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MotoGP Catalan GP

10 things we learned at the 2024 MotoGP Catalan Grand Prix

MotoGP’s second visit to Spain this season has seen a few fresh twists in the rider market, yet more drama on-track and another rider taking exception to a stewards’ call. Here’s what we learned from this year’s Catalan Grand Prix

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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An emotional retirement announcement, a chaotic sprint race and defiant comebacks were the main talking points from the 2024 MotoGP Catalan Grand Prix.

Ahead of the sixth round of the season, veteran rider Aleix Espargaro announced to the world that he would be calling time on his MotoGP career at the end of the 2024 season. A career of 20 years that has been characterised by hardship, doubts and relentless hard work left a feeling of pride in the three-time grand prix winner as he addressed the media on Thursday.

Then he went on to qualify on pole with a new lap record and score a dramatic win in the sprint race. As far as retirement announcements go, Espargaro’s was not bad at all.

Five riders led that 12-lap sprint, three of them crashing out. The most noteworthy was Francesco Bagnaia, whose half-distance race form this year is costing him dearly. But his ability to bounce back on Sundays is limiting the damage and he put in a statement ride to win the grand prix, as Jorge Martin extended his championship lead.

Marc Marquez charged from lowly grid positions to finish on the podium again in both races, highlighting that while qualifying needs work, his race pace is proving killer. 

Elsewhere, rider market rumblings continued in the wake of Espargaro’s retirement announcement, while Enea Bastianini carried out a futile in-race protest against the stewards. Here are 10 things we learned from the 2024 MotoGP Catalan GP.

1. Bagnaia needs rapid sprint turnaround as Sunday form superb

Bagnaia has failed to score a point in half the sprint races in 2024 so far

Bagnaia has failed to score a point in half the sprint races in 2024 so far

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Bagnaia’s ability to bounce back from difficult results is one of the things that has made him so formidable in the championship over the last two years. That was on display again at the Catalan GP, after the Ducati rider crashed out of the lead of the sprint race at Turn 5 on the final lap. It was set to be a result that pulled him close to championship leader Martin, who struggled for pace in the sprint. Instead, it pushed him to 44 points away.

In the grand prix, however, Bagnaia played the strategic game, keeping his pace under control after being shuffled out of an early lead by Martin and Pedro Acosta. When the time came midway through the 24-lap contest to start reeling in Martin, he made it look easy.

As Martin had chewed up his rear tyre trying to fend off Acosta earlier, he was powerless to stop Bagnaia coming through on lap 19 at – ironically – Turn 5. He would later gesture to the corner on the cooldown lap. Bagnaia pulled 1.7s clear to tally a third grand prix win of 2024, though his deficit in the championship is still a hefty 39 points. Sprint results have contributed to this.

Going without a sprint podium since winning in Austria last year, Bagnaia has not finished the last three. He threw 12 points away at Barcelona and lost at least five at Jerez when he was running fifth before a Turn 1 tangle instigated by Brad Binder on lap three. Mechanical dramas put him out at Le Mans and don’t forget that he was leading in Portugal before a late mistake left him fourth. That’s at least 23 points lost, which would make a significant difference to his current championship situation.

“It’s a matter of finishing them and taking points because last year, it’s true, I was struggling a bit [in the sprints], but I was finishing every sprint race I did,” Bagnaia said. “It’s less points but for the championship, it helps a lot because to score six, eight, nine, 12 points every weekend is a lot. So, it’s good that every Sunday we are competitive, but I’m tired of losing points in a free way on Saturdays.”

2. Martin’s title credentials getting harder to knock

Even of a tough weekend, Martin still increased his points lead

Even of a tough weekend, Martin still increased his points lead

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Martin has really been the rider of the moment in 2024 and it’s really not difficult to agree with Espargaro’s assertions that the championship leader being passed over again for a factory team Ducati seat would be “super unfair”.

Coming into the Barcelona round 38 points clear in the standings, Martin emerged 39 ahead. A one-point gain may not sound chunky, but when you consider he qualified a lowly 7th (the first time he’s started outside of the first two rows since Silverstone 2023), had his sprint podium run ended in a tricky Saturday race to fourth and couldn’t fend off Bagnaia in the GP to finish second, that’s efficient damage limitation.

