An overcast and damp Ricardo Tormo Circuit welcomed the premier class for their first of quite a few outings in the Valencian autumn. Riders avoided too many off track excursions but the tricky conditions saw some oddities on the timesheets. Jack Miller being in charge of proceedings in wet conditions wasn’t one of them though, the Australian nearly half a tenth faster than Franco Morbidelli. The Italian fronted the Yamaha walk of shame following their surprise penalty on Thursday, while Repsol Honda rider Stefan Bradl thrived in the drizzle and joined the top three.
November welcomed the lightweight class with a wet misty morning in Valencia and while the conditions didn’t cause too much trouble to begin with, it got significantly more eventful in the final ten minutes, as riders were starting to push for improved laptimes. Jaume Masia continued to claim the top of the timesheets in the final couple of minutes of FP1, three tenths ahead of previous leader Tatsuki Suzuki. The Japanese rider also joined the crash list lineup with a late tumble at turn 12, while compatriot Kaito Toba completed the top three, four tenths off the lead.
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
Yamaha have been punished for an infringement of the MotoGP technical rules at the opening race of the 2020 MotoGP season at Jerez, and at the same time, their riders have dodged a bullet. After the infringement was finally uncovered, the FIM Stewards decided to deduct points from Yamaha in the manufacturers championship, and the Monster Energy Yamaha and Petronas Yamaha SRT teams have had points taken away in the teams championship. But crucially for the 2020 MotoGP riders championship, no penalty was given to Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Viñales, or Franco Morbidelli. That means that the standings in what everyone regards as the most important championship, the riders championship, are unchanged.
Several top MotoGP title contenders are already way past the usual lifespan with their engines, so how will they cope at the last three races?
Three of 14 races remain in the 2020 MotoGP World Championship, Covid permitting. The second wave of the pandemic is racing through Europe as riders prepare for the triple-header finale on the Iberian Peninsula, starting with Sunday’s European GP at Valencia and ending with the Portuguese GP at Portimao on November 22.
Literally no one knows if the championship will go full distance, but the back-to-back races at Valencia – the European and then the Valencia GP – are currently set to go ahead despite a night-time curfew in the region.
Valentino Rossi may yet be forced to miss his third race of the 2020 season, after still being unable to provide a negative PCR test for Covid-19. The Italian tested positive for the coronavirus ahead of first round in Aragon, and was forced to miss the two races at the Motorland Aragon circuit.
Despite having fully recovered from his symptoms and feeling fit and ready to race, a PCR test for Covid-19 carried out on Tuesday came back positive. Rossi still has a couple of chances to race in Valencia, if he can provide two negative PCR tests. He is due to have one test on Wednesday, and must have a second negative PCR test 48 hours after the first one, which would mean he would miss practice on Friday, but could arrive at the track on Saturday ready to compete.
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.
In an unexpected move, Aprilia have decided to replace Bradley Smith in the Aprilia Gresini MotoGP team with Lorenzo Savadori for the last three races of 2020. Smith has been Aprilia's main test rider for the past two seasons, and had stepped in to take the place of Andrea Iannone after the Italian was suspended for a doping offense. Savadori, who has raced for Aprilia in WorldSBK in the past, and this year was crowned Italian CIV champion on board the RSV4, is Aprilia's second test rider.
Every MotoGP round has a lot going on, too much to capture on a Sunday night. But the Brno round of MotoGP was even worse than usual, with ten times the usual surprises, and a month's worth of stories and intrigue. On Sunday, I covered Brad Binder's win, KTM's journey, the state of the championship, Yamaha's engine situation, and Ducati's problems since the start of the season. Below is a round up of things I didn't get around to writing about.
It goes without saying that Brad Binder's victory was the biggest story to come out of the MotoGP race at Brno. A rookie winning in MotoGP in just his third race, and claiming the first victory in MotoGP for KTM – coincidentally, the first win for a manufacturer not from either Japan or Italy since Kim Newcombe won the Yugoslavia GP in 1973 on a König, something you can find out much more about in this highly recommended documentary series – is unquestionably a massive event.
The current 2020 MotoGP calendar is as follows: