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
To some extent, the rumors surrounding Rossi's future are a result of his own situation. Though he will almost certainly be racing for the Petronas Yamaha SRT team in 2021 – "99%" was his own estimation – actually tying up all of the loose ends is taking a long time. There have been credible rumors of an announcement ahead of Jerez, ahead of Brno, and ahead of Misano. Rossi himself suggests it might take another couple of weeks. "I think maybe Barcelona we can give the announcement," he said.
Where does that leave Andrea Dovizioso? "In this moment, I still don’t have anything on the table," the factory Ducati rider said. Paddock rumor says he has offers of a test ride from all factories bar KTM, and an offer to race with Aprilia. But Dovizioso does not want to rush into a decision just yet, preferring to weigh up his options. "I took a decision for clear reasons and I know very well what I need to be competitive in this difficult class. We will see when I have something on the table because I don't want to race just to race."
That could be interpreted as a rejection of racing for Aprilia, but it seems too early to draw a conclusion like that. "I am really open in this moment and I don't have anything clear in this moment. I think in the next month something will come out, but we will see. I will decide when I have something clear."
Misano was also the place where we expected Ducati to announce their 2021 line up, or at least put some of the pieces in place. That, too, has been put on hold, perhaps due to a mixture of injury and Jorge Martin's positive COVID-19 test. Or perhaps to the fact that Ducati now appear to have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to rider talent. It is believed that Jorge Martin has been signed to race in the Pramac Ducati team next year, and Ducati have shown an interest in both Enea Bastianini and Luca Marini for 2021. Johann Zarco is also having an impressive season, adapting to the GP19 in a revamped Avintia squad, putting a pole and a podium to his name in Brno.
Ducati's biggest decision is who to place in the factory squad, whether to promote Pecco Bagnaia from Pramac and move Zarco up to the Pramac team, or take Zarco from Avintia and put him directly into the factory team. "Ducati still need a little time, because they have to decide between Pecco and me, and Pecco was injured," Zarco said. "It's logical that they have to wait a little bit." Once that piece falls into place, they then have to decide which of the two Italian Moto2 riders they want, or whether they want both of them, and want Tito Rabat to move out of the Avintia squad. That would be an expensive option, however, as they would have to replace the money which Rabat brings in sponsorship.
Bagnaia has been passed fit for the weekend, ready to return after breaking his leg in a massive crash during FP1 at Brno. But the Pramac Ducati rider is still using crutches, and may take some time to get back up to speed. His pace in Jerez promised much, however. Ducati will naturally want to see how much of it was just the track, and how much is Bagnaia finally living up to the potential he showed in Moto2.
Brake failure explained
On a newly-resurfaced track – more on that later – Yamaha are expected to do well. Maverick Viñales was optimistic of being able to use the extra grip, telling the media, "It looks perfect. Until you try it you don’t know, but it looks clean, really good. I can’t wait to be on the bike. It looks like it’s going to work well for us."
Viñales had crashed out of the race at the Red Bull Ring after suffering a brake failure. "In the last race Brembo recommended us to use the new calipers. But I had a very strange feeling with those calipers. Maybe we didn’t have the best set-up on the bike, for the braking parts. Then I decided to use the old ones because with them I never had a problem until the race. That was the main mistake."
That was being addressed at Misano, he explained. "We’re going to try to use discs, parts and calipers all new here to see if it works well. That’s it, we hope it works well. We’ve been speaking with the guys from Brembo, we’ve been working very hard and we will try also this weekend to work pretty close to them to see if we can solve especially that consistency I have on the brake lever of the new calipers."
What Viñales and his team were changing at Misano was that they were going to try the complete package of 2020 parts, including the new discs. "Basically here we are going to use the new calipers, but with all the parts new. Discs and parts. In Spielberg it was just the calipers and parts. Just the discs were old. Maybe this makes the difference with consistency on the brakes."
All about feeling
The Monster Energy Yamaha rider went into some detail on what exactly that lack of consistency entailed. The lever was responding differently in different corners, the brake engaging at a different point in the lever's travel in different corners. "Basically for example in corner 1 and 3, the bike started braking when I pushed the lever," Viñales explained. "Then in corner 4 I started to brake and it was half way. Not just when I touched it, a little bit later."
That was the reason Viñales had rejected using the new calipers at the Red Bull Ring. "Some corners were OK, but some others, [the brake lever]was in a different place when I started to brake. That’s why I used the old ones, the brake is always in the same place when you put the power. Anyway maybe it’s a consequence of the discs we used. Tomorrow we’re going to try."
The new surface should certainly favor the Yamaha, according to Bradley Smith, who has a fair few laps on the circuit as Aprilia's test rider, and now standing in for Andrea Iannone in the factory team. "It's just got phenomenal grip," Smith said of the new asphalt. "So the biggest thing that we needed to change was all the power maps and traction control because suddenly we didn't need it like we had before."
More grip, less electronics
That was a huge change from the previous surface. "Last year I think it was one of the worst tracks that we had in terms of grip," Smith said. "I wasn't riding, but when I did the test here and listening to the comments of the guys it was a real struggle. It literally went from being one of the worst to one of the best." That meant making a lot of changes to the Aprilia RS-GP. "We had to change quite a lot during the three days and play around with gearboxes, because suddenly we needed shorter to have more acceleration rather than longer and less spin. It's all those type of things."
The extra grip of the track would certainly help Aprilia, Smith believed, but not just them. "We're always struggling a little bit for grip, but if you give everyone grip then it basically is who's got the best acceleration, who's got the best downforce for the wheelie and who has the best engine. People say 'that's going to come in our favor, and that's going to come in our favor'. To be honest if you take from one and give to another, it's going to end up the same." In the end, it all balances out.
But Smith did feel there was one factory which would benefit, he said. "We're not going to see any big surprises this weekend. I think the only ones that we could see that are going to be stronger would be Yamaha. I think the extra grip will help them a little bit more. But that's about it to be honest."
The new surface may have a lot more grip, but the price paid for that grip was a big increase in the number of bumps, created by the many cars which also use the Misano circuit. The bumps were in unfortunate places, including the fastest corner on the track, Smith explained. "The worst places are Turn 3, Curvone, a little bit in the hairpin right before the last two lefts. So I think it's 2, 11, 14-15 or something like that."
The worst thing was that when cars race on a track, they tend to leave bumps in the worst place conceivable for motorcycles. Cars brake much later, and with more force, leaving ripples right in the hardest part of the braking zones, at the point when the rider is turning in and the bike is already on its side. "The worst place possible," Smith said. "I don't really know why. It's strange as well because we were here with superbike and honestly they couldn't feel them, but on the MotoGP bike you could feel them like crazy. That was quite interesting to understand between the two different bikes."
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