Analysis

Europe Moto2 & Moto3 Review - Neil Morrison On Arenas' Temper, Bezzecchi's Return, Gardner Keeping His Cool, And A Lacklustre Luthi

MotoGP may have moved definitively toward one contender taking the crown. But a three-way title fight in Moto2 became four thanks to a surprise crash for leader Sam Lowes. And Any feeling 2020 was inching decisively in favour of Moto3 challenger Albert Arenas took just two laps to come apart. Here are a number of the big stories from the junior classes at the European Grand Prix.

Arenas loses his cool

Perhaps with the passing of time the Moto3 contest will be remembered for Raul Fernandez’s long-awaited first grand prix win. But it was Albert Arenas’ all-action showing that really caught the eye. Unfortunate in the extreme to get hit from behind when avoiding Celestino Vietti’s stricken KTM, the championship leader was forced into the pits with a snapped footrest bracket.

That should have been the end of his morning. But Arenas wasn’t finished. “I went into the garage pissed off, but the team tried to calm me,” he said. The team succeeded in mending the machine, but failed to defuse the rider. Rejoining in 30th place and three laps down, the Spaniard let the leading men by when shown the blue flags. But then came the madness. The 23-year old inexplicably started passing the riders in the fight for the second, including a ludicrous lunge on title rival Ai Ogura at the final turn – enough for Race Direction to show him the black flag.

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Europe MotoGP Subscriber Notes: A Champion In Waiting, A Base Setting, And Why Yamaha Isn't As Bad As You Think

For most of the 2020 Grand Prix season, nobody has wanted to win a championship. Every time someone has taken a lead at one race, they have found ever more creative ways to throw it away at the next. Fabio Quartararo got off to a lightning start, winning the first two races of the season. Then he let his lead slip away, Andrea Dovizioso making inroads into the Petronas Yamaha rider's advantage.

Behind the leaders, Maverick Viñales made a strong charge, then faded away, then came back again with a win at Misano 2. Jack Miller started off strong, had a DNF, then a run of good results and another DNF and has been up and down (literally, in a couple of cases) ever since. Takaaki Nakagami closed in relentlessly by finishing inside the top ten every race, until he crashed out of the lead at Aragon 2.

It was hard to see who was in the driving seat of the championship. Quartararo took back the lead at Barcelona, but hasn't finished any better than eighth since then. Dovizioso has slowly slipped further out of reach, while Maverick Viñales has barely stayed in touch with the top of the championship. Franco Morbidelli has won two races to close the gap, but had some poor finishes and a DNF as well.

Throwing it away

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Europe MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Working With No Data, Mir's Mind Games, And KTM's Testing Advantage

What is the point of free practice? It is to prepare bike, rider, and team (not necessarily in that order) for Sunday's race. On a good weekend, you spend Friday testing your base setup and getting an idea of which tires to use. On Saturday, you refine the setup and check how your preferred tire lasts over something approaching race distance. In warm up on Sunday morning, you might try a final tweak in search of more tire life or a fraction more performance.

The goal of all this is simple: to arrive on the grid on Sunday afternoon with the best possible setup. To eliminate as many unknowns as possible, and provide the rider with the sharpest possible weapon with which to do battle. From that point on, it is up to the rider.

That's the theory. In practice, of course, it rarely runs quite that smoothly. There is always something cropping up that makes the whole process a good deal more complicated than anyone hoped, unexpected obstacles to be overcome along the way.

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Europe MotoGP Friday Round Up: Yamaha's Very Bad, Terrible, Horrible Weekend

It has been such a bad day for Yamaha that I feel bound to start this report off with the highlight for the Japanese factory: Franco Morbidelli finished in the top three for both sessions of free practice on Friday at Valencia. He and Petronas teammate Fabio Quartararo are directly through to Q2, at least provisionally, dependent on the weather on Saturday morning. Garrett Gerloff, replacing Valentino Rossi in the Monster Energy Yamaha team on Friday, was very impressive, getting up to speed quickly in very difficult conditions, despite not having any experience of either MotoGP bikes, Michelin MotoGP tires, or the Ricardo Tormo Circuit at Valencia. And Valentino Rossi's second PCR test came back negative, meaning he can take over from Gerloff again from Saturday morning.

