Valencia MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 1: The Meaning Of Joan Mir's Championship

So it turns out somebody does want to win this thing after all. After a wild, wild ride through the 2020 MotoGP season – scratch that, through all of 2020 – Joan Mir has finally been crowned champion. And he did it in the most Joan Mir way possible: not with an extravagant flourish, or with all-out aggression risking everything, but by understanding what was needed, riding to the limits on the day, and seizing the prize when it was offered. This was a title won with the head, with generous measure of guts and heart thrown into the mix.

There's an old cliche about swans, gliding gracefully and calmly across the water while paddling like fury below it. That was how the Suzuki rider came into the second weekend at Valencia, the race where he had the title within reach. Outwardly projecting calm, he had the turmoil of nerves to deal with underneath. Try as he might, Mir could not prevent that tension from breaking through to the surface.

There were signs of trouble when Mir washed out the front at Turn 4 on Friday afternoon. Joan Mir is not a crasher, his tumble in FP2 just his fifth of the season so far, putting him very much at the lower end of the crashing scale. Mir clearly had pace during free practice, but a botched qualifying saw him starting from twelfth. The Spaniard remained his normal, bright, thoughtful self during debriefs, and his body language in the pits did not betray a particular level of agitation. Nevertheless, the turmoil was there just below the surface.

"The important thing is that I was looking calm and I was looking without pressure, but I was not calm and I was not without pressure," Joan Mir said in the championship press conference after crossing the line in seventh, enough to put the title beyond the reach of his rivals. "I was just nervous. Doesn’t mean that this is a bad thing." Nerves help focus the mind and sharpen the senses. But too much, and they can push you into a mistake you can't recover from. Like Takaaki Nakagami at Aragon 2, for example.

Corona curveball

Race weekends are a high-pressure environment which riders can escape from in the space between Grand Prix. But in this strange, Covid-19-stricken year, even that was impossible. "The thing that we don't mention a lot and was difficult for everybody to understand is that the pressure, normally you have it at the track, normally you disconnect. But at home, I was not able to disconnect, because I had also the pressure of the coronavirus," Mir said after the race.

An example? After last week's race at Valencia, where he took a 37-point lead, Mir asked his girlfriend to get tested for the coronavirus, and only drove home to Andorra when that test came back negative. He drove, to ensure he didn't come into contact with anyone, and then isolated at home with just his girlfriend in the few days between Valencia 1 and 2. He felt a huge sense of relief when his Covid-19 test came back negative ahead of this weekend, and he was allowed into the paddock.

Once back at Valencia, he did what was necessary: work on finding a setup which he could use in the race, assess his tire choice, check he had the race rhythm to get the job done. The couple of stumbles along the way left him starting from twelfth, in the middle of a potential pack of trouble. And on the first lap, he nearly found himself in real problems, when Fabio Quartararo missed his brake marker for Turn 2 and ran wide, almost hitting Maverick Viñales ahead, and narrowly missing Mir.

Doing enough

From there, Mir got his head down, made a couple of passes, and got lucky with Johann Zarco and Takaaki Nakagami crashing out ahead of him. He crossed the line in seventh, lucky to hold off Andrea Dovizioso but with a generous buffer of points over his rivals, most of whom had managed to put themselves out of contention. The strongest competition came from the rider with the smallest mathematical chance of being him, Franco Morbidelli riding an outstanding race to take a superb and exciting win over Jack Miller. But Morbidelli came into the weekend 45 points behind Mir, and a seventh place left Mir with a 29-point lead, enough to clinch the championship.

It was not a race Mir had particularly enjoyed. "This race was a nightmare. The race that I struggled more during the all the season," he said in the press conference. "It’s strange to understand the situation because at the moment I don’t know. I don’t care about the race. We got the title, but I suffered a lot. I had a lot of big moments during the race with the front. I was not able to ride comfortable like I normally used to ride."

Mir's race was an exercise in pragmatism, something he has practiced throughout 2020. He always had his eyes on the biggest prize, and did not allow himself to be distracted. At the start of the 2020 season, Mir had been a dark horse, always there or thereabouts, never the star attraction who everyone had as their favorite for the title. By the end of 2020, and with the benefit of hindsight, Mir's championship looks almost inevitable. In this most topsy-turvy of years, Mir's consistency and calmness won the day.

Pieces of the puzzle

The 2020 MotoGP championship proved to be a more complex than usual jigsaw puzzle, requiring a number of pieces to fall into place to pull it off. First, the bike had to be right, and Suzuki's GSX-RR proved to be the all-round package most suited to the string of back-to-back races and unusual conditions which marked the 2020 season. Secondly, the progress made by Joan Mir as a rider, and with the experience of a year in MotoGP under his belt. Thirdly, Mir's character, and how he held up under this most strange of years. And fourth, the team and the organization which got Joan Mir here in the first place.

