Alex Marquez

The 2021 MotoGP Rider Line Up: Who Goes Where, And Who Fills The Still Vacant Slots?

It was a busy day for MotoGP rider announcements. Three riders were confirmed in teams, with a fourth confirmed as leaving. The announcements were hardly a shock, but there was room for the odd raised eyebrow or two.

At Honda, there was the expected reshuffling to make room for Pol Espargaro in the Repsol Honda squad, the Spaniard offered a two-year deal alongside Marc Marquez. This bumped Alex Márquez down to the LCR Honda team, with a two-year contract as compensation. Alex Márquez may have lost his ride in the factory team before a wheel has turned in the 2020 MotoGP season, but at least he is now assured of three seasons in the premier class to prove himself.

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Announcement Monday: Petronas Extend Morbidelli For 2 Years, Repsol Honda Sign Pol Espargaro, Alex Marquez To LCR, Crutchlow Out

A bumper crop of announcements this morning, and though the contents had long been expected, there was still room for a surprise. The announcement that Pol Espargaro would be joining Marc Marquez in the Repsol Honda team had been long trailed, but today we got confirmation that the Spaniard had signed a two-year deal with HRC to race in the factory team, forcing Alex Marquez out. You can read about the possible consequences of that move, and what effect it will have on Marc Marquez, here.

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Why Repsol Honda Signing Pol Espargaro Could Cause Marc Marquez To Leave

The rumors had been doing the rounds for some time, but last night, things came to a head. Multiple media outlets were reporting that Pol Espargaro has signed a deal to ride for Repsol Honda in 2021. The most interesting facet of this was that several outlets had independent sourcing, making this look highly credible. Information I have seen also confirms this.

Though an agreement seems to have been reached, there are still some hoops to jump through. Speaking to Spanish daily AS.com, Espargaro's manager Homer Bosch said negotiations with Honda, KTM, and Ducati were still going on. "It's not true that Pol has a verbal agreement to go and race for the Repsol Honda team next year," he told AS.

Repsol Honda team boss Alberto Puig issued a similar statement denying an agreement had been reached. "HRC is always thinking about the present and the future of its structure, from the lower categories to MotoGP. Due to the circumstances that we are in, this season is not developing through the usual channels, but that does not mean that Honda stops continuing to plan the best possible future for all their riders. We do not have any contracts signed with anyone that have not already been announced," he said.

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The MotoGP Silly Season Logjam: Dovizioso At Ducati, Rossi At Petronas, And The Youth Wave

While the motorcycle racing world awaits the return of real racing, contract time is heaving into view. Though the methods are different – Skype calls and WhatsApp messages, rather than private conversations at the backs of garages or between trucks – the objective is the same: to find the best match of bike and rider, giving the most hope of success.

Having to work remotely is the least of both managers' and teams' problems. The bigger issue is that there is next to no data to go on. Teams and factories are having to make a guess at who they think will be strong in 2021 based on who was fast in 2019, and who showed promise in the winter tests. Riders have no idea which bikes have made progress over the winter, and which have stagnated. Is it worth taking a gamble on KTM? Has the Honda gotten any easier to ride?

For the Moto2 riders in with a chance at moving up to MotoGP, they have had just a single race in 2020 to show their worth. What's more, it was very far from an ordinary race: the last-minuted decision to make it a night race instead of a day race complicated tire choice, which some got right and some got wrong. Jorge Martin was widely regarded as the hot ticket for promotion to MotoGP in 2021, yet he had a miserable race at Qatar, finishing 20th. Tetsuta Nagashima won the race, while Joe Roberts dominated practice and qualifying. Nobody was mentioning their names as possible promotion candidates in late 2019.

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What Does The Delayed Start To The 2020 MotoGP Season Mean To The Factories?

On Sunday, at 6pm, the desert night will erupt in a cacophony of sound, as Grand Prix motorcycle racing gets underway for the start of the 2020 season. But it won't be the vicious bellow of MotoGP machines which will shatter the desert silence; instead, the more modest howl (118 dB compared to 130 dB of the MotoGP bikes) of the Triumph triple-engined Moto2 machines will scream away from the lights and around the floodlit track.

