Miguel Oliveira

Austria MotoGP Sunday Subscriber Notes: On Dangerous Tracks And Dangerous Racing, Dovizioso's Revenge, Rins One Shot, And How The Restart Affected Tires

Johann Zarco's Avintia Ducati after his crash at the 2020 Austrian MotoGP round at the Red Bull Ring - photo Cormac Ryan Meenan

Motorsport can be dangerous, as it says on the passes handed out by Dorna for MotoGP. We got a harsh reminder of just how dangerous it can be at the Red Bull Ring on Sunday. Both the Moto2 and MotoGP races had to be red-flagged after serious crashes left the track strewn with debris. There were some terrifying near misses, with not one but two riders having their helmets clipped by airborne motorcycles, and Valentino Rossi seeing first a Ducati GP19, and then his life flash before his eyes.

Fortunately, everyone escaped largely unharmed, except for some massive bruises and a few suspected minor fractures. All being well, everyone should line up on the grid again in seven days' time, to do it all over again. We may question the wisdom of that, but untrammeled ambition breeds courage, the will to win an appetite for risk. That is just the way motorcycle racers are wired.

In among the drama, motorcycle races were held. The crashes and disruption ended up having a significant effect on the races, and those races, in turn, had an important impact on the 2020 championship. New faces on the podium once again underlined that we are in a new era in MotoGP, as did the strength of the KTM once again.

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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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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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Andalucia MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Marquez' Roller Coaster Week, A New Championship, And A Surprise Package

He came. He tried. But in the end, it proved impossible. Even for a man whose ambition and competitive drive burns as fiercely as Marc Márquez'. After riding with fewer problems than he feared on Saturday morning, the fracture in his right arm started to swell in the afternoon, and made riding impossible. Marc Márquez was forced to face the limits of human endurance and willpower, and accept that racing on Sunday would not be.

Saturday afternoon was the first time that the media had had a chance to actually speak to Márquez since his crash last Sunday. He hadn't spoken to the media after the race – for the obvious reason that he was injured and needed medical attention – nor had he spoken to us on his return to the track. His mind was focused laser-like on Saturday morning, when he would get a chance to ride – skipping Friday was part of the deal he made with HRC before they would even allow him to get on a bike – and he wanted no distractions.

But on Saturday afternoon, after his body had forced him to throw in the towel, Márquez finally told us exactly what happened a week ago, when he crashed out of the race, and kicked off the roller coaster ride which ended with him pulling into his garage after a single lap during Q1.

How it started

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MotoGP Silly Season Update: KTM Confirms Line Up, Stalemate At Ducati

KTM sporting director Pit Beirer (left) and Danilo Petrucci

That Danilo Petrucci was heading to KTM was an open secret, after the Italian and his manager, Alberto Vergani, visited the Austrian factory's race department in Mattighofen. That he would not be replacing Pol Espargaro in the factory Red Bull KTM team is a huge surprise. Instead, Petrucci is to switch to the Tech3 satellite team, and take the place of Miguel Oliveira, who is to be moved up to the factory squad.

According to Italian media, the reasons Petrucci is headed to the Tech3 team are twofold: firstly, as the KTM press release makes clear, because all four KTM RC16s will be full-factory spec, and with full factory support. And secondly, because Brad Binder had a clause in his contract stating he would be in the factory team in his second year.

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MotoGP And WorldSBK Back On Track: Three Days Of Testing At Misano

World championship motorcycle racing takes another step back to the season returning at Misano. The next three days sees both MotoGP and WorldSBK teams testing at the Italian circuit, preparing for the resumption of hostilities at Jerez in July and August.

Present are the MotoGP teams of KTM and Aprilia, allowed extra testing due to their status as concessions teams. Aleix Espargaro and Bradley Smith are riding for Aprilia, the second test for the Italian factory. Espargaro was forced to miss the first test, unable to travel to Misano, and so waited for this test to get back on track, as he explained to Tammy Gorali in an interview a week ago. He joins Bradley Smith, promoted from test rider to permanent rider for 2020, to replace Andrea Iannone, still suspended after a positive doping test.

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