His points-per-round pace remains at 26 (25.8 without rounding up) after six rounds. Perhaps he could have managed his earlier push from Pedro Acosta a bit better and saved his medium rear tyre more, but electing against a fruitless late retaliation against Bagnaia when he came through on lap 19 of 24 showed real maturity. If Barcelona is what constitutes a bad weekend for Martin, his nearest title rivals need to start digging deeper.

3. Marquez’s comeback prowess something to fear

Marquez knows he needs to up his qualifying game on the Ducati to take the fight to Martin and Bagnaia

Marquez knows he needs to up his qualifying game on the Ducati to take the fight to Martin and Bagnaia

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Marquez hates the Barcelona circuit. So, another comeback akin to the one he staged at Le Mans seemed unlikely after qualifying on Saturday morning at the Catalan GP, when he struggled to 14th.

The Gresini rider is finding that fresh soft rubber pushes the front of the GP23 on time attack laps, and it’s stopping him from exploiting the element of his riding style that made him lethal on the Honda. His crew chief Frankie Carchedi has also repeatedly pointed out that the lack of Marquez data on the Ducati from track to track makes getting in the ballpark on Fridays a bit trickier.

His surge from 14th to second in the sprint was expertly done, but his gamble to go for the soft rear – one of only four to do the same – and make it last 24 laps to finish third in the Grand Prix was a measure of Marquez’s true genius. However, he said he is “not proud” of his recent comebacks because it means there’s been a problem somewhere.

While he does really need to get on top of his qualifying woes, he’s being harsh on himself. Once the supreme race pace is married to stronger qualifying form, stopping him from winning is going to be a tall order for his rivals.

4. MotoGP veteran begins career wind down with “fairytale” home race

There wasn't a dry eye in the house when Espargaro announced his retirement

There wasn't a dry eye in the house when Espargaro announced his retirement

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

At the Americas GP, Espargaro told the media he wasn’t sure what his plans for 2025 were yet and hadn’t ruled out racing on with Aprilia. In fact, prior to jumping on the plane Stateside, he’d already decided 2024 was going to be his last as a MotoGP rider.

He announced this to the world on Thursday ahead of his home GP in an emotional press conference that saw more than a few shed a tear.

Doing the double at Barcelona in 2023, Espargaro snatched pole with a new all-time lap record and then sensationally won a chaotic sprint after Bagnaia's final lap crash out of the lead. Espargaro described the previous 48 hours as “a fairytale”.

He could only muster fourth on Sunday, losing the podium late on to Marc Marquez as he felt uncomfortable on the medium rear tyre. Even so, it’s evident that Espargaro isn’t a fading star whose time at the head of the pack has long gone.

He’s still at the top of his game and is getting out while the going’s good. As he told the media on Thursday, it’s a “privilege” to be able to do that.

5. Timely form bounce for under-pressure youngster

Fernandez reminded everyone of his talents in Barcelona

Fernandez reminded everyone of his talents in Barcelona

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Raul Fernandez was a stunning in his sole Moto2 campaign in 2021, in which he beat Marc Marquez’s class rookie win record with eight victories on his way to second in the championship. But MotoGP hasn't been kind to him. The less said about Fernandez's single year on the Tech3 KTM the better, while his form on the RNF Aprilia last year was still well below where it needed to be.

Yet to crack the top 10 in a grand prix in 2024 (albeit on a 2023-spec Aprilia), the Trackhouse Racing rider made a breakthrough at Barcelona. He qualified a career-best third - the first time he’s seen what the first two rows look like - then he led the sprint and was pulling away before crashing on lap five of 12. “Crying like a baby” afterwards at what he called a “very stupid mistake”, his form remained in the GP and led him to a first top six in 2024.

The 23-year-old says Aprilia has helped him make his ride the RS-GP more naturally by fiddling with the electronics and sees this as proving what he always thought he could do.

