It's race week again. For both the MotoGP and WorldSBK paddocks, with the World Superbike series also making its debut at a new track, the Autodrom Most in the northwest corner of Czechia 55 km south of Dresden and 75km northwest of Prague, and which looks on paper to offer a nice, varied array of corners and challenges.
But WorldSBK at Most (be ready to be drowned in a tidal wave of superlative-based puns) comes after just a single weekend away, the production-based series having raced at Assen two weeks ago. MotoGP is back after its longest summer hiatus in recent memory, a whole five-week absence from racing.
Not that riders have been sitting on sun loungers working on their tans for all that period. Certainly, the first ten days or so were dedicated to taking a proper break, relaxing and getting away from it all. But since then, they have all been hard at work once again, training, riding bicycles and motorcycles, on circuits, on dirt track, at MX tracks.
Some, such as Aleix Espargaro, have been even been racing. The Aprilia rider took part in the Colina Triste, a multi-day cross country MTB event, running as high as fourth with his partner Ismael Ventura until a crash ended his race, breaking his handlebars and saddle, and smashing his face. Riders don't just get injured training on motorcycles.
News on the way
A couple of announcements are expected in the run up to the race this weekend. At KTM and Red Bull's home race, the Austrian factory is expected to announce that Raul Fernandez, the Moto2 rookie currently sitting second in the championship behind his teammate Remy Gardner, will make the leap up to MotoGP for 2022, and join Gardner in the Tech3 KTM team. The deal, we understand, is done, it is just a question of when the news is announced.
The second announcement is much less certain. Over the weekend, Tanal Entertainment Sport and Media, the holding company behind the Saudi Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Saud, announced that the company would be holding a press conference in the next few days, part of which will be dedicated to the VR46 MotoGP project. No exact date was given – apparently, Saudi princes expect the media to be at their beck and call, with no organization needed – but it seems safe to assume that the press conference will be held some time this week.
There is a lot of speculation in the Italian media that the press conference will include an announcement about Valentino Rossi's future, and more specifically that he will race alongside his brother, Luca Marini in the VR46 squad aboard a Ducati Desmosedici. How solid the sourcing of that speculation is is open to question, the news stories all seem to comply with Betteridge's law of headlines.
Interviews with Rossi's friend and business partner Uccio Salucci and with brother Luca Marini suggest that Rossi would very much like to continue. "He does not want to end his career with results like these," Salucci told GPOne.com. But they are also both all too aware of just how much rumor and speculation are a part in all of this, and even playing into that. "He will race with me next year … I'm joking!" Marini told Corsedimoto.com.
We may get some clarity on Valentino Rossi's future in the next few days. Or we may have to wait even longer, for the Italian to make a decision. That may not be a bad thing, as it would give Yamaha more time to find a replacement. It is already proving tricky to find a replacement for Franco Morbidelli, who looks set to move up to the factory Yamaha team for 2022. Finding two riders to fill seats which, in theory, should be among the most desirable on the grid could be very difficult indeed.
Part two – more of the same?
So what will the second half of the season bring? Much is unknown, including where MotoGP will be racing in the next few months. Though the current races in Europe – two at Austria, one at Silverstone, Misano, Aragon, Portimão and Valencia – are almost certain to go ahead, the two overseas rounds – Austin and Sepang – are on less solid ground. Both those races depend on the willingness of the authorities to allow travel from Europe, and the situation there is still rather murky and subject to change.
On track, the most intriguing question is just how much of a role Marc Marquez will play in the second half of the season. The Repsol Honda rider has now had five more weeks to work on regaining the strength and control lost in his shoulder, and has been spending time training on motorcycles, something he was barely able to do during the first half of the season.
Victory at the Sachsenring had been expected to a degree: all left-hand corners, and a track where he is unbeaten in the last 11 outings. But Marquez was much happier with his results at Assen, despite finishing seventh after starting from the last row of the grid. He had been able to ride normally, without having to compensate for a lack of strength in his right arm, he said. "I was impressed by my performance. It is the first race in a track with right corners when I finished in the right way."
So far, Fabio Quartararo has been able to control the championship by being consistent throughout the first half of the season, racking up four wins, two more podiums, and his worst performance coming at Jerez after a resurgence of arm pump. But if Marc Marquez is back to his old self, then Quartararo will have complicating factor to deal with. Marquez is likely to be stealing more points from Quartararo, either by finishing ahead of him, or even worse, finishing between himself and his title rivals.
For Quartararo, finishing second to Marquez is no disaster. But if Marquez finishes second behind Johann Zarco or Pecco Bagnaia, and Quartararo finishes third, then the 9 points he loses will quickly eat up his championship lead.
New parts please
The five week break has also been a chance for the MotoGP factories to work on new parts for the bikes. Ducati has continued its existing testing program, and even this week, test rider Michele Pirro is at Misano testing new chassis parts which Ducati could choose to bring to the Red Bull Ring for factory riders Pecco Bagnaia and Jack Miller.
Ducati knows it needs something extra if it is to take the fight to Quartararo and close down the gap. The Austrian circuit, a track where Ducati has historically been outstanding, is a chance for the Italian factory to reverse the championship momentum. Having two races at the circuit on consecutive weekends is their opportunity to get their riders back into the game.
Spielberg should also see Suzuki finally close their development gap to the other manufacturers. Before the summer break, Suzuki riders Alex Rins and Joan Mir expressed their hope that the Japanese factory would finally bring the rear holeshot device for the GSX-RR.
Suzuki are the last factory to be racing without the rear device, having only the front holeshot device to help them at the start. The rear device helps not just at the start, but throughout the race, lowering the rear of the bike to reduce wheelie and help get better drive out of slow corners and onto long straights. Given that is a pretty accurate description of the layout of the Red Bull Ring, having the rear holeshot device could be a key part of stepping Joan Mir's title defense up a gear.
If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, supporting us on Patreon, by making a donation, or contributing via our GoFundMe page. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.