Sepang, Malaysia

2020 Week 3 News Round Up: Bike Launches, Iannone Update, Aprilia's New Bike, Marquez' Slow Recovery

As the world of motorcycle racing starts to get into the swing of things, activity is starting to ramp up. The first of the MotoGP factory launches is due this week, Ducati to present their 2020 livery and (unchanged) rider line up in a 13th Century palace in the middle of Bologna. That event happens on Thursday evening, the 23rd January, and I will be attending to try to find out more about Ducati's plans for the coming season.

The other factories will have to wait. The three Japanese factories will be launching their bikes just ahead of the Sepang test. Repsol Honda go first, holding their launch in the Indonesian capital Jakarta on 4th February. The Monster Energy Yamaha and Petronas Yamaha SRT teams will be holding their launches at the Sepang circuit on the 6th February, as will the Suzuki Ecstar team.

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Joan Mir Interview, Part 1: "The Most Difficult Thing Is The Electronics"

Joan Mir on the Ecstar Suzuki GSX-RR at Sepang 2019

It was hard being a MotoGP rookie in 2019. It was probably the strongest rookie class we have seen in many years: Pecco Bagnaia and Joan Mir, two world champions; Miguel Oliveira, who has runner up in both Moto2 and Moto3; and Fabio Quartararo, the young man they changed the Moto3 entry rules for. Yet even these exceptionally talented youngsters faced probably the most talented MotoGP field in history.

Quartararo's meteoric success dominated the headlines, but it overshadowed some strong debuts by the other three. Ecstar Suzuki's Joan Mir, for example, crossed the line in eighth in his first ever MotoGP race, and went on to become a regular top eight rider. By the end of the season, he was challenging his more experienced teammate Alex Rins, and scoring his best result of the season at Phillip Island, finishing fifth in the group battling for the podium.

Before the Japanese round of MotoGP at Motegi, top Japanese journalist Akira Nishimura talked to Joan Mir about his first thirteen races – Mir was forced to miss two races due to the lung injury he suffered in the huge crash at the Brno test. The Suzuki rider spoke at length about his rookie season, about his rapid progression through the Grand Prix ranks, and about what he learned. He also talked to Nishimura-san about racing against his teammate, and how making your debut on a Suzuki compares to the Ducati and the Yamaha.

It was an insightful and long conversation, and so it has been split into two parts. Part two will be published tomorrow, but here is part one:

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Andrea Iannone's Doping Suspension: What Happens Next?

2020 is supposed to be a big year for Aprilia. The reorganization instigated by Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola has helped free up lead engineer Romano Albesiano to design a brand new RS-GP from the ground up. The bike is expected to be much more competitive than the 75° V4 which has served them up until now.

But they enter 2020 with every chance of being without an important part of the MotoGP program. Andrea Iannone's lawyer confirmed to Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport that Iannone's B sample from the drug test he failed in Sepang has also come back positive. The Italian now faces a four-year ban for use of the anabolic steroid drostanalone.

The quantities found in the sample were minute, Iannone's lawyer Antonio De Rensis told Gazzetta. "The counter-analysis showed the presence of metabolites equal to 1.15 nanograms per milliliter," De Rensis said. Taking into consideration that the sample was extremely concentrated due to Iannone being dehydrated from the hot and humid MotoGP race in Malaysia, that would point to an even lower concentration, De Rensis claimed. This would corroborate the theory of accidental contamination through food, according to Iannone's lawyer.

Iannone's options

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Andrea Iannone Provisionally Suspended For Steroid Use

Andrea Iannone has been provisionally suspended from all racing activity for violating the FIM's antidoping code. A urine sample taken from Iannone at the Malaysian round of MotoGP at Sepang was found to contain traces of anabolic steroids. Once the findings of the sample, analyzed by a WADA-accredited laboratory, were reported, Iannone was handed a provisional suspension in line with the FIM antidoping code.

