Analysis

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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Misano MotoGP Test Subscriber Notes: What Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda, KTM, And Ducati Were Working On

The Covid-compressed 2020 season has very little room for maneuver. To fit fourteen races into nineteen weeks means making a lot of sacrifices. One of those sacrifices is testing: of the original three one-day post-race tests planned, only one remains, at Misano, on Tuesday.

What is the point of a midweek test in the middle of a year where so much development has been frozen to cut costs? "I think it's just a lot a people getting bored during the week, not moving anywhere, not doing anything, so they're trying to keep each other busy, keep themselves busy," joked Jack Miller.

The Pramac Ducati rider may have said that in jest, but it is easy to believe he is right. Engine and aerodynamics development is frozen for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, which already cuts down dramatically on the options for progress with a bike for this year and next. So surely the teams and factories wouldn't have much to test?

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Misano MotoGP Subscriber Notes: A Wild Championship, Youth Charge, Rossi's Legacy, And How Consistency Counts

It's 2020, and if there's one thing we know about 2020 is that it is utterly unpredictable. If at any point, a certain event, path of action, or result seems set in stone, 2020 finds a way to rip that up and throw it away. The Misano MotoGP race – Misano 1, that is, the round sponsored by the microstate San Marino, as opposed to next week's round, sponsored by the Emilia-Romagna region – was a case in point. The timesheets in free practice were clear: Fabio Quartararo and Maverick Viñales would run away with this race, trailing the rest of the field, led by the Yamahas of Franco Morbidelli and Valentino Rossi, in their wake.

It didn't quite work out that way. Franco Morbidelli and Valentino Rossi led the field for a while, before they went their separate ways, and a couple of young upstarts started to interfere with their plans. The pre-race favorites suffered an ignominious fate, shaking up the championship along the way. While the winner tore away at the front, a fascinating and thrilling battle unfolded for the other podium places over the final few laps. We are left with a championship that is closer than ever, and even more unpredictable than ever.

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Misano MotoGP Saturday Round Up: An Unstoppable Blue Wave, The Luxury Of Choice, And Honda's Via Dolorosa

They say that the joy of motorcycle racing is that the rider matters so much. There have been various percentages bandied about over time, the most recent, and most reasonable and widely accepted, from Valentino Rossi's former crew chief Jeremy Burgess, who put the ratio at 70% rider, 30% bike. In reality, of course, putting percentages on the relative importance of rider versus machine is a necessarily imprecise art. But given all we know of the difference in performance and results between teammates and riders on the same machine, that seems entirely reasonable.

Then you get to a track like Misano, and the circuit proceeds to make a mockery of such truisms. After the two qualifying sessions on Saturday, the grid for Sunday's race consists of four Yamahas, followed by two Ducatis, followed by two Suzukis, then two more Ducatis, and then two KTMs. Only from the fifth row of the grid does it get a little more mixed up.

You would almost start to believe that the bikes are starting to matter more than the rider at some tracks. After all, the first two races at Jerez saw the same two riders start from first and second on the grid, and finish in first and second place in both races, in the same order.

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Misano MotoGP Friday Round Up: Bumps, Grip, Tires, Yamahas, Rookies, And Radios

It should come as no surprise that in a paradoxical 2020 MotoGP season in a year full of paradoxes, a new surface at Misano should have simultaneously both improved the track and made it much worse. Yet the paradox is relatively easy to understand: the tarmac chosen for the new surface has a lot more grip, but it is also softer when it gets hot, deforming more and producing more and bigger bumps. The additional grip is great, but you can't always benefit when your wheels are being kicked up into the air.

"There's more grip than last year but the track is similar to motocross!" Fabio Quartararo told us. "A lot of bumps. Positive that there is more grip but we need to adapt because honestly the first exit in FP1 was really difficult to manage the bumps."

One of the things making the bumps so difficult to manage is where they are. "It's bad," said Jack Miller, "especially in the fastest sector, it's really quite bad. That back section, the bike just starts shaking and bouncing, and one lap you can get through there semi OK, and the next lap you're just bouncing around and you can't really get back on the track."

