Pol Espargaro

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 Saturday Round Up: Stolen Laps, Surprise Front Rows, And Why Old Is (Sometimes) Better Than New

If ever there were a day where qualifying and practice told two very different stories, it was Saturday at Brno. The tales were linked and related, interwoven in many ways, but the differences outweighed the common threads. The grid tells a tale of heroism, surprises, and the cruel application of sensible rules. Practice is a story of dark foreboding, of the grim war of attrition that awaits on Sunday afternoon. Qualifying was tough; the race is going to be much, much tougher.

Qualifying is always the highlight of Saturday afternoon, though the final free practice session, FP4, is what matters most. With nothing on the line but race setup, and conditions close to what they will face at race time on Sunday afternoon, teams and riders show what they are really capable of. Even then, the story told is not in the overall result, but tucked away in the analysis timesheets, where teams send out riders on old tires, to see how they hold up once they get a lot of laps on them. The secret code created by combining tire compound with tire age and run duration is almost impossible to decipher, but there are fragments of the real story of the weekend tucked away for the diligent student.

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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 Sunday Subscriber Notes: The New Star, Where Rossi's Speed Came From, Yamaha's Engine Woes, KTM, And Ducati's Title Chase

The first twelve days of the restarted 2020 MotoGP season have been absolutely brutal. The paddock assembled in the searing heat of the Andalusian summer, and with the pressure of a highly compressed season, 13 races to be jammed into an 18 week period. At the test on the Wednesday before the first race, Danilo Petrucci got caught out by the wind and blown into the gravel at Turn 11, banging up his neck in the process. On the Saturday, Alex Rins jumped off his bike to avoid Jack Miller, dislocating his right shoulder and cracking his humerus.

Last Sunday morning, Cal Crutchlow took a tumble and fractured his scaphoid, and then in the race, Marc Márquez managed to highside himself into the gravel between Turns 3 and 4, his bike following him in and hitting his right arm, breaking his humerus. On Tuesday, the Dexeus clinic in Barcelona saw a steady stream of patients as the wounded came in to be patched up. So successful was Marc Márquez' operation that the Repsol Honda rider was doing press ups that evening, and by Wednesday, had persuaded his team to let him have another crack at Jerez at the weekend.

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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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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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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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