Around this time in a normal year, we would be back from the launch of a couple of the MotoGP manufacturers, and looking forward to a couple more as we prepared to travel to Sepang for the first test of the year. But this is not a normal year, of course. Nor was last year, for that matter.
So instead of packing my bags in preparation of the test at Sepang – originally scheduled for the 19th-21st of February – I, like the rest of the media, are checking our microphones and internet connections to get ready to do the MotoGP launch season from home. And not just the launch season: in all probability, the media won't be allowed to physically attend a MotoGP race for the first half of the 2021 season at the very least. But at least we will have a 2021 MotoGP season.
Launch season kicks off tomorrow, with the presentation of the Ducati Factory MotoGP team. The launch will be streamed live on the Ducati website and on YouTube from 4pm CET on Tuesday, February 9th. Journalists will then afterwards get the chance to interview Ducati bosses Gigi Dall'Igna and Paolo Ciabatti, as well as new riders Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia.
Ducati leading off the launches is a MotoGP tradition, with the others following suit shortly after. The Monster Energy Yamaha team follows next Monday, February 15th, at 10:30am, when Fabio Quartararo will be introduced as Maverick Viñales' teammate in the factory Yