Maverick Viñales

Aragon MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Quartararo Bounces Back, Hondas Return, And Dueling Ducatis

It looked like we would have another twist in this weird and unsettling season this morning. At Turn 14, the current MotoGP championship leader's Yamaha M1 got a little squirrelly as he rode over the kerbs. A little too squirrelly, the front stepping out and then the rear gripping and flicking Fabio Quartararo up into the air, and down onto his left hip. When the Frenchman finally slid to a halt, he struggled to get up, clearly in enormous pain. He was stretchered into a waiting ambulance, and taken off to the medical center.

For a while, it looked like this could be a serious blow to Quartararo's title chances, handing the advantage to Joan Mir. But scans and X-rays revealed that the Petronas Yamaha rider had gotten off relatively lightly, with only bruising and a hematoma in his left hip. A match for the bruise to his right hip suffered in a crash on Friday morning.

Hospital to rostrum

Quartararo limped out of the medical center on crutches, and clearly had difficulty walking to his bike for the start of FP4. He took an extra lap to find his rhythm again, but was soon pounding out laps in the low 1'49s, setting pace that was second only to Maverick Viñales. Half an hour later, he fired out a blistering lap to take pole, his third of the season and ninth in MotoGP. He had gotten away with it, and come up smelling of roses.

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Aragon MotoGP Friday Round Up: Cold Weather Crashes, A New Schedule, Slow Ducatis, And Fast Yamahas

There is a particular type of crash which happens in the wet. A rider will be heading toward a corner, and will start to brake for a corner. At the moment they start to tip the bike into the corner, the front wheel whips out from underneath them almost instantaneously, dumping them on the floor. The crash happens without warning, and without there being anything the rider can do about it. One minute you are up, the next you are on the ground.

The crash happens because on a wet track, grip is unpredictable. Tires cool, and where you thought there was traction, there was in fact none. A tire that might have been working on one side a couple of corners previously has lost so much heat due to the rain, the wind, that the grip you had previously disappears into thin air.

We saw a lot of those crashes in MotoGP FP1 this morning at Aragon, despite clear blue skies and a bone dry track. The reason? The track temperature was simply too cold, and as a result, the tires don't reach the required temperature either. The rubber which is soft and sticky when up to temperature is suddenly stiff and slick as glass, like the tires on a 1:12 Tamiya replica of a MotoGP bike. Johann Zarco and Fabio Quartararo both went down at Turn 14, a notorious point for that particular type of crash to happen.

Down in the dry

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Aragon MotoGP Preview: Rossi Sidelined, More Tires To Handle The Cold, And Long Straights vs Long Corners

In Brno, it was a TV cameraman. In Austria, it was a rider in the Red Bull Rookies Cup. At Misano, it was Jorge Martin. At Le Mans, it was a Yamaha engineer. And at Aragon, the coronavirus finally reaches the MotoGP grid, with Valentino Rossi testing positive for the virus on Thursday afternoon, before he was scheduled to depart from his home in Tavullia to travel to Aragon.

It was inevitable really. As case numbers start to explode at the start of the European winter, and with a group of 1400 people traveling between their homes (if they are lucky – staff from outside of Europe are stuck in Europe until the end of the season, with no opportunities to see friends and family until almost December) and various race tracks, the probability of Covid-19 hitting the paddock was large.

Despite the rigorous protocols put in place by Dorna for MotoGP (compare and contrast with WorldSBK, where things are much less strict) Valentino Rossi has tested positive, along with a number of other paddock workers. It is an open question whether we make it to the end of the season, or even past the Grand Prix of Teruel at Aragon next week. As cases rise, the need to be leading the championship grows ever more imperative.

Down with a fever

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Le Mans MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Fickle Weather, A Wild 2020, Starting With No Electronics, A Popular Winner, And 2020's Mr Consistency

If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that it is pointless to try to make sense of 2020. There is neither rhyme nor reason to this year; you just have to let it wash over you like an autumnal rain shower and hope to emerge on the other side, if not unscathed, then at least in some sort of shape to continue. It is impossible to make plans, impossible to predict what might happen next.

So it is in MotoGP too. After Barcelona, we started to believe that a shape was emerging to the 2020 MotoGP championship. That favorites were emerging who would do battle over the title for the remaining six races. Naturally enough, this turned out to be naively optimistic, reckoning without the weirdness which runs like a shimmering thread through this pandemic-blighted year. We really should have known better.

