Analysis

MotoGP Silly Season Update: Binder To Tech3, Miller Awaiting A Contract, Wild Rumors Quashed, And 2021 To Start Early

Though empty seats are limited for the 2020 MotoGP season, in recent weeks there has been some movement to fill those vacancies. The moves have mostly been unsurprising, but then with so few seats available, the chances of something unexpected happening are very slim.

Just before the Sachsenring, we saw Danilo Petrucci keeping his seat alongside Andrea Dovizioso in the factory Ducati team for the 2020 season, a fully expected move since the Italian's victory at Mugello back in early June. That leaves Jack Miller in the Pramac Ducati team for another year, though that deal is not yet signed.

A deal is close, however. "We’re fighting over pennies now," Miller said on Sunday night in Germany. Miller will have a Ducati Desmosedici GP20 at his disposal, the same as his teammate Pecco Bagnaia, but there were still a few financial details to be ironed out. "It more or less should be done, I got some information today. So hopefully we can get it done before we get back at Brno and put all that stuff behind us and just focus on riding."

Binder to KTM

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Sachsenring MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Why Marquez Wins, Ducati's Decline, Viñales' Resurrection, And Impressions Of MotoE

Some things changed at this year's edition of the German Grand Prix, held at the Sachsenring. The race was organized by the ADAC, the German equivalent of the Automobile Association, instead of the former promoter, a local organization based at the circuit. The difference was immediately evident: the event appeared to run more smoothly and more efficiently, and some of the old peculiarities ("we've always done it that way") replaced with things that actually work. It felt like a much better Grand Prix, without losing any of the charm which had marked it out before.

Then there was the inaugural round of MotoE, the new electric bike racing class which joins the MotoGP series. History was made on Sunday morning, when eighteen Energica Ego Corsa motorcycles lined up for the first ever all-electric motorcycle race. The race was shortened from 8 to 7 laps after being declared wet, and then red flagged after 5 laps when Lorenzo Savadori crashed out at Turn 8 after being clipped by Eric Granado.

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Sachsenring Saturday Round Up: On Injury Heroics, Confusing Race Pace, And Marquez' Master Manipulation

It has been a pretty brutal weekend for the MotoGP riders at the Sachsenring. With less than a week to recover after a punishing race in Assen, everyone is stiff, sore, and tired. But those who crashed in Assen or had a physical problem have it doubly tough, having to deal with the tight and tortuous layout of the Sachsenring circuit.

Such conditions inevitably create tales of motorcycling heroism. Taka Nakagami is one such, the LCR Honda rider still badly beaten up after his crash at Assen, where he was taken out by Valentino Rossi. Nakagami has a badly damaged left ankle, but is trying to ride anyway.

Having an injury on his left ankle is one of the worst possible injuries at the Sachsenring, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because is mostly left corners, meaning that the left ankle is bearing much of the load for a large part of the lap, riders leaning much of their weight on their inside leg through the corner. And secondly, because there is so much gear shifting to do, riders going up and down through the box through the tight and twisty circuit.

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Sachsenring MotoGP Friday Round Up: Blocked Laps, Honda's New Frame, And Marquez Applying Pressure To Quartararo

What was the big surprise on Friday at the Sachsenring? The fact that there were no real surprises. The first day of practice played out pretty much as you might expect based on the first few MotoGP rounds of 2019. Marc Márquez put in a push on FP2 to wrap up top spot at the end of the first day, a third of a second clear of Alex Rins on the Suzuki.

Besides Márquez, Rins was quick, as were the Yamahas of Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Viñales, and even Valentino Rossi. Cal Crutchlow got into the top 6, just behind Pol Espargaro – the KTMs and the Hondas were the only bikes which could gain a chunk of time from using the soft rear tire – while the Ducatis are not far behind.

Fabio Quartararo felt he could have been quicker, if he hadn't come across his teammate while he was chasing a fast lap. The Frenchman came up behind Franco Morbidelli, who was cruising around the tight interior section between Turns 2 and 3. For a few minutes, Quartararo was fuming, waving his arms in the air and gesticulating wildly.

Blocking party

After the session ended, the Petronas Yamaha SRT rider was a touch more contrite. "I was upset for five minutes," he said. "But you know it's really special, when you put a soft tire in, it's the best moment of the day. You make all the work, and that's the most fun part of the day. Fortunately we can't really make a good lap time with these tires, but that's OK. I was too angry, I should be more calm in these conditions."

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Sachsenring MotoGP Preview: Who Can Prevent A Marquez Perfect Ten?

There are two things which any motorcycle racing fan needs to know about the Sachsenring circuit in the east of Germany. The first is that the track has an awful lot of left-hand corners, which all flow together into one long turn, the bike spending a lot of time on its side. The second is that Marc Márquez has started from pole position and won the race since 2010, nine years in a row, in 125s, Moto2, and MotoGP. These two facts are probably not unconnected. Marc Márquez loves turning left, his win rate at anticlockwise circuits hovering around 70%. If a track goes left, there is a more than two in three chances that Márquez will come out victorious.

Márquez is especially good at the Sachsenring. The reigning champion starts every race as the man to beat, but the German Grand Prix is different. Here, riders speak of how close they hope to finish to him, rather than how they are going to beat him. His name is penciled in on the winner's trophy, the race almost, but not quite, a formality.

Even though the race is something of a foregone conclusion, the track itself is a fascinating circuit. On paper, it seems far too short and far too tight to be a MotoGP track, the bikes barely cracking sixth gear, and spending little time at full throttle. But that doesn't mean the track isn't a challenge.

