May 25, 2024
10 things we learned from the 2023 MotoGP Argentina Grand Prix

MotoGP celebrated its newest winner at the Argentina Grand Prix as the series’ new era continued to divide reaction.

A depleted 17-rider grid took part in Sunday’s wet contest at Rio Hondo, which was dominated by sophomore Marco Bezzecchi to claim his first win and Valentino Rossi’s first as a team owner.

Listening to several riders after the enthralling Saturday sprint, Bezzecchi looked a shoo-in for victory if conditions stayed dry.

Despite his despair at seeing wet conditions on Sunday morning, he followed through on his sprint promise to take the championship lead from his fellow VR46 Academy chum Francesco Bagnaia – who crashed in circumstances reminiscent of his 2022 errors.

There were mixed fortunes for Yamaha in Argentina, while off-track rumblings surrounding stewarding continued.

With the 2023 MotoGP season well and truly in full swing now, here are the 10 things we learned from the Argentina Grand Prix.

1. Bezzecchi Ducati’s dark horse threat?

It'll be a happy Monday for Bezzecchi after his maiden MotoGP win

It’ll be a happy Monday for Bezzecchi after his maiden MotoGP win

Photo by: Media VR46

Marco Bezzecchi was a name few gave much regard to when he was announced as a MotoGP rider for the VR46 Ducati squad for 2022. That quickly changed as he scored a maiden podium at Assen and a first pole later in the year in Thailand.

Continuing in the same surroundings but with the 2022-spec Ducati that won the championship, Bezzecchi enjoyed a strong pre-season as he could simply focus on fine-tuning his bike set-up and riding style.

Third in the Portuguese GP was a believable start to his campaign; after all, Enea Bastianini in 2022 on a year-old satellite Ducati won two of the first four races. While Bezzecchi didn’t think repeating Portugal every weekend was realistic, he was easily the strongest rider in Argentina.

The first to switch to slicks on the drying track in qualifying, he could well have taken pole had he not been delayed by Takaaki Nakagami during his bike swap. Holding onto second in the sprint gave many cause for concern, with Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro noting after: “I was on the limit to follow the guys in front and today I really didn’t see anyone really fast, just Bezzecchi has more speed than anyone. If he started first, for sure he was the man.”

From feeling “desperate” when he saw the grand prix would be wet, Bezzecchi’s tune changed after the rain-hit warm-up. At one stage over eight seconds clear of the field, Bezzecchi was untouchable from the moment he hit the front at Turn 1 off the line.

Now nine points clear in the standings, Bezzecchi can be considered a dark horse for the championship – chiefly, because he thinks he still has more to learn.

“I think it’s a little bit too early,” he said when asked about title thoughts. “Still, it’s just the second weekend. Now we will go to Austin, which is a track that is very difficult and where Marc [Marquez] is normally unbeatable. I think it’s a little bit too early at the moment. I would like to enjoy this day and try to learn every time. But we will see in a few months.”

2. Yamaha doing a good job alienating its patient star

Quartararo's struggles with Yamaha continued in Argentina

Quartararo’s struggles with Yamaha continued in Argentina

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

In the off-season Autosport wrote a feature about who needs a big year in 2023. Yamaha was on that list as it enters a critical phase in trying to keep a hold of the one rider who, at this stage, can actually win a championship on the M1.

Argentina was a nightmare for Fabio Quartararo. Slow from the off, Quartararo struggled for rear grip on acceleration on the low-grip Rio Hondo asphalt and couldn’t get the bike stopped in the way he needed. This conspired to rob him of corner speed – the Yamaha’s key strength – and he could do no more than 10th in qualifying, ninth in the sprint and seventh in the grand prix after being punted off on the opening lap by Nakagami.

Quartararo spent the whole weekend chasing his tail, throwing new set-up after new set-up at a bike he said doesn’t feel like his own in a bid to improve his form. He says this is basically down to Yamaha not having a ‘real’ day of testing until the final day in Portugal last month ahead of the opening round.

“I mean, ‘lots of positives’, I wouldn’t say that,” Quartararo said of his weekend. “But it is positive that in the wet we showed great pace, we showed that in the dry actually our first day of test we had was the last day of Portimao and we don’t have our base.