Le Mans confronted us once again with the reality of 2020. A rain shower as the bikes headed out for the sighting lap threw the race into disarray, reshuffling the cards once again. Teams had to gamble on whether the rain would persist, and if so, for how long, and make choices about tires and setup. Once the race started on a very obviously wet track, the rain came and went, ending any thoughts of pitting for slicks, leaving the riders to sink or swim by their tire choice, and how well they managed to preserve their tires to the end.

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Le Mans MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Pole vs Pace, Tires vs The Weather, VR46 vs Avintia, And 2022 Satellite Rides

Ironic. During the soaking wet first session of practice for the MotoGP class at Le Mans yesterday, there were no fallers. On Saturday morning, with the sun high in the sky – well, low in the October sky, but with nary a cloud in sight – the morning session for MotoGP turned into a crash fest, six riders going down. That was one more than in the treacherous drying conditions of FP2 on Friday afternoon. By the end of the day, three more riders had gone down, bringing the total number of crashes in MotoGP to nine, nearly twice as many as Friday.

Why so many crashes when the track condition is so good? In part because today was dry, and Q2 beckoned. The riders had one shot, and had to push. More than this, though, MotoGP is at Le Mans in October, and even on bright, sunny days, the track temperature is on the very bottom limit of the range within which the Michelin tires will operate. With a cold wind whipping out from behind the grandstands as the riders headed into the braking zone for the chicane, it was easy to get caught out by the cold left-hand side of the tires. And that meant a trip through the gravel.

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Le Mans MotoGP Friday Round Up: Mixed Conditions, Miller's Marquez-esque Trick, Risk And Reward, And KTM's Holeshot

"It was a very tricky day in Le Mans, like always," was the verdict of Fabio Quartararo on Friday evening, after a wet morning session and afternoon practice on a track which was rapidly drying, but never quite dry. He spoke for just about everyone, the track proving especially treacherous in the afternoon, ending FP2 almost completely dry with a few damp patches, enough to catch a few riders out, including Aprilia's Bradley Smith and Aleix Espargaro, Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso, KTM rookie Brad Binder, and the LCR Honda of Takaaki Nakagami.

Most were just harmless falls, the front washing out on a damp patch, but Bradley Smith found himself propelled into the air when the traction control on his Aprilia RS-GP couldn't react quickly enough to the rear spinning up when he hit a damp patch on track. "I was feeling alright this afternoon, the wet patches were quite scary," he said. "I felt like I was managing the situation quite good but just got caught out by that one. TC didn’t catch me in time! And down I went."

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Barcelona MotoGP Subscriber Notes: A Champion Arises, A New Mr Consistency, Yamaha Speed, And Maverick's Misery

It turns out there is someone who wants to win the 2020 MotoGP championship after all. A couple of people in fact, and they are now starting to make an effort to actually win this thing. After last week at Misano, when the top four in the championship were separated by just 4 points, it was hard to discern a shape to the 2020 title chase. Unseasonably cold weather, a punishing track for tires, and the usual run of random racing incidents events shook up the championship at Montmelo. Now, a pattern seems to be emerging from the fog of racing war.

After Misano, just 4 points separated the top four. A week later, there are 24 points covering the first four places, and 8 points – twice what covered last week's top four – the gap from first to second place. The points spread between the top ten has nearly doubled, from 27 to 50 points.

At Misano, Takaaki Nakagami was highlighted as a rider still in with a shot of the championship, not least by Repsol Honda boss Albert Puig, in defense of the job Honda have done in 2020. The LCR Honda rider was seventh, but trailed the leader Andrea Dovizioso by 21 points. With 7 races still left to contest, Nakagami had a shot at the title which was anything but theoretical.

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Barcelona MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Start Fast Or End Fast - Preparing For A War Of Attrition

What did we learn from qualifying for the Grand Prix of Catalonia on Saturday? We learned that qualifying is extremely deceptive. The front of the grid is a mixture of riders who are genuinely fast on race pace, and riders who are only quick over a single lap. But what we also learned is that the track at Montmelo, outside Barcelona, is so hard on tires that qualifying is only a very small part of the story. It is uncertain whether where you qualify will have any bearing on the outcome of the race.

The problem at Barcelona is that the track is punishing on tires. You do not get to the end of the race with tire to spare. Indeed, you may not make it to the end of the race at all. "The last laps of the race, we will struggle not to make a lap time, we will struggle to stay on the bike," warned Pol Espargaro. "Maybe by the end of the race, it's not going to be who can perform better, who can be faster, I think by the end of the race it's going to be who takes more risk, who cares less about crashing."

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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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