Moto GP Preview: Portuguese Grand Prix
Written by Andrew Lwanga, Edited by Sasha Macmillen
It's a horsepower rollercoaster in Portugal this weekend as MotoGP heads to Portimao for the Grande Prémio De Portugal.
The high-rising and fast-falling Algarve International Circuit will play host for the grand prix. The 2.8 mile track is mainly characterised by its undulating nature with frequent elevation changes reaching 30 metres between the highest and lowest points on the circuit. With a straight just under a kilometre long between the last and first corners, the Portuguese track is as versatile as they come.
Bearing resemblance to the track, this year's MotoGP season has been filled with ups and downs for many riders throughout the field.
Coming into the fifth round it is Enea Bastianini who leads the world championship. "The Beast" has already won two races in Bahrain and at Circuit Of The Americas despite technically being on inferior machinery. The Italian who rides for Gresini Racing is currently on a year-old bike from Ducati, but that's not stopped him from taking charge of the championship.
Trailing the surprise championship leader, is a surprise championship contender in Alex Rins. Many had written off the Spaniard’s ability to run at the front of the field but the Suzuki rider has managed a pair of podiums already and sits only 5 points behind Bastianini. Rins will be keen to get ahead of "The Beast" come Portimao to properly solidify his championship campaign, lest he falls into the clutches of the compatriot just 6 points behind him.
Aleix Espargaro was another shock to the MotoGP world, with Aprilia long being seen as a team there to make up the numbers in the premier class. Nobody thought that they would ever win a grand prix. However a year after piloting his Aprilia to the podium, Aleix Espargaro scored his and his team's maiden victory at the 200th time of asking during the Argentine Grand Prix. The Spaniard however isn't content with maiden victories and is intending to take the fight to the top.
But just like in the Algarve, while some corners seem to be at the world's summit, some plunge beyond its bottom. Whilst it's been a dream start to the season for many of the underdogs many of the expected favourites haven't delivered.
Francesco Bagnaia enters the weekend as the only rider on a factory Ducati bike to not have stood on the podium. "Pecco" closed out the 2021 season on a high and was a pre-season favourite, but a tumble in the season opener and several, seemingly out-of-form performances have left him P12 in the standings. Currently the Italian is 38 points off the championship lead and although it's still early days, a turnaround of form is urgently required if “Pecco” is to make a Championship run this season.
Another entity appearing to struggle for form has been Yamaha's entire MotoGP effort. The outfit that produced last year's championship bike has seemingly been lost for pace this season, with no indication of a change in fortune in the near future. Yamaha's achilles heel has been top speed and with a 969 metre long straight in the Algarve, on paper it doesn't shape up to be a good weekend. Although Yamaha has often compensated their lack of top end speed with better handling that no longer seems to be their strong suit either with Aprilia and Suzuki all seeming to have better cornering speed.
Whilst there seems to be no light at the end of Yamaha's woes, defending Champion Fabio Quartararo who has just turned 23, has been a constant feature at the top end of the midfield even managing a podium in Indonesia.
With the high-speed rollercoaster signalling the start of the European season, many riders will look to either solidify their championship contention or revitalise their seasons. Who will come out on top is entirely unknown, the answer to that is somewhere over the crest of turn 15 of the Algarve International Circuit.