“FP1 we tried a bike, FP2 we wanted to try but it was still difficult. In the sprint race I started with another setting. If the [main] race was dry I would have tried another bike. We are still not ready. I’m always angry because I want to be up there, but I know there is a lot of work to do to be on top.”

Team-mate Franco Morbidelli’s low-grip prowess came to the fore at Rio Hondo, which helped him to fourth places in qualifying, the sprint and the grand prix. Quartararo took solace from this and was able to – likely for the first time in over a year – utilise data from his team-mate.

While it was a heart-warming result for Morbidelli, past form suggests it won’t last. Thus, Yamaha needs to start delivering for Quartararo what he needs to mount a title challenge, something he admits he cannot even think about right now having failed to battle for a top five in 2023.

But the longer this drags on, Quartararo’s patience will run out and his eyes will start to wander later in the year when contract negotiations for beyond his current deal in 2024 begin.

3. Old habits die hard for Bagnaia

Bagnaia was back in the dirt crashing in the grand prix

Bagnaia was back in the dirt crashing in the grand prix

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

“I was wondering if this year I was a better rider, more precise, without mistakes, doing better things. And in the second race of the year I crashed. So, it’s something that makes me very angry.”

Erstwhile championship leader Francesco Bagnaia’s crash out of second in the grand prix harked back to the ways in 2022 which left him battling a 91-point deficit in the standings.

To that point, Bagnaia genuinely looked like he’d banished his old habits and in Argentina looked nailed on for second when he passed Alex Marquez on lap 15. As for how the crash happened, Bagnaia is completely baffled, but clear it was his mistake.

Perhaps his self-criticism was a tad harsh, but the fact he was the only rider to crash under his own steam in the wet Argentina GP only rubs salt into the wound.

Ducati now must help him banish this crash from the back of his mind and get him focused for Austin. However, Bagnaia’s Argentina spill at the end of a much more complicated weekend than Portugal has perhaps shown a weakness his rivals can exploit in the coming races.

4. Honda appeal being handled correctly, but FIM changes still needed

With Marquez out of action in Argentina it remains unclear when, if at all, he will serve his penalty from Portugal

With Marquez out of action in Argentina it remains unclear when, if at all, he will serve his penalty from Portugal

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Unsurprisingly, following the FIM’s alteration of its penalty wording issued to Marc Marquez for his controversial Portugal crash with Miguel Oliveira, Honda lodged an appeal.

The Japanese manufacturer felt the fact the FIM essentially rewrote its own rules without precedent, noting that Marquez would have to serve his penalty at the next round he takes part in and not in Argentina as was originally issued, went against the regulations.

After a hearing on Thursday morning at Rio Hondo, the matter has been referred to the FIM Court of Appeal in Switzerland for a final ruling. This was clearly the best course of action as it would allow proper legal course to take place, but the damage has already been done. Whatever the outcome of the appeal, there will not be unanimity on the situation.

At the centre of this is the FIM stewards panel, whose actions dominated headlines in the week leading up to Argentina – terrible PR for MotoGP as it looks to further build its brand off the back of its new sprint era.

While the Argentina weekend went off without any major incidents to speak of (though Quartararo was unhappy with Nakagami not getting a penalty for their first-lap clash), the FIM is already trying to cover its tracks in the wake of the Marquez incident to avoid a repeat.

A penalty notification issued to Moto2 rider Sergio Garcia read: “The FIM MotoGP stewards panel has imposed a long lap penalty. The long lap penalty shall be served by the rider at the next grand prix race which the rider participates*

“*The FIM MotoGP stewards panel clarify that the rider’s next event is the Grand Prix of Argentina, unless the rider does not participate in this race for any reason related to this incident (as per the penalties protocol issued by the FIM MotoGP stewards on 30.3.23.”

Clearly, this wording opens the door to yet more issues, as a rider withdrawing from an event for any reason not related to the incident could argue that the penalty can’t be carried over. And so, expect the problem of stewarding to rumble on and on.

5. Is MotoGP robbing Peter to pay Paul with sprint races?

Binder's stunning charge from 15th to win the sprint race was the highlight of the weekend

Binder’s stunning charge from 15th to win the sprint race was the highlight of the weekend

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Let’s get one thing clear straight away: MotoGP sprint races are excellent. It was correct to be sceptical when they were first announced midway through last year. To those on their high horse about being pro them from day one – climb down, you’ll catch a chill.

