Analysis

Emilia-Romagna MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Winner Who Wasn't, Reinventing Maverick, Championship Math, Ducati Braking, And How Messages Work

Just when you thought the 2020 MotoGP season couldn't get any weirder, the Emilia-Romagna round at Misano threw up surprises we never even knew were possible. You would have that that having MotoGP race at the same track twice would make matters even more predictable, but instead, we find ourselves deep inside the world of Donald Rumsfeld's famous unknown unknowns.

The race itself was more a war of attrition than a bar-banging battle from lights to flag. It was hardly bereft of excitement – the battle for the podium grew intense and controversial in the last few laps – but the eventual winner spent pretty much the whole race alone. The same was true for the rider who should have won, but managed to throw it all away with seven laps to go.

That was far from the only crash. Of the 20 riders who started the race, only 7 managed to cross the line at the end of 27 laps. That is one of those surprises we really hadn't seen coming – two races and a test, combined with almost perfect weather (the briefest of showers during the Moto2 race, just enough to force a restart interrupted a week of otherwise endless sunshine) meant the newly resurfaced track had more grip than the tires could handle, and by Sunday, the riders knew every bump around Misano better than the knew their own mothers.

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Emilia-Romagna MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Lost Records, Sharing The Blame, And The Suzuki Mystery

It was an almost perfect lap. Pecco Bagnaia had sat at the top of the timesheets for a good chunk of Q2 after beating Maverick Viñales' best time up to that point by three tenths of a second. As the final minutes of qualifying ticked down, his rivals closed in, Viñales snatching back top spot with five minutes left to go.

But Bagnaia wasn't done yet. He had been fastest in FP3, then set a withering pace in FP4, and came into qualifying brimming with confidence. He wasn't alone in believing he could be fast: on his final run, Valentino Rossi and Pramac Ducati teammate Jack Miller slotted in behind him, trying to ride his coattails to a better qualifying position.

On his last attempt, Bagnaia managed something nobody had done before. The Italian lapped the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli in 1'30.937, becoming the first motorcycle racer to get under the 1'31 barrier. Unfortunately, however, it was only an almost perfect lap. On the exit of the final corner, Bagnaia got "a bit too greedy", as he put it, and stayed out too long on the kerb, running over the green-painted section which marks the outside of the track. Bagnaia had that lap canceled for exceeding track limits.

Guilty as charged

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Emilia-Romagna MotoGP Friday Round Up: Close Times Hide The Bigger Picture, Is Honda Better, And Yamaha's Split Personality

Just how close is MotoGP at Misano? The gap between Brad Binder in first and Taka Nakagami in second is just 0.002s, two thousandths of a second. The top five are all within 0.071, just over seven hundredths of a second. The top ten are within half a second, and there are eighteen (18) riders within a second. It seems fair to say it is insanely close.

Or it would be if that were an accurate reflection of the actual state of the MotoGP grid. But the combined standings at the end of the first day of practice at the second MotoGP round at Misano in two weeks is rather deceptive. Precisely because it is the first day of practice for the second race on consecutive weekends at the same track.

Coming into Friday, the MotoGP riders had three days of riding at last week's San Marino Grand Prix at Misano, then a full day of testing on Tuesday. It seems fair to say that the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli holds no secrets for the MotoGP grid any longer. And with the weather predicted to be stable on Saturday, there was no real reason to push for a fast lap on Friday if a rider was comfortable with their pace.

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Emilia-Romagna MotoGP Thursday Round Up: A Close Championship, The Best Bike On The Grid, And Yamaha's Progress

We are in the toughest stretch of the punishing 2020 MotoGP schedule, ahead of the second race of the first of three triple headers – 9 races in 11 weeks, in three sets of three. It is a brutal start to this stretch, with last Sunday's race followed by a test on Tuesday, then practice starting again on Friday. Over the course of 10 days, the MotoGP riders will have been riding for 7 of them.

What will the second race at Misano look like, after the MotoGP riders have already have 4 days of riding at the track? "For sure everything will be very close after a Grand Prix, race, then a test, then another race," Alex Rins predicted. "Everything will be so close, so we need to be at 100%, we need to give our 100% to be at the front, to be concentrated, and giving our best."

Why will everything be closer? Because the second race at the same circuit gives everyone a chance to try to correct the mistakes they made at the first. Take Jack Miller. On Sunday, he was persuaded to race with the medium front instead of following his gut instinct, which told him to go with the hard front. It is a decision he will revisit come Sunday, and something he worked on at the test.

Rubber quandaries

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Misano Moto2 & Moto3 Review - Neil Morrison On VR46 Riders Lapping Misano, The Moto2 Rider Market, And Ai Ogura

VR46 Academy On Top Of The World

As days go, Sunday was just about perfect for the VR46 Academy. Franco Morbidelli became its first ever MotoGP race winner, Francesco Bagnaia backed him up in second and Sky Racing VR46’s Luca Marini and Marco Bezzecchi scored a fairly comprehensive one-two in the earlier Moto2 outing.

All four are supremely talented riders. But the countless hours of testing at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli begged the question: should riders be limited in terms of how often they test at one of the tracks on the MotoGP calendar?

Such track experience was even more crucial this year as the track was resurfaced in March. Despite much improved grip levels, bumps all around the track remained. On Sunday Jack Miller noted, “It makes me worry and I said it also in the Safety Commission on Friday afternoon, 'if you guys knew the track was this bumpy, nobody said a single thing leading up to this. You guys are riding here once a month a least'. Anyway it just shows practice can help I think.”