Iannone can appeal the result, and request that the B sample (the second sample taken at the same time) is analyzed. He can also appeal to the CDI (International Disciplinary Court) for his suspension to be lifted, but to do that, he would have to be able to provide evidence that the samples he provided had been contaminated in some way, or that he had taken the banned substances accidentally (something which is very difficult for anabolic steroids).

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UPDATE: Marc Marquez To Have Surgery On Dislocated Right Shoulder

The fallout of qualifying in Sepang is having serious consequences for Marc Marquez. The Repsol Honda rider had a huge highside during Q2, when he was trying to follow Fabio Quartararo. It was plain to see that Marquez banged up his knees and ankles in the crash, but it now appears he also dislocated his right shoulder in the fall. 

The injury was serious enough to warrant a full medical examination, and the possibility of surgery to fix the shoulder. At the Jerez test, Marc Marquez told Israeli journalist and TV commentator Tammy Gorali that he would be having his right shoulder examined in Barcelona on Wednesday. 

The action was further prompted by Marquez' crash at the Jerez test. On Monday, Marquez crashed in the final corner, and had to be taken to the medical center for further examination. That crash came on top of a highside at Turn 13 during the Valencia test, which also saw him land on his shoulder.

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Brembo Brakes: Santi Hernandez On Marc Marquez, Braking Style, And Why Scooter Brakes Are The Future

MotoGP remains a prototype racing series, despite the increasing use of spec components. In 2009, MotoGP switched to a single tire supplier, a spec ECU in 2014, and spec software in 2016. Bore and stroke, and the number of cylinders are specified, meaning that all six manufacturers in MotoGP use four-cylinder 1000cc engines with an 81mm bore.

Despite the fact that so much of the rest of the bike design is unregulated, some components become almost de facto spec. The choice of brake component suppliers is completely free, and yet every MotoGP bike on the grid is fitted with parts that come exclusively from Brembo, the Italian brake manufacturer which dominates the sport, on both two wheels and four.

At Brno, I had the chance to talk to two people with intimate knowledge of Brembo's braking components: Andrea Pellegrini, chief engineer for Brembo inside the MotoGP paddock, and Santi Hernandez, crew chief for world champion Marc Márquez in the Repsol Honda team. Pellegrini provided the perspective from the side of the brake manufacturer, while Hernandez gave an insight from the end users' point of view.

New tires, different braking styles

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Lorenzo's battle back from injury - against his subconscious

What’s wrong with Jorge Lorenzo? Has he lost it or is he merely waiting till his back is fully fixed? And why HRC’s plans for its 2020 RC213V should give cause for optimism

The MotoGP paddock and fans around the world are agog with talk of Jorge Lorenzo. What’s up with the three-times MotoGP world champion? Has he lost it? Why doesn’t he retire? Why hasn’t he been sacked? Why don’t they put Johann Zarco on his bikes?

It must be said that the three-times MotoGP king is in a hole. A very deep hole. At Phillip Island two weeks ago he finished more than a minute (one minute!) behind winning team-mate Marc Márquez.

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Sepang MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Pace Counts, Consistency Counts, Why Dovizioso Was the Problem, And Crashes And Clashes

Editor's note: Three back-to-back weekends of Asia-Pacific flyaways have proved to be punishing in terms of disrupted sleep patterns. As a result, I am reverting to writing a brief set of Subscriber notes for Sepang, with a full race report to follow by the end of the day tomorrow.

In these subscriber notes:

  • How Maverick Viñales won
  • What Marc Márquez coming second means for MotoGP
  • Fabio Quartararo's weaknesses, to add to his strengths
  • Why it was Dovizioso, not Ducati, that was a problem for Valentino Rossi
  • Why Rossi is a problem for Yamaha
  • The clashes between Alex Rins and Jack Miller, and Joan Mir and Johann Zarco, whether the punishment fit the crime, and the role the track played
  • The future of Johann Zarco

Stability matters

Fabio Quartararo may have got all the headlines at Sepang on Friday and Saturday, but it was obvious to anyone who studied the timesheets that Maverick Viñales had the best pace in practice, and by a significant margin. Viñales' pace in practice was two to three tenths better than anyone else.

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