until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Now or never? The MotoGP enigma that must be resolved in 2024

by Simon Patterson
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

When Raul Fernandez graduated to MotoGP in 2022 after finishing runner-up in his sole season of Moto2, he arrived as one of the most hotly-tipped prospects in years and having been fought over by Yamaha and KTM before he'd even got on the grid.

Since then, the 23-year-old has largely failed to deliver.

But there are early signs hinting that could finally change when the 2024 season kicks off in under a fortnight.

Fernandez's Moto2 rookie season was one of the most impressive ever. He was arguably unlucky not to end the 2021 season as champion, after racking up eight wins from 18 race starts and missing out on the crown by only four points to Ajo team-mate Remy Gardner.

Raul Fernandez and Remy Gardner, Moto2

However, when he stepped up to MotoGP in 2022 with KTM’s satellite Tech3 outfit alongside Gardner, that form quickly disappeared for both riders - with the pair enduring a punishing year aboard a bike that was difficult to race and inside a manufacturer that at times seemed hellbent on destroying the confidence of its two potential superstars.

The end result for Fernandez was an eight-race run of results outside the points to start the season, and only 14 points in total all year long,

It was hardly the debut expected of a kid whose name had been previously mentioned in the same context as Marc Marquez.

In fact, so punishing was the process that despite being very much a product of KTM’s academy system en route to MotoGP, he quickly found an out for the following year, jumping across to Razlan Razali’s CryptoData-backed RNF Racing squad just as the team traded in satellite Yamaha machinery for Aprilias.

Fernandez didn’t exactly set the world on fire when things got under way there, either. Still grappling not only with learning a new machine but also struggling in the early races with arm pump problems, it was the middle of the season before any hints of a return to his Moto2 glory days.

He ended the season with four top-10 finishes in the final nine Sunday races - he managed only one in the first 11 grands prix - and when he was outside the top 10 an increasing number of technical problems were involved as funds started to run low at RNF, which collapsed at the end of the season.

Fernandez's form continued through his team's very rapid transition into brand new American entry Trackhouse, with the Spaniard surprising the paddock by jumping onto Aprilia’s 2023-spec machine straight after a career-best fifth at Valencia and ending up fastest overall in the post-race test.

That form should have continued into the first pre-season test of 2024 at Sepang, too, given that, unlike team-mate Miguel Oliveira (who now has to learn the latest spec Aprilia), Fernandez is set to remain on the same bike he used at Valencia for the whole of this season.

However, his Sepang test ended before it really started when he crashed on only the third lap, suffering a significant highside that left him with pelvis and hip fractures - and immediately ruled him out of the remainder of the Malaysia test and left him with only two scheduled days at Lusail before the opening race of the year.

With that in mind, expectations for the Qatar runing were understandably lowered - meaning that his impressive end to the test in fifth, ahead of both Oliveira and factory Aprilia rider Maverick Vinales, has very much raised the expectations again for Fernandez as he goes into his third season in MotoGP.

“It wasn’t easy, because we had to do in two days the work that they had planned for five,” Fernandez admitted afterwards of his compressed testing schedule. “But honestly, I’m glad to have the bike of last year, because that helped me to do a faster job, because I had the possibility to try it in Valencia.

“I’m really happy with that bike. It’s the one for me, especially the front part - but it’s still only a test.

"There’s a lot of tyres [Michelin rubber laid down] on the asphalt, and we don’t know what’s going to happen - but I’m really enthusiastic.

“We’re really fast in terms of pace, which is the most positive thing, and we only tried the soft one [tyre] to see what it’s like with this bike. We saved the dangerous situation, because I can’t afford to crash now.”

That was something of a recurring trend in Fernandez's answers to the media at Lusail, given that the test was only two weeks down the road from his Sepang fractures.

But it also hints at what might be possible next week when he returns, hopefully closer to full fitness, for the opening race.

“It is something that I can’t do anything with to recover faster,” he admitted of his injuries. “Time is what I need.

“We have in the plan to go to the mountains to try and do a camp to prepare for the race, so I’m keeping that in my mind, to prepare a little better for the season.”

The Race says

Valentin Khorounzhiy

Raul Fernandez, Trackhouse Aprilia, MotoGP

This might be a harsh judgment for a rider who has switched teams for the third time in three years, has at his disposal a bike that proved itself erratic in terms of performance last year, and is compromised by injury again - but this feels like now or never for Fernandez to ascend to MotoGP stardom.

Such is Fernandez's outward affinity for the 2023 Aprilia and such was his pace in Qatar that, especially when accounting for said injury, he really must deliver right away a considerable, sustained upgrade in terms of results and performance compared to even his reasonable late-season form last year.

And that's not necessarily to reinforce his MotoGP future - just a few highlights here and there would probably make it logical for Trackhouse to re-commit for 2025. But that's not the end goal.

Fernandez didn't arrive to MotoGP on the heels of the greatest rookie Moto2 season since Marc Marquez just to hang around and rack up the starts, or be a handy satellite rider for a manufacturer. That may be admittedly true for every MotoGP rider - but it is especially true for him.

Yet so far MotoGP has only really seen the best he's got in testing. That won't cut it for factories - and neither will even sniping the occasional great result if the weekend-to-weekend stuff isn't there.

In his third year in MotoGP, even if he's only 23 still, Fernandez will probably lock in his reputation among current and prospective employers - one way or the other.

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