Analysis

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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Brno MotoGP Preview: Missing Marquez, Horsepower Hill, Yamaha's Hope, And KTM Competitive

With MotoGP heading to Brno for the first of three races, a new chapter opens for the championship. The two season openers at Jerez were somehow anachronistic, races out of time, and out of place. The searing heat of an Andalusian summer turned the Circuito de Jerez into an alien space, the searing heat punishing riders, bikes, and tires. It proved costly, too, Yamaha losing three engines to the heat in two races, Ducati losing one, that of Pecco Bagnaia. Those lost engines are likely to have long-term consequences for Yamaha, though it seems as if Ducati have escape a little more lightly.

These three races at two race tracks are something of a return to normality. The Czech Grand Prix at Brno, and the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, are happening on the weekends scheduled on the original calendar, before the COVID-19 pandemic MotoGP calendar, along with the rest of the world, on its head. Much has changed, of course: MotoGP is at Brno with a much-reduced paddock, with no fans and no media outside of a small band of TV journalists. But at least the Grand Prix paddock is where it was supposed to be, in the conditions which could have been expected back in January.

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Andalucia Moto2 & Moto3 Review - Neil Morrison On Bastianini's Brilliance, The Sky VR46 Celebration Fails, And Moto3 Stars

MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of Neil Morrison, Paddock Pass Podcast host, Moto2/Moto3 commentator, and the finest writer in the Grand Prix paddock. Neil will be contributing a review of the goings on in the Moto2 and Moto3 paddocks this season.

As always Moto2/3 delivered plenty of talking points at the Andalusian Grand Prix. Sunday’s results threw up a host of surprises and blew both championships wide open. Here, we take a look through some of the big talking points from both classes.

Bestia’s bolt from the blue

Few gave Enea Bastianini a hope in a hell at the beginning of Sunday’s 23-lap Moto2 race. The Italian had caught everyone off guard by qualifying third. But free practice showings (17th in FP1, 8th in FP2, 16th in FP3) didn’t point to the Italian coming up with a solution to stop the Sky Racing VR46 team-mates over race distance.

But what do we know? The 23-year old got the holeshot, led every lap and coolly resisted Luca Marini’s midrace advances to collect his maiden Moto2 triumph. From ninth place, 19 seconds off the winner a week before, ‘La Bestia’ trimmed a colossal 18 seconds off his race time from Jerez 1 to 2. The secret, he said, was returning his base setting to what he used at race one in Qatar, where he finished third.

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WorldSBK Jerez Preview: Too Hot To Handle?

Lord Almighty,
I feel my temperature rising

Higher higher
It's burning through to my soul

Elvis wasn’t singing about WorldSBK racing at Jerez this weekend when he covered Burning Love almost 50 years ago, but he might as well have been. During the course of this weekend’s races the rider’s will face an incredible challenge due to the conditions.

With air temperatures hovering close to 40°C in recent weeks the difficultly is in keeping a cool head and avoiding your core temperature be rising at an alarming degree. The moment that the body temperature starts to rise, even for an elite athlete, they are running on borrowed time. When a critical point is reached the body transitions into survival mode, and suddenly the typically razor-sharp racing brain takes a back seat to surviving until the end of the race.

To combat this we’ll see riders keeping cool with air blown into their faces while they sit in the shade with cold towels wrapped around their necks and wearing ice jackets. The aim of the game is to get your body temperature as low as possible before going into battle and then hope that you’re body can deal with the heat when the action gets underway.

"I was cooking!"

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Andalucia MotoGP Things I Missed: Scrubbed Tires, Happy Hondas, And Gifted Places

A few days after the events of the Andalusian Grand Prix, with time to let what happened in Jerez to sink in, there was a lot that missed in my Sunday race notes. If you want to know about Yamaha's high hopes and deep concerns, Rossi's podium return, the Ducatis, KTMs, and what it might mean for Brno and Austria, go back and read that first. Here's what I missed the first time around.