Where to start?

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Source: 
year: 
2020
round_number: 
14

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Comments

Absolutely brilliant stuff, David. Breathtaking in its quality, breadth, and depth. None better. Cheers.

You really have filled in all the gaps I had in my knowledge of the quiet champion, winning with what appears to be the quiet team of MotoGP. Similar budget to Aprilia and the Italian company certainly have the heritage, but what your work has revealed is how a team of people is intelligently assembled and the goal stays in sight. Comparisons in history seem moot but I recall the 1982 championship that another quiet, considered and intelligent man, Franco Uncini, won. The Suzuki wasn't considered the tool anymore, only continued development by Roberto Gallina bearing fruit, Honda were coming rapidly with their new two-strokes and Yamaha still had the King at the helm but Franco got there; very sad to see him badly injured not too long afterwards. 
The thought of Marc Marquez returning in 2021 is a delicious one, not only for the fact that we cannot understand until the Qatar flag (hopefully) drops where he's at with himself, the 2020/1 bike or indeed the latest Michelins, we also know that this season has injected the tide of a new vanguard ready to attack him. We all know that Marc is very capable of just disappearing into the floodlit distance, the last alien, but there may be now more believers than ever, a time to savour and enjoy through your insights David, warm salutations to you. 

Interesting comment from Rossi – he rarely says something for no reason, so I’d say the odds of Team VR46 running a Suzuki satellite squad have just increased significantly...

'Vale Diction' and yes, Rossi's words are usually shaped. It really isn't beyond the imagination, as is Petronas possibly jumping from Iwata to Hamamatsu..

I used to be a motorsport reporter myself years ago, and I know what a task it can be to gather and articulate vast amounts of detailed information on Sunday nights, ready for it to be read/published on a Monday. It's difficult, tiring and pressurised enough to do when you're at an event in person. To do so remotely, week after week, and in a season as eventful as this one, is just awe-inspiring.

Bravo, David. Take as much time as you need for Part 2! laugh

Wonderfully insightful and comprehensive article that is at the same time a joy to read. Great work, David! And like Lieutenant Dan above, I too know how hard it is to go through so much info and then assemble it all into a flowing article, especially under such time pressure. Much appreciated!

Mir and the Suzuki mirror each other. I really like them both. The kid is grounded and very solid, and it is early in his trajectory. 2020 was the year we ALL looked at Yamaha, who tripped on their own untied shoes. What they glaringly did not, Suzuki DID. With dark horse Joan Mir.

Next? The Marc returns. The Honda project looks to have finally taken a turn in how they conceive of their bike. This season was a long hard look at themselves, and they have taken the first important step in a another direction. 

One can already envision the Suzuki and the Honda in last lap battles, right? Like we saw the Ducati do so, and lining up with stable Dovisioso's strength on the brakes and keeping a cool laser-sharp focus. Marquez would over-ride and wildly dive aboard his bucking angry steed. The Red power could drag race from the focal stop and go point.

Then, Honda responded in 2019 with more motor. The front end was left with a question mark, the dot under which has often been dashed in the gravel. The 2018-2020 Honda is such a WEIRD bike! Unforgiving and demanding. Even though her family is wealthy I wouldn't date her.

Well guess what folks, that era has just ended. Ask Dovi. Better yet? We ask Mir and Suzuki. What is the last laps battle being painted? The Red palate a few years ago was brightly interesting, leaving a few firey burns. This light Blue one shall be cool, calmer, and carrying corner speed. With a front tire that supports it. Marc and the Honda will be forced to face their mutual vulnerability of over reach on the brakes. There is NO asterisk over the 2020 Champion. Marc Marquez DID compete. 'At's The Risk he and Honda took, we KNEW the dice would come up snake eyes. It wasn't an anomaly. Nor is this Suzuki/Mir Cup.

So, Valentino is great friends with Brivio. Vale likes a family atmosphere, and a challenge where he can be of enjoyable and appreciated help. He wants to win. Reliability issues? The disappointment of the lack of power that came of the 2020 Yamaha motor? He doesn't want to join a SE Asian team for kids at all. He wants to do it better than them. He just bought Luca a Ducati seat, yes, but he is going to have a MotoGP team of his own making. I can see it being the second Suzuki Team. They fit just right at this upcoming time, and need each other really. If you are putting your kids on a big bike, which one do you want? Best Yamaha out there. Yep. And He can. Poster on his wall as a kid? Schwantz. 

