After the natural beauty and perfect curves of the Autodromo del Mugello, the MotoGP™ World Championship now heads for another breathtaking part of Europe – the Mediterranean city of Barcelona, on the Catalonian coast. Art, history, culture, sun – and passion for speed. With so many on the grid hailing from the region and nation, it’s another jewel of the calendar – with the stakes high, and the balance of power tipped firmly in favor of a home hero as the paddock arrives to the slightly modified venue.
“I’m thinking of the Championship.”
After another podium and having fought for the win at the Italian GP, points leader Maverick Viñales’ (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) current position may well leave him thinking of nothing else: the rider from Roses is now 26 points clear, and next up is another home race – and another big challenge.
The temptation to push for the win at home will be big, and Viñales will need to walk the line between glory and the long game. After having issues in Jerez that forced him more into damage limitation than attack mode, the Catalan GP could be the first we see of Viñales unleashed on home turf. And it’s always good to be ahead, but it’s certainly never easy.
So what of last year’s winner? Mugello may not have gone to plan for the number 46 after he had a motocross crash before his home race, but with a few more days to recover, Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) will be hoping to return the favour from the Italian GP and beat Viñales on his territory. A P4 was a good haul of points in the circumstances last time out, but the number 46 isn’t one to race for points – a win would be just what the ‘Doctor’ ordered.
Whilst Movistar Yamaha had a good weekend last time out, it was a tough Italian GP for key rivals the Repsol Honda Team. Marquez came home sixth after struggling with the front, and Pedrosa crashed out on the final lap. They will want that to change at their second home race of the year, with the stakes always higher at home and this year even more so: Marquez took a big hit of points in France, and Pedrosa in Italy. However, both men have good records at Montmelo – and winning ones. The goal for the factory Honda riders will be simple: tip the scales back towards them, and as far as possible.
Another man looking to tip the balance back in his favor will be Ducati Team’s Jorge Lorenzo. After a podium in Jerez for the ‘Spartan’ to follow his teammate’s rostrum finish in Qatar, Lorenzo will be pushing hard for a bigger bite of the points this time out, eager to add some more silverware following Andrea Dovizioso’s win at Mugello. The Catalan GP has always been good for the Mallorcan, much like Jerez, and Lorenzo was the fastest Ducati in the recent test there. And Dovizioso will certainly be buoyed by his win as the next race gets in gear so soon after, but is equally sure to keep his same mentality: start positive, and see what the weekend brings.
The Independent Teams took some more impressive finishes in Italy, and Catalunya will be another battle royale. At Mugello it was Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing) and Alvaro Bautista (Pull&Bear Aspar Team) who shone, but some key protagonists from the season so far will be out to hit back: Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), victim of a last lap wipeout in Tuscany, and Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), who came home in P7, will be pushing hard to get back in the battle – as well as those coming onto home turf such as Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), who had a tough Italian GP with a jump start and subsequent penalty.
Back in the battle quite literally should be Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar), another local, who is expected to return from injury – subject to being passed fit on Thursday. His teammate Andrea Iannone will be back to full strength following illness at Mugello, and Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider Jonas Folger has time to recover from a big crash at the Italian GP during practice to get back to his best.
Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) suffered a DNF with a problem in Italy and he’s also back on home turf, as well as first time Q2 entrant in Italy Tito Rabat (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), who took an impressive P11 last time out.
Perfectly placed to make it one of the best fan weekends on the calendar as Barcelona welcomes thousands to the Catalan GP every year, the sightseeing of the city fades as the visors go down – but the home pressure remains. Hold, or fold?
FP1 begins at 9:55am (GMT +2) on Friday, before the roar of racing gets underway in Barcelona at 14:00 on Sunday.