Four days previously, Marc Marquez was having a titanium plate and 12 screws fitted to his broken arm
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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.
We had to wait 245 days between races, but boy, was it worth the wait. The Moto3 race was the usual closely-fought battle, the new order reasserted itself in Moto2, and the MotoGP race destroyed any preconceptions we had of the 2020 season, while serving up a smorgasbord of some of the finest riding we have seen in a very long time. Motorcycle racing junkies got the fix they had jonesing for, which should keep them sated for a while. And the best thing is we do it all over again next week. Though it is hard to imagine how the MotoGP paddock can replicate the events of this weekend.
In these notes:
- We told you this would be a tricky championship
- Marc Márquez being Marc Márquez
- The deep hole Honda have dug for themselves
- The win we had been waiting for
- Yamaha's shake up pays off
- I thought Ducatis were supposed to suck at Jerez?
- A whole new championship
- KTM – a proper motorcycle at last
It is hard to believe how much happened in the space of just a single day. But here's what mattered on Sunday.
Risk vs reward
It has been 143 days since the last day of the MotoGP test at Qatar, and 130 days since the Moto2 and Moto3 classes raced at the opening round of the series at the Losail International Circuit. A large part of the world spent most of that time in lockdown, nobody riding, nobody working on bikes, nobody checking up on equipment at circuits.
That is exactly why you go testing before the resumption of the 2020 MotoGP season at Jerez. To give everything a good shake down, make sure that nothing vital falls apart on a race weekend. The fact that the Jerez circuit suffered a power cut which delayed the restart of the afternoon MotoGP session for the best part of an hour is a case in point. A reminder that everyone needed time to get back up to speed again.
"The boys were a bit rusty," Jack Miller told us. "Everyone is getting back into everything, into their own jobs in the box and also for us riders. We’ve been off for four months. It’s quite useful to shake off the cobwebs."
I am not one who thrives on the negatives, or for whom the only good news story is a bad news story. I want every race to be a classic, every new rider a potential champion, every team a proven winner looking to expand. An impossible dream of course but it’s not naivety on my part - it's positivity. No business or sport was ever built, expanded or maintained without overarching optimism and sheer ambition at its core.
Whatever your particular field you have to aim for the moon to even have a hope of getting into the upper reaches of the earth’s atmosphere. WorldSBK was launched on ambition and optimism, survived on it for a long time, especially after some shaky early moments.
But sure enough, it was grown into the premier production-derived race series on planet earth; often by both those driving factors mentioned earlier – ambition and optimism. With MotoGP always the biggest class and firmly in existence long before WorldSBK came along, Superbike has nonetheless aimed above the GP glass ceiling just to get anywhere close to it. Or at least WorldSBK told itself to raise its own bar, and see how high it could jump.
In the first part of the interview with Aleix Espargaro, the Aprilia Gresini rider talked about life and training in Andorra, finally getting back on a motorcycle in Andorra and at Barcelona, the plans for testing, and the financial impact of the pandemic for him and his sponsors.
In the second part, the eldest of the two racing Espargaro brothers talks about what happened to teammate Andrea Iannone, and who might replace the Italian at Aprilia, about rumors of brother Pol leaving KTM to head to Repsol, and about the strategy for coping with a short season featuring a lot of back-to-back races. Finally, Aleix Espargaro talks about how much he is looking forward to 2021, even more than 2020.
Q: You actually don't know who is going to be your teammate, either this season or next season. It's a very awkward situation.
AE: The situation for Aprilia right now is not easy, not easy at all. Andrea Iannone is a very, very fast rider, everybody knows that, but his future doesn't look very bright because now WADA are pushing even more [WADA has appealed the reduction of Iannone's ban by the FIM CDI]. So the situation for Massimo Rivola, for Aprilia is not easy. I would say that almost all top riders have already decided about their future; to take a talented guy coming from Moto2 would not be easy for the first year; to take an old guy from MotoGP with experience but with a better bike, it's not going to be easy. The situation is very difficult.