That was the good news. The bad news was pretty terrible, however, bad enough that it made even a cynical old hack like me feel sorry for Yamaha's PR staff. After yesterday's penalty for violating the engine homologation procedure, the reliability issues resulting from trying to race an entire season using just 40% of the original engine allocation, two engines out of five, finally caught up with Maverick Viñales. The Monster Energy Yamaha rider, currently 19 points down on championship leader Joan Mir, has been forced to use a sixth engine during practice, incurring penalty for infringing the engine durability rules. On Sunday, Viñales will have to start the Grand Prix of Europe at Valencia from pit lane.

As if that were not bad enough, later this afternoon we learned that a key member of Viñales' crew had tested positive for Covid-19, and was forced to self isolate. Four other members of the Monster Energy Yamaha team, including team manager Maio Meregalli, were determined to have been at risk after contact with the infected team member, and although they tested negative, have also gone into quarantine for ten days until Monday, November 16th, the day after the second round at Valencia.

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Europe MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Life Inside The Bubble In The Final Stretch

We are entering the final stretch of The Year That Went On Forever. It turns out that compressing an intense, 14-race season into the space of 19 weekends feels more like five years than five months. Speak to people inside the paddock, or even speak casually to a rider, and they will tell you how mentally draining it is. Stuck in the Covid-19 bubble, wary of venturing out for fear of becoming infected.

That was what happened to Jorge Martin and Valentino Rossi, and they paid a heavy price. Both missed two races, and it looked like Rossi would miss a third, when he tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday. Fortunately for him, a test on Thursday came back negative, so he is on his way to Valencia. If he has another test come back negative on Friday, he will be able to race this weekend.

You don't even have to have the virus yourself to be forced to miss races. Tony Arbolino missed Aragon after he sat too close to a person with Covid-19 on a plane back from Le Mans. And now Iker Lecuona will miss Valencia because his brother, who is also his assistant, tested positive in Andorra.

Fear and loathing

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News Round Up: Whither 2020, A Possible 2021 Calendar, And Dovizioso And Lorenzo As Test Riders

The last intense three weeks of this intense MotoGP season is upon us. On Thursday, the diminished paddock reassembles in Valencia for the last of the back-to-back races, with the Grand Prix of Europe this coming weekend, the Valencia Grand Prix a week later. Then, two weeks from today, the paddock will pack up and head down to Portimao, for the last race of the 2020 season. If all goes well, of course.

There is a slightly revised schedule for the two weekends at Valencia, practice starting an hour later in the mornings, 20 minutes later in the afternoons, to avoid the chilly conditions which can prevail at Valencia for FP1 and FP3. And while Sundays are the usual format at Valencia – Moto3 at 11am CET, Moto2 at 12:20, and MotoGP at 2pm – the final weekend at Portimao is a little different. To keep the MotoGP race in its usual 2pm Central European Time slot, the race will be held at 1pm local time in Portugal, which uses GMT. That means MotoGP will be racing before Moto2 in Portugal.

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Teruel MotoGP Subscriber Notes Part 2: The Strangeness Of Who Gains, KTM's Progress, And Yamaha's Engine Situation

It being 2020, last weekend's Teruel round of MotoGP at the Motorland Aragon circuit threw up plenty of surprises, more than can be covered in just a single article. In Monday's subscriber notes, I covered the early crashers, Takaaki Nakagami's lead lasting just five corners, Franco Morbidelli's perfect race, why Alex Rins and Joan Mir came up short, and whether it matters if Mir doesn't win a race this season, the odd fortunes of the Yamahas in 2020, and Andrea Dovizioso as best of the Ducatis.

