Analysis

Europe MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Life Inside The Bubble In The Final Stretch

We are entering the final stretch of The Year That Went On Forever. It turns out that compressing an intense, 14-race season into the space of 19 weekends feels more like five years than five months. Speak to people inside the paddock, or even speak casually to a rider, and they will tell you how mentally draining it is. Stuck in the Covid-19 bubble, wary of venturing out for fear of becoming infected.

That was what happened to Jorge Martin and Valentino Rossi, and they paid a heavy price. Both missed two races, and it looked like Rossi would miss a third, when he tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday. Fortunately for him, a test on Thursday came back negative, so he is on his way to Valencia. If he has another test come back negative on Friday, he will be able to race this weekend.

You don't even have to have the virus yourself to be forced to miss races. Tony Arbolino missed Aragon after he sat too close to a person with Covid-19 on a plane back from Le Mans. And now Iker Lecuona will miss Valencia because his brother, who is also his assistant, tested positive in Andorra.

Fear and loathing

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News Round Up: Whither 2020, A Possible 2021 Calendar, And Dovizioso And Lorenzo As Test Riders

The last intense three weeks of this intense MotoGP season is upon us. On Thursday, the diminished paddock reassembles in Valencia for the last of the back-to-back races, with the Grand Prix of Europe this coming weekend, the Valencia Grand Prix a week later. Then, two weeks from today, the paddock will pack up and head down to Portimao, for the last race of the 2020 season. If all goes well, of course.

There is a slightly revised schedule for the two weekends at Valencia, practice starting an hour later in the mornings, 20 minutes later in the afternoons, to avoid the chilly conditions which can prevail at Valencia for FP1 and FP3. And while Sundays are the usual format at Valencia – Moto3 at 11am CET, Moto2 at 12:20, and MotoGP at 2pm – the final weekend at Portimao is a little different. To keep the MotoGP race in its usual 2pm Central European Time slot, the race will be held at 1pm local time in Portugal, which uses GMT. That means MotoGP will be racing before Moto2 in Portugal.

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Teruel MotoGP Subscriber Notes Part 2: The Strangeness Of Who Gains, KTM's Progress, And Yamaha's Engine Situation

It being 2020, last weekend's Teruel round of MotoGP at the Motorland Aragon circuit threw up plenty of surprises, more than can be covered in just a single article. In Monday's subscriber notes, I covered the early crashers, Takaaki Nakagami's lead lasting just five corners, Franco Morbidelli's perfect race, why Alex Rins and Joan Mir came up short, and whether it matters if Mir doesn't win a race this season, the odd fortunes of the Yamahas in 2020, and Andrea Dovizioso as best of the Ducatis.

But there is more to cover. It is worth taking a look at who made the biggest gains between Aragon 1 and Aragon 2, how KTM went from nowhere to nearly on the podium, and the mystery of Yamaha's engine situation.

First, a comparison of how the riders fared between the Aragon and Teruel rounds at Motorland Aragon. In theory, you might believe that being at the same track would mean there would be little to no difference. But as previous back-to-back races at the same circuit has shown, this is very much not the case. Results have varied massively from week to week, as some riders have improved, others have stood still.

Faster second time around

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Teruel Moto2 & Moto3 Review - Neil Morrison On Sam Lowes' Transformation, Marini's Misery, Beaubier's European Adventure, And More Masia

A ride as dominant as anything we’ve seen all year, title challengers lost at sea, and a tremendous ten-rider battle for the win… Moto2 and 3 threw up a host of talking points at the Teruel Grand Prix. Here we take a look at what went on.

Lowes in the driving seat

Having won only after his main rival crashed at the previous week’s Grand Prix, there could be no doubting who was the number one here. On the back of wins in France and Aragon, Sam Lowes put on an exhibition at the Teruel Grand Prix as dominant as anything witnessed in any class this year to take charge of the Moto2 championship.

Lowes was irrepressible from Friday afternoon. He smashed the lap record on his way to pole on Saturday, led four of the weekends six sessions ahead of the race and annihilated the field from the first lap. After his best start of the season, he was soon in the rhythm. His fastest lap the second time around was 0.6s faster than any other rider managed through 21 laps. His winning margin of 8.4s was the biggest recorded this season in any category.

Tyre supplier Dunlop had introduced a softer rear tyre compound for this weekend with the caveat: the rubber had to be managed in the closing laps. Yet Lowes made a mockery of those claims, maintaining his rhythm in the 1m 52s until the penultimate lap while everyone else suffered a drop.

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Teruel MotoGP Subscriber Notes Part 1: Crashes, Pressure, Victories, And Championships

The theme for the 2020 MotoGP season, insofar as one is discernible, is that there are two types of rider: riders who are doing their best to win races but lose the championship, and riders (or rider) who are doing their best to win the championship, but not win races. And never the twain shall meet, so far this year.

That was the tale of the Teruel round of MotoGP, also known as Aragon 2. Before the race, Takaaki Nakagami looked on course for his first podium, and possibly his first win, which would have put him right into the title fight. But Nakagami never even made it as far as the first intermediate timing strip, crashing out of the lead at Turn 5.

Of the three race winners in the top four of the championship, Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo found a way to go backwards during the race, while Andrea Dovizioso never even found a way to go forwards. That put Joan Mir more firmly in the driving seat of the championship, but despite a very strong race to finish on the podium, he never really threatened to win the race.

Winners and … winners?

