Analysis

Qatar 1 MotoGP Shakedown Test Round Up: Tricky Conditions, Ducati's Funky Aero, And What Surprises A MotoGP Rookie

The layout of the Losail International Circuit is fantastic. It has flowing corners, a fast straight, hard braking and fast changes of direction. It suits many different types of bike, which is why so many manufacturers have been competitive their over the years, sharing wins and podiums. And why the racing has been fantastic there, as a rule.

Its location, however, is less ideal. Leaving aside the political objections to its attitude toward labor relations, the track sits at the edge of a desert peninsula. When the wind blows, it dumps huge quantities of sand on the track. And as Qatar is relatively flat, when the wind blows, it blows pretty hard.

That was the case on Friday, and by the look of things, it is going to be the case for the rest of the weekend. Gusts of up to 40 km/h made riding hard, and with just a few riders out on track on the first day of testing, the shakedown test for test riders and rookies, conditions were very, very far from ideal.

Luxury test rider

Despite that, Stefan Bradl managed a best time of 1'55.614, just seven tenths off Jorge Lorenzo's race lap record, and a sign that the Honda test rider is already up to speed. That is unsurprising: Bradl has already been turning laps at Jerez on the RC213V. But it also demonstrates that the German has been picking up speed generally, his year racing paying off in terms of outright speed.

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Qatar 1 MotoGP Test Preview: What Each Factory Has To Do At Qatar

It has been a long winter. Longer than normal. Under normal circumstances, MotoGP bikes would have been on track in Sepang a month ago. But as we have learned the very hard way, these are anything but normal circumstances. The Covid-19 pandemic has demanded the very utmost of human endurance and organizational ingenuity to try to have even the slightest semblance of normality.

But on Friday it starts, at last. The first official MotoGP test of the year kicks off with the shakedown test for the test riders, and an extra day of riding for the three true MotoGP rookies, Luca Marini, Enea Bastianini, and Jorge Martin. The entire MotoGP grid will join for two days of action on Saturday and Sunday, and the prelude to the 2021 MotoGP season will be well and truly underway.

Entire MotoGP grid? Not quite. Marc Márquez will not be present at the test, the Repsol Honda rider still in the midst of the rehabilitation process from the broken right arm he suffered 8 months ago at Jerez. He will not participate in either of the MotoGP tests. And it seems extremely unlikely he will participate in the first two races in Qatar either. But he will race this year, and his return will probably be sooner rather than later.

Plus ça change

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Tales From The Petronas Launch: Rossi, Morbidelli, 2019 vs 2020, And Petronas' Future As A Satellite Team

There has been a reversal of roles in the Yamaha camp. The youthful Fabio Quartararo has swapped the confines of the Petronas Yamaha SRT team for the Monster Energy Yamaha factory team. In turn, the 42-year-old hoary veteran Valentino Rossi has been demoted from the factory squad into what is supposed to be the junior team, where young talent is nurtured and prepared to move up to the factory team.

Given the relative performance of the two Yamaha teams in 2020, it seems wrong to class Rossi's move as a demotion, or Quartararo's as a promotion. The Petronas Yamaha team finished second in the 2020 team championship, while the Monster Energy Yamaha team finished sixth. Petronas Yamaha's Franco Morbidelli was the best-placed Yamaha rider, ending the season in second, while factory rider Maverick Viñales finished just 5 points ahead of second Petronas man Quartararo.

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Is 2021 Yamaha's Year? Lessons From 2020

The 2020 MotoGP season was something of a schizophrenic affair for Yamaha. On the one hand, a Yamaha won 7 of the 14 MotoGP races last year, with Franco Morbidelli finishing second in the riders' championship, Yamaha finishing second in the constructors' championship, and the Petronas Yamaha SRT team ending second in the teams' standings.

On the other hand, Yamaha's most successful rider was in a satellite team on a 2019-spec bike. Of the 7 Yamaha victories last year, the factory Monster Energy Yamaha team had just a single one. Morbidelli took 5 podiums on the 2019 M1, while Maverick Viñales, Valentino Rossi, and Fabio Quartararo scored just 7 podiums combined. The first factory Yamaha in the championship – Maverick Viñales – finished in 6th, behind the Suzukis, a Ducati, a KTM, and Morbidelli on the 2019 M1.

There was the valve saga which saw Yamaha have points deducted in the constructors' championship for using non-homologated parts – switching valves between suppliers, and thereby breaking the homologation rules. And there were the brake issues at the Red Bull Ring, where the Yamaha riders insisted on using the older, smaller Brembo calipers which suffered overheating and even brake failure in the case of Viñales.

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Marc Marquez: The Lessons Of A Lost Year

Marc Márquez' absence has left a gaping hole in MotoGP for the last seven months. Sure, the racing has been fantastic, and Joan Mir was a worthy winner of the 2020 title. But the fact that the man who won six of the last eight championships was missing from the series was the elephant in the room throughout last season, a presence noted all the more for his not being there.

The significance of Márquez' absence has been made all the greater by the near total radio silence out of the Spaniard's entourage. With the exception of a single interview given to Spanish TV broadcaster DAZN, the only thing that we have heard from Marc Márquez have been leaks from various sources around him.

The last time the general media had a chance to speak to the six-time MotoGP champion was last July, at the second round at Jerez, after his abortive comeback from the injury sustained in the first race. Márquez shattered the humerus in his right upper arm when he crashed out between Turns 3 and 4 at the opening MotoGP race of the season at Jerez. Márquez was doing push ups just hours after surgery, and decided to try to race at the Andalusian Grand Prix at Jerez, just a few days later.

