It has been 143 days since the last day of the MotoGP test at Qatar, and 130 days since the Moto2 and Moto3 classes raced at the opening round of the series at the Losail International Circuit. A large part of the world spent most of that time in lockdown, nobody riding, nobody working on bikes, nobody checking up on equipment at circuits.
That is exactly why you go testing before the resumption of the 2020 MotoGP season at Jerez. To give everything a good shake down, make sure that nothing vital falls apart on a race weekend. The fact that the Jerez circuit suffered a power cut which delayed the restart of the afternoon MotoGP session for the best part of an hour is a case in point. A reminder that everyone needed time to get back up to speed again.
"The boys were a bit rusty," Jack Miller told us. "Everyone is getting back into everything, into their own jobs in the box and also for us riders. We’ve been off for four months. It’s quite useful to shake off the cobwebs."
It was needed. The extreme heat meant Miller's Ducati Desmosedici GP20 caught fire briefly, and needed to be put out quickly. Ducatis catching fire is not unheard of: the Desmosedici generates a lot of heat along with all that horsepower, and the exhausts and engine are squeezed in very tightly behind the fairing. "We had a little fire with the fairing," Miller said. "We ran out of time then. Because it’s so hot the exhaust heated up and it started getting the fairing hot. By the time the boys got that done, and then we swapped the tires we just ran out of time. I think it’s a little teething issue. Everyone is a little rusty after four months off but we got it out of the way and we can now focus on Friday, Saturday and Sunday."
There was more that needed getting used to. The paddock at Jerez was deserted, rather than packed with guests, VIPs, and fans, making it emptier than even during a test. Riders and mechanics tried to figure out how to communicate in the exceptionally noisy environment of a MotoGP garage while wearing masks. Instead of journalists crowding round riders for their media debriefs, riders were taken into the media center, sat down in front of a laptop, and debriefs conducted via online meetings. It was a lot less chaotic than many feared, but still very unworldly and remote, in both the figurative and literal sense.
The debriefs ran more smoothly than expected because most of the riders were admirably punctual. Two riders weren't, throwing the schedule off, and making life complicated for journalists and team PR staff. I will leave you to guess which riders would be able to get away with that.
Atmosphere, or lack thereof
"The situation here is a bit different," Valentino Rossi told us. "For some things it's worse, for some things it's better. It's a bit more difficult because we have to always wear masks, also when you do meetings, so it's a bit more tricky. But on the other side it's very quiet! Don’t have many people! It’s unbelievable for me because I can walk in the paddock for the first time since 1997! Under this point of view it's less pressure, more relaxed."
"It’s strange because the weekend will feel like a test," Andrea Dovizioso concurred. "It’s strange to be in Jerez with just the people in the paddock. In this heat with the mask it’s very difficult, but for a rider you can focus on yourself. There aren’t people in the paddock so we have a lot more freedom, because usually if you do anything in a normal weekend it takes twenty minutes. This was the only way to race this weekend and I think that Dorna and everyone involved has done a good job."
The power cut at Jerez came just after the session had been red flagged due to a crash, and oil on the track. Aleix Espargaro's 2020 Aprilia RS-GP started spewing oil, and Alex Márquez and Danilo Petrucci crashed as a result. Márquez Jr walked away unhurt, but Petrucci was not so lucky. He hit the ground hard and banged his head, and though he was declared fit by the medical center, he chose to sit out the rest of the session, fearing concussion.
"Unfortunately I had a very, very big crash," the factory Ducati rider said. "I was in a big group of riders. I was quite in front of that group. Aleix was in front. When he was braking the bike was losing some smoke. I immediately thought it was oil but after half a lap he was still riding good so I thought it was not oil. But when I arrived at Turn 11 I lost the front."
Turn 11 is a bad place to crash, given the speed involved. "It was a fast corner, a right in third gear at 150kph," Petrucci said. "I started to tumble and I hit the head two or three times. Unfortunately I saw a lot of stars in my eyes so we decided to quit the afternoon session. That was the most important session because it’s during race time. But I’ve been lucky because I just have some pain in the neck. But it’s not too much."
Handling the heat
Getting time in the afternoon is crucial, to understand how both riders and bikes will cope in the oppressive heat. "You could definitely feel it on the bike," Bradley Smith told us, the Englishman a substitute for Andrea Iannone at Aprilia. "Something similar to what it was in Thailand when we very first tested there. It's going to be an interesting one. We've never seen these types of temperatures over a race distance."
"The temperature was unbelievable and maybe the track temperature was even hotter than Malaysia," Andrea Dovizioso confirmed. "It’s impossible for the tires and bikes and when you are behind another rider the heat is unbelievable. In the race it will be very hard for everybody. When you lap alone the problem is not as bad."
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