A bittersweet British MotoGP ended with injured title contender Aleix Espargaro crossing the Silverstone finish in ninth place, but losing just one-point to Fabio Quartararo.
The Aprilia star went to bed on Saturday night uncertain if he would be able to race, due to pain from his injured feet, the result of a huge 160km/h free practice highside.
Those doubts were erased by sixth place in morning warm-up and the limping Spaniard during lined-up on row two of the grid.
But it would be pace rather than pain that cost Espargaro a chance of a sixth podium this season, the #41 slipping to seventh on lap one and fading gradually back to ninth.
However, after dropping from second to fifth while serving a Long Lap penalty, title rival Quartararo mirrored Espargaro’s decline.
The end result was that the pair began the last lap with Espargaro close enough to try an optimistic outbraking lunge into Brooklands. The pass worked, but was easily countered by Quartararo, who sealed eighth place by 0.161s.
Espargaro: ‘The pain wasn’t an excuse’
“I felt good, sincerely. The pain wasn’t an excuse,” said Espargaro. “Obviously, I was not really able to move freely on the bike and to help the bike to turn. I felt quit sore during the race. But I didn’t have a lot of pain.
“It’s a shame because I couldn’t overtake, I wasn’t able to be aggressive. I didn’t finish far from the winner [+3.958s]. But during the weekend I had a very strong pace so it’s a shame I couldn’t fight for the victory.”
‘I cannot understand today’s race’
The race was won by Francesco Bagnaia, who pulled off something of an upset from fifth on the grid to hold off Espargaro’s charging team-mate Maverick Vinales. Jack Miller made it two Ducatis on the podium in third.
“Today’s race I cannot understand a lot,” Espargaro admitted. “Both Ducatis had zero pace during the weekend and they won. They did an extraordinary job today, I don’t understand where they found the pace.
“Bezzecchi was also very strong. Fabio was very strong and finished with me. The KTM in the lead group. Bastianini was out of the top 15 in FP1. I really don’t understand what happened today.
“But this is MotoGP! It is close and the last part of the championship will be fun.”
‘Impossible’ last lap pass on Quartararo
Espargaro admitted his last-gasp pass on Quartararo wasn’t going to work – the amount of ground he made up on the brakes sure to allow the Frenchman to easily cut back on the exit – but that he had to try.
“It was impossible, my overtake on the last lap. I was very far from him. But I say you have to try,” he said. “I released the front brake, but I couldn’t stop the bike unfortunately.
“I knew it was only for one point but it wasn’t a matter of points – it was about finishing in front. And I tried. But today I lost a good opportunity to recover points.
“No excuses. I was not fast today,” added Espargaro, who only set the ninth fastest race lap. “It was not the pain. But on the right corners, I couldn’t help the bike to turn. And I had zero traction on the right side. Then everybody overtook me on the corner where I crashed because I lost a lot of speed there. So the crash definitely didn’t help.”
While X-rays at the circuit medical centre didn’t find any fractures, Espargaro will now undergo more detailed scans in Barcelona.
“My feet are better than yesterday. I can walk. But [after the race] I have a pain in my legs, neck, back. I will have to rest a lot [before Austria]. I will go to Dexeus [hospital] to do a full scan of my body to check that nothing is broken. But I think with time to recover, I will be 100 percent in Austria.”
Bagnaia, Ducati closing in on title leaders
While the 22-point gap to Quartararo keeps Espargaro remains within one race win of the Frenchman, Bagnaia is catching them both, closing from 91 to 49 points adrift in the last two races.
“I think this year the Aprilia works quite good everywhere, almost in every race, we put one bike on the podium,” Espargaro said of the upcoming Red Bull Ring event. “But for sure Austria is a very good track for Ducati – it is quite easy for them, they have the most powerful bike. It will be difficult to beat them.”
If Espargaro can put some Ducatis, and team-mate Maverick Vinales, between himself and Quartararo in the upcoming rounds, it would help his title hopes.
“Race by race, if the Ducatis are starting to improve and I am able to maintain my high level, and also if Maverick is able to put the bike on top, this is more and more pressure for the leader [Quartararo]. So that’s good for me,” he said.
But with eight rounds to go, Espargaro’s also aware that Bagnaia – whose fourth win of the season is more than any other rider this year – has time to overhaul them both.
“Exactly. Today they made a big step in terms of the championship. It won’t be easy for them because they are still at a two-race [49 points] disadvantage. But they have a lot of bikes, they can do a lot of teamwork.
“Austria and Misano are good for Pecco, so everything is open. We will have a very tight last eight races in terms of the championship…”