The Grand Prix of Portugal didn’t disappoint, from Marc Marquez’s return to big names falling, here are five things we can take from the weekend.
With three rounds now complete in the 2021 campaign, and MotoGP’s return to Europe underway after two races in Qatar, what can we learn from the weekend in the Algarve?
Just like the second round, it is still quite early to predict what will happen over the course of the year, but there is an image starting to form slightly now that we are on European soil.
1. Marquez will be back at the front sooner rather than later
The highly anticipated return of Marc Marquez to the grid became a reality in Portugal, with the eight-time World Champion mounting a MotoGP bike for the first time since July last year. His return did not disappoint.
As if it wasn’t hard enough to get back on to his Honda after a long recovery from a broken shoulder, the conditions in FP1 made things even harder for the Spaniard. Rain overnight meant the riders went out on a very damp track, meaning Marquez had to re-adapt with a bit more difficulty than he would’ve liked.
That didn’t stop him making a statement to his rivals however, as the 28-year-old briefly went fastest in FP1, before settling for third at the end of the session, showing that he was well and truly back.
At the end of the weekend, the Honda rider had pulled off a qualifying lap good enough for sixth, and backed that up with a seventh place finish in the Grand Prix of Portugal race.
The next round or two will most likely be a ‘pre-season’ of sorts for the Spaniard, as he still readjusts to life back on a MotoGP machine. But his result in Portimao definitely proves he will be back at the front in the very near future.
2. This is not the start to 2021 Miller would have wanted
It’s fair to say that Jack Miller would have hoped for a smoother start to life as a factory Ducati rider. Two ninth place finishes in Qatar meant the Australian came to Portugal with the hopes of getting a good result.
Qualifying went well for the Ducati rider, finishing in fourth, meaning he was in a good position to start the race. But that was as good as it got for the 26-year-old, as he crashed out at Turn 3 on lap 6 under braking.
Miller later admitted it was his own fault as he misjudged the braking point whilst following Aleix Espargaro, so he will no doubt be left frustrated as he searches for a clean, fast weekend.
The Australian has a good bounce back attitude and I’m sure we will see him come strong soon enough, but he needs to get a good result soon and break the string of tough races.
3. Quartararo is the man to beat
We saw this last year, Fabio Quartararo won two races on the bounce at the start of the season, but dropped off as the year went on. There will be concerns for some that this might happen again, but for me, the Frenchman looks in control.
The Yamaha rider took a strong victory in Qatar in Round 2, and backed that up with a dominating victory in Portugal with a 4.8s gap to Pecco Bagnaia in second.
Yes, Alex Rins was right on the rear of Quartararo for a large portion of the race, but was unable to match the Yamaha’s pace which led to him making a mistake and losing the front on lap 19.
The 22-year-old looks a much more well-rounded and matured rider compared to last year, and I think he will have learnt from the disappointment of dropping off the front of the grid in 2020. It looks like he is ready and is very much able to fight for the championship this year.
I will admit that it is hard to say this is a certainty, given we’re only three rounds in, but Quartararo looks in control of his Yamaha, and I believe we will see the result of that even more as the year goes on.
4. I was expecting more from Oliveira
In my five takeaways from the Grand Prix of Doha article, I said I expected to see Miguel Oliveira back at the front in Portimao after a tough first couple of races. We got the exact opposite, the Portuguese reached the chequered flag in plum-last and a lap down after crashing out on lap 6.
There wasn’t anything to write home about after qualifying either, as the KTM rider ended the session in tenth following a crash.
This was the race Oliveira won in 2020, so there were high expectations from everyone that he could kick-start his year at his home race in strong fashion, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.
The 26-year-old needs to regroup, and needs to end the run of tough races soon, or he could be in for a long year.
5. MotoGP riders are warriors
This point will be short and sweet, but as if we didn’t know it already, MotoGP riders really are a different breed and I think the Grand Prix of Portugal weekend proves that even more.
Marquez returning to ride a MotoGP bike less than a year after breaking his shoulder is simply incredible, and we also saw riders walk away from some big crashes.
Jorge Martin was unfortunately ruled out of the rest of the weekend after a very big crash in FP3, fracturing his hand and foot at Turn 7. But he already looks to be in high spirits as he recovers in hospital.
Taka Nakagami was another rider to suffer a very fast crash, the Japanese rider lost the bike very early on the run to Turn 1 in FP2 and looked very shaken.
Nakagami sat out of qualifying on the Saturday, but quickly returned to action on Sunday to come from the back and finish the race in tenth. That result alone shows MotoGP riders really are made of different stuff.
We saw it a few years back when Valentino Rossi returned to action shortly after breaking his leg.
These guys really are warriors.
What are your takeaways from the Grand Prix of Portugal? Be sure to let us know!