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Misano MotoGP Test Subscriber Notes: What Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda, KTM, And Ducati Were Working On

The Covid-compressed 2020 season has very little room for maneuver. To fit fourteen races into nineteen weeks means making a lot of sacrifices. One of those sacrifices is testing: of the original three one-day post-race tests planned, only one remains, at Misano, on Tuesday.

What is the point of a midweek test in the middle of a year where so much development has been frozen to cut costs? "I think it's just a lot a people getting bored during the week, not moving anywhere, not doing anything, so they're trying to keep each other busy, keep themselves busy," joked Jack Miller.

The Pramac Ducati rider may have said that in jest, but it is easy to believe he is right. Engine and aerodynamics development is frozen for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, which already cuts down dramatically on the options for progress with a bike for this year and next. So surely the teams and factories wouldn't have much to test?

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Misano MotoGP Subscriber Notes: A Wild Championship, Youth Charge, Rossi's Legacy, And How Consistency Counts

It's 2020, and if there's one thing we know about 2020 is that it is utterly unpredictable. If at any point, a certain event, path of action, or result seems set in stone, 2020 finds a way to rip that up and throw it away. The Misano MotoGP race – Misano 1, that is, the round sponsored by the microstate San Marino, as opposed to next week's round, sponsored by the Emilia-Romagna region – was a case in point. The timesheets in free practice were clear: Fabio Quartararo and Maverick Viñales would run away with this race, trailing the rest of the field, led by the Yamahas of Franco Morbidelli and Valentino Rossi, in their wake.

It didn't quite work out that way. Franco Morbidelli and Valentino Rossi led the field for a while, before they went their separate ways, and a couple of young upstarts started to interfere with their plans. The pre-race favorites suffered an ignominious fate, shaking up the championship along the way. While the winner tore away at the front, a fascinating and thrilling battle unfolded for the other podium places over the final few laps. We are left with a championship that is closer than ever, and even more unpredictable than ever.

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Misano MotoGP Saturday Round Up: An Unstoppable Blue Wave, The Luxury Of Choice, And Honda's Via Dolorosa

They say that the joy of motorcycle racing is that the rider matters so much. There have been various percentages bandied about over time, the most recent, and most reasonable and widely accepted, from Valentino Rossi's former crew chief Jeremy Burgess, who put the ratio at 70% rider, 30% bike. In reality, of course, putting percentages on the relative importance of rider versus machine is a necessarily imprecise art. But given all we know of the difference in performance and results between teammates and riders on the same machine, that seems entirely reasonable.

Then you get to a track like Misano, and the circuit proceeds to make a mockery of such truisms. After the two qualifying sessions on Saturday, the grid for Sunday's race consists of four Yamahas, followed by two Ducatis, followed by two Suzukis, then two more Ducatis, and then two KTMs. Only from the fifth row of the grid does it get a little more mixed up.

You would almost start to believe that the bikes are starting to matter more than the rider at some tracks. After all, the first two races at Jerez saw the same two riders start from first and second on the grid, and finish in first and second place in both races, in the same order.

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Misano MotoGP Friday Round Up: Bumps, Grip, Tires, Yamahas, Rookies, And Radios

It should come as no surprise that in a paradoxical 2020 MotoGP season in a year full of paradoxes, a new surface at Misano should have simultaneously both improved the track and made it much worse. Yet the paradox is relatively easy to understand: the tarmac chosen for the new surface has a lot more grip, but it is also softer when it gets hot, deforming more and producing more and bigger bumps. The additional grip is great, but you can't always benefit when your wheels are being kicked up into the air.

"There's more grip than last year but the track is similar to motocross!" Fabio Quartararo told us. "A lot of bumps. Positive that there is more grip but we need to adapt because honestly the first exit in FP1 was really difficult to manage the bumps."

One of the things making the bumps so difficult to manage is where they are. "It's bad," said Jack Miller, "especially in the fastest sector, it's really quite bad. That back section, the bike just starts shaking and bouncing, and one lap you can get through there semi OK, and the next lap you're just bouncing around and you can't really get back on the track."

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Misano MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Rumor Mill Grinds To A Halt, Viñales Explains His Brakes, And What The New Surface Means

A couple of days before the Misano MotoGP round – that is, the Gran Premio Lenovo di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini, not the Gran Premio TISSOT dell'Emilia Romagna e della Riviera di Rimini, or Misano 1 and Misano 2 as most people without photographic memories or a contractual obligation to use their full names will call them – kicked off, there was a flurry of rumors and excitement over possible announcements ahead of the race. Thursday could see important news made, people whispered.

The rumors doing the rounds bordered on the outlandish, but were just far enough off that to be credible. Valentino Rossi would announce his retirement, and Petronas Yamaha would announce they were signing Andrea Dovizioso, now free of his Ducati chains, to take his place. There was of course nothing in the rumors: Petronas team boss Razlan Razali denied the reports ahead of the weekend, and in the press conference on Thursday, Valentino Rossi laughed off the suggestion.

"My retirement is big news, no?" the nine-time champion commented. "If you write on the internet that Valentino retires, a lot of people click to read, a lot of fans. I think it is for this reason. There isn't another reason because the situation hasn't changed, and I tried to explain a lot of times that I will race next year. But maybe it is more interesting to say I will retire."

A rod for his own back

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