It wasn't meant to be that way, of course. The Moto2 machines were supposed to race an hour and forty minutes earlier, their original start time planned for 4:20pm local time. Now, it will be the Moto3 riders starting their race at that time, and not the 3pm slot originally scheduled. The MotoGP machines will be sitting in packing crates, waiting to be shipped to the next race.

As I write this, it is not entirely clear where that will be. It might be Austin, Texas, unless the US authorities impose further restrictions. It might be Termas De Rio Honda, in Argentina, unless the Argentinian government changes its mind about allowing entry from Italy, or Japan, or anywhere else. It might even be Jerez, if international air travel is subject to sudden and extreme restrictions.

Evolution

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Qatar MotoGP Test Subscriber Notes: Assessing All Six Factories After Qatar

So testing is done and dusted – at Qatar, quite literally, once the wind picks up – and the pile of parts each factory brought has been sifted through, approved, or discarded. The factories are as ready as they are ever going to be for the first race in Qatar, at which point the real work starts. Testing will only tell you so much; it is only in the race that the last, most crucial bits of data are revealed: how bikes behave in the slipstream; how aggressive racing lines treat tires in comparison to fast qualifying and testing lines; whether all those fancy new holeshot devices will help anyone to get into the Turn 1 ahead of the pack. Only during the race do factories and riders find out whether the strategy they have chosen to pursue will actually work.

Fabio Quartararo at the 2020 Qatar MotoGP Test

So after three days of the Qatar test, what have we learned? In these notes:

Honda, from catastrophe to optimism courtesy of old bodywork

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Cormac Goes Testing: Photos From The Sepang MotoGP Test


Second year in the premier class. Is 2020 the year of Fabio Quartararo?


Jack Miller on the Desmosedici GP20. A few riders commented at how the rear seemed to stay low under acceleration, as if Ducati have found a way to keep the holeshot device activated out of corners

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MotoGP Silly Season Grinds To A Halt: What Next For Ducati?

It had promised to be a spectacular Silly Season in MotoGP this year. With all 22 rider contracts up for renewal at the end of this season, several long months of hard bargaining was expected, resulting in a major shakeup of the grid. Few seats were expected to be left untouched.

Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati Desmosedici GP20 at the Sepang MotoGP test

Yamaha dealt the first body blow to any major grid shakeup, moving quickly to extend Maverick Viñales' contract through 2022, then moving rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo to race alongside him in the Monster Energy Yamaha team. Valentino Rossi was promised full factory support from Yamaha in a satellite team if he decided to continue racing after 2020 instead of retiring.

Yamaha's hand had been forced by Ducati. The Italian factory had made an aggressive play for both Viñales and Quartararo, and Yamaha had brought the decision on their future plans forward to early January. Yamaha decided to go with youth over experience, and Ducati was left empty-handed.

Next stop Hamamatsu

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Sepang MotoGP Test Subscriber Notes: The Tightest Field Ever, New Tires, Suzuki Smells, Yamaha's Revival, And More

What can you learn from the Sepang MotoGP test? A lot, and not a lot. The balance of power on the MotoGP grid already seems to have shifted, for all sorts of reasons. The construction used on the 2020 rear Michelin tire is having a major impact on the performance of the bikes, with more grip available in all conditions, and more durability. But because the tire has changed, it will take at least the first part of the season for the factories and riders to figure out how to get the most out of the tire. That means we are likely in for a fair few surprises throughout the year. This could be like 2016 again, some inside Michelin believe.

That doesn't mean that we can share the championship spoils out among the bikes which are ahead at the Sepang test already. The test raised more questions than it answered. It's not so much that factories and riders were sandbagging, more that so much is new this year that most factories are closer to the beginning of their development project than the end. Add in the complication of Marc Márquez coming off his second shoulder surgery in two seasons – and Miguel Oliveira and Taka Nakagami in the same boat – and there are more unknowns than knowns. The balance is likely to shift several times though the 2020 season. Which is good for fans, though it tends to annoy the manufacturers.

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