The Australian Grand Prix was worth the wait.
With some much-needed glorious sunshine Phillip Island was at its best to welcome fans in their thousands — 40,000 in fact — to witness the grand return of the grand prix.
It didn’t disappoint.
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We were spoiled for battles throughout the field, and a race-long joust for first place between three different bikes meant the pack never truly broke up.
At the flag the victory margin was just 0.196 seconds. The podium was spread across 0.224 seconds. The top eight were split by only 0.884 seconds.
Álex Rins was triumphant with a perfect balance of strategy and aggression — perfection being the key word, as nothing less would have surely left him open to a classic late move by Marc Márquez, who was denied what would have been a sensational victory.
But while the race will be remembered in the minds of those lucky enough to witness it for its non-stop action, the history books may well record it as the scene of the knockout blow for the 2022 riders championship.
Francesco Bagnaia finished third, but that’s all he needed to do to capitalise on an uncharacteristically sloppy race from Fabio Quartararo, who crashed out of the race and failed to score.
Bagnaia leads the Frenchman by 14 points, with Aleix Espargaró as good as finished at 27 points back.
Two rounds remain. The Australian Grand Prix has delivered us into the end game.
IS IT ALL OVER DOWN UNDER?
So much of this championship campaign has been defined by Bagnaia’s mistakes.
The Italian did his best to count himself out of the championship at record speed with a crash in the first place, a string of lukewarm results and then three more crashes in four races to put him 91 points behind Quartararo at the halfway mark of the season.
It’s ironic, then, that a Quartararo mistake could decide the championship.
Miller TAKEN OUT on newly named corner | 00:39
Fabio put in an uncharacteristically scrappy race in Australia, a grand prix he had to win to give himself even the semblance of breathing space for the final two rounds. It’s a track that’s always suited the Yamaha, and in one of the M1’s least competitive years, Phillip Island was still expected to be a happy hunting ground.
And so it proved, up to a point. The Yamaha machine isn’t really the bike to beat anywhere anymore, but a decent qualifying performance put him in a position to maximise his result in a race that would be won with the head as much as it would be the right hand.
But a mistake racing in the pack — one of the bike’s key weaknesses — dropped the Frenchman from sixth to 22nd in an instant.
He followed that up with a lowside crash through Southern Loop that put him out of the race.
It was his third non-score in four races. He’s scored just one podium in the last eight races.
Speaking about his mistakes, Quartararo said they were emblematic of how hard he had to ride to overcome his bike’s power and grip shortcomings.
“I’m trying to do my best. I’m overriding a little bit too much, and the risk of having a mistake is really high. That’s what happened today,” he said. “But for me this is not the only problem
“For me the problem is we ride in a different way to the others. When I’m alone you can see my pace is always super strong. But then when we’re in the race it’s always difficult.
“When you need to save the tyres and you miss grip and acceleration it’s not the best.”
The pressure’s off. He’s lost the title lead for the first time since acquiring it in round 5, and he knows his bike is ultimately holding him back.
“Now we need to turn the page,” he said. “We only have one job, and it’s try to win. It’s going to be the toughest job of my career, but I’m ready to fight for it.”
“Miller Corner” Phillip Island honour | 10:14
Ironically the pressure now lands on Bagnaia to close the deal. His points lead is big enough for him to win it as a matter of course, but the Italian has hardly had the sort of smooth season that would calm the nerves.
“I will just try to do the same as we did from the summer break — just thinking session by session, doing a good job and being prepared for the race,” he said.
“Let’s see if it will be possible to be crowned [in Malaysia] or in Valencia.
“I’ll just be smart and just take care with everything, because it will be very important to finish the race and be in front.”
SUZUKI GETS FINAL WIN AS IT HEADS TO THE EXIT
Bagnaia might have put one hand on the championship trophy, but the weekend’s undisputed victor was Álex Rins and Suzuki, who claimed their first wins of the season.
It was also almost certainly Suzuki’s last win in the premier class, at least for the foreseeable future.
The Japanese marque made the stunning decision earlier this year to withdraw from the championship despite being contracted to compete until 2026.
It came as a real shock to the race team, which was leading the teams championship at the time and was completely blindsided by the decision.
The news broke after the Spanish Grand Prix in May, and the team’s results instantly nosedived. Neither rider finished the next two races, and it took almost two months to get both back into the points at the Dutch TT, which still stands as its last double-points finish despite being almost four months ago.
Both Rins and teammate Joan Mir have battled injury throughout the season, and the year seemed destined to end without a victory for the 2020 teams championship-winning outfit.
But at a circuit that was perfectly suited the nimble GSX-RR and its inline four-cylinder motor, Rins pulled a blinder.
His incisiveness through Southern Loop was particularly impressive and illustrated how much he was able to tap into his bike’s inherent advantages.
But best of all was his final lap, cutting down Bagnaia’s inside and perfectly positioning his bike through Lukey Heights and down into MG to prevent a trademark Márquez snatch and grab at the death from depriving him of sending off Suzuki on a high.
Rins admitted to breaking down upon hearing the news that his team was going to withdraw, and the victory was clearly emotionally significant for him.
“It was not easy for us as a team to know that next year in the team you are is not continuing anymore in the championship,” he said. “So we had not so good races, also I was involved in some crashes with another rider and also I broke my hand.
“The key was not give up. We never put down the towel. We deserve this victory.
“This one is for all the team — for the ones that get some contracts [at other teams] for next year and the ones that didn’t.
“This one is for them.”
No-one could deny the hardworking Suzuki team this swan song.
MÁRQUEZ 100TH MOTOGP PODIUM
Rins wasn’t the only emotional rider in the race.
You’ll struggle to find a more overjoyed race to second place than Márquez’s runner-up finish at Phillip Island.