Too early

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What We Learned From The Ducati 2021 MotoGP Launch

 

After two months of quiet on the MotoGP front, the racing season is starting to burst into action. With the first test at Qatar approaching – and looking ever more likely to actually take place – there is a burst of activity, as the factories all hold their team launches. So frenetic, indeed, that we barely have a moment to ponder one launch before we are onto the next.

That is in part a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. In previous years, launches have been live events with an online element. (Manufacturers, both in racing and production, have learned that they can reach fans and buyers directly with online launches, without journalists sitting in the middle and muddying the message. Series organizers are on this path now as well.) While the pandemic still holds the world in its grip, those launches have moved completely online, with different factories taking different approaches.

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2020 – The Year Of The Satellite

Miguel Oliveira on the Tech3 KTM at Portimao 2020

The final podium of the Covid-19 compressed 2020 MotoGP season neatly encapsulated so many parts of this strange and fascinating year. On the top step stood Miguel Oliveira, his second victory in a breakthrough year for both him and KTM. Beside him stood Jack Miller, the Ducati rider taking his second podium in a row. And on the third step stood Franco Morbidelli, arguably the strongest rider of 2020, outperforming the 2020 Yamahas on a 2019 M1.

The podium was emblematic in another way, too. All three riders were racing for satellite teams: Oliveira for the Red Bull KTM Tech3 team, Miller for Pramac Ducati, and Morbidelli for the Petronas Yamaha SRT squad. Furthermore, Morbidelli's third place finish wrapped up second spot in the MotoGP team championship for Petronas Yamaha, behind the factory Suzuki Ecstar squad and ahead of the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team.

It was the first time since Qatar in 2004 that the podium had consisted solely of riders in satellite teams. The 2004 race was won by Sete Gibernau, who finished ahead of his Gresini Honda teammate Colin Edwards. Ruben Xaus was third across the line, nearly 24 seconds back, riding a D'Antin Ducati. Xaus finished ahead of the two factory Repsol Hondas, Alex Barros crossing the line 6 seconds before Nicky Hayden.

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What Will The 2021 WorldSBK Grid Look Like?

Same old, same old in WorldSBK season. Jonathan Rea walking away with his sixth consecutive title. Kawasaki doing the same with the manufacturers title. No matter what happens Rea and Kawasaki have all the answers and the title all sewn up.

That’s the narrative spun by many about WorldSBK but the reality is very different. Rea and Kawasaki might have won the titles, but this was a challenging season for both that ended with the ZX10-RR clearly outmatched at two of the last three rounds. Ducati had the bike to beat in 2020 but too many riders fighting with one another.

Yamaha are close, very close, and have a hungry rider line-up. The return of a full-blooded factory effort from Honda showed lots of encouraging signs. BMW were a write off this year but still claimed two pole positions and have an all-new bike coming for next season. The future is brighter for WorldSBK than it has been for many years.

New era?

The season began with a classic in Phillip Island. Three great races and a tenth of second the combined victory margin. It was a terrific blend of strategy and different bikes. It encapsulated why WorldSBK is looking forward rather than to the past. We don’t have to look at the “golden age of Superbikes” any longer. We’re living one. Seven different riders won races. Ten riders stood on the rostrum.

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Only Marc Márquez Threatens Wayne Rainey´s “Unbeatable” Podium Appearance Percentage Record

Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi at the Jerez MotoGP round in 2020

Records are made to be broken and, generally, they are. For example, it seems inevitable that even Usain Bolt´s record of 9.58 from 2009 will eventually fall, given the progress of sprinters since Jim Hines won the 100 meters in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics in 9.95 seconds, a record that lasted 15 years.

Someone someday will probably break Lionel Messi´s 2012 record of 91 goals in a calendar year, although I can´t imagine anyone ever beating Will Chamberlain´s 50.4 points per game from the 1961-62 NBA basketball season. That record just might deserve the adjective “unbreakable.” In FIM Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing, there are several records that stand out, some that promise to be around for a long, long time.

Back in 2012, just before Marc Marquez entered the MotoGP class, I was discussing with MotoGP statistician Dr. Martin Raines which important records were the most unlikely to be broken, at least in the short-term future. I recall that seven of the most impressive were:

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Portimão Moto2 & Moto3 Review - Neil Morrison On Two Titles Clinched, Remy Gardner's Win, Sam Lowes Digging Deep, And Raul Fernandez Dominating

This was as fun as it looked. The grandstands may have been empty and the paddock quiet, but the Algarve International Circuit lived up to its billing as a spectacular circuit. Not since Turkey’s fabulous Istanbul Park in 2005 had grand prix racing come to a new venue as jaw-dropping and thrilling to the naked eye.

Riders raved about the swoops, the undulations and the blind crests. Sunday showed the 4.6km layout could provide half decent racing, too. For the opening races lived up to the surroundings, with Moto2 and Moto3 serving up vintages high on adrenaline, spectacle and stress that had the championship fight go right the way to the wire. Here are some of the big talking points from the small classes on the last weekend of the season.

Italian Revival

For Enea Bastianini, his directive was clear: a top four finish was enough for a first world title no matter where his rivals finished. If Sam Lowes wasn’t victorious and Luca Marini was, he simply needed a top eight. Thoughts that the Algarve International Circuit (a track unknown to him but not his three rivals) could throw up a banana skin were dashed early. Enea was an impressive fifth at the close of day one.

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