna Sports aims to improve gender equality in motorcycle racing.

With four rounds now in the history books, it’s time to look at the 10 things we learned from the 2023 MotoGP Spanish Grand Prix.

1. Bagnaia's rebound ability remains unrivalled

Bagnaia bounced back from tricky events in style

Bagnaia bounced back from tricky events in style

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Regardless of whether conditions in Argentina and America were tricky or not, the cold hard fact of the matter is that Bagnaia surrendered 45 points with two costly grand prix crashes.

After Austin, he blamed his Ducati for being too perfect and stable for his crash, as it was stopping him from truly feel what was going on with the front-end of his bike. He seemed to roll back on this on Thursday at Jerez, but the inevitable questions about his handling of pressure arose.

Bagnaia has, for the most part, always come across well in interviews and press conferences. And, while there was no venom in his response about the fact he’s crashed out of the lead on four occasions in his career, the fact he was fielding such a query clearly rankled.

At the end of Friday’s action, as he sat outside of the Q2 spots and battled a lack of front-end feeling, the weekend ahead looked tough. But his team found what he needed from the bike, he qualified fifth and finished second in the sprint.

But it was his grand prix performance that truly stunned. Brushing aside a questionable penalty (more on that later) mid-race, Bagnaia looked like a world champion. A stunning lap 19 of 24, in which he set the fastest lap of the race and wiped out Brad Binder’s lead, set him on a collision course with victory.

Pointing to the number one plate on his Ducati in parc ferme, a point had well and truly been proven.

“Sincerely, it was more for me, for my ego because it’s always too easy to criticise from outside and you don’t know from the inside what happened,” he said. “So, I think this race is a race from the number one and I’m very happy to respond to COTA with a win. So, it’s great.”

2. Yamaha's season already looks over

It was another weekend to forget for Yamaha

It was another weekend to forget for Yamaha

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

When your previous worst qualifying result at a circuit is second, the new-low being 16th is a stinging indictment of just how far off the pace your motorcycle is. That was the case for Fabio Quartararo and Yamaha in Spain.

Quartararo noted after a difficult Friday that the M1 has lost the strong points it used to have at Jerez four years ago, and told French TV after he finished the sprint in 12th that Yamaha is “sleeping more than it’s doing good things” with the motorcycle.

In the pre-event press conference, a number of riders picked Quartararo as their tip to win. After all, he did so twice in 2020 and was second in 2022. In the grand prix, (controversial long lap penalty aside, and more on that later) he only finished 10th because others in front of him dropped out.

Bearing in mind that there have been 48 extra points available in the first four rounds of 2023 due to the sprints, Quartararo has scored four fewer (40) than he did at the same stage of the 2022 campaign (44).

“Was bad,” Quartararo said about his pace in the grand prix. “I will try to be really clear about that. In the warm-up, I have never been that fast on a medium tyre. I mean, in 1m37.1s with a lot of fuel. We have these two problems, which is the time attack, but also I was behind Augusto [Fernandez] for 10 laps and there is no way for me to get close and try an overtake.

“For me, in the race we are close to one second slower than what we can do. In the morning, 1m37.1s, low temperature can be OK. But today our pace is 1m38.0s, 1m38s high. We were not able to make any laps. As soon as I overtake someone and I have a gap, I am able to ride better, but then I catch another rider. So, this is the problem. I’m fast, I’m riding well, but there are some situations that I cannot control.”

Throughout the weekend, Quartararo complained about the bike also not turning well. Yamaha will have some new items to try in the post-race test at Jerez on Monday but, even with such a long way to go in 2023, there’s nothing to suggest that Quartararo and Yamaha can fight for the title.

3. Marquez's continued absence shows how much he's learned from past injury woes

Marquez has seemingly learned from his previous mistake

Marquez has seemingly learned from his previous mistake

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

The fact Marc Marquez had to sit out a third-successive race in the Spanish Grand Prix was an immensely disappointing piece of news.

Even when the Honda is performing badly, Marquez is pure box office and is still MotoGP’s biggest draw in terms of fan interest. On top of that, with Alex Rins ending Honda’s victory drought in America a fortnight ago, we’ve not been able to see what his on-track response to that would be.