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Misano MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Rumor Mill Grinds To A Halt, Viñales Explains His Brakes, And What The New Surface Means

A couple of days before the Misano MotoGP round – that is, the Gran Premio Lenovo di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini, not the Gran Premio TISSOT dell'Emilia Romagna e della Riviera di Rimini, or Misano 1 and Misano 2 as most people without photographic memories or a contractual obligation to use their full names will call them – kicked off, there was a flurry of rumors and excitement over possible announcements ahead of the race. Thursday could see important news made, people whispered.

The rumors doing the rounds bordered on the outlandish, but were just far enough off that to be credible. Valentino Rossi would announce his retirement, and Petronas Yamaha would announce they were signing Andrea Dovizioso, now free of his Ducati chains, to take his place. There was of course nothing in the rumors: Petronas team boss Razlan Razali denied the reports ahead of the weekend, and in the press conference on Thursday, Valentino Rossi laughed off the suggestion.

"My retirement is big news, no?" the nine-time champion commented. "If you write on the internet that Valentino retires, a lot of people click to read, a lot of fans. I think it is for this reason. There isn't another reason because the situation hasn't changed, and I tried to explain a lot of times that I will race next year. But maybe it is more interesting to say I will retire."

A rod for his own back

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MotoGP Mid-Season Review And Preview - The Lessons Of The First 5 Races For The Last 9 Races

The opening laps of the 2020 Styrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring - Photo Cormac Ryan Meenan

The 2020 MotoGP season is divided into two, uneven halves. The first five races were something of a warm up: a pair of races at Jerez, followed by a week off, then three races on consecutive weekends, one at Brno, two at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Those five races proved punishing for bikes, riders, teams.

Riders crashed and hurt themselves: Marc Márquez broke his right arm and put himself out of action and out of the championship; Alex Rins damaged ligaments in his shoulder and has been riding hurt since then; Cal Crutchlow and Johann Zarco broke scaphoids, and gritted their teeth to ride; Zarco and Franco Morbidelli had a horrifying high-speed crash which saw their bikes cross the track and come within centimeters of hitting the Monster Energy Yamaha team of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales.

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Teruel WorldSBK: Jonathan Rea Grinds Down The Opposition

Jonathan Rea & Michael Ruben Rinaldi at Aragon - Photo credit WorldSBK
Jonathan Rea leads Michael Ruben Rinaldi into Turn 1 at Aragon - Photo WorldSBK

Jonathan Rea just keeps ticking boxes in his title defence. Another weekend and another victory, but crucially also another three podium finishes. Consistency wins championships, and in the history of the Superbike World Championship he has no equal in this regard.

Motorland Aragon was a case in point. With back-to-back rounds at the Spanish circuit, this was a prime opportunity for his rivals to take points away from him. Instead Rea extended his title lead to 34 points by a mixture of risk-taking on track and conservative strategy in the garage.

Aragon is historically Ducati territory. The long straight clearly plays to the strength of the Panigale V4R, its horsepowers. When riding on board with Rea throughout the race weekend we could see where his bike excels: through Turn 10 on the edge of the tyre with the throttle pinned and the rear sliding but still able to find drive grip. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, but giving up so much acceleration on the straights meant the Kawasaki rider had to push incredibly hard everywhere else.

Lessons learned

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WorldSBK Rider Coach Nicolo Canepa - Unleashing Riders' Full Potential

In racing no stone is left unturned. The bikes are tuned to perfection. Development takes place for months behind closed doors. Wind tunnels, fluid dynamic testing, analysis of data, and tyre modelling are all key components in getting the most out of the motorcycle. It’s a never-ending cycle of constant improvement with the goal of going ever faster.

The process of fine tuning the machine mechanically was always in stark contrast to that of the rider. For much of the sports history the partnership of man and machine has been talked about but while the bike is fine tuned the rider has largely been left to their own devices.

Training, nutrition, and mental preparation have been areas focused on by all teams for years but now they are starting to open their eyes to rider coaching. Over the last five years we have seen this area become increasingly important. When Valentino Rossi and Jonathan Rea both employ a coach it’s clear that even multiple World Champions can enjoy the benefits of another pair of eyes.

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