Alex Marquez

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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Emilia-Romagna MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Winner Who Wasn't, Reinventing Maverick, Championship Math, Ducati Braking, And How Messages Work

Just when you thought the 2020 MotoGP season couldn't get any weirder, the Emilia-Romagna round at Misano threw up surprises we never even knew were possible. You would have that that having MotoGP race at the same track twice would make matters even more predictable, but instead, we find ourselves deep inside the world of Donald Rumsfeld's famous unknown unknowns.

The race itself was more a war of attrition than a bar-banging battle from lights to flag. It was hardly bereft of excitement – the battle for the podium grew intense and controversial in the last few laps – but the eventual winner spent pretty much the whole race alone. The same was true for the rider who should have won, but managed to throw it all away with seven laps to go.

That was far from the only crash. Of the 20 riders who started the race, only 13 managed to cross the line at the end of 27 laps. That is one of those surprises we really hadn't seen coming – two races and a test, combined with almost perfect weather (the briefest of showers during the Moto2 race, just enough to force a restart interrupted a week of otherwise endless sunshine) meant the newly resurfaced track had more grip than the tires could handle, and by Sunday, the riders knew every bump around Misano better than the knew their own mothers.

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Misano MotoGP Test Subscriber Notes: What Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda, KTM, And Ducati Were Working On

The Covid-compressed 2020 season has very little room for maneuver. To fit fourteen races into nineteen weeks means making a lot of sacrifices. One of those sacrifices is testing: of the original three one-day post-race tests planned, only one remains, at Misano, on Tuesday.

What is the point of a midweek test in the middle of a year where so much development has been frozen to cut costs? "I think it's just a lot a people getting bored during the week, not moving anywhere, not doing anything, so they're trying to keep each other busy, keep themselves busy," joked Jack Miller.

The Pramac Ducati rider may have said that in jest, but it is easy to believe he is right. Engine and aerodynamics development is frozen for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, which already cuts down dramatically on the options for progress with a bike for this year and next. So surely the teams and factories wouldn't have much to test?

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Misano MotoGP Saturday Round Up: An Unstoppable Blue Wave, The Luxury Of Choice, And Honda's Via Dolorosa

They say that the joy of motorcycle racing is that the rider matters so much. There have been various percentages bandied about over time, the most recent, and most reasonable and widely accepted, from Valentino Rossi's former crew chief Jeremy Burgess, who put the ratio at 70% rider, 30% bike. In reality, of course, putting percentages on the relative importance of rider versus machine is a necessarily imprecise art. But given all we know of the difference in performance and results between teammates and riders on the same machine, that seems entirely reasonable.

Then you get to a track like Misano, and the circuit proceeds to make a mockery of such truisms. After the two qualifying sessions on Saturday, the grid for Sunday's race consists of four Yamahas, followed by two Ducatis, followed by two Suzukis, then two more Ducatis, and then two KTMs. Only from the fifth row of the grid does it get a little more mixed up.

You would almost start to believe that the bikes are starting to matter more than the rider at some tracks. After all, the first two races at Jerez saw the same two riders start from first and second on the grid, and finish in first and second place in both races, in the same order.

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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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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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Andalucia MotoGP Things I Missed: Scrubbed Tires, Happy Hondas, And Gifted Places

A few days after the events of the Andalusian Grand Prix, with time to let what happened in Jerez to sink in, there was a lot that missed in my Sunday race notes. If you want to know about Yamaha's high hopes and deep concerns, Rossi's podium return, the Ducatis, KTMs, and what it might mean for Brno and Austria, go back and read that first. Here's what I missed the first time around.

Scrubbing in

Yesterday, media monolith Motorsport.com reported that Michelin had advised the MotoGP teams to use the Sunday morning warm up to scrub in a new tire to use in the race. Scrubbing in is an old technique, originally recommended as a way to remove the chemical film which can remain on the surface of a new tire as it is removed from the mold – something which Michelin says is no longer needed, as modern tires don't have that surface film let by the mold.

This, however, is something different. The aim of scrubbing these tires in is different. Teams were advised that their riders should do an out lap, a fast lap, and then an in lap, then wait before putting the tires back in the warmers. The goal here is to raise the internal temperature of the tires to operating temperature, then let them cool, precipitating a chemical change inside the tire. Putting them back on the tire warmers then stops that change.

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Jerez MotoGP Friday Round Up: Heat, Wind, And Tires

Be careful what you wish for. For four months, MotoGP riders sat at home and twiddled their thumbs, hoping for the racing to return. They got their wish, but there was a catch: the season opener is in Jerez, in July, in the withering heat of an Andalusian summer.

It was positively punishing on track, especially in the afternoon, once track temperatures started to creep into the mid 50s °C. The track gets greasy, and that catches riders out, especially rookies. Alex Márquez was one such rider: the Repsol Honda rider tucked the front at Turn 8, disrupting the plan for the session.

"In the crash, I was too optimistic, coming from the morning with a good feeling on track, you know," the younger Márquez brother told us. "I made a rookie mistake. The grip changed quite a lot from the morning to the afternoon. I was a little bit wide in the entry, but I was on a good lap so I tried to go back to the right line but I was a with a little bit too much lean angle on a dirty surface, and then the front was just closed."

Understanding how the heat affected the track was the key to the afternoon. The track has plenty of grip when temperatures are in the 30s and 40s°C, but once the mercury creeps past 50°C, the grip goes away, turning the MotoGP bikes into a real handful. By the end of FP1, track temperatures had hit 40°C. By the start of FP2, the track temperature was already 54°C, and rising.

The heat is on

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