Analysis

Barcelona MotoGP Subscriber Notes: A Champion Arises, A New Mr Consistency, Yamaha Speed, And Maverick's Misery

It turns out there is someone who wants to win the 2020 MotoGP championship after all. A couple of people in fact, and they are now starting to make an effort to actually win this thing. After last week at Misano, when the top four in the championship were separated by just 4 points, it was hard to discern a shape to the 2020 title chase. Unseasonably cold weather, a punishing track for tires, and the usual run of random racing incidents events shook up the championship at Montmelo. Now, a pattern seems to be emerging from the fog of racing war.

After Misano, just 4 points separated the top four. A week later, there are 24 points covering the first four places, and 8 points – twice what covered last week's top four – the gap from first to second place. The points spread between the top ten has nearly doubled, from 27 to 50 points.

At Misano, Takaaki Nakagami was highlighted as a rider still in with a shot of the championship, not least by Repsol Honda boss Albert Puig, in defense of the job Honda have done in 2020. The LCR Honda rider was seventh, but trailed the leader Andrea Dovizioso by 21 points. With 7 races still left to contest, Nakagami had a shot at the title which was anything but theoretical.

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Barcelona MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Start Fast Or End Fast - Preparing For A War Of Attrition

What did we learn from qualifying for the Grand Prix of Catalonia on Saturday? We learned that qualifying is extremely deceptive. The front of the grid is a mixture of riders who are genuinely fast on race pace, and riders who are only quick over a single lap. But what we also learned is that the track at Montmelo, outside Barcelona, is so hard on tires that qualifying is only a very small part of the story. It is uncertain whether where you qualify will have any bearing on the outcome of the race.

The problem at Barcelona is that the track is punishing on tires. You do not get to the end of the race with tire to spare. Indeed, you may not make it to the end of the race at all. "The last laps of the race, we will struggle not to make a lap time, we will struggle to stay on the bike," warned Pol Espargaro. "Maybe by the end of the race, it's not going to be who can perform better, who can be faster, I think by the end of the race it's going to be who takes more risk, who cares less about crashing."

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Barcelona MotoGP Friday Round Up: Low Grip, Heavy Winds, Meaningless Times, And Coronavirus Concerns

"It's only Friday." Something you tend to hear from riders on, well, Fridays, when you ask them who they think is looking strong. Friday is the day that people are getting up to speed, evaluating different setup directions, making a preliminary assessment of tires, and putting in a banker lap when time and conditions allow. Drawing conclusions from either session of practice on Friday is fraught with difficulty.

Doubly so for Friday at the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo, near Barcelona. The track hosted three days of action for the WorldSBK series last weekend – now with double headers for the World Supersport and Supersport 300 classes due to the compressed 2020 schedule – and so received a layer of Pirelli rubber. There have been rainstorms during the week which have washed some of that rubber from the track, changing grip levels once again. And the wind on Friday was, in the words of Jack Miller, "pretty savage".

On the face of it, you might say that Franco Morbidelli, Johann Zarco, and Brad Binder are capable of quick times, Morbidelli and Zarco dropping under 1'40. On race pace, you might want to conclude that Morbidelli, Fabio Quartararo, Joan Mir, Alex Rins, and Maverick Viñales are all quick on used tires. But the results from Friday need to be read like you might read tea leaves. Sifted through in the hope of finding patterns; but fearful of leaping to conclusions which the future simply will not bear out.

Clean track, low grip

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Barcelona MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Injury Surprises, A Missing Announcement, And Managing Tires For Success

The 2020 MotoGP season motors relentlessly on, as we visit Montmelo for the last race of the current triple header. The seventh race in eleven weeks, Round 9 marks the numerical mid-point of the season. Sort of: it is race 8 of 14 for the MotoGP class, but race 9 of 15 for Moto2 and Moto3, who raced at Qatar*. And as winter approaches in the northern hemisphere and Covid-19 cases start to rise again in Europe, the chances of us making it all the way to Portimao in late November and completing the remaining 6 races after Barcelona are significantly less than 100%.

The relentless round of races is brutal for everyone except fans and riders, most preferring racing every weekend to sitting at home. Especially in a season as up and down as 2020, where the direction of the championship seems to change every week. "I enjoy that the racing is hard and fast," said Jack Miller, summing up the general feeling of the riders on the grid. "We can have a quick turnaround and things can change very quickly. I enjoy that you don’t have to sit there thinking about a bad race for two or three weeks. You can get back into it straight away which is nice."

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Emilia-Romagna Moto2 & Moto3 Review - Neil Morrison On A Dunlop Tyre Gamble, Dixon In Form, Fenati's Redemption, And Moto3 Penalties

Bestia’s Bullet

As a tyre manufacturer that supplies rubber for a Grand Prix category, one of the main priorities entering a race weekend is avoid any possibility of leaving with egg on your face. While producing excellent tyres that work in a variety of conditions and temperatures, Dunlop, the supplier of Moto2 and Moto3 rubber, is known to err on the side of caution, making sure the tyres in its allocation (both softer and harder options) can do a full race distance without any issues.

At the San Marino Grand Prix, all 29 Moto2 riders chose Dunlop’s softer option for the race. Asked if he was confident it would go race distance without any drop off, Gary Purdy joked, “It could do two race distances!” Therefore, the English factory decided to introduce a softer rear compound for the following week’s race at the Emilia-Romagna GP.

Rather than knowing the tyre choice from Friday morning, riders were tasked with assessing two compounds (one was the race tyre from the San Marino GP, then a softer compound still) for suitability over 27 laps. There was a real variety in tyre strategy in qualifying. “It’s fantastic,” Purdy said. “Teams are coming to me and asking what they should do (on race day). These back-to-back races have given us a great opportunity to mix it up a bit.”

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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 13 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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