Scrubbing in

Yesterday, media monolith Motorsport.com reported that Michelin had advised the MotoGP teams to use the Sunday morning warm up to scrub in a new tire to use in the race. Scrubbing in is an old technique, originally recommended as a way to remove the chemical film which can remain on the surface of a new tire as it is removed from the mold – something which Michelin says is no longer needed, as modern tires don't have that surface film let by the mold.

This, however, is something different. The aim of scrubbing these tires in is different. Teams were advised that their riders should do an out lap, a fast lap, and then an in lap, then wait before putting the tires back in the warmers. The goal here is to raise the internal temperature of the tires to operating temperature, then let them cool, precipitating a chemical change inside the tire. Putting them back on the tire warmers then stops that change.

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Andalucia Sunday Subscriber Notes: The New Star, Where Rossi's Speed Came From, Yamaha's Engine Woes, KTM, And Ducati's Title Chase

The first twelve days of the restarted 2020 MotoGP season have been absolutely brutal. The paddock assembled in the searing heat of the Andalusian summer, and with the pressure of a highly compressed season, 13 races to be jammed into an 18 week period. At the test on the Wednesday before the first race, Danilo Petrucci got caught out by the wind and blown into the gravel at Turn 11, banging up his neck in the process. On the Saturday, Alex Rins jumped off his bike to avoid Jack Miller, dislocating his right shoulder and cracking his humerus.

Last Sunday morning, Cal Crutchlow took a tumble and fractured his scaphoid, and then in the race, Marc Márquez managed to highside himself into the gravel between Turns 3 and 4, his bike following him in and hitting his right arm, breaking his humerus. On Tuesday, the Dexeus clinic in Barcelona saw a steady stream of patients as the wounded came in to be patched up. So successful was Marc Márquez' operation that the Repsol Honda rider was doing press ups that evening, and by Wednesday, had persuaded his team to let him have another crack at Jerez at the weekend.

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Andalucia MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Marquez' Roller Coaster Week, A New Championship, And A Surprise Package

He came. He tried. But in the end, it proved impossible. Even for a man whose ambition and competitive drive burns as fiercely as Marc Márquez'. After riding with fewer problems than he feared on Saturday morning, the fracture in his right arm started to swell in the afternoon, and made riding impossible. Marc Márquez was forced to face the limits of human endurance and willpower, and accept that racing on Sunday would not be.

Saturday afternoon was the first time that the media had had a chance to actually speak to Márquez since his crash last Sunday. He hadn't spoken to the media after the race – for the obvious reason that he was injured and needed medical attention – nor had he spoken to us on his return to the track. His mind was focused laser-like on Saturday morning, when he would get a chance to ride – skipping Friday was part of the deal he made with HRC before they would even allow him to get on a bike – and he wanted no distractions.

But on Saturday afternoon, after his body had forced him to throw in the towel, Márquez finally told us exactly what happened a week ago, when he crashed out of the race, and kicked off the roller coaster ride which ended with him pulling into his garage after a single lap during Q1.

How it started

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Andalucia MotoGP Friday Round Up: Extra Practice Time, Alternative Tires, And Returning From Injury

Same circuit. Same weather conditions (more or less). Same riders (more or less). Same bikes (more or less). So why do we even need practice? Why not just skip all of Friday and go straight into qualifying on Saturday?

Compare the combined standings at the end of the first day of the Spanish and Andalusian Grand Prix. Just five of the 22 entries are within one position of their place in the combined standings of both FP1 and FP2 at the end of Friday: Maverick Viñales, 2nd-1st last week and this, Jack Miller 6th-7th, Fabio Quartararo 15th-14th, Pecco Bagnaia 18th-17th, Tito Rabat 19th-18th.

The rest of the field varies wildly. Discounting the walking wounded – Marc Márquez, who didn't ride, Cal Crutchlow, and Alex Rins – riders are five, even ten positions further up or further down the order at the end of Friday practice. Franco Morbidelli was 12th last week, 4th this week. Andrea Dovizioso was 4th last week, 10th this week. Valentino Rossi was 13th last week, 2nd today.

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