Can the 2021 MotoGP season match the weirdness and wildness of 2020? The circumstances are different, but the path which led to Qatar 2021 has laid the groundwork for another fascinating year.
2021 sees two trends colliding to create (we hope) a perfect storm. There is the long-term strategy set out after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, with support and backing from the many bright minds in Dorna and IRTA. After Kawasaki officially withdrew at the end of 2008, and Honda came within a couple of board meetings of pulling out of MotoGP, Dorna threw their weight behind the teams.
With the grid dwindling (Suzuki pulled out at the end of 2011, after being down to a single rider), the MotoGP class was switched back to a maximum engine capacity of 1000cc, and four cylinders, while the CRT class was introduced as a second tier inside the premier class. Payments to teams were gradually increased, and over time, Dorna, with the backing of the teams, pushed through restrictions on electronics, introducing a spec ECU and then spec software to run it, and a price cap on satellite machines.
It being 2020, last weekend's Teruel round of MotoGP at the Motorland Aragon circuit threw up plenty of surprises, more than can be covered in just a single article. In Monday's subscriber notes, I covered the early crashers, Takaaki Nakagami's lead lasting just five corners, Franco Morbidelli's perfect race, why Alex Rins and Joan Mir came up short, and whether it matters if Mir doesn't win a race this season, the odd fortunes of the Yamahas in 2020, and Andrea Dovizioso as best of the Ducatis.
But there is more to cover. It is worth taking a look at who made the biggest gains between Aragon 1 and Aragon 2, how KTM went from nowhere to nearly on the podium, and the mystery of Yamaha's engine situation.
First, a comparison of how the riders fared between the Aragon and Teruel rounds at Motorland Aragon. In theory, you might believe that being at the same track would mean there would be little to no difference. But as previous back-to-back races at the same circuit has shown, this is very much not the case. Results have varied massively from week to week, as some riders have improved, others have stood still.
Faster second time around
With Valentino Rossi finally confirmed at the Petronas Yamaha SRT team, the rider line up for 2021 is getting close to completion. The factory seats at Honda, KTM, Suzuki, and Yamaha are filled, as are the satellite seats at KTM and Yamaha.
The nominally vacant seat at LCR Honda is destined to be taken by Takaaki Nakagami once again, the Japanese rider still in talks with HRC management over whether he will get a 2021 spec RC213V or a 2020 bike. Nakagami's performance so far on the 2019 bike has shown him worthy of getting the latest spec, but those details will take a while to thrash out.
The next question to be answered will come some time next week, when Ducati announce their plans for 2021 and beyond. They are expected to move Pecco Bagnaia into the factory team and Johann Zarco up to the Pramac squad. Jorge Martin is likely to join Zarco in Pramac, while Enea Bastianini should head to Avintia.
It should come as no surprise that in a paradoxical 2020 MotoGP season in a year full of paradoxes, a new surface at Misano should have simultaneously both improved the track and made it much worse. Yet the paradox is relatively easy to understand: the tarmac chosen for the new surface has a lot more grip, but it is also softer when it gets hot, deforming more and producing more and bigger bumps. The additional grip is great, but you can't always benefit when your wheels are being kicked up into the air.
"There's more grip than last year but the track is similar to motocross!" Fabio Quartararo told us. "A lot of bumps. Positive that there is more grip but we need to adapt because honestly the first exit in FP1 was really difficult to manage the bumps."
One of the things making the bumps so difficult to manage is where they are. "It's bad," said Jack Miller, "especially in the fastest sector, it's really quite bad. That back section, the bike just starts shaking and bouncing, and one lap you can get through there semi OK, and the next lap you're just bouncing around and you can't really get back on the track."
It has been an exhilarating, fascinating, infuriating, enervating three weeks in Grand Prix racing. Three back-to-back rounds, one at Brno and two at the the Red Bull Ring in Austria, have thrown up more surprises than we could ever expect. Three different winner in three races, new manufacturers on the podium, a host of unusual and long-standing records broken. There really is a lot to talk about.
One of the most surprising things is the fact that in the six races we have had in the space of the last eight days (disregarding the Red Bull Rookies for a moment) three, or fully half, have been red flagged, and a restart needed. The Red Bull Ring became the Red Flag Ring, as Twitter wits quickly dubbed it after a massive brake failure by Maverick Viñales saw his Yamaha M1 pierce the air fence at Turn 1 and cause the MotoGP race to be red flagged, for the second time in as many weekends.
Blame the track?
Qualifying at the Red Bull Ring proved as exhilarating a spectacle as ever, but like Banquo's ghost at Macbeth's banquet, an absent specter took some of the attention away from a celebration of racing. A little over an hour after qualifying finished – delayed because Jaume Masia tore the fairing from his Leopard Honda Moto3 bike after crashing in Q1, then rode back to the pits dumping oil and water all over the track – a press release from the Repsol Honda team reminded us of the absentee champion.
Marc Márquez, the press release announced, would be out for another two to three months, to allow him to recover fully from the broken humerus he suffered at the first round of MotoGP on July 19th. Of course, the problem wasn't that break, but the aftermath: Márquez had an operation to plate the humerus a couple of days later, he was doing press ups the day after that, and tried to ride again on the Saturday after breaking his arm. It went OK for one session of practice, but he felt an unpleasant twinge in his arm, and a lack of strength, and so stopped.