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Teruel MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Nakagami Shows His Colors, The Grid Shakes Up The Championship, And No Help From Teammates

2020 keeps throwing up surprises. If having eight different winners on four different manufacturers, including the rookie Brad Binder, wasn't enough, the array of riders qualifying on the front row is remarkable. Twelve different riders have qualified on the front row of the grid, if we include Alex Rins as the twelfth at the Teruel Grand Prix, or Aragon 2. That is over half of the 22-strong grid.

There have been some unexpected names on pole as well. At Brno, it was Johann Zarco, the Frenchman finding a new home on a Ducati after a disastrous half season on the KTM. At the Red Bull Ring for the second race in Austria, it was Pol Espargaro grabbing KTM's first pole position. In Barcelona, Franco Morbidelli grabbed pole position, outshining his Petronas Yamaha teammate and championship leader Fabio Quartararo on a year-old bike.

So Takaaki Nakagami taking pole at Aragon 2 is right in line with the "Expect the Unexpected" theme of 2020, to borrow a line from 1980s cult classic TV show Terrahawks. If you had put a bet on the LCR Honda rider grabbing pole before the start of the season, you would have gotten very good odds. Indeed, the bookmakers were still offering excellent odds on Nakagami to win ahead of this weekend.

No longer under the radar

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Teruel MotoGP Friday Round Up: Honda Up, Ducati Down, Or Is It Just Really Hard To Tell?

It was a much more pleasant day that greeted the MotoGP riders for the second round at the Motorland Aragon circuit. Air temperatures for FP1 were 18°C on Friday morning, versus 11°C a week ago. Temperature differences were less marked in the afternoon, but the big difference was in the wind: it had returned since last week, but was not the icy affair it had been previously.

Riders had a chance of making it from Turn 14 all the way to Turn 2 without losing all temperature in the right side of the front tire and ending up in the gravel. Only three riders crashed today, as compared to eight a week ago. That was true across all classes: there were eleven crashers combined in Moto3, Moto2, and MotoGP, compared to eighteen last Friday.

What that meant was that it became a little easier to try the medium tires, front and rear, but the temperatures weren't sufficiently different to start to find major differences. That is as you might expect, coming back to the same track a week later. That also meant that, with the weather expected to be warm enough to be able to push for a time in FP3 on Saturday morning, a bunch of riders decided to forgo the chance to chase a spot in Q2 on Friday, preferring to focus on tire choice and setup.

Faster and slower

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Teruel MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Covid-19 Concerns, A Second Bite Of The Cherry, And Nakagami Extends

It is groundhog day again for MotoGP, the paddock back in the place they left – or in many cases, never left – last Sunday. Some did, of course, and may have picked up the coronavirus as a result. Riccardo Rossi, of the BOE Skull Rider Moto3 team, is one of those, the Italian now quarantined at home after testing positive for the virus, and forced to miss the race.

Rossi – Riccardo, not Valentino, who is also still at home in Italy – tested positive on Wednesday. There is a chance that the Moto3 rider caught the virus on his way home from Spain to Italy. But there is a non-zero chance that he actually caught the virus in the paddock, the timeline from infection to positive very tight from Sunday night to Wednesday morning.

There is growing concern inside the paddock that the bubbles are failing to stop the coronavirus fro encroaching on MotoGP. That is simply a factor of the resurgence of Covid-19 cases in the wider world, especially in Spain and Italy, where the vast majority of the paddock live. "In the first races we had no cases and now every race it's worse, but not because of MotoGP but because the world is getting worse and worse," Aleix Espargaro said on Thursday.

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Aragon Moto2 & Moto3 Review - Neil Morrison On The Corner That Cost The Lead, Bestia's Unbeastly Transformation, Arbolino's Negative Exclusion, And The Moto3 Rider Market

A crash for two of the championship contenders, a three-rider title fight covered by five points, a seven-way scrap for the win… as ever Moto2 and 3 provided plenty of drama at the Aragon Grand Prix. Here we take a look at last weekend’s big talking points.

Turn Two Trouble

Ask any rider to point to Motorland Aragon’s most demanding string of tarmac, and the majority will say turn two. A fast right attacked in third gear, it’s the first occasion the right side of the front tyre is used in over 40 seconds. In other words, plenty of time for the rubber to cool, making the high-speed entry particularly perilous.

Jorge Martin had mentioned to pit lane reporter Simon Crafar on Sunday morning how he had issues with his front tyre cooling when in clear air. According to the former Moto3 world champion, it was not such an issue when riding behind others, but the cold temperatures that greeted riders all weekend contributed to 16 of the weekend’s 40 falls happening there.

And it was here the Moto2 race was decided. A three-way fight was just ten laps old when Fabio Di Giannantonio tucked the front of his Speed Up chassis as he pitched right into the track’s second turn and ended in the gravel – his second fall there of the day. The Italian had chased down early leader Marco Bezzecchi and pole sitter Sam Lowes, moving to the front with an expert pass on the former on lap ten.

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Why The Repsol Honda Partnership Is Not Going Away Any Time Soon

Marc Marquez on the Honda RC213V at the 2020 Qatar MotoGP Test - photo Polarity Photo

For the past couple of months, rumors have been doing the rounds that Spanish oil giant Repsol was about to withdraw its sponsorship of the factory Honda squad, and Red Bull would step in to take over as title sponsor.

There were plenty of reasons to give credence to the rumors. The global Covid-19 pandemic has caused the oil price to plummet: the price of a barrel of Brent Crude went from nearly $70 a barrel in February to under $20 a barrel in April, though it has since recovered to just over $40 a barrel. That is still roughly 33% lower than it has been for the past couple of years.

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