MotoGP Portimao II: Race Weekend Preview

03/11/2021 |

Image: GeeBee Pictures

MotoGP returns to Portugal for their second visit to the Algarve roller coaster in 2021 but one key player is missing – Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez.

The 2021 FIM MotoGP World Champion may already be determined, but there is still a lot at stake this season. There are still two grand prix left and there is also a fight for the team and constructors’ crowns.

The next stop is a return ticket to the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve while the paddock prepares for the Grande Premio Brembo do Algarve. It won’t include the additional presence of a stronger marquez, however, as the eight-time world champion is taking a precautionary break after suffering a slight concussion in training on Saturday.

However, an exact repetition of the Portuguese GP would probably do the newly crowned champion Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) good. The French dominated our first visit and led a top three on the podium, which exactly reflects the ranking of 2021. If there hasn’t been a riot since then, that’s no problem at all for El Diablo – especially since the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP team arrives with a 13 point lead in the team standings. But Quartararo was already in full swing at the beginning of the season, which presumably met Francesco Bagnaia from Ducati Lenovo a little later.

The other obstacle to Bagnaia’s task of staying with Quartararo on the first lap in Portugal was a roller coaster qualifying, where one lap was canceled for track limits and another for a yellow flag. He lost 10 places behind Quartararo on the starting grid, but Bagnaia and Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) stormed from 11th and 9th to second and third respectively. Now Bagnaia comes up with the last four pole positions … so the reasonable bet is that the Italian will have to repeat his comeback on the second take.

Meanwhile, Mir and Suzuki arrive hoping to repeat that podium but are still looking for some Saturday secrets. The 2020 champion has never had a first row in MotoGP and despite five podiums this season he has a best of five in 2021 and that – at the Styrian GP – is the only time that he has started in the first two rows this season is. That is a lot of extra work on Sunday and after a crash in Misano he comes from 18th position on the rear foot as well. However, his performance in Portugal last time was impressive and that will have a positive effect on the way there – as is the reappearance of Valencia on the horizon, the site of his first MotoGP win.

Another positive aspect, as the Hamamatsu factory wants to push forward, will be the pace that Mir’s team-mate Alex Rins showed on the first visit to Portugal. The Spaniard eventually crashed but was able to stay with Quartararo until then. Can Suzuki come out and challenge again at the Algarve GP?

Ducati and Yamaha won’t hope so as Suzuki is out of the race in the team and constructors’ championship but could make life difficult for the leading duo. The aforementioned 13-point lead for Monster Energy Yamaha in the team standings is an advantage over the Ducati Lenovo Team, and Ducati has a lead of 12 points in the constructors standings … right, Yamaha. Suzuki is third in both cases. So there could be many key players: Jack Miller from Ducati, Johann Zarco and Jorge Martin from Pramac Racing, Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama), Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), Petronas Yamaha SRTs Valentino Rossi and Andrea Dovizioso …

The battle for Rookie of the Year is also going to be hot. After Martin took the lead early on, Bastianini is now the driver in the hot seat after another impressive podium at the Emilia-Romagna GP. The Italian only has a five-point lead over the Spaniard with two races to go, so it may come to an end this weekend, although it will likely roll through to the final. Who will be ahead in Portugal?

Another Top Independent Team rider is up for grabs this weekend, but it’s a bigger gap and the advantage falls in Zarco’s favor. After a DNF for Miller last time, he is again fourth overall and the Pramac driver has 39 points ahead of Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini). Zarco has to clear the Algarve GP 26 to take the title so he has to lose less than 13 to the Aprilia rider.

Espargaro could also lose contact with Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) in the battle for seventh and higher in the overall standings this weekend, so the number 41 in Portugal wants to reach his potential. Binder and KTM are also hot on the heels of Marc Marquez and Honda, although Suzuki is mathematically still within reach for the Austrian plant. With Marquez also taking a break, Honda’s hopes fall more on Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team), fresh off the podium, as well as on Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol).

Back to KTM, the Algarve GP will also be a big weekend for Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing). The Portuguese has had some incredible drives this year, including the impressive win in Catalonia, but after a tougher run he will want to end the season on a climax. He’s a previous winner at Portimão after that 2020 demolition, although this time his aim will be more of a good point hunt and a return to the front. Car number 88 was also back in shape at Misano and fought for the podium before a crash ended his attack. What can he bring with him on home soil?

The championship is decided, but there is still a lot more spectacle left in 2021 when the roller coaster returns for another stunner!