Although the weather got kinder as the day progressed, there was not much action in the early stages of FP3 for the intermediate class as riders were waiting for track conditions to improve further and perhaps have a look at slick tyres. However, that dry line never quite arrived and only a dozen or so riders were tempted to chase a time in the wet. With no Q2 places realistically on offer, those who persevered got rewarded with a top position in FP3 and Jorge Navarro was the keenest of the lot, taking over top spot on the timesheets by nearly three tenths of a second.
Day 2 in Valencia started with doom and gloom – even if you weren’t Yamaha – but with rain having stopped before the action got underway, asphalt got a chance to very slowly dry out. Times steadily improved throughout the session, however, it was not enough for slick tyres and no one challenged the combined top 10 from Friday. Johann Zarco finished FP3 at the top of the timesheets by over seven tenths of a second from the nearest challenger, who was Maverick Vinales despite the impending pitlane start.
Overnight rain left the Ricardo Tormo Circuit well drenched ahead of the third set of practice sessions and the lightweight class stood no chance of challenging the combined top 14 hierarchy ahead of qualifying. In the wet conditions, Niccolo Antonelli spent most time at the top of the timesheets but in the end it was John McPhee to stole the headlines by two tenths of a second. Celestino Vietti might have finished second but the Italian remained the fastest overall over the three practice sessions.
It has been such a bad day for Yamaha that I feel bound to start this report off with the highlight for the Japanese factory: Franco Morbidelli finished in the top three for both sessions of free practice on Friday at Valencia. He and Petronas teammate Fabio Quartararo are directly through to Q2, at least provisionally, dependent on the weather on Saturday morning. Garrett Gerloff, replacing Valentino Rossi in the Monster Energy Yamaha team on Friday, was very impressive, getting up to speed quickly in very difficult conditions, despite not having any experience of either MotoGP bikes, Michelin MotoGP tires, or the Ricardo Tormo Circuit at Valencia. And Valentino Rossi's second PCR test came back negative, meaning he can take over from Gerloff again from Saturday morning.
That was the good news. The bad news was pretty terrible, however, bad enough that it made even a cynical old hack like me feel sorry for Yamaha's PR staff. After yesterday's penalty for violating the engine homologation procedure, the reliability issues resulting from trying to race an entire season using just 40% of the original engine allocation, two engines out of five, finally caught up with Maverick Viñales. The Monster Energy Yamaha rider, currently 19 points down on championship leader Joan Mir, has been forced to use a sixth engine during practice, incurring penalty for infringing the engine durability rules. On Sunday, Viñales will have to start the Grand Prix of Europe at Valencia from pit lane.
As if that were not bad enough, later this afternoon we learned that a key member of Viñales' crew had tested positive for Covid-19, and was forced to self isolate. Four other members of the Monster Energy Yamaha team, including team manager Maio Meregalli, were determined to have been at risk after contact with the infected team member, and although they tested negative, have also gone into quarantine for ten days until Monday, November 16th, the day after the second round at Valencia.
The intermediate class closed a gloomy day in Valencia and benefitted from a mostly dry track surface. Championship leader Sam Lowes looked like the strongest man in the dry, the British rider starting off with a one second advantage at the top of the timesheets, however, a late tumble at turn 8 made him miss out on the final eight minutes of the session and title rival Enea Bastianini took full advantage. The Italian stole the headline by half a tenth of a second from Lowes, with Joe Roberts in third, one tenth off top spot.
While the Valencian sky was still grey and overcast, the asphalt was dry enough for slick tyres straight out the gate, although the dry line was narrow to begin with. Regardless of the improved conditions, Jack Miller remained the fastest man on track, although the lead changed hands all throughout FP2 and it all came down to the final flying laps. Aleix Espargaro put together a fine final lap to come within a tenth of a second of the lead and nearly two tenths faster than Franco Morbidelli, who enjoyed a late off road adventure.
The second batch of practice sessions started in mixed conditions but the drying track saw some significant improvements on the times posted in morning practice. The lead changed hands many times throughout the 40 minutes but in the end it was Celestino Vietti who robbed home favourite Sergio Garcia of top spot. The Italian was two tenths of a second faster than his closest challenger, although Garcia was lucky to escape unscathed from an incident that saw teammate Ryusei Yamanaka running into the back of him at turn 1 and miraculously walk away.
Damp and drizzly Valencia was the backdrop for the intermediate class’ first practice session and much like their colleagues before them, they kept things uneventful until the closing stages got some gravel trap action. After a few less than stellar performances, Tom Luthi seemed to be enjoying his time in the limelight and took over the top of the timesheets halfway through the session. Despite a harmless crash at turn 6 with 15 minutes left, the Swiss rider kept top spot by a tenth of a second ahead of a persistently impressive Hector Garzo.
Yamaha issued the following press release with a statement on the imposition of penalties for breaking the engine homologation rules at Jerez 1:
MotoGP will continue into 2021, and scheduling difficulties continue to accompany it. Unlike 2020, however, Dorna and the FIM are prepared for it, however, and so today, we saw a provisional 2021 MotoGP calendar announced. It is a very conventional-looking schedule, with a giant caveat attached underneath: "All dates, events and the attendance of spectators are subject to the evolution of the pandemic and the approval of the corresponding Governments and authorities."
After two tests, at Sepang in mid February and Qatar in mid March, the 2021 season is scheduled to kick off at Qatar on March 28th. After Qatar, the series heads to the Americas, where MotoGP races in Argentina at Termas de Rio Hondo and at Austin. They then head back to Europe, for the usual round of spring races: Jerez, Le Mans, Mugello, Barcelona, Sachsenring, and Assen. They round it off with a trip to Finland, subject to the Kymiring being homologated on time.