Franco Morbidelli

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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Petronas Yamaha Boss Razlan Razali, Part 2: On Making The Sepang Circuit A Success, Managing A MotoGP Team, And Working With Yamaha

In the first part of Tammy Gorali's interview with Razlan Razali, team principal of the Petronas Yamaha SRT team, and formerly CEO of the Sepang International Circuit, the Malaysian team boss talked about how the outbreak of COVID-19 has affected the circuit, and the 2020 season. He also talked about how he views rider contracts, and whether he would welcome Valentino Rossi into the team in 2021.

In the second part, Razali goes into more depth on the decisions he made as CEO of the Sepang circuit, including why he chose MotoGP over F1, the circuit eventually deciding to drop the contract with F1. He talks about the importance of the Malaysian market, and getting local fans into the circuit as spectators.

Part of that drive turned into the creation of what is now the Petronas Yamaha SRT team. Razlan Razali tells Gorali about the team's journey from vehicle to get Malaysian riders into Grand Prix racing via Moto3 into fully fledged team with riders across all three classes. Razali also talks about how they see their riders for 2021, despite the loss of racing. And he discusses the Petronas' team relationship with Yamaha, and the bike the Japanese factory has brought for 2020.

Q: You stepped down from the position of Sepang circuit CEO this month. You were a very bold and unique CEO, like saying to the F1 championship "thank you guys - go and drive somewhere else"...

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - How I ride: Franco Morbidelli

The 2017 Moto2 world champion has spent the last 12 years working with Valentino Rossi, so how does Franco Morbidelli ride a MotoGP bike?

Franco Morbidelli became Valentino Rossi’s first protégé when he moved from Rome to Tavullia in 2008, at the age of 13. And when Rossi established the VR46 Riders Academy in 2013 he became its first member. In 2017 Morbidelli became the first VR46 rider to win a world title, in 2018 the first to race in MotoGP and last year the first to ride the same bike as Rossi. In other words, no one else has learned as much from Rossi.

Last year Morbidelli joined the new Petronas SIC Yamaha squad, alongside rookie Fabio Quartararo, and quickly found himself eclipsed by the rookie sensation. However, his results weren’t at all bad for a relative beginner riding a new bike.

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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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Michelin's Piero Taramasso Explains How The New Rear Michelin Tire Helps The Riders Go Faster

One of the big talking points from last week's Sepang MotoGP test was the performance of the new Michelin rear tire. The new construction tire, first tested at the Barcelona test in June 2019, met with widespread praise. The new rear had more grip, both on the edge of the tire, and in the traction area, the slightly fatter part of the tire which riders use just as they pick up the bike on exit.

The new tire was popular with everyone, although some riders believed it benefited the bikes which use a lot of corner speed, like Yamaha and Suzuki, more than the point-and-squirt bikes like the Honda and Ducati. Riders who carried a lot of corner speed could immediately use the additional edge grip. Riders who needed to pick up the bike and drive out of corners felt they needed more time to understand how to get the most out of the tire.

Point

The Yamaha riders were overwhelmingly positive about the new rear Michelin. "Since the first lap I did on those tires in Montmelo last year, I felt really good," Maverick Viñales said. "Also for the way I pick up the bike, it's quite good."

Monster Energy Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi agreed, but pointed out that the new Michelins benefited everybody. "The tires from Michelin are better," the Italian said. "This is good but unfortunately the tire from Michelin are for everybody. So we make the step but also the other guys."

Franco Morbidelli described the tire as filling in the holes where the Yamaha lacked drive and grip in 2019. "The new tire gives more grip and it fills our emptiness with grip that we had last year, so that's positive for us. This tire performs better so edge grip and drive grip."

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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 Thursday Round Up: Suzuki And Yamaha Launches, Different Specs of Yamahas, And A New Calendar For 2021

The day before the MotoGP test starts at Sepang is not usually so hectic. There have sometimes been launches, but as often as not, it has been a matter of catching up with people you have not seen for a long time, and talking to the few riders scheduled for press debriefs. It is a good way of easing yourself back into the MotoGP season.

The 2020 Suzuki Ecstar MotoGP Livery

Not so this year. Three launches in one day, two of them with the biggest news stories of the off season. The Suzuki launch was interesting; the 2020 livery for the Suzuki Ecstar team is rather fetching in silver and blue, and a homage to the first Grand Prix bike Suzuki ever raced, 60 years ago this year. For more on Suzuki's history, see this outstanding thread on Twitter by Mat Oxley, and if you don't already have his book Stealing Speed, a history of how Suzuki acquired two-stroke technology from the East German MZ factory, you need to buy yourself a copy now.

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Yamaha MotoGP Project Leader Takahiro Sumi On Where Yamaha Struggled In 2019, And How They Will Fix It In 2020

In 2019, Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP rider Maverick Viñales won two MotoGP races - the Dutch TT at Assen and the Malaysian GP at Sepang - to finish third in the championship. His teammate, Valentino Rossi was seventh in the championship, with two second-place finishes: at the season opener at Qatar, and at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Meanwhile, Fabio Quartararo from the newly-formed team Petronas Yamaha SRT team put on an amazing rookie performance, with six pole positions and seven podiums, ending the season in fifth place in the championship. Teammate Franco Morbidelli crossed the finish line inside the top six on seven occasions and finished the season in tenth overall.

On Christmas day, we visited Iwata in Shizuoka prefecture to ask Yamaha Motor Company’s MotoGP Group GL (Group Leader) Takahiro Sumi about how their 2019 season had gone, what the objective for 2020 would be. First of all, Sumi-san gave Yamaha's perspective on the disappointing first half and the hopeful latter half of the season, before moving on to an exclusive interview.

Franco Morbidelli and Valentino Rossi at the 2019 Misano MotoGP round

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