Analysis

Austria Moto2 & Moto3 Review - Neil Morrison On Syahrin's Crash, Martin's Win, Marini's Progress, And Moto3 As The Least Eventful Race Of The Weekend

The smaller classes delivered once again at the Austrian Grand Prix as a dramatic Moto2 encounter, which had one hair-raising moment, resulted in an added dimension to the championship fight, while Moto3 produced the sixth closest top 15 finish in the history of the class. Here are some of the big talking points from Moto2 and Moto3 last weekend.

The Crash

Had it not been for Johann Zarco and Franco Morbidelli’s terrifying collision in the MotoGP race, the sight of Hafizh Syahrin smashing into Enea Bastianini’s stricken machine on the exit of turn one would have been the takeaway image of the Austrian Grand Prix.

There were elements of Days of Thunder as the Malaysian was flung from his machine at well over 160 km/h, with parts of his Speed Up bike disintegrating around the oncoming pack. Dominique Aegerter, enjoying a replacement ride for NTS, narrowly missed his head. “Scary,” said the Swiss rider. “The debris literally flew around my ears. I was really lucky.”

This wasn’t the first time the Red Bull Ring’s turn one has witnessed such a spill. Remy Gardner’s collision with Alex Marquez so nearly ended in disaster at the same point a year ago, when Jorge Martin avoided hitting the Australian at 130 km/h by a matter of inches.

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Austria MotoGP Sunday Subscriber Notes: On Dangerous Tracks And Dangerous Racing, Dovizioso's Revenge, Rins One Shot, And How The Restart Affected Tires

Johann Zarco's Avintia Ducati after his crash at the 2020 Austrian MotoGP round at the Red Bull Ring - photo Cormac Ryan Meenan

Motorsport can be dangerous, as it says on the passes handed out by Dorna for MotoGP. We got a harsh reminder of just how dangerous it can be at the Red Bull Ring on Sunday. Both the Moto2 and MotoGP races had to be red-flagged after serious crashes left the track strewn with debris. There were some terrifying near misses, with not one but two riders having their helmets clipped by airborne motorcycles, and Valentino Rossi seeing first a Ducati GP19, and then his life flash before his eyes.

Fortunately, everyone escaped largely unharmed, except for some massive bruises and a few suspected minor fractures. All being well, everyone should line up on the grid again in seven days' time, to do it all over again. We may question the wisdom of that, but untrammeled ambition breeds courage, the will to win an appetite for risk. That is just the way motorcycle racers are wired.

In among the drama, motorcycle races were held. The crashes and disruption ended up having a significant effect on the races, and those races, in turn, had an important impact on the 2020 championship. New faces on the podium once again underlined that we are in a new era in MotoGP, as did the strength of the KTM once again.

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Austria MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Desmo Dovi Divorce Overshadows Qualifying

It was one of those days. We had a fascinating FP4 session for the MotoGP class, where a clear pattern emerged for the race, followed by a thrilling and action-packed qualifying, yet barely anyone is talking about that at all. And all because early on Saturday afternoon, the bombshell dropped that Andrea Dovizioso will be leaving Ducati at the end of the 2020 season.

Though the news itself did not quite come as a surprise, the timing and nature of the announcement caught us all a little off guard. Ducati had said they had hoped to make a decision after the two races at the Red Bull Ring. But Dovizioso's manager Simone Battistella had already said he was having a meeting with Ducati management on Saturday, and Sky Italia TV tracked him down as soon as Battistella left the Ducati truck to ask how the meeting had gone. Battistella told them, and all hell broke loose.

"It’s normal to have a lot of questions and I’m a bit disappointed but this moment is not the right moment to speak about all the details," Andrea Dovizioso would tell us when we finally got to talk to him during his media debrief, held via Zoom. A debrief that was 20 minutes late, and started right in the middle of the qualifying press conference traditionally held at 5pm on Saturday afternoon. It was late because of all of the TV interviews Dovizioso had to do to explain himself, before doing it all over again for the written press.