Speaking of he can, Davide and Joan Mir did. Anyone else release the emotion yesterday at the end of the race? Good cry here. Hats off. It has been amazing. The year end review will paint quite an assorted collage (that is quite Orange!). Light Blue and Silver, and a new splash of Yellow. Most well deserved. Never before seen, really. Beautiful! 

Champagne. Oh, and getting me a jersey. Can't rule out a grabbing a GSXR 750 either. 2008 and on or so will hold up the test of time as a classic, last of a breed. Can you see a Race Replica livery coming? Should we wait for the one with more Yellow, or can we be pleased with just the 36, knees and elbows? For me sanity's sake, going with the latter here. And why not, it is GORGEOUS and feels like raining Prosecco. 

;)

Cheers!

I had a release of emotion yesterday, too. Many tears seeing little Suzi all grown up in her prom dress declared belle of the ball. And JM36 whom I've been following since Moto3, all the time feeling that he has the talent and just needed the bike to be WC. He sure has the bike now. To think manu championship, team championship and rider championship with only 2 bikes!!! What a year. Portimao is going to be amazing

And d'you know, the more I think about it, the more I feel THIS damn year is actually one that will stand the test of time for Mir. All the rubbish about if he didn't win one, blah blah. The absent MM93 theory is, as we all have accepted, bunk, the closest field, the (so far equal) amount of winners, the highest percentage of riders on the podium, it goes on. Never has consistency been more prized: and another thing, though I can't really add to David's superb tribute: Ducati 6 bikes, Yamaha 4 bikes, Honda 4 bikes (well, sort of..), KTM 4 bikes, Aprilia, well ok..it's just another nod I'd like to make to the achievements Suzuki have made with two grounded young Spaniards, a diligent and modest Sylvain Guintoli who must have made such a contribution and the way Mr Brivio has glued this project together. Invasion of the Title Snatchers indeed 😊  

Thanks for telling us who this young man is and how he got there! Fascinating stuff.

Congratulations to JM for a well deserved WC.  His main competitor besides MM will be his teamate IMO. AR qualifies & starts better than JM so gets up to the pointy end far earlier. If he can jump on the "consistency & injury free" bandwagons (& he's had that lesson really driven home to him this year) he has as much chance as JM.

Given all the turbulence of this year it's quite satisfying to see the title go to someone who, over the season, simply rode better than everyone else. There were a couple of others who just dug in and got on with it where others struggled, but at the end of the day, Mir did it best.

Vale shifting his sights to Suzuki for his team? I can see that. And as for next year, I shudder to think what the Yamaha factory team garage will be like, we could see one finishing at each end of the field from race to race and I'd hate to be a mechanic trying to make sense of that. On top of which, neither of the guys seem able to figure out their bikes so who's going to drive development? Cal? I wonder how he'll deal with one of the riders coming into the pits during free practice saying the bike is pure shite, if he's thinking it's all good to go. Funnily enough, by hoofing Vale over to Petronas Yamaha may have inadvertently created a perfect pairing, if Vale is willing to play mentor and wingman to his protege. I can see that happening too, think even Vale may have accepted that MotoGP race wins are a stretch too much for him now and there's pleasure to be had from being a king maker.

I wouldn't put money on Marquez being back next year and I even more wouldn't put money on him, if he is back, being able to perform at the same level as before. Non-unions are bad news. 

Just so happy for Mir and Suzuki. What a story. I also had tears when he crossed the line. Why? I don't know. Just nice to see deserving people achieve life long goals I guess. My first bike was a sv650 though and i loved her so much, maybe had a part in it. Congratulations to team Suzuki! 

This is why we come here. Thank you, for a wonderful season.

As an aside, just reqatched the first lap and a half from Jerez 1.

When Mir fell off, commentator asked "Can things get any worse for Suzuki?"

I guess not.

I really hope Joan runs with the #1 on his bike in 2021. I understand that these guys all have branding now with their numbers and Dorna is pushing these hashtags like JM36. But Mir grabbed the #1 and should now own it for 2021. 

LONG LIVE #JM1

 

I know I am a few days behind, but I want to echo the other comments about how great these articles are. I get a great recap of things I knew, plus lots of behind-the-scenes type information that I normally would not get! Truly the best compliment to the racing itself.

Thank you so much David, this article is very informative and well arrange. it's very nice to read.

As a Suzuki fan, This season in unbeliveable.

 

We all around the world have had a tough time during this Covid-19 pandemic but at least, I think what Joan Mir and Suzuki have done this season will bring some happiness back to the fans.