It comes as his place at Trackhouse Racing is under threat, with US racer Joe Roberts having been linked to a step from Moto2 to MotoGP with the American team. That Fernandez’s form bounce came on a weekend in which Roberts struggled to ninth in the Moto2 race doesn’t harm the Spaniard’s cause either.

6. Light at the end of the tunnel for Yamaha

Quartararo feels Yamaha is making strides in its MotoGP recovery plan

Quartararo feels Yamaha is making strides in its MotoGP recovery plan

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

While Yamaha hasn’t taken the march towards the front of the field it was probably hoping for over the winter, the Catalan GP appears to have marked a genuinely positive moment for the recovering manufacturer.

Yamaha homologated a new aerodynamic package for the Catalan GP it had first tested at Jerez, having reconfirmed the data at a private test at Mugello. While it offered a little bit more turning - a key weakness of the 2024 M1 – and performed as expected, it didn’t offer a major boost in performance (though Alex Rins thinks it’s worth 0.2s per lap at Mugello).

Fabio Quartararo was ninth in the grand prix but was only five seconds from the top five. He was also the only rider of a Japanese bike inside half a minute of the race winner, though team-mate Rins did have to battle fuel injection issues after a lap one run-off at Turn 1 on his way to 20th.

“I think, yes,” said Quartararo, when asked if it felt like Yamaha was making real progress now. “Of course, when you are doing the small steps you want to have a bigger one as soon as possible.

“But this is one and a half year that we have been without making any progress, and to feel that we are seeing the light coming out of the tunnel, it's great, so hopefully we can make some good steps pretty soon.”

7. Honda taking steps back to go forward again

Life remains tough in the Honda camp

Life remains tough in the Honda camp

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

It’s hard to be anything but negative right now about Honda, which has so far failed to deliver on the promise its 2023 Valencia test offered with its 2024 RC213V.

Top Honda honours in the grand prix at Barcelona went to Takaaki Nakagami on the LCR-run bike in 14th, with Joan Mir on the factory team RC213V behind him in 15th, ahead of Johann Zarco (LCR) and Luca Marini. But to rub salt in the wounds, all Hondas were overtaken by Pedro Acosta on a damaged Tech3 GasGas following his crash from second earlier in the race. No Honda was inside 30s of the winner either.

The low-grip Barcelona track delivered “the worst scenario” for the Honda, according to Mir, as the bike’s problems with traction were only accentuated. They were made even worse by a new engine configuration being raced at the Spanish venue.

While none of the riders got the upgrades they had been hoping for after a private Mugello test on the run-up to the Barcelona round, Mir noted that the updated engine configuration is probably the right direction for the long term.

“Honestly a nightmare,” Mir said of his grand prix. “I had very bad feelings all weekend. I expected a struggle in this track. We are using a different engine configuration and I don’t feel good with it. The spin level is probably worse than the other one, and then the top speed is much less.

“In the other races I was able to be a lot closer to the first rider, to the group, and probably being able to fight with the group of the top 10. Here I didn’t have any option to do it. So, we probably took a step back to make two forward in the future. But at the moment it’s tough and the situation is like this – it’s even worse.”

Marini ended the weekend positively, noting that he felt like he “can enjoy” riding the bike now – though couldn’t really explain why.

8. Bastianini’s penalty defiance a double-edged sword

Bastianini ignored all his penalties during the grand prix which earned him the ire of the stewards

Bastianini ignored all his penalties during the grand prix which earned him the ire of the stewards

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Enea Bastianini disappointed in the Catalan GP, as the high tyre wear conditions should have played into the Ducati rider’s hands.

He was handed a long lap penalty for taking the shortcut at Turns 1 and 2 when he was forced wide by an aggressive (but clean) overtake from Alex Marquez. When a rider runs through that complex, they must drop a second to avoid a penalty. Bastianini did not do this.

But he didn’t agree with the penalty as he felt he had no choice but to run wide. And so, he elected to ignore it. A second long lap was served to him for this, which he also ignored. A ride-through for ignoring the second long lap didn’t change his mind either, with the culminating 32-second time penalty dropping him from ninth to 18th.

