By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Alex Marquez celebrated a first MotoGP win — even if only virtually — in a ‘#StayAtHomeGP’ esports race featuring 10 top riders including older brother and six-time world champion Marc.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic that has brought live sport to a standstill, the 23-year-old Moto2 champion is still waiting to debut in the top category after moving up to partner Marc at Repsol Honda.
The opening race in Qatar on March 8 was canceled and all other races up to May 17 have been postponed, with more likely to be stalled.
Sunday’s light-hearted online race, with riders joining remotely, was put on by MotoGP organizers to give fans something to watch while reinforcing the message about staying safe at home.
“I am really pleased to win my first race!” joked Alex, whose brother has won the last four MotoGP titles and triumphed in 12 of last year’s 19 races with single-season point and podium records.
The Spaniard said Indonesian esports racer Putut Maulana had given him some useful tips, which he had kept to himself out of sibling rivalry.
Italian Francesco Bagnaia was second for Pramac Ducati with Yamaha’s Spaniard Maverick Vinales third in a crash-strewn race over six laps around the virtual Italian Grand Prix circuit at Mugello. Marc Marquez was fifth.
“I enjoyed it a lot and I hope everyone who watched also had a good time,” said Alex Marquez.
“Let’s hope that everyone continues to follow the advice of the doctors and scientists so that we can return to a more normal life, seeing friends and family, enjoying the outside and going racing.”
Second only to Italy in fatalities, Spain is preparing to enter its third week under near-total lockdown with most of the population housebound as the country tries to curb the virus.
Seven of Sunday’s 10 riders were Spanish.
Petronas Yamaha’s French rider Fabio Quartararo came fourth, and set the fastest lap, after starting from pole position but taking out future team mate Vinales at the first corner of a chaotic opening lap.
“You need a different style in these kinds of races so I had to adapt my strategy a little bit during the day,” commented Marc Marquez, who also crashed.
“A good time and I am really happy to be able to do something for the fans.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Ian Chadband)