The current field of MotoGP riders may only be less than a season into the first year of their contracts, but the opening salvos of the 2021 season are already being fired. That is a direct consequence of almost the entire grid being on two-year deals, which run through the 2020 season. Every seat on the grid will currently be up for grabs in 2021. And because of that, teams, factories and riders are already starting to explore their options for the next season but one.
This is not something teams are particularly happy about. Team managers will grumble both on and off the record that it is a big gamble choosing riders basically on the basis of their performance two seasons before they are due to ride for you. Fear of missing out on a top rider forces their hand, however, and so teams are already making preliminary approaches about 2021.
The extreme and unusual situation of every single seat being up for grabs means that Moto2 riders are also delaying their plans. Most have only signed 1-year deals for 2020, knowing that so many options are opening up in 2021. Remy Gardner even turned down a chance to move up to MotoGP with KTM for 2020, preferring to wait for 2021 and hope for many more options then.
KTM came into MotoGP with big ambitions. At the presentation of their MotoGP project at their home Grand Prix in Austria in 2016, KTM CEO Stefan Pierer was clear: "For sure we will face a learning curve when we go into a segment but we will reach the podium and the dream of my life is to be world champion in MotoGP." The learning curve has been steep indeed, but in two-and-a-half seasons, the KTM RC16 has gone from the back of the grid to closing in on the top five.
Is that fast enough for KTM? At Silverstone, I spoke to Sebastian Risse, KTM's MotoGP Technical Director, about the progress of the project and the lessons learned along the way. He was open about the toughness of the challenge, the highs and lows along the way, and the development trajectory of the bike.
The interview covered a lot of ground, including the benefits of having four riders in stead of two, the role played by Dani Pedrosa, and the process by which the feedback from riders is turned into a MotoGP machine.
The interview is in two parts. To kick off the first part of the interview, I wanted to get an old question out of the way which has been discussed many times. Would KTM be sticking with a steel trellis frame and WP suspension?
Sebastian Risse: Basically this is something outstanding, something different compared to our competitors. Historically we have a lot of experience with steel frames. Every class we conquered as KTM. Basically we finally conquered with the steel frame. So we learned how to use it for various very different applications, how to achieve different targets. We don’t see any point at the moment where we restrict ourselves in using it. In the other hand, we want to use it as our strong point because we know how to handle this material. We have the process. We are quick in making, modifying, updating. We would also give up on this if we would start something with a different material.
Few people are involved in as many different aspects of MotoGP as Razlan Razali.
The Malaysian is not only Principal of the Petronas-backed MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3 teams, but CEO of the Sepang Circuit and helps with management duties for the likes of local star Hafizh Syahrin.
The following interview, conducted at Catalunya, was equally wide-ranging - Razali giving his views on the success of the newly-formed satellite Yamaha MotoGP team, the race-winning Moto3 project, rider replacements and future plans for Moto2, Syahrin's 2020 options, Sepang's future on the MotoGP calendar and more…
Q: What are your personal highlights of the season so far?
Razlan Razali: My personal highlight would be the 1-2 in qualifying at Jerez [This interview was done before Fabio Quartararo's poles and podiums at Barcelona and Assen - DE]. That was something quite unbelievable. So in some ways we are now starting to get used to the fact that we are there for qualifying, but now the next step is to capitalize on the qualifying position for good race results. That is something also we discussed internally and with Yamaha as well.
But, we want to give our riders time because racing is all about experience and improving every race. Of course, the Yamaha is a bit weak when it comes to racing. But I’m confident in the plans, about what Yamaha is going to do for the rest of the year. It will give time for our riders to gain that experience and hopefully then we can do better when it comes to racing.
Q: In general, what is it that is missing in the race that is there in qualifying?
Though empty seats are limited for the 2020 MotoGP season, in recent weeks there has been some movement to fill those vacancies. The moves have mostly been unsurprising, but then with so few seats available, the chances of something unexpected happening are very slim.
Just before the Sachsenring, we saw Danilo Petrucci keeping his seat alongside Andrea Dovizioso in the factory Ducati team for the 2020 season, a fully expected move since the Italian's victory at Mugello back in early June. That leaves Jack Miller in the Pramac Ducati team for another year, though that deal is not yet signed.
A deal is close, however. "We’re fighting over pennies now," Miller said on Sunday night in Germany. Miller will have a Ducati Desmosedici GP20 at his disposal, the same as his teammate Pecco Bagnaia, but there were still a few financial details to be ironed out. "It more or less should be done, I got some information today. So hopefully we can get it done before we get back at Brno and put all that stuff behind us and just focus on riding."
Binder to KTM
Some things changed at this year's edition of the German Grand Prix, held at the Sachsenring. The race was organized by the ADAC, the German equivalent of the Automobile Association, instead of the former promoter, a local organization based at the circuit. The difference was immediately evident: the event appeared to run more smoothly and more efficiently, and some of the old peculiarities ("we've always done it that way") replaced with things that actually work. It felt like a much better Grand Prix, without losing any of the charm which had marked it out before.
Then there was the inaugural round of MotoE, the new electric bike racing class which joins the MotoGP series. History was made on Sunday morning, when eighteen Energica Ego Corsa motorcycles lined up for the first ever all-electric motorcycle race. The race was shortened from 8 to 7 laps after being declared wet, and then red flagged after 5 laps when Lorenzo Savadori crashed out at Turn 8 after being clipped by Eric Granado.