He pleaded his case with the stewards afterwards and claimed they accepted that they were wrong to penalise him for the Marquez incident. But there was also nothing they could do to withdraw the penalties.

In a way, Bastianini was right to do what he did – and says Ducati agreed with him – as you cannot appeal a penalty that has been served. That doesn’t suggest there's a robust appeals process available to riders – something the FIM’s stewards could clarify, if they ever actually held their actions accountable in a public manner.

While Bastianini was fighting what he believed to be the good fight, the irony is that serving that single long lap likely would have cost him roughly three seconds and only dropped him a few spots down to 12th.

9. KTM can’t fulfil early weekend promise

KTM's runners remain frustratingly inconsistent when it comes to Sunday's main event

KTM's runners remain frustratingly inconsistent when it comes to Sunday's main event

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

KTM came out of the blocks swinging at Barcelona, with three of its riders easing into Q2 on Friday – including Brad Binder, despite two crashes in the second practice session.

But the conclusion of the weekend will leave a bitter taste. Miller crashed out of the grand prix and was lacklustre in the sprint in seventh, while Binder fell out of the sprint lead and suffered an issue with his front tyre early in the GP that left him eighth.

Tech3 rookie Pedro Acosta scored a podium in the sprint and felt like he had a bike for the podium in the grand prix but for a crash while running second on lap 11. He says this was down to a problem on the front end that hasn’t been diagnosed yet. He recovered to 13th with a smashed bike after remounting, but back-to-back podium chances on Sundays have gone missing.

Binder noted that the RC16 struggles when grip disappears, but isn’t sure if that’s a consequence of racing on top of Pirelli Moto2 rubber on Sundays. Regardless, the RC16, while solid – and strong particularly in Acosta’s hands – is still lacking consistency at this stage of the season.

10. Aprilia hints at preferred Espargaro replacement

Rivola already has an Espargaro replacement in mind

Rivola already has an Espargaro replacement in mind

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Espargaro’s retirement dominated the news cycle at Barcelona, and a large part of this is down to the question it now poses: who replaces him? Espargaro’s efforts to make that Aprilia a top bike on the current grid means the Italian marque is in the market for some solid options relative to its modest-by-MotoGP-standards budget.

Evidently, Aprilia is biding its time for Ducati to make its final decision on who partners Bagnaia in 2025 before making its move. But Aprilia CEO Massimo Rivola did offer a hint as to where his mind is at in terms of a preferred pick.

“Now we can start speaking with many managers of riders and I think the market will be quite interesting and offer good opportunities,” he told motogp.com’s live feed during final practice. “Let’s see if we will finally get an Italian on an Italian bike, or not. But I think there will be good opportunities. Obviously taking Aleix’s place will not be easy for anybody, so whoever is coming will have to come very hungry.”

Bastianini has been heavily linked with a ride at Aprilia for 2025, and said of the prospect: “I have said this many times. It can be a good option for me, the Aprilia team, but also, we have other offers and we have to evaluate the other offers. Also, in my mind, there is only to go to Mugello and try to win. But we’ll see.”

A five-time grand prix winner, Bastianini could bring a lot to the table for Aprilia. Also out of the factory Ducati picture is Marco Bezzecchi, who could fit the bill for Aprilia too.

Intriguingly, Maverick Vinales has countered claims Rivola made over the weekend that he is committed to a 2025 contract and says he has offers he would like to explore.

“No, no, I'm not confirmed. I don't have a contract for next year," the rider clarified to questions from Motorsport.com. “Obviously there is a lot of interest in continuing [with Aprilia] because we are doing a very good job, but I look at today, Le Mans or Jerez and you have to wait. You have to wait.

“There are open doors and you have to wait a little bit and decide what's best for me in terms of performance. I want to win, honestly, and I think I have the ability to be able to fight to win, and I have to take a good look at what's the best option. What is the most complete, what is the package that will give me the best option, the maximum to exploit my best level.”

Vinales hasn't committed his future to Aprilia just yet

Vinales hasn't committed his future to Aprilia just yet

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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