Analysis

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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Teruel MotoGP Friday Round Up: Honda Up, Ducati Down, Or Is It Just Really Hard To Tell?

It was a much more pleasant day that greeted the MotoGP riders for the second round at the Motorland Aragon circuit. Air temperatures for FP1 were 18°C on Friday morning, versus 11°C a week ago. Temperature differences were less marked in the afternoon, but the big difference was in the wind: it had returned since last week, but was not the icy affair it had been previously.

Riders had a chance of making it from Turn 14 all the way to Turn 2 without losing all temperature in the right side of the front tire and ending up in the gravel. Only three riders crashed today, as compared to eight a week ago. That was true across all classes: there were eleven crashers combined in Moto3, Moto2, and MotoGP, compared to eighteen last Friday.

What that meant was that it became a little easier to try the medium tires, front and rear, but the temperatures weren't sufficiently different to start to find major differences. That is as you might expect, coming back to the same track a week later. That also meant that, with the weather expected to be warm enough to be able to push for a time in FP3 on Saturday morning, a bunch of riders decided to forgo the chance to chase a spot in Q2 on Friday, preferring to focus on tire choice and setup.

Faster and slower

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Teruel MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Covid-19 Concerns, A Second Bite Of The Cherry, And Nakagami Extends

It is groundhog day again for MotoGP, the paddock back in the place they left – or in many cases, never left – last Sunday. Some did, of course, and may have picked up the coronavirus as a result. Riccardo Rossi, of the BOE Skull Rider Moto3 team, is one of those, the Italian now quarantined at home after testing positive for the virus, and forced to miss the race.

Rossi – Riccardo, not Valentino, who is also still at home in Italy – tested positive on Wednesday. There is a chance that the Moto3 rider caught the virus on his way home from Spain to Italy. But there is a non-zero chance that he actually caught the virus in the paddock, the timeline from infection to positive very tight from Sunday night to Wednesday morning.

There is growing concern inside the paddock that the bubbles are failing to stop the coronavirus fro encroaching on MotoGP. That is simply a factor of the resurgence of Covid-19 cases in the wider world, especially in Spain and Italy, where the vast majority of the paddock live. "In the first races we had no cases and now every race it's worse, but not because of MotoGP but because the world is getting worse and worse," Aleix Espargaro said on Thursday.

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Aragon Moto2 & Moto3 Review - Neil Morrison On The Corner That Cost The Lead, Bestia's Unbeastly Transformation, Arbolino's Negative Exclusion, And The Moto3 Rider Market

A crash for two of the championship contenders, a three-rider title fight covered by five points, a seven-way scrap for the win… as ever Moto2 and 3 provided plenty of drama at the Aragon Grand Prix. Here we take a look at last weekend’s big talking points.

Turn Two Trouble

Ask any rider to point to Motorland Aragon’s most demanding string of tarmac, and the majority will say turn two. A fast right attacked in third gear, it’s the first occasion the right side of the front tyre is used in over 40 seconds. In other words, plenty of time for the rubber to cool, making the high-speed entry particularly perilous.

Jorge Martin had mentioned to pit lane reporter Simon Crafar on Sunday morning how he had issues with his front tyre cooling when in clear air. According to the former Moto3 world champion, it was not such an issue when riding behind others, but the cold temperatures that greeted riders all weekend contributed to 16 of the weekend’s 40 falls happening there.

And it was here the Moto2 race was decided. A three-way fight was just ten laps old when Fabio Di Giannantonio tucked the front of his Speed Up chassis as he pitched right into the track’s second turn and ended in the gravel – his second fall there of the day. The Italian had chased down early leader Marco Bezzecchi and pole sitter Sam Lowes, moving to the front with an expert pass on the former on lap ten.

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Why The Repsol Honda Partnership Is Not Going Away Any Time Soon

Marc Marquez on the Honda RC213V at the 2020 Qatar MotoGP Test - photo Polarity Photo

For the past couple of months, rumors have been doing the rounds that Spanish oil giant Repsol was about to withdraw its sponsorship of the factory Honda squad, and Red Bull would step in to take over as title sponsor.

There were plenty of reasons to give credence to the rumors. The global Covid-19 pandemic has caused the oil price to plummet: the price of a barrel of Brent Crude went from nearly $70 a barrel in February to under $20 a barrel in April, though it has since recovered to just over $40 a barrel. That is still roughly 33% lower than it has been for the past couple of years.

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Aragon MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 2: How The Honda Improved, Where The Yamahas Struggled, And Ducati's Difficulties

In part 1 of the subscriber notes from Aragon, I looked at how the podium happened, and its impact on the championship. But much more happened behind the podium, which also helped make the podium happen and affected the way the title chase is playing out. So here are a few more notes and thoughts from Aragon 1.

Returning to the podium, it is worth reflecting on exactly what Alex Márquez has achieved. The Repsol Honda rider's second podium in two weeks was impressive mainly for being set in the dry rather than in the wet, as happened last week at Le Mans. There was no luck involved, nobody crashed out ahead him. Márquez fought his way forward all the way to the leader Alex Rins. He came pretty close to catching him and passing him too.