But there is more to cover. It is worth taking a look at who made the biggest gains between Aragon 1 and Aragon 2, how KTM went from nowhere to nearly on the podium, and the mystery of Yamaha's engine situation.

First, a comparison of how the riders fared between the Aragon and Teruel rounds at Motorland Aragon. In theory, you might believe that being at the same track would mean there would be little to no difference. But as previous back-to-back races at the same circuit has shown, this is very much not the case. Results have varied massively from week to week, as some riders have improved, others have stood still.

Faster second time around

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Teruel Moto2 & Moto3 Review - Neil Morrison On Sam Lowes' Transformation, Marini's Misery, Beaubier's European Adventure, And More Masia

A ride as dominant as anything we’ve seen all year, title challengers lost at sea, and a tremendous ten-rider battle for the win… Moto2 and 3 threw up a host of talking points at the Teruel Grand Prix. Here we take a look at what went on.

Lowes in the driving seat

Having won only after his main rival crashed at the previous week’s Grand Prix, there could be no doubting who was the number one here. On the back of wins in France and Aragon, Sam Lowes put on an exhibition at the Teruel Grand Prix as dominant as anything witnessed in any class this year to take charge of the Moto2 championship.

Lowes was irrepressible from Friday afternoon. He smashed the lap record on his way to pole on Saturday, led four of the weekends six sessions ahead of the race and annihilated the field from the first lap. After his best start of the season, he was soon in the rhythm. His fastest lap the second time around was 0.6s faster than any other rider managed through 21 laps. His winning margin of 8.4s was the biggest recorded this season in any category.

Tyre supplier Dunlop had introduced a softer rear tyre compound for this weekend with the caveat: the rubber had to be managed in the closing laps. Yet Lowes made a mockery of those claims, maintaining his rhythm in the 1m 52s until the penultimate lap while everyone else suffered a drop.

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Teruel MotoGP Subscriber Notes Part 1: Crashes, Pressure, Victories, And Championships

The theme for the 2020 MotoGP season, insofar as one is discernible, is that there are two types of rider: riders who are doing their best to win races but lose the championship, and riders (or rider) who are doing their best to win the championship, but not win races. And never the twain shall meet, so far this year.

That was the tale of the Teruel round of MotoGP, also known as Aragon 2. Before the race, Takaaki Nakagami looked on course for his first podium, and possibly his first win, which would have put him right into the title fight. But Nakagami never even made it as far as the first intermediate timing strip, crashing out of the lead at Turn 5.

Of the three race winners in the top four of the championship, Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo found a way to go backwards during the race, while Andrea Dovizioso never even found a way to go forwards. That put Joan Mir more firmly in the driving seat of the championship, but despite a very strong race to finish on the podium, he never really threatened to win the race.

Winners and … winners?

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Teruel MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Nakagami Shows His Colors, The Grid Shakes Up The Championship, And No Help From Teammates

2020 keeps throwing up surprises. If having eight different winners on four different manufacturers, including the rookie Brad Binder, wasn't enough, the array of riders qualifying on the front row is remarkable. Twelve different riders have qualified on the front row of the grid, if we include Alex Rins as the twelfth at the Teruel Grand Prix, or Aragon 2. That is over half of the 22-strong grid.

There have been some unexpected names on pole as well. At Brno, it was Johann Zarco, the Frenchman finding a new home on a Ducati after a disastrous half season on the KTM. At the Red Bull Ring for the second race in Austria, it was Pol Espargaro grabbing KTM's first pole position. In Barcelona, Franco Morbidelli grabbed pole position, outshining his Petronas Yamaha teammate and championship leader Fabio Quartararo on a year-old bike.

So Takaaki Nakagami taking pole at Aragon 2 is right in line with the "Expect the Unexpected" theme of 2020, to borrow a line from 1980s cult classic TV show Terrahawks. If you had put a bet on the LCR Honda rider grabbing pole before the start of the season, you would have gotten very good odds. Indeed, the bookmakers were still offering excellent odds on Nakagami to win ahead of this weekend.

No longer under the radar

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