Analysis

Andrea Dovizioso To Test For Aprilia - Why Did He Say Yes Now?

It might be an exaggeration to call today's news that Andrea Dovizioso is to test the Aprilia RS-GP MotoGP bike at Jerez from April 12th to 14th a bombshell, but it certainly raised a few eyebrows. The Italian had previously turned down the offer of a full-time ride with the Noale factory for 2021, despite Aprilia extensively courting his services. So for Aprilia to offer a test ride is no surprise. For Dovizioso to accept is certainly interesting.

The press release announced by Aprilia states very clearly that this is not an audition for a permanent ride. "It will not be a ‘trial matrimony’ but an opportunity to turn some laps together without any binding commitment for the future," Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola is quoted as saying. But the fact that Dovizioso accepted the offer suggest that may change in the future.

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Qatar 2 MotoGP Test Friday Round Up: Whether Losing A Day Of Testing Matters, And Why Getting The Vaccine Is The Responsible Thing To Do

They say a picture paints a thousand words, but the photo above, taken by Cormac Ryan Meenan for the Repsol Honda press release, actually needs several dozen just to explain what is going on. No, it's not raining. No, the Honda RC213V has not dropped a rod, blown a valve, or had an oil pipe come lose (Hondas only ever suffer 'electrical problems', of course). That yellow cloud Pol Espargaro is trailing in his wake is sand, strewn all over the track by the strong winds and sandstorm that also played havoc with F1 in nearby Bahrain.

The strong winds and sand rendered the final day of the test completely useless. At one point, the entire session was red flagged due to the conditions. But even when the track was open, few were keen to ride. Only 9 of the 29 riders present even took to the track, clocking up a grand total of 56 laps between them. And that included in and out laps. That is pretty much the average of what each rider was putting in on Thursday.

A lot of those laps weren't even full laps. Pol Espargaro, Takaaki Nakagami, Brad Binder, and Maverick Viñales put in 20-odd laps between them just doing practice starts, starting from the pits, cruising around, then coming in to try another start, after making a few adjustments to electronics and clutch.

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Qatar 2 MotoGP Test Thursday Round Up: Speed Records, Race Simulations, Why Ducati And Yamaha Are Strong, And KTM Are Struggling

There was a palpable sense of excitement after the record-setting laps by Jack Miller and Fabio Quartararo yesterday. Would more records be broken on Thursday?

They wouldn't. Though both Maverick Viñales and Franco Morbidelli got under Marc Márquez' original lap record at the track (a record which still stands, incidentally, given that records are only set on race weekends and not at tests), they still ended up several hundredths short of Miller's blistering time from Wednesday. And with the wind expected to pick up on Friday the prospect of a lap of 1'52 is growing ever more distant. Conditions will not be as absolutely perfect as they were on Wednesday again any time soon.

One record was broken, however. After Johann Zarco fired down Losail's front straight 0.9 km/h faster than Marc Márquez' previous top speed record, 352.9 km/h to Márquez' 352.0 km/h, the Frenchman shattered the top speed record by nearly 5 km/h on Thursday, clocking a best speed of 357.6 km/h. For those of you who prefer their rods, chains, and ells, that is 222.2 mph. A speed for which Johann Zarco had to have all his ducks in a row.

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Qatar 2 MotoGP Test Wednesday Round Up: The Meaninglessness Of Broken Records, Progress On Frames, And Pol Comes Good On The Honda

Records were smashed on Wednesday, and it didn't mean a thing, other than that MotoGP riders can be pretty quick on a motorbike. But that we already knew.

First, Fabio Quartararo took over a tenth off the outright circuit record set by Marc Márquez during FP2 at the 2019 MotoGP round, the Monster Energy Yamaha rider posting a 1'53.263 to Márquez' 1'53.380. Then, on his last lap of the day, Jack Miller powered his Ducati to a lap of 1'53.183, just shy of two tenths faster than Márquez' best lap.

Earlier in the day, Johann Zarco had broken Marc Márquez' top speed record, being clocked through the speed trap at the end of the straight at 352.9 km/h, 0.9 km/h better than the Repsol Honda during the 2019 race.

Does this mean that Jack Miller will beat Fabio Quartararo after the Frenchman starts from pole, by exploiting the speed of his Ducati GP21 down the front straight? I mean, it could happen. It's definitely one of the many possible ways the season opener plays out when MotoGP 2021 gets underway on March 28th. But what happened on Wednesday, 10th March is not a reliable indication of anything.

It's only testing

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Qatar 1 MotoGP Test Subscriber Notes: Where The Six MotoGP Factories Stand After Two Days Of Testing

Far from being a day of rest, on Sunday, the real work of testing began at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar. After a day to wrap their collective heads around the mind-bending speeds which riding a MotoGP bike involves, the riders got down to the work of sifting through the collection of parts the factories have brought in their quest for victory. And in racing, victory only comes through speed.

Questions were raised, and some were answered, though only partially in most cases. That doesn't matter as much as it might at a normal test, of course, because the riders and teams will only be heading back to their hotels for two days, to relax a little, to recover (for the riders), or to dive as deeply as possible into the data to try to learn as many lessons as possible ahead of the next test, which starts on Wednesday.

So what did we learn? A quick run through MotoGP's six manufacturers.

Yamaha

The big question for Yamaha was whether the 2021 chassis was the step forward that the riders had been hoping for. The 2021 chassis is not so much a step forward as half a step back a compromise between last year's frame and the 2019 chassis which Franco Morbidelli used to such good effect in 2020.

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Qatar 1 MotoGP Test Saturday Round Up: Getting Back Up To Speed, A Fast Aprilia, Ducati's Aero, And Rossi's Motherly Advice

This is not a normal era, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the pandemic touches things in unexpected ways. Sure, we knew that MotoGP testing had been restructured because of Covid-19, the Sepang test being dropped and an extra test in Qatar being added in its place.

But like all things in life, it is not quite as simple as it looks at first glance. Because the two Qatar tests are scheduled so closely together, the teams are not treating them as two separate tests. As far as the teams, and especially the factories, are concerned, there is not a two-day test and a three-day test. Instead, there is one five-day test with a two-day break in the middle.

Viewing the next week as a single test means drawing up a totally different testing plan. Instead of cramming a race simulation run into the first two-day test, then another in the second three-day test, the teams are working methodically towards arriving at a race setup ready for next Thursday or Friday, when they can do a proper long run in readiness for the first race of the 2021 MotoGP season on March 28th.

The long test

All that means that the first day of testing was, not exactly relaxed, but a little more focused and methodical. There was no rushing to complete a program; instead the riders had time to get back up to speed after three months off a MotoGP bike, and the teams spent their time working out a base setup to use as a benchmark for measuring progress.

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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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