Espargaro’s biggest threat for Catalunya win - Bagnaia, Quartararo or rear tyre?

With Aleix Espargaro topping four MotoGP sessions including qualifying so far this weekend, can the Spaniard be stopped and if so who are the most likely to achieve it?
Aleix Espargaro, Aprilia MotoGP Catalunya
Aleix Espargaro, Aprilia MotoGP Catalunya

Heading into Warm-up Espargaro was the firm favourite for victory at the Catalan MotoGP, and while little has changed in that thinking, a late crash for the Aprilia rider showed that it’s perhaps not coming as easy as one might think. 

Espargaro has been every bit as dominant as he was in Argentina earlier this season - Espargaro went on to win that race despite a brilliant effort from Jorge Martin - but with more potential challengers this time around in Barcelona, not to mention tyres set to play a huge role, here are the most likely obstacles Espargaro will face.

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Francesco Bagnaia 

Starting alongside the Spaniard is winner last time out, Bagnaia. Had Espargaro not set a new all-time lap record in qualifying, then pole would have been the Italian’s. 

Bagnaia made a slow start on Friday and therefore it appeared as though victory was out of reach, but after making steady improvements as the weekend’s gone on, that’s no longer a wild dream.  

Instead, Bagnaia has shown extremely strong race pace along with an ability to keep his rear tyre in good condition. 

Given the fact Bagnaia has won two of the last three MotoGP races, is arguably riding at his best, and his Ducati machine is seemingly working exactly how he wants, the six-time premier class race winner should be considered one of Espargaro’s main rivals, if not the outright favourite. 

Fabio Quartararo 

‘I feel ready’ said Quartararo following Saturday’s qualifying - ominous words from the reigning world champion who has again looked strong when it mattered most. 

Like Bagnaia, Quartararo struggled during Friday practice, however, with more and more grip rubbering into the Barcelona circuit, Quartararo’s pace drastically improved. 

Quartararo has not had the easiest of weekend’s, as was the case in Mugello, but as is becoming all-too familiar for his rivals in 2022, the Yamaha rider is producing champion’s rides more often than not. 

“I think we have the potential, we have the speed [to challenge Espargaro]. We are not the only ones with the speed though,” Quartararo added. “Everyone knows here how the tyre consumption is and how [important] the rear grip is. Everybody is ready for it and I think we have a clear idea how to manage the rear tyre.”

Fabio Quartararo, Catalunya MotoGP, 4 June
Fabio Quartararo, Catalunya MotoGP, 4 June

Speaking of tyres, Quartararo leads us to the third and final rival that could derail Espargaro’s attempts at winning his home race.

Will rear tyre degradation be Espargaro’s undoing during the Catalan MotoGP? 

Although Espargaro is not one who typically struggles late on in races, there are others equally as good when it comes to their tyre preservation skills. 

One of those is Bagnaia who held off Quartararo for both of his wins this season, and in doing so set very fast lap times at the end of said races. 

Unlike most Grand Prix’ where the fastest rider usually comes out on top, Catalunya is so often determined by tyre grip, or lack thereof. 

Johann Zarco very nearly stole the win away from Miguel Oliveira in 2021, something Espargaro will also want to avoid as finding the perfect balance of being fast and having tyre left is going to prove pivotal.

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