But it was for good reason that the eight-time world champion was absent from the Spanish GP and one that shows just how far he has come in terms of respecting his body from the rider that tried to return to action at Jerez days after surgery on a badly broken arm back in 2020.

Fracturing his right thumb in his controversial Portuguese GP crash, Marquez had surgery immediately after the season-opener and had hoped to be given the all-clear for Spain. But three medical teams advised him against it, as they anticipated a six-to-eight-week recovery time – not four.

They reasoned he could suffer career-ending damage to his thumb if he overstressed it, given it’s attached to his throttle and braking hand. That was enough to keep Marquez at bay.

“When three medical teams say that you are doing a crazy thing and if you ride you will damage again, then you must accept,” Marquez said. “But the main risk was not crashing: it was the pressure on the handlebar, I will damage again. Especially because it's a very small crack, but it's a crack that gives the stability to the finger.

“And this finger is one of the most important ones, especially on the braking point. I broke that bone in that kind of situation: it was an impact and that kind of situation I will repeat every brake point. So, the problem is, if I injure it again, they tell me it would be big damage, not only for three months more but also for my career because now they were able to fix it in a very good way.

“But if I re-injure that, maybe it could be the end of my career because it's a very important finger. So, for that reason, it was an easy decision. When three medical teams say to you that you will get injured again if you ride, it's an easy decision even if you are 30-years-old, 20, or if you are 15. You cannot be against the doctors. They are the professional ones.”

4. FIM stewarding reaching critical point

Quartararo was baffled by lack of explanation of his penalty

Quartararo was baffled by lack of explanation of his penalty

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

The 2023 MotoGP season is barely over a month old and much of that time has been taken up by conversations about FIM stewarding. After the Portuguese GP, it became clear that trust between riders and stewards had totally eroded.

If things were bad a month ago, it wouldn’t be unfair to suggest that the situation is at a breaking point now.

Over the course of the grand prix, there were several questionable calls. Franco Morbidelli was handed a long lap for an incident in the sprint race, with the stewards punishing him for what they deemed was irresponsible riding.

Team-mate Quartararo was handed an identical penalty for an identical incident on lap one of the grand prix. Both were widely considered to be racing incidents. Quartararo said afterwards that “no clear explanation” was offered to Yamaha when it pressed the stewards about his penalty.

Later in the grand prix, Bagnaia was ordered to drop one spot for an aggressive – but absolutely on the limit – overtake on Jack Miller. The Australian several laps later made a much more aggressive move on Jorge Martin, which cost the Spaniard two positions. No penalty was awarded.

The FIM stewards are set to meet with riders at the French GP in two weeks to discuss its penalty process.

The riders must band together to hold this inconsistent stewarding accountable as, for the good of MotoGP, this cannot keep happening.

5. KTM 2023's real threat if it can find consistency

Binder was on form at Jerez but KTM lacks consistency

Binder was on form at Jerez but KTM lacks consistency

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

KTM genuinely seemed like it was in the doldrums during pre-season testing. But, four rounds into 2023, it’s scored two sprint victories with Brad Binder and celebrated a double podium in the grand prix.

As Yamaha and Honda flounder, and the Aprilia’s full potential is yet to be tapped into, the KTM looks like the grid’s second-best bike right now behind the Ducati. Its engine is strong, both in the acceleration phase (KTM led every start into Turn 1 at Jerez last weekend) and in top speed, as Bagnaia didn’t easily munch his way past Miller and Binder in the two races.

The bike drives out of the corners better than it used to and looks much stronger in the corners, while it’s no longer handicapped by being forced to run harder front tyres.

Miller is a quick rider and Binder is arguably a generational talent waiting to be unleashed. It’s a combination that can put KTM in the title fight, but both the riders and the manufacturer need to find consistency.

Binder crashed in the last two GPs and Miller threw away a podium in America. Qualifying also needs to be improved, with Jerez just the second time this season a factory KTM rider qualified higher than the fourth row.