Portugal’s first outing was as wild as expected, but Argentina didn’t relent. Brad Binder’s stunning charge from 15th on the grid to win was a truly classic MotoGP moment. There was plenty of overtaking and close racing, which was exactly what MotoGP had hoped for in a half-distance race where tyre and fuel consumption isn’t a factor.

However, neither the Portuguese GP nor the Argentina GP was able to match the excitement of their respective sprint. If anything, the sprint is now the epicentre of a race weekend despite the grand prix offering more points. One of the fears around the introduction of sprints was that it would devalue a grand prix, and that is looking like it could be true at this stage.

In Argentina, more people (71,118) turned up for Sunday than Saturday (62,664). That Sunday crowd was around 4000 up on 2022, while the Saturday numbers are down a bit from the 63,659 from 2022. At the moment, sprint races aren’t the huge draw they were hoped to be, though we will need to see after a few races – especially in Europe – what the effect is.

If the sprints continue as they are, Saturday crowds will surely increase. But will that be at the expense of Sunday ticket sales? Perhaps sprints need to be an occasional treat at select grand prix events, or the result of the sprint should decide the grand prix grid to essentially make the racing a two-part drama not to be missed.

This is a new thing for Dorna, though, and it will figure out the best compromise to maximise its product.

6. Honda sorely missed Marquez’s input in Argentina

Honda was hurt most of all by Marquez's Rio Hondo absence

Honda was hurt most of all by Marquez’s Rio Hondo absence

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

There was nothing particularly positive to say about Honda at the end of the Argentina GP.

Already a man down with Marc Marquez sidelined through injury, Joan Mir occupied the bottom of the timesheets until he crashed out on the opening lap of the sprint. Taking a knock to his ankle, Mir withdrew from the grand prix.

Both LCR riders were outside of the top 10 in the sprint, with Rins fading to ninth with visor problems in the grand prix to score Honda’s best result of the weekend.

The usual rear grip issues that have plagued Honda for some time persisted, magnified at the low-grip Rio Hondo. Rins also struggled to get his Honda stopped, as he tried a new chassis that wasn’t glowingly received given he said he’d have raced the old one had his wet bike not been fitted with the new frame.

Marquez wouldn’t have all of a sudden turned the bike around had he been able to race in Argentina, but given he was third in the Portugal sprint having started on pole and ran inside the top five in the grand prix before his controversial crash, Honda could have at least banked some better results.

What’s evident already in 2023 as Honda’s struggles continue is HRC needs Marc Marquez more than ever.

7. Miller needs to give doubters reason to change their tune

Miller showed promise but ultimately failed to deliver on his second KTM outing

Miller showed promise but ultimately failed to deliver on his second KTM outing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Ahead of the Argentina round, Jack Miller said he felt like gets “doubted more than anybody” in MotoGP. This comment came after he stormed to fourth in the Portugal sprint and seventh in the grand prix to cap off a strong KTM debut.

There’s no doubting Miller’s speed and talents, but if he wants to give his critics reason to change their tune he must do better. After all, three wins in five years as a Ducati rider isn’t a great hit rate when you consider his former contemporaries at the marque.

Commentators defended his lowly 16th on the grid in qualifying as a lack of experience in the rain on the KTM. While valid partly, Alex Marquez has the same amount of wet experience on the Ducati and scored pole having topped Q1 also. And the KTM has never been a bad bike in wet conditions.

That Brad Binder was only 15th in qualifying suggests even if Miller could have had the fresh second tyre he didn’t know the team had in reserve, there wouldn’t have been a big jump as he lacked some mechanical grip. But regardless of Binder’s KTM experience, your team-mate cannot go from 15th to a win in a sprint while you can only go as high as 10th. Miller was a solid sixth in the wet grand prix, though his prowess the conditions merited more.

KTM has work to do to get its electronics settings sorted, among other things, but for now Binder is going to be the bread winner in the Austrian stable.

8. Alex Marquez doesn’t care what you think, and nor should he

Marquez is blocking out the haters as he catches the eye in Argentina

Marquez is blocking out the haters as he catches the eye in Argentina

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

It’s easy to forget that Alex Marquez is a double world champion in Moto2 and Moto3, and that he was the only Honda rider to score podiums in the 2020 MotoGP campaign.

That doesn’t stop the continual dismissal of his place in MotoGP as nothing more than the fruits of his surname. Two miserable years with LCR and Honda in 2021 and 2022 forced Marquez to seek a ride elsewhere.

Gresini Ducati, winners of four grands prix in 2022, was the perfect destination for him because he was either going to prove his worth in MotoGP or prove his doubters correct. A maiden pole in Argentina (his first since Malaysia 2019, when he won the Moto2 crown) and third in the grand prix, marking his first podium since Aragon 2020, has put him on the right path to flourish like many – including Autosport – believe he can this year.

The keyboard warriors fell silent on Sunday evening in the face of Marquez’s result, but he doesn’t care either way. And nor should he. He’s stepping well out from his brother’s shadow and is beginning to thrive.

“I don’t care what the people think. I believe in myself, I believed I was making the right choice to choose Ducati and the Gresini team,” he said. “I chose that option because I said ‘OK, I don’t want an excuse, I want to be with the best bike, with a proper team’. Gresini is a proper team, they are so professional, and that’s it.

“I will depend on me, so this is like it is. But it’s just the second round, things can change a lot, we are in a constant progression and it’s the most positive thing.”

9. Aprilia fields first big curveball of its 2023

Both factory Aprilia riders had the pace in the dry but it deserted them in wet conditions

Both factory Aprilia riders had the pace in the dry but it deserted them in wet conditions

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Aprilia ending Friday practice 1-2 in Argentina suggested it would be adding a second victory trophy to its cabinet back in Noale, having taken an historic first win at Rio Hondo last year.

Then it all unravelled. Maverick Vinales salvaged fifth from qualifying in iffy conditions, while Aleix Espargaro was ninth. In the sprint, Vinales struggled to seventh as Espargaro crashed out. But both were positive that the pace they showed in practice would stand them in good stead for the grand prix.

A largely dry start to the year meant Aprilia was not aware of the problem its 2023 RS-GP had in wet conditions, which meant both Vinales and Espargaro slumped to 12th and 15th.

“It’s difficult to understand,” Espargaro said. “At some stages of the race I thought I had a flat tyre, it was crazy. I couldn’t open the throttle even on the straight. Even on the straight I had to change gear at 10,000rpm before the limiter because the bike didn’t go forward. It was crazy. Really one of my worst races and a long one.”

Despite this, both riders remain confident that the bike they have underneath them is a race winner and it’s only a matter of time.

“It’s good that they can make a reflection now, understand what we can improve and go forward,” Vinales added. “Fortunately, it’s just the second race, so we can improve. The speed we have in the dry, even [in the sprint] without a winglet, was the speed to win the races. So, that’s fantastic.

“For me, I’m calm. Time will come, I’m completely sure and once it comes it will not leave. We will keep working, we keep fighting and we need to do the best with what we had.”

10. Condensed calendar is short-changing fans

Only 17 riders made the start of the grand prix in Argentina

Only 17 riders made the start of the grand prix in Argentina

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

MotoGP’s PR campaign this year has been the fact that 21 rounds for the 2023 season is definitely a very, very good thing and that more is just better.

The dust had barely settled on the opening round of the new era in Portugal by the time round two in Argentina got underway four days later. And for the first time since the series’ nadir of 2011, just 17 riders lined up on the grid for Sunday’s grand prix at Rio Hondo, with one of MotoGP’s biggest teams and rider in Repsol Honda and Marc Marquez among the absentees.

While injuries are part and parcel of the risk involved in MotoGP, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that Marquez, Miguel Oliveira and Enea Bastianini would have been able to recover from their respective injuries enough to take part in Argentina if it was a week further removed from Portugal.

At the very least, Ducati, Honda, RNF and Tech3 (for Pol Espargaro) would have been able to sort replacements to keep the grid stocked, even with 2020 world champion Joan Mir’s withdrawal after his sprint race crash.

As the season progresses and we get into some of the triple-headers, the toll this schedule will take on competitors will continue to leave fans paying to see depleted grids devoid of their heroes. Sometimes, there really is too much of a good thing…

The Argentina fans were ultimately left to enjoy a lighter MotoGP grid

The Argentina fans were ultimately left to enjoy a lighter MotoGP grid

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images