Q: Did you talk with Iannone?
Aleix Espargaro speaks to me seated in the living room of his Andorra home, in the middle of a very lively and hectic family life. Max and Mia, the Espargaro twins who just turned two years old a few days earlier, are talkative and active playing just a few meters away. Their joyful squeaking punctuates the interview, providing a unique soundtrack. Behind him hangs the Aspar ART bike he was given as a present from Jorge Martinez for his wedding - a location he had to negotiate with his interior designer wife Laura, before she agreed to have it stood pointing skyward, front wheel vertical. When asked, Espargaro said that Aspar was upset when he left for team Forward (2014) and only forgave him when he invited his former team to the wedding.
The older of the two Espargaro brothers has been racing at world championship level since 2005 – it's easy to forget that Aleix Espargaro was the youngest ever Spanish 125cc champion of the 125 all the way back in 2004. He has ridden for some of the biggest teams in the last 15 years, but undoubtedly his contribution to the development of the Aprilia RS-GP in the last three seasons (and before that to the Suzuki) has brought him a well earned third contract with the Italian manufacturer.
Espargaro was never afraid to speak his mind. He was not shy to talk about politics, stand against bullfighting and also share his thoughts about his own team. Lack of staff, mistakes in the development., promises broken by the team and lack of support for the riders with early dismissal of his teammates. He was also the first to commend them about the changes done in the team’s structure.
In the first two parts of our interview with Andrea Zugna, the Italian engineer who contributed to the success of both Yamaha's and Honda's factory teams talked about how he got into MotoGP, his history in the sport, how data has changed motorcycle racing, as well as talking about some of the great riders he worked with, such as Valentino Rossi, Marc Márquez, Casey Stoner, and Dani Pedrosa.
In the final part of the interview. Zugna talks about how he sees MotoGP developing, and the generational change from which MotoGP is not immune. And he goes into some of the reasons for switching disciplines completely, leaving MotoGP to work at the highest levels of sailing, helping to developing the control systems for Italy's America's Cup challenger, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team.
First, though, we talked about Marc Márquez' 2019 season, and how it stacked up historically. Was this the best performance Zugna had seen from Márquez during his time at Honda? "I don’t know, honestly," Zugna replied. "It’s different. I prefer to judge how much effort the rider had to put in order to overcome the limitations of the bike. If you look at the numbers he had in 2019, probably, or 2014, maybe now he is more mature, so fewer errors."
Rider, not bike
Perhaps Márquez' success when competing when the Honda RC213V was clearly slower than other bikes should be rated higher, Zugna suggested. "On the other hand, the biggest achievements for Marc were when he was with less power, for example. Then he could beat Dovi in Ducati with more power."
In the first part of the interview with Andrea Zugna, the former Honda and Yamaha engineer told the story of how he came to MotoGP, brought in by former Yamaha racing boss Masao Furusawa. Zugna talked about the different roles he played at Yamaha. And he gave an engineer's view of the MotoGP technical regulations, and rules in general.
At the end of 2009, Zugna left Yamaha to join Honda. As Head of Performance at HRC, his role expanded to include the entire bike, and not just the electronics. "In general, performance analysis is where you look at the whole package - rider, bike, tires and everything - and you try to figure out where to work, what works and what doesn't, and so on," Zugna explained.
"I think now every company, every manufacturer has kind of a performance analysis group, also because we are at the point of refinement where you don’t make big steps. It’s more about refining, analyzing deeply and so on. So objective numbers are getting more and more important. But, at that time in 2010 it was just starting," the Italian told me.
Things have changed a lot over the last decade, however. "Now, maybe ten years later, it’s common practice. Not only in MotoGP - you have data science, whatever, machine learning, cloud computing… all these terms that are now normal, weren’t ten years ago. So maybe that was more of a general process in how you tried to get the maximum out of the data you had."
An ocean of data