The onboard footage from Joan Mir's Suzuki GSX-RR, viewable on the MotoGP.com website as one of the optional camera views, give a very clear view of exactly how Alex Márquez is riding. Seen from Mir's bike, you can see how much Alex Márquez looks like his brother Marc on the bike, despite being 10cm taller and a more slender build. His body shape and language was the same, his head dropped, his elbow held down and inside as he forced the front through the corners. It was an instructive view of just how far the younger Márquez has come.

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Aragon MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 1: How The Suzukis Won, Alex Marquez' Home Race, And Why The Hondas Beat The Yamahas

It seems like everybody wants to win a race in 2020, but nobody wants to win the championship. The Aragon round of MotoGP produced another new winner, and shook up the championship once again. The result you might have expected after qualifying never materialized. Yamahas finished top in all four free practice sessions, and there were three Yamahas in the first four slots on the grid after qualifying, Cal Crutchlow in third the only non-Yamaha on the front row.

What happened? Well, the temperature went up, and that persuaded riders to gamble on the medium front with little or no data on the tire. Racing and practice turned out to be two very different things – who would have thought? Tire wear, especially the way tires wear, became a factor. And riders who love the track found a little bit extra.

With his convincing victory, Alex Rins became the eighth winner of the season, and the eighth winner in as many races. Starting at Brno, we have had victories for Brad Binder, in Austria we had Andrea Dovizioso and Miguel Oliveira, at Misano there was Franco Morbidelli and Maverick Viñales, Fabio Quartararo in Barcelona, and then Danilo Petrucci at Le Mans.

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Aragon MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Quartararo Bounces Back, Hondas Return, And Dueling Ducatis

It looked like we would have another twist in this weird and unsettling season this morning. At Turn 14, the current MotoGP championship leader's Yamaha M1 got a little squirrelly as he rode over the kerbs. A little too squirrelly, the front stepping out and then the rear gripping and flicking Fabio Quartararo up into the air, and down onto his left hip. When the Frenchman finally slid to a halt, he struggled to get up, clearly in enormous pain. He was stretchered into a waiting ambulance, and taken off to the medical center.

For a while, it looked like this could be a serious blow to Quartararo's title chances, handing the advantage to Joan Mir. But scans and X-rays revealed that the Petronas Yamaha rider had gotten off relatively lightly, with only bruising and a hematoma in his left hip. A match for the bruise to his right hip suffered in a crash on Friday morning.

Hospital to rostrum

Quartararo limped out of the medical center on crutches, and clearly had difficulty walking to his bike for the start of FP4. He took an extra lap to find his rhythm again, but was soon pounding out laps in the low 1'49s, setting pace that was second only to Maverick Viñales. Half an hour later, he fired out a blistering lap to take pole, his third of the season and ninth in MotoGP. He had gotten away with it, and come up smelling of roses.

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Aragon MotoGP Friday Round Up: Cold Weather Crashes, A New Schedule, Slow Ducatis, And Fast Yamahas

There is a particular type of crash which happens in the wet. A rider will be heading toward a corner, and will start to brake for a corner. At the moment they start to tip the bike into the corner, the front wheel whips out from underneath them almost instantaneously, dumping them on the floor. The crash happens without warning, and without there being anything the rider can do about it. One minute you are up, the next you are on the ground.

The crash happens because on a wet track, grip is unpredictable. Tires cool, and where you thought there was traction, there was in fact none. A tire that might have been working on one side a couple of corners previously has lost so much heat due to the rain, the wind, that the grip you had previously disappears into thin air.

We saw a lot of those crashes in MotoGP FP1 this morning at Aragon, despite clear blue skies and a bone dry track. The reason? The track temperature was simply too cold, and as a result, the tires don't reach the required temperature either. The rubber which is soft and sticky when up to temperature is suddenly stiff and slick as glass, like the tires on a 1:12 Tamiya replica of a MotoGP bike. Johann Zarco and Fabio Quartararo both went down at Turn 14, a notorious point for that particular type of crash to happen.

Down in the dry

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Aragon MotoGP Preview: Rossi Sidelined, More Tires To Handle The Cold, And Long Straights vs Long Corners

In Brno, it was a TV cameraman. In Austria, it was a rider in the Red Bull Rookies Cup. At Misano, it was Jorge Martin. At Le Mans, it was a Yamaha engineer. And at Aragon, the coronavirus finally reaches the MotoGP grid, with Valentino Rossi testing positive for the virus on Thursday afternoon, before he was scheduled to depart from his home in Tavullia to travel to Aragon.

It was inevitable really. As case numbers start to explode at the start of the European winter, and with a group of 1400 people traveling between their homes (if they are lucky – staff from outside of Europe are stuck in Europe until the end of the season, with no opportunities to see friends and family until almost December) and various race tracks, the probability of Covid-19 hitting the paddock was large.

Despite the rigorous protocols put in place by Dorna for MotoGP (compare and contrast with WorldSBK, where things are much less strict) Valentino Rossi has tested positive, along with a number of other paddock workers. It is an open question whether we make it to the end of the season, or even past the Grand Prix of Teruel at Aragon next week. As cases rise, the need to be leading the championship grows ever more imperative.

Down with a fever

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