No mood to talk

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Austria MotoGP Friday Round Up: A Wasted Session, KTM vs Ducati, And Yamaha As Supplicant

We nearly got away with it. The clouds hung heavy over the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg for much of the morning, but it stayed dry for all three classes, and the Red Bull Rookies practice as well – I will leave it to the imagination of the reader as to why the Red Bull Rookies are racing in Spielberg this weekend. But halfway through FP2 for the Moto3 class, at the beginning of the afternoon, the heavens parted and the deluge began.

The weird thing about the rain is that it was so incredibly localized. The Red Bull Ring is a relatively compact circuit, not elongated like Assen, or spread out over a vast territory like Silverstone, so to have a downpour in Turn 3, the track completely soaked and water running across the track, while a few hundred meters downhill, along the front straight and at Turn 1, the track was completely dry, made for impossible conditions. A few Moto3 riders nearly got caught out as they hammered up the hill toward Turn 3, then found themselves unable to brake for the corner and forced to run wide.

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Austria MotoGP Preview: The Risk Of Rain Riding At The Red Bull Ring

A short hop over the Alps – or rather, a short drive south, and then west between the Alps, to avoid the slow but spectacular progress over the mountain passes to the north of Spielberg – and the MotoGP paddock reassembles at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. From one of the best tracks on the calendar, plagued by financial problems, to one of the best-funded tracks on the calendar, plagued by the fact that, well, frankly, it's not a very good circuit for motorcycle racing.

The setting is spectacular, nestled at the foot of the hills rising from the valley of the river Mur and heading up to snow-capped peaks a couple of kilometers skywards. The circuit sits on a slope at the bottom of those hills, making for a surprisingly steep climb up to Turn 1, then up the hill to Turn 3, along the hillside to Turn 4, before rolling down through a huge Omega right-left-right combination to get back to the bottom of the hill, and the straight which runs along it.

But the circuit belies its heritage, as a spectacular but treacherous mountain circuit crossing hills and woods. And like many mountain circuits, there is little room for mistakes, with runoff limited at Turn 1, Turn 3, between the barriers from Turn 3 to Turn 4, and at the bottom of the hill into the final corner. In the dry, it is all just about manageable. But in the wet, it can be a terrifying place.

Hard rain is going to fall

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Brno MotoGP Things I Missed: KTM's Long Road To Success, Rins' Grits His Teeth, And Viñales Comes Up Short

Every MotoGP round has a lot going on, too much to capture on a Sunday night. But the Brno round of MotoGP was even worse than usual, with ten times the usual surprises, and a month's worth of stories and intrigue. On Sunday, I covered Brad Binder's win, KTM's journey, the state of the championship, Yamaha's engine situation, and Ducati's problems since the start of the season. Below is a round up of things I didn't get around to writing about.

It goes without saying that Brad Binder's victory was the biggest story to come out of the MotoGP race at Brno. A rookie winning in MotoGP in just his third race, and claiming the first victory in MotoGP for KTM – coincidentally, the first win for a manufacturer not from either Japan or Italy since Kim Newcombe won the Yugoslavia GP in 1973 on a König, something you can find out much more about in this highly recommended documentary series – is unquestionably a massive event.

The KTM factory team celebrate Brad Binder's first win for the manufacturer in the premier class

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Brno Moto2 & Moto3 Review - Neil Morrison On Lowes' Podium, Roberts' Revival, A Fiery Foggia, And More

Sam Lowes leads Joe Roberts ing the Brno Moto2 race - Photo: Polarity Photo

In one of the most topsy-turvy rounds in recent memory, Moto2 and Moto3 added to the spectacle as certain riders triumphed while others bafflingly faded away. As always we’re on hand to take a look through some of the biggest talking points through both classes.

A calmer Lowes

There was good reason to believe Sam Lowes’ hopes of a strong championship finish were over before it had all started. A slow, innocuous testing fall at Jerez in early February ruptured tendons in his right shoulder, chipped the top of his humerus bone and deprived him of his entire preseason testing programme. That kind of injury isn’t one you just shake off; the joint still gives the Englishman considerable pain at the end of each day.

It was a nightmare start to life as a Marc VDS rider in what is a critical season. But how he has fought back has been exceptional. While fortunate the suspension of racing gave him added time to recover, there has been nothing lucky about performances since. A pair of fourth places at Jerez was a solid foundation to build on. And the Czech Grand Prix – where he was never outside the top two – resulted in a first podium finish since September, 2016.

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Brno MotoGP Sunday Subscriber Notes: Remarkable Rookie, KTM & Concessions, Yamaha's Engines, A Direction For Ducati, And Honda's Many Mistakes

If there was any doubt 2020 was going to be a historic season for MotoGP, the Czech round at Brno erased the last of them. It has been a weird year, the COVID-19 pandemic throwing the calendar out of kilter, then the resumption of racing bringing excitement, drama, and a whole boatload of surprises.

There was Marc Márquez breaking his arm one week, and trying to ride the next. There was Fabio Quartararo dominating both races. There was Valentino Rossi looking lost on the first Sunday, and finishing on the podium seven days later. And that was just the tip of the iceberg of weirdness.

After the topsy-turvy events of the two Jerez races, Brno turned the MotoGP world even more upside down. In these subscriber notes, an attempt to make sense of the madness, to filter some signal from the noise. There is a lot of signal, but also plenty of noise. Here's the signals we have picked up so far:

  • The rookie who finally lived up to expectations
  • The new best bike on the grid?
  • The consequences for the championship
  • Concessions explained
  • Petronas Yamaha's other rider gets what he deserves
  • Yamaha's engine situation
  • The Zarco vs Espargaro smackdown
  • Are Ducati really as lost as they seem?
  • Honda's litany of errors

Lots to get through. But there is only one place to start: with the winner.

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Brno MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Stolen Laps, Surprise Front Rows, And Why Old Is (Sometimes) Better Than New

If ever there were a day where qualifying and practice told two very different stories, it was Saturday at Brno. The tales were linked and related, interwoven in many ways, but the differences outweighed the common threads. The grid tells a tale of heroism, surprises, and the cruel application of sensible rules. Practice is a story of dark foreboding, of the grim war of attrition that awaits on Sunday afternoon. Qualifying was tough; the race is going to be much, much tougher.

Qualifying is always the highlight of Saturday afternoon, though the final free practice session, FP4, is what matters most. With nothing on the line but race setup, and conditions close to what they will face at race time on Sunday afternoon, teams and riders show what they are really capable of. Even then, the story told is not in the overall result, but tucked away in the analysis timesheets, where teams send out riders on old tires, to see how they hold up once they get a lot of laps on them. The secret code created by combining tire compound with tire age and run duration is almost impossible to decipher, but there are fragments of the real story of the weekend tucked away for the diligent student.

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Brno MotoGP Friday Round Up: Bumps, Grip, Crashes, And Ducati's Shapeshifter Device

What did we learn from the first day of practice at Brno? Not much, but that in itself is valuable. The COVID-19 pandemic meant that the Automotodrom Brno circuit has not seen much action, so there is very little rubber on the track. The circuit has always been fairly low grip, but it is much worse now than it has ever been. It needs rubber down on it before any conclusions can be drawn.

That makes figuring out what is going on rather tricky. The track is changing session to session, as bikes deposit a thin smear of Dunlop and Michelin rubber on the surface of the track and in the crevices between the grit particles used in the aggregate. That leads to big changes in grip levels: Fabio Quartararo's fastest time in FP2 was over eight tenths faster than the best lap set by Takaaki Nakagami in the morning session. Quartararo's best time from Friday was nearly three quarters of a second slower than the best time at the end of the first day in 2019.

With the times so far off the pace – Quartararo's time is two whole seconds off Marc Márquez' outright lap record, and half a second slower than the race lap record – and grip still changing, conditions were just to inscrutable to draw any conclusions from, or at least any conclusions which might last beyond Saturday morning. Trying to work out which tire will work best was almost possible on Friday. There are still too many unknowns.

Bump and grind

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