“Well, my 2020 bike, the MotoGP field has come on so far since 2020,” Binder said when asked if this is the best RC16 he’s raced. “Every single year things have gotten so much more competitive, the bikes are so much better. And I have no doubt this is the biggest step we’ve made towards the front. I’m loving my bike at the moment, it gives me a lot of confidence. I’m grateful to be in this position right now where I feel I’ve got a fantastic machine underneath me, and it’s up to me to produce the goods.”

6. Pedrosa proves class is permanent at Jerez

Pedrosa set the pace in practice on Friday

Pedrosa set the pace in practice on Friday

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Dani Pedrosa’s wildcard outing at the Spanish GP for KTM rolled back the clock and offered a reminder why he deserves to be considered one of the greats of the modern era.

Racing in just his second grand prix since retiring at the end of 2018, Pedrosa’s Jerez outing was no mere jolly. It was a useful testing exercise to understand more about the KTM in racing conditions, which he isn’t afforded when he carries out his day job.

Pedrosa has forgotten more about the Jerez circuit than most will ever know, and he recently tested at the venue. But that takes nothing away from the fact he stepped into a bearpit in FP1 and went fastest. Ending Friday third overall, he qualified sixth and finished there in his first experience of the sprint.

The 31-time MotoGP race winner was seventh in the GP, 0.042 seconds behind Luca Marini. Admitting that the new schedule did take its toll on him physically, Pedrosa showed how permanent class is – and it’s something that didn’t go unnoticed either.

“I give this weekend a 10, because everything went very well,” Pedrosa said. “On the lap on top of the bus [the fan parade after warm-up] I almost began to cry. The reception was incredible, both from the fans and from the other riders. I understand that it is difficult to be competing and supporting a rival, but it has been very nice on their part.”

7. Honda misery reminiscent of Ducati's post-Rossi struggles

It was back to reality for Rins after win last time out

It was back to reality for Rins after win last time out

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Alex Rins was right to keep his feet on the ground after his Americas GP win, because Jerez really was like starting from scratch.

The highest-placed Honda in the grand prix was Takaaki Nakagami in ninth for LCR, as Joan Mir and Rins crashed. Rins was HRC’s highest-placed runner in the sprint in 13th, while 11th on the grid is where you found the first Honda in the form of Nakagami.

What Jerez proved is that Rins did a stellar job of masking the Honda’s acceleration and turning deficiencies in America, as all HRC riders struggled in Spain.

Honda has tried new things to help resolve its woes, like working with Kalex on chassis components and bringing in ex-Suzuki technical chief Ken Kawauchi. But Kawauchi had no hand in the development of the 2023 RC213V, and so much of this year will be about learning what’s wrong before he can move the project forward.

In many ways, it’s not dissimilar to Gigi Dall’Igna’s first year as Ducati general manager back at the end of 2013 to spearhead bike development. It wouldn’t be until 2016 that Ducati would finally win a race again, which ultimately built the foundations of its 2022 title.

Of course, what Ducati lacked that Honda has is an otherworldly talent in Marc Marquez (once he’s fit), which should speed things along. But, for now, Honda is stuck.

8. No one can agree on what is truly to blame for first-lap chaos in 2023

Oliveira has twice been the victim of early race clashes

Oliveira has twice been the victim of early race clashes

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

In both MotoGP races at Jerez, there was a red-flag incident on the opening lap. In three of the four sprints, there was a tangle on the first tour, while four riders have found themselves with injuries (Oliveira twice, Marc Marquez, Enea Bastianini, Mir) from incidents that have taken place in the first three laps of races in 2023.

There are several theories for this. The first, which Franco Morbidelli believes strongly in, is the Michelin front tyre is causing the problem. He says it stops working as it should when you are in a pack as the front pressure and temperatures shoot up.

He believes the rush to get clear air in the early corners of a race to keep your tyre good is what led to the Jerez chaos.

“Now it looks like the bike technology outweighs the tyres,” Morbidelli explained. “The tyres are good, but they have a weak point, that in hot conditions the performance drops and everything goes according to the front temperature and the front pressure.

“The problem is that you gain one position and you’re most likely going to keep it because, with this tyre situation, every position is big time important. You saw that, and everybody tries to risk and gamble in the beginning to have this big reward. If you know that you can keep your potential in the race, you will be much more cautious in the first laps.”

