The Circuit Of The Americas has laid off a large part of its staff and is suspending activities indefinitely. In an open-ended and ambiguous statement issued on Sunday night, the circuit stated that with large-scale public events canceled, there was little for the circuit to do. With both the MotoGP race scheduled for April 5th, and the Indycar round scheduled for April 26th postponed until November, there was little for the circuit to do.
The ongoing outbreak of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has forced yet another change to the MotoGP calendar for 2020. Due to the restrictions on movement imposed in Italy, in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus, the US round of MotoGP at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, has been postponed until November.
The MotoGP paddock will gather in Austin on November 15th, instead of April 5th. November 15th was originally the date planned for the final round of MotoGP in Valencia, but to make way for Austin, Valencia has been pushed back a week, and will now be held on the weekend of November 22nd.
That means that as of today, March 10th, the MotoGP class will kick off their season at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina on April 19th, with the paddock returning to Europe two weeks later for Jerez.
It has been a decade, but it is here at last. The last time a rider from the United States of America took pole position in a Grand Prix was in 2010, at Indianapolis, where Ben Spies set the fastest time in qualifying. The last time an American rider was fastest in the intermediate class was Kenny Noyes at Le Mans in 2010. 2010 was a good year for Americans in racing.
Are we likely to see a revival of Americans in Grand Prix racing? Unlikely, given that there is only one rider from the US current in the entire series. But that doesn't preclude seeing a lot of success for the US this year. Joe Roberts has found something this year. The American Racing team (owned, ironically, by someone who is not American) have taken a big step forward with the Kalex, and the bike suits Joe Roberts' riding style much better than the KTM did.
He proved that during the test here last weekend, where he was inside the top ten, and half a second behind Jorge Navarro, the quickest rider at the test. Roberts stepped it up a gear on the race weekend, being fastest on Friday, breaking the lap record at the track, and leading Marco Bezzecchi by a quarter of a second.
The cancellation of the Qatar MotoGP race and the Thai round of MotoGP in Buriram throws MotoGP's regular schedule into a bit of disarray. The deadlines under which the MotoGP manufacturers were working have suddenly been opened up again. Factories without concessions – Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, and Ducati – were due to homologate their engines this week, ahead of the first race, and all six manufacturers were due to submit their aerodynamics packages for homologation, although aerodynamics packages can vary per rider.
Similarly, teams were due to submit their gearbox ratios ahead of the first race, with a maximum of 24 different gearbox ratios and 4 different final drive ratios allowed during the season.
So now that Qatar and Thailand have been canceled or postponed, what happens next?
The FIM have issued a provisional calendar for the 2020 MotoGP season, which sees the series expand to 20 races, and lays the basis for expansion to 22 races. The biggest changes are the addition of the Kymiring in Finland in July, and the moving of the Thailand round of MotoGP in Buriram from October to 22nd March.
The racing season kicks off as ever in Qatar, the MotoGP race being moved to the first week of March. From Qatar, the series heads east to Thailand, the MotoGP race taking the slot of the WorldSBK race at Buriram. Attendance for the WorldSBK round had fallen since MotoGP went to Thailand, and so the WorldSBK round is being dropped, with another overseas round to be held in its place.
From Thailand, the paddock heads east once again to cross the International Date Line and head to Austin, the US round moving up to become the third race of the year, ahead of Argentina. The Argentina Grand Prix takes place two weeks after Austin.
Valentino Rossi's finger-operated rear brake
Peter Bom: To be able to apply the rear brake deep into right-hand turns (where space to operate the foot pedal runs out), some riders are experimenting with the idea of operating the brake with one or two fingers of the left hand. Valentino Rossi is one of those riders, trying the system at the Monday test after the Barcelona race. The current state of technology in MotoGP, and especially the type of tires being used, makes using the rear brake crucial at various points around a circuit. The rear brake is used particularly to help the bike turn mid-corner. The question is now whether we will see more riders use finger brakes, and at more points in the track.
Spirit level on Dani Pedrosa's rear wheel
Peter Bom: A spirit level in the rear wheel, at a right angle to the direction of travel. Never seen one before or heard of one being used outside of endurance racing, where the wheel stand is asymmetric to be able to stand the bike up horizontally in a pit lane which is not horizontal. I would take an educated guess that the MotoGP teams use a spirit level to ensure the rear wheel is horizontal to be able to zero out the accelerometer sensors, especially the lateral sensor.
How Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci are working together to give Ducati the edge in wheel-to-wheel battles. And why this new strategy might add fuel to the aerodynamics fire
Team-mates have always been a big deal in motorcycle racing. Or team-hates, as some people call them.
The old saying goes that your team-mate is the first guy you have to beat because he’s the only rider on the grid with the exact same equipment. So, if he beats you, you’re in as much trouble as your ongoing contract negotiations.
Ducati GP19 swingarm attachment
Peter Bom: The now (in)famous aerodynamic modification on the Ducati, which they claim channels extra air onto the rear tire, which keeps it cooler and improves performance. Since its introduction, we have also seen a similar device on the Honda RC213V, and we expect to see more at Jerez.
In part one of my interview with Santi Hernandez, crew chief to Marc Márquez, Hernandez talked about how the team come up with the strategies which have given them a competitive advantage in MotoGP. In this second part, Hernandez moves on to talk about what makes Marc Márquez so special.
Hernandez discusses how Márquez pairs exceptional talent with absolute effort, and about Márquez attitude to risk, and how he balances the risk with the need to find the limit. This is a crew chief's view of what exactly makes a rider special.
Q: What about Marc is special? Is there something special in his riding – throttle, braking, balance? Anything like that?
Santi Hernandez: Yeah, he changed a lot from 2013 and now. He has more experience. He knows the bike much more, but also he learned about the championship. He learned how if you want to win the title you have to… At the beginning, he was all or nothing. Now he understands.
Q: Last year he won the championship on all the days when he didn't win the race.
SH: This is what I am saying. Of course, he learned, but for me the most key point for him is he always gives 100%, 120%, from FP1 until the race. It is good to work with a rider like this, because all the data you have is very good. It's not like one lap slower, one faster, two slower. Then it's so difficult, even for the rider, to choose the tire, the setup. So it's better that the rider always goes out, and even if the bike is not the best, he does 120%.
Motorcycle racing is a team sport. Even when exceptional talents come along, they need help to succeed, from mechanics, from crew chiefs, from the people around them. Freddie Spencer had Erv Kanemoto, Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi had Jeremy Burgess, Casey Stoner had Cristian Gabarrini. And now, Marc Márquez has Santi Hernandez.
The Spaniard has been with Márquez since he moved up to the Moto2 class in 2011. Since then, he has been Márquez' crew chief for the Monlau Repsol team, and the Repsol Honda team in MotoGP. In their eight years together, the pair have won six of Márquez' seven Grand Prix titles, proving the success of the partnership.
But Hernandez is not just a vital part of the engineering side of Márquez' success, he has also been instrumental in the other ways in which the reigning world champion has changed the face of racing. Márquez and his crew are renowned for understanding strategy better than anyone else in the paddock. It was Márquez who first went for a two-stop strategy during qualifying. It was Márquez who gambled on coming in early when the track was drying at Brno in 2017, going on to win by 12 seconds. It is Márquez who finds advantages in places other riders and their teams fear to look.
Santi Hernandez is a key part of that decision making. I sat down with Marc Márquez' crew chief in Austin, to talk about how they identify and choose new strategies, why they can afford to gamble, and what happens when it goes wrong. In the second part of this interview, published on Saturday, we go on to discuss what makes Marc Márquez such a special rider, and how he manages himself under such extreme pressure.