Aleix Espargaro

The 2021 MotoGP Rider Line Up So Far: Waiting For Ducati

With Valentino Rossi finally confirmed at the Petronas Yamaha SRT team, the rider line up for 2021 is getting close to completion. The factory seats at Honda, KTM, Suzuki, and Yamaha are filled, as are the satellite seats at KTM and Yamaha.

The nominally vacant seat at LCR Honda is destined to be taken by Takaaki Nakagami once again, the Japanese rider still in talks with HRC management over whether he will get a 2021 spec RC213V or a 2020 bike. Nakagami's performance so far on the 2019 bike has shown him worthy of getting the latest spec, but those details will take a while to thrash out.

The next question to be answered will come some time next week, when Ducati announce their plans for 2021 and beyond. They are expected to move Pecco Bagnaia into the factory team and Johann Zarco up to the Pramac squad. Jorge Martin is likely to join Zarco in Pramac, while Enea Bastianini should head to Avintia.

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MotoGP Mid-Season Review And Preview - The Lessons Of The First 5 Races For The Last 9 Races

The opening laps of the 2020 Styrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring - Photo Cormac Ryan Meenan

The 2020 MotoGP season is divided into two, uneven halves. The first five races were something of a warm up: a pair of races at Jerez, followed by a week off, then three races on consecutive weekends, one at Brno, two at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Those five races proved punishing for bikes, riders, teams.

Riders crashed and hurt themselves: Marc Márquez broke his right arm and put himself out of action and out of the championship; Alex Rins damaged ligaments in his shoulder and has been riding hurt since then; Cal Crutchlow and Johann Zarco broke scaphoids, and gritted their teeth to ride; Zarco and Franco Morbidelli had a horrifying high-speed crash which saw their bikes cross the track and come within centimeters of hitting the Monster Energy Yamaha team of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales.

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Styria MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Marquez' Extended Absence, An Unwanted Guest In Parc Ferme, And Race Pace

Qualifying at the Red Bull Ring proved as exhilarating a spectacle as ever, but like Banquo's ghost at Macbeth's banquet, an absent specter took some of the attention away from a celebration of racing. A little over an hour after qualifying finished – delayed because Jaume Masia tore the fairing from his Leopard Honda Moto3 bike after crashing in Q1, then rode back to the pits dumping oil and water all over the track – a press release from the Repsol Honda team reminded us of the absentee champion.

Marc Márquez, the press release announced, would be out for another two to three months, to allow him to recover fully from the broken humerus he suffered at the first round of MotoGP on July 19th. Of course, the problem wasn't that break, but the aftermath: Márquez had an operation to plate the humerus a couple of days later, he was doing press ups the day after that, and tried to ride again on the Saturday after breaking his arm. It went OK for one session of practice, but he felt an unpleasant twinge in his arm, and a lack of strength, and so stopped.

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Styria MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Back To A Dangerous Track, Where Bad Blood Remains

A week later, and back in the same place. Plus ça change pas... The same riders are back at the same track, in the same situation. So we should have the same result, right?

That's not quite what the data from Jerez says. Sure, the first two places were the same in both races. But behind that, the results were completely different between the two races, a week apart on the same circuit. Only 9 of the 22 riders on the entry list of the first race finished both races, three of them ending up injured in the carnage of the two opening rounds.

Only Pol Espargaro crossed the line within one place of his finishing position in the second race, ending sixth in the first race, seventh in the second. Only Johann Zarco's finishing position varied by two places, crossing the line eleventh in the first race, ninth in the second. The rest of the field either finished three or more places out of position, or crashed out – and there were a lot of riders who didn't cross the line one way or another.

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Austria MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Desmo Dovi Divorce Overshadows Qualifying

It was one of those days. We had a fascinating FP4 session for the MotoGP class, where a clear pattern emerged for the race, followed by a thrilling and action-packed qualifying, yet barely anyone is talking about that at all. And all because early on Saturday afternoon, the bombshell dropped that Andrea Dovizioso will be leaving Ducati at the end of the 2020 season.

Though the news itself did not quite come as a surprise, the timing and nature of the announcement caught us all a little off guard. Ducati had said they had hoped to make a decision after the two races at the Red Bull Ring. But Dovizioso's manager Simone Battistella had already said he was having a meeting with Ducati management on Saturday, and Sky Italia TV tracked him down as soon as Battistella left the Ducati truck to ask how the meeting had gone. Battistella told them, and all hell broke loose.

"It’s normal to have a lot of questions and I’m a bit disappointed but this moment is not the right moment to speak about all the details," Andrea Dovizioso would tell us when we finally got to talk to him during his media debrief, held via Zoom. A debrief that was 20 minutes late, and started right in the middle of the qualifying press conference traditionally held at 5pm on Saturday afternoon. It was late because of all of the TV interviews Dovizioso had to do to explain himself, before doing it all over again for the written press.