Up and down, round and round

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Assen MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Corner Speed, Conditions, And Consistency - Is The Championship Nearly Decided?

When we say that conditions make a huge difference in MotoGP, we usually meant that a track which was drenched in rain, or a one which was drying and changing, effected the outcome of the race. But there are a couple of race tracks in the world where the wind can have a huge impact on the way a race plays out. One of those places is Assen, where the wind sweeps up from the south east unimpeded by any geographical obstacles and straight into the faces of the riders coming out of the Strubben hairpin and heading down the Veenslang back straight. (Though like all of the straights at Assen, it isn't really that straight. It weaves and winds down to the fast right at the Ruskenhoek.)

On Sunday, the wind, which had picked up significantly compared to the day before, produced three barnstormers of races. It kept a huge group together until the end of the Moto3 race, it produced a thrilling Moto2 race decided in the last laps, and it even helped to bunch the MotoGP riders up, and create drama for most of the race.

The wind, combined with the fact that Assen has so many high-speed changes of directions make it immensely physically demanding. Hustling a MotoGP bike from side to side is never easy, let alone when you have to do it at over 200 km/h. The laws of physics turn momentum into an unstoppable force which you have to overpower if you are to make the next corner.

Physically draining

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Assen MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Yamahas And Suzukis vs Hondas and Ducatis - The Battle For Assen

Is there still such a thing as a Honda track, a Yamaha track, or a Ducati track (or even a Suzuki track)? Once upon a time, it seemed like there was. MotoGP would go to Indianapolis, and you knew that a Honda would win. Go to Mugello, and chances are, a Yamaha would emerge victorious.

In the press room, we would spend hours trying to decipher why one bike or another would win at a particular track. Was it temperature which counted? We suspected that, but then a Yamaha or a Honda would win at a cold track one week, and a hot track the next. Was it the layout or the type of corner that mattered? Hondas dominated the stop-and-go layout of Motegi, and then got destroyed by the Yamahas at the stop-and-go layout of Le Mans. In the end, we figured it all came down to grip: in low grip conditions, the Hondas were quick; when there was plenty of grip, the Yamahas were unbeatable.

That disappeared in recent years, killed by the technical developments which led up to the switch to Michelin tires. 1000cc engines, spec electronics, and the regulations which have seen the bikes grow ever closer in performance. With the differences between the machines so small, other factors had a greater impact on results than just the character of the bike. No longer can you predict a winner based on which bike they are on.

Character matters

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Assen MotoGP Friday Round Up: Lorenzo, Confidence Loss, And A New Surface

It has been a bad few weeks for Jorge Lorenzo. During the Barcelona race, he lost the front and wiped out three of his rivals (or rather, three of Marc Márquez' rivals), Maverick Viñales, Andrea Dovizioso, and Valentino Rossi. The next day at the test, on an out lap, he launched the bike at Turn 9, suffering a huge crash and causing himself a lot of pain.

Eleven days later, and a relatively normal crash in Assen saw him bang himself up very badly. Lorenzo lost the front going into the fast left at Ruskenhoek during FP1, not an uncommon occurrence. The problem was he was doing over 200 km/h, so when he hit the gravel he started to tumble, not quite ragdolling through the stones, banging his chest and his back as he went.

The consequence of the crash is severe. So severe, it forced Repsol Honda team manager Alberto Puig to have to talk to the media, something Puig tries to avoid as much as possible (and being team manager means he can avoid it an awful lot). "Basically I am here to explain about his condition," Puig said. "Normally I am never here. So I am just here to tell you the situation…and probably you already know. So I will re-confirm."

Explaining the crash

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Assen MotoGP Preview: Worshipping At The Cathedral Of Speed

Four weeks after press releases full of rolling Tuscan hills, the cliché machine is running out release after release containing the phrase "The Cathedral of Speed". There are of course good reasons to employ a cliché (and press releases usually benefit from trite language, as their objective is to promote the team and its sponsors, rather than the literary skills of press officers), but to call Assen the Cathedral of Speed is to raise the question of whether it still really deserves that moniker.

Much has changed since the first ever Dutch TT in 1925. The first thing that changed was the very next year, in 1926. The first circuit ran over public roads between the villages of Rolde, Borger, and Schoonloo, but the council in Borger refused to pave one of the sand roads on the original course. So in 1926, the race was moved to Assen, run between the villages of De Haar, Hooghalen, and Laaghalerveen to the south of the city of Assen.

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Barcelona MotoGP Race Round Up: The Roll Of The Dice

Luck has always played a role in racing. Sometimes the rain falls just after you set pole position. Sometimes your main rival has a technical problem at a track where you knew they would beat you. Sometimes the rider ahead makes the smallest mistake and opens up the perfect gap for you to aim through. Things happen over which you have no control, and you have to hope the dice will roll in your favor.

Perhaps you can load the dice a little, sometimes. Bear in mind the saying attributed to golfing legend Gary Player: "the more I practice, the luckier I get." Luck can be made, on occasion, opportunity recognized and seized. If you tackle the conditions you find, rather than the conditions you wish you had, you at least have a chance.

Conditions at Barcelona put everyone on the back foot. Temperatures rose from relatively cool to typically scorching, after a week of heavy rain. That rain brought down the dust and sand blown north from the Sahara by the Sirocco winds, leaving the track dirty and green. No grip and constantly changing conditions made consistency an illusion. Finding the right race tire was more guesswork than science, Sunday morning warm up being critical. The Barcelona race looked to be a lottery.

Off balance

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