It has been a long four and a half years wait but it cannot be long before that celebratory back flip and perhaps even an airport piano recital returns as Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) leads the French revolution alongside Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP).
A French rider has never won the premier class World title but already the two revolutionaries are re-writing the history books. Zarco, still chasing that first MotoGP™ win, leads the World Championship for the very first time after two superb second places in those breath-taking opening two rounds. Quartararo was back on the podium with a bang with a brilliantly judged win on Sunday. It was the very first time in the 73-year history of Grand Prix racing that French riders had finished first and second in a premier class race
Zarco is certainly no stereotyped MotoGP™ rider, if there is such a person. His last Grand Prix win came at the final round of the Moto2™ World Championship in Valencia in 2016. He had already retained the World title and celebrated in the hotel with a customary winning backflip off the bar. A couple of weeks earlier in the early hours of the morning, I rounded the corner of a deserted Melbourne airport on route to Malaysia to discover the Frenchman totally alone and completely absorbed in playing his very own concerto on a piano he discovered near the departure gate for Kuala Lumpur.
Last year Quartararo was a sensation, but the pressure got to him and he tailed off, not finishing on the podium after Barcelona. He was back to his very best on Sunday. A brilliantly judged win was a stark reminder to the rest of what a threat he will be in just his third MotoGP™ season.
Despite all the obvious problems, this was a sensational start to the new season. I am sure there were the usual feelings as 2021 got underway with the double header. Of course, there were plenty of people regretting the measurements they gave for their uniforms when the 2020 season ended had not taken account of Christmas and the new year. There would have been the usual sadness with the nonappearance of old friends’ faces in the paddock, in the media centre and out on track. All was forgotten the moment that first bike fired into action.
Let us start at the beginning and the grid for that opening race. Eight of the riders on the grid had not been born when Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) made his Grand Prix debut 25 years ago in Malaysia. While Rossi celebrated the start of his 26th season at the tender age of 42 years 40 days, at the other end of the age scale Iker Lecuona (Tech 3 KTM Factory Racing) started his second MotoGP™ season aged just 21 years 81 days. Pecco Bagnaia celebrated his promotion to the Lenovo Ducati factory team by grabbing his first pole position and then finishing on the podium behind two ‘veterans’ Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Zarco
Roll on seven days and rookie Jorge Martin grabbed pole position on the Pramac Ducati in just his second MotoGP™ race. It was the seventh different pole setter in the last seven races. It only seemed like yesterday I was joking with Jorge in the Qualifying press conferences after he had received yet another Tissot Moto3™ pole setting watch but could not win a race. That first win finally came at the final round of 2017 in Valencia. The next year he won seven and clinched the title. Three short years later the Spaniard is in MotoGP™ grabbing pole positions and finishing third in just his second race. As the race progressed, I seriously started to think he could win after leading for so long, but third place was just reward for an amazing weekend.
I am sure you do not need any more convincing just what a start it has been. On Sunday after 22 laps of the Losail International Circuit, just 8.928 seconds separated the first 15 riders across the line. No great surprise, the closest ever.
While I wait for the third round of this amazing Championship in Portugal a week on Sunday and for my second Covid vaccination jab, I raise a glass of my favourite Provence Rosé to the revolution.