No mood to talk

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Austria MotoGP Preview: The Risk Of Rain Riding At The Red Bull Ring

A short hop over the Alps – or rather, a short drive south, and then west between the Alps, to avoid the slow but spectacular progress over the mountain passes to the north of Spielberg – and the MotoGP paddock reassembles at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. From one of the best tracks on the calendar, plagued by financial problems, to one of the best-funded tracks on the calendar, plagued by the fact that, well, frankly, it's not a very good circuit for motorcycle racing.

The setting is spectacular, nestled at the foot of the hills rising from the valley of the river Mur and heading up to snow-capped peaks a couple of kilometers skywards. The circuit sits on a slope at the bottom of those hills, making for a surprisingly steep climb up to Turn 1, then up the hill to Turn 3, along the hillside to Turn 4, before rolling down through a huge Omega right-left-right combination to get back to the bottom of the hill, and the straight which runs along it.

But the circuit belies its heritage, as a spectacular but treacherous mountain circuit crossing hills and woods. And like many mountain circuits, there is little room for mistakes, with runoff limited at Turn 1, Turn 3, between the barriers from Turn 3 to Turn 4, and at the bottom of the hill into the final corner. In the dry, it is all just about manageable. But in the wet, it can be a terrifying place.

Hard rain is going to fall

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Brno MotoGP Sunday Subscriber Notes: Remarkable Rookie, KTM & Concessions, Yamaha's Engines, A Direction For Ducati, And Honda's Many Mistakes

If there was any doubt 2020 was going to be a historic season for MotoGP, the Czech round at Brno erased the last of them. It has been a weird year, the COVID-19 pandemic throwing the calendar out of kilter, then the resumption of racing bringing excitement, drama, and a whole boatload of surprises.

There was Marc Márquez breaking his arm one week, and trying to ride the next. There was Fabio Quartararo dominating both races. There was Valentino Rossi looking lost on the first Sunday, and finishing on the podium seven days later. And that was just the tip of the iceberg of weirdness.

After the topsy-turvy events of the two Jerez races, Brno turned the MotoGP world even more upside down. In these subscriber notes, an attempt to make sense of the madness, to filter some signal from the noise. There is a lot of signal, but also plenty of noise. Here's the signals we have picked up so far:

  • The rookie who finally lived up to expectations
  • The new best bike on the grid?
  • The consequences for the championship
  • Concessions explained
  • Petronas Yamaha's other rider gets what he deserves
  • Yamaha's engine situation
  • The Zarco vs Espargaro smackdown
  • Are Ducati really as lost as they seem?
  • Honda's litany of errors

Lots to get through. But there is only one place to start: with the winner.

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Brno MotoGP Friday Round Up: Bumps, Grip, Crashes, And Ducati's Shapeshifter Device

What did we learn from the first day of practice at Brno? Not much, but that in itself is valuable. The COVID-19 pandemic meant that the Automotodrom Brno circuit has not seen much action, so there is very little rubber on the track. The circuit has always been fairly low grip, but it is much worse now than it has ever been. It needs rubber down on it before any conclusions can be drawn.

That makes figuring out what is going on rather tricky. The track is changing session to session, as bikes deposit a thin smear of Dunlop and Michelin rubber on the surface of the track and in the crevices between the grit particles used in the aggregate. That leads to big changes in grip levels: Fabio Quartararo's fastest time in FP2 was over eight tenths faster than the best lap set by Takaaki Nakagami in the morning session. Quartararo's best time from Friday was nearly three quarters of a second slower than the best time at the end of the first day in 2019.

With the times so far off the pace – Quartararo's time is two whole seconds off Marc Márquez' outright lap record, and half a second slower than the race lap record – and grip still changing, conditions were just to inscrutable to draw any conclusions from, or at least any conclusions which might last beyond Saturday morning. Trying to work out which tire will work best was almost possible on Friday. There are still too many unknowns.

Bump and grind

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Brno MotoGP Preview: Missing Marquez, Horsepower Hill, Yamaha's Hope, And KTM Competitive

With MotoGP heading to Brno for the first of three races, a new chapter opens for the championship. The two season openers at Jerez were somehow anachronistic, races out of time, and out of place. The searing heat of an Andalusian summer turned the Circuito de Jerez into an alien space, the searing heat punishing riders, bikes, and tires. It proved costly, too, Yamaha losing three engines to the heat in two races, Ducati losing one, that of Pecco Bagnaia. Those lost engines are likely to have long-term consequences for Yamaha, though it seems as if Ducati have escape a little more lightly.

These three races at two race tracks are something of a return to normality. The Czech Grand Prix at Brno, and the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, are happening on the weekends scheduled on the original calendar, before the COVID-19 pandemic MotoGP calendar, along with the rest of the world, on its head. Much has changed, of course: MotoGP is at Brno with a much-reduced paddock, with no fans and no media outside of a small band of TV journalists. But at least the Grand Prix paddock is where it was supposed to be, in the conditions which could have been expected back in January.

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