Others feel the chaos is simply down to riders being too aggressive trying to make up for bad qualifying results.

“That’s like complaining on the motorway Michelin caused you to crash your car on the motorway when you had too many champagnes,” Jack Miller said. “I mean, it was clearly a bit optimistic, both Fabio and Morbidelli. OK, we know that you need to be in the front to fight for these victories. But it’s not Michelin’s fault that you qualified in 10th or 11th. This is ridiculous.”

Bagnaia offered up the fact Jerez is narrow and the first corners are generally bottlenecks at tight tracks like that.

It seems it’s a combination: riders have to be more wary of the behaviour of the Michelin front tyres, but work to improve your starting position and be more cautious to avoid first-lap tangles.

If only it were that simple.

9. Jerez should be positioned as MotoGP's Monaco

The Jerez venue should be celebrated

The Jerez venue should be celebrated

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Veteran MotoGP journalist Mat Oxley likes to encourage his readers every year the Spanish GP rolls around to put on Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond on grand prix Sunday, as a nod to the old circuit announcer who would do so as mist shrouded the swathes of fans packed on the hillsides early in the morning.

MotoGP has struggled to get fans through the door for a few years now, but there was a bit of magic about this year’s Spanish GP. A total of 163,479 fans turned up across the 2023 weekend, with 79,625 in for Sunday.

With former NBA marketing chief Dan Rossomondo looking at how he can take MotoGP to a new level and get it to more people, it’s time the series stamps out its jewel in the calendar – just as Formula 1 has done with the Monaco Grand Prix.

On the current calendar, only Assen has hosted more races than Jerez. The Spanish venue is just as old-school too and the crowd reception is always feverous.

At 6am on Sunday, the hills were already packed with eager fans, who lit up the early morning lifting of darkness with the lights on their mobile phones. That’s a type of atmosphere you just can’t artificially manufacture.

With no real big event in MotoGP, perhaps it’s time to make the Spanish GP at Jerez the series’ Monaco.

10. FIM's new Women's World Championship a good idea at the wrong level

New WWC may not be the right method to attract more women into bike racing

New WWC may not be the right method to attract more women into bike racing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

During the Spanish GP weekend, the FIM and Dorna Sports announced what it believes is the next big step in gender equality in motorcycle racing with its new Women’s World Championship.

The series will begin in 2024 and will form part of the World Superbike bill, taking place over six rounds on spec machinery.

The championship is being billed as a “final destination” for racers, rather than a talent cup. There weren’t many details offered up as the project is still developing. And while it’s good that more work is being done to further gender equality (which should also extend to trans inclusion) in motorcycle racing, the FIM Women’s World Championship seems like a half-baked idea that doesn’t target the real issue.

With all due respect, women will see no benefit of being crowned world champion of a series that is a glorified support class that organisers claim will be barely at Supersport levels of machinery.

FIM president Jorge Viegas insisted those racing in the WWC would not be forbidden from competing in other series, and it was suggested that perhaps in the future the success of the championship could open up the possibility of female talent cups.

Ultimately, where all of this resource needs to go is to the grassroots level. The biggest hurdle facing true gender equality in motorcycle racing is the fact there aren’t enough girls getting involved at a young age. If you target genuine solutions further down the tree, you increase the talent pool and the search for talented racers to get up to the highest levels of competition becomes much easier.

The reality of that, though, is building something from the ground up requires a lot of commitment and money to sustain it. Given the WWC press conference was fronted by four people, three of whom were middle-aged to elderly men, it’s not really surprising that a truly long-term solution wasn’t considered.

As Ana Carrasco proved in 2018 when she won the World Supersport 300 championship – the first female to win a world circuit racing title – there isn’t any physiological barriers for gender equality. The real barrier is currently an apparent lack of willingness to recognise and address the real issue of the lack of a grassroots platform for women.

Ana Carrasco won the 2018 World Supersport 300 title - but true progress for women in motorcycle circuit racing is yet to come

Ana Carrasco won the 2018 World Supersport 300 title - but true progress for women in motorcycle circuit racing is yet to come

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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