The six-time Spaniard was absolutely pumped. A close ride-by of the crowd at turn 4 turned into a run along the fence, which just about turned into a full-on stage dive before he eventually made his way back to parc fermé.
He’d just scored a monumental 100th podium, cementing himself in fourth on the all-time list podium-scorers list.
Of course first of all I’m really happy about this podium,” he said. “It means a lot for me, it means a lot for all the people that helped me on this tough season — to all the doctors, all the physios I worked with.”
But really it was about more than that.
This race — this whole weekend — was vintage Márquez. Quick in mixed conditions, quick in practice, quick in qualifying, catlike reflexive when required and superbly cerebral in the race. He even had one of those needless but ultimately harmless warm-up crashes he has a habit of committing as he searches for the limit.
If you tried hard enough, you could’ve watched this race and completely forgotten about his painful last two seasons of injury, surgery and rehabilitation.
Even Márquez admitted it felt like an old-school race, saying it reminded him of his fateful 2020 Spanish Grand Prix, which he was set to dominate before crashing and breaking his arm.
“The last race I enjoyed was 2020 in Jerez,” he admitted. “That race was one of the best in my career. The finish of that race was not the best one, but it was the best one about performance, and I enjoyed a lot.
“Today I enjoyed it again.”
He again played down how sustainable his pace is, noting that the need to manage tyres in this race made it less physical than others, but there’s now no doubting the signs of progress.
“Even [for] Honda … this podium means a lot. It means a lot to keep the motivation, to show to them that still the rider that wins six titles with Honda is there.
“But we have to be realistic. It is a left[-turning] circuit, the pace was super slow and also I was not pushing a lot the first 10, 15 laps with the soft rear tyre. I was managing the tyre and also my physical condition.
“In Malaysia we will struggle again, but in Valencia we will have another chance I believe to be closer to the top. Let’s see.”
SEALED WITH A SHOEY AS RIDERS PRAISE AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX
After three long years without a motorcycle grand prix, Australia was ready to embrace the race.
A total of 91,158 spectators filed through the gates at Phillip Island over the course of the weekend, including more than 40,000 on Sunday, making this the biggest attendance the race has known since 2012,
Most of them would’ve turned out to see a Jack Miller victory — tragically denied by an errant Alex Márquez — but they ended up getting wasn’t just a thrilling race but also a fitting tribute to an event that never fails to capture the hearts of the riders.
Standing on the rostrum above a healthily invaded track, the podium-getters ripped off their boots and undertook what now must be considered the obligatory ceremonial shoey in honour of home hero Miller.
The crowd was sent into raptures.
“Pecco started it,” Rins said. “He said, ‘Come on let’s take off the boots and do like a real Aussie, like Jack does when he finished on the podium!
“Sincerely the taste was not super good, but it was nice to do it.”
Márquez, who’d just soaked up the atmosphere up close, said it was a genuine moment of affection between the riders and the fans.
“In the end it’s what the fans appreciate it — I mean, all these things, the celebrations, the way to enjoy it with them, is to share that moment.
“It’s something that comes from inside. When you saw that they are smiling, you just give everything.”
Bagnaia praised the event, saying the shoey was something of an appreciative nod to the organisers for creating a spectacle the classic European venues ought to follow.
“I think that this weekend had to be an example for all the races,” he said. “Arriving to the circuit, to the paddock, we had to do like a walk of fame with all the fans there — I think this is something that will be very important for the future because the rider will be more close to the fans and the fans can be happy about that.
“Also, all the activities that they had on the weekend is something very important to replicate in Europe.
“Then the track invasion — it’s my first time I’ve seen something like this. It was incredible
“When I started hearing the fans wanted the shoey, I just said to the others, ‘Let’s do it;, and we did it.
“For sure the taste was the same,” he said with a raised eyebrow, “But it’s more the thing it’s about than the taste.”
GARDNER SENT OFF IN STYLE
Remy Gardner hasn’t had the debut MotoGP season he wanted or expected after claiming the Moto2 title last year, and his premier-class journey will come to an end all too soon, but he can at least say he’s ticked off a MotoGP home race before he heads for the exit.
And Gardner, who’s generally acknowledged to have been hard done by in his sudden axing, has fans in the paddock willing to fly his flag in support of the Aussie reigning champion.
Pedro Acosta was the highest profile among them after finishing second in the afternoon’s Moto2 race.
Gardner’s Tech3 replacement in the intermediate series donned a Remy Gardner 87 T-shirt after taking the chequered flag in a touching tribute to his mate and in acknowledgment of his sole home grand prix as a premier-class rider.
“It was pretty cool,” Gardner said afterwards. “I didn‘t know, actually.
“I was about to go get changed [for the race] and Clara, my girlfriend, knew he was going to going do it, and she was like, ‘No, no, just wait and say hello to Pedro in the pit lane’.
“So I was waiting for him. He stopped at the entrance of pit lane, and I was like, ‘What‘s he doing now? Hurry up, I’ve got to go and get changed!’
“Then I saw him coming down with my T-shirt on, which was pretty awesome. I‘m sure the Aussie fans loved that as well.”
Gardner had a strong race too, scoring points for just the fourth time this season to take a one-point lead ahead of teammate Raúl Fernandez.
“It was fun,” he said. “I had a really good probably first 13 or 14 laps.
“I was pushing hard and I was going forward. I was making places up, but about 15 or 16 laps in the rear tyre dropped for us.
“I was still trying my hardest, but it just wasn’t driving, so we dropped a bunch of positions and a bunch of time because of that.
“But anyway, I had a good fight as well. The race went really, really fast for me because I was having such a good time.”
If this really is his final MotoGP season, at least his only home grand prix was a positive one.