Quick thoughts: Mantova 1 – MXGP on a knife-edge!
Another dramatic GP but one that has left Tim Gajser disappointed, Jeffrey Herlings relieved and Romain Febvre still in front!
Febvre’s win in race one can’t be underestimated. This was an exptremely high pressure race and he delivered impeccably to take the win. He crucially beat Herlings off the start and moved over (as would be expected) leaving Herlings in a rush to get to second before Febvre pulled away and then Herlings went down in the same spot as qualifying!
That was the perfect scenario for the Frenchman but it still wasn’t easy. Gajser and Cairoli were never far away and Herlings, amazingly, caught back up to Febvre at the end, but Febvre held on for a huge, huge win. The Frenchman beat Herlings out of the gate again in race two but Herlings this time kept his composure, made the pass and took the win however, with honours even in the points, Febvre though, didn’t risk it, rode smart, took second and crucially retains the red plate heading into the finale.
Since the French Grand Prix the Kawasaki rider seems to have went up a level. Less mistakes, generally good starts and making the best of every moto, Febvre’s performances are rising under the pressure. The starts were key and Herlings wasn’t happy with Febvre, who lined up beside Herlings in both motos, and cut across the Dutchman out of the gate but with Herlings faster all day in Mantova it was Febvre’s best chance and he made the most of it – it worked.
Qualifying could be vital on Wednesday. Febvre will surely want to start beside Herlings again but if he doesn’t qualify right behind Herlings will Cairoli or Prado start beside the Dutchman to protect him from Febvre if they qualify in front of the Frenchman and Herlings takes pole? The pressure will be on immediately on Wednesday from timed qualifying but Febvre is proving he is brilliant under pressure right now and that could be pivotal.
Herlings on the other hand crashed again in race one, but his almost other worldly speed has kept him in the title hunt. Yet again Herlings dug deep and came back from outside the top ten all the way back to second and, remarkably, go right back on Febvre. Just for context, with five minutes to go he was ten seconds behind Febvre, but he was on his rear wheel by the last turn of the last lap with the fastest lap of the race almost a second quicker than anyone else. Herlings has been more controlled this year but when he needs it the fastest man on the planet can do lap-times that no-one else can tough, and he needed it at Mantova. His speed is still jaw-dropping when he needs to produce and he may just be the fastest rider that has ever lived.
Herlings had to win race two and credit to him, he delivered. It would have been easy to crash again in race one and easy to have the pressure become too much in race two but Herlings this time didn’t make mistakes and showed that on speed he’s still the man to beat. But he has no margin of error on Wednesday, can his raw speed take him to the title or will the starts or a mistake rob him of the title?
Herlings wasn’t happy with Febvre’s off the start tactics saying straight after the race: “He played a bit dirty off the start to cut me off. Next time if I start behind him he will feel it if he does that one more time.” Understandable frustration but the starts are Herlings’ achilles heel, that’s where this title could be won or lost and Febvre knows it.
Just ask Tim Gajser. A less than optimum qualifying left him 1.6 seconds off Herlings in sixth and two less than perfect starts have ultimately caused Gajser to go into the final round 15 points back and needing help to win. Gajser actually rode pretty well in the two races, almost getting on terms with Febvre in race one but by the time he got to third in race two, the front two were long gone.
And then there was the the penalty. Again a poor start created the initial problem but Gajser turning right was a bit perplexing given this had already happened with Alessandro Lupino so a penalty wasn’t surprising but maybe only getting a five spot deduction compared to the ten Lupino got was.
Unfortunately for Gajser, it was a costly day and when you consider the pain he has went through this year it has to be very disappointing to lose so many points, but it shows just how quickly things can change. It’s small margins with big consequences but if Febvre and Herlings get too aggressive with each other he still might have a chance.
Other notable performances included Ruben Fernandez who was superb on his 450 debut. 4-7 for 6th overall had to be even better than expectations and he even held Herlings progress up by a couple of laps – and that maybe just prevented Herlings winning the moto! But Fernandes did nothing wrong and showed incredible potential on the 450, he deserves huge credit for his display with not much preparation. Fantastic ride.
Jago Geerts also deserves a big round of applause. he finally got the win after knocking on the door the last few weeks but suffering some bad luck. Ever since his crash in moto one in Spain, Geerts seems to have been able to ride to his potential, that seems to have been a pivotal moment, with Geerts admitting he got angry between motos anmd since then we have seent he real Jago Geerts. He hasn’t given up and deserves this reward, to prove to himself as much as anyone that he has the stuff to win and the talent to be World Champion going into 2022.
In his penultimate Grand Prix, Antonio Cairoli found himself on the podium again and you can’t help but cheer for the Italian at how well he is riding, even if his nemesis Jorge Prado again proved frustrating to pass in the second moto! Aside from the title drama Cairoli going out at the front is brilliant to see.
So, 17 down just one round to go and only three points separating the top two in a pulsating 2021 MXGP world champion with Tim Gajser waiting in the (Honda) wings to pick up the pieces. As Jeffrey Herlings said, “it’s going to be an all-out war on Wednesday.”
Article: Jonathan McCready
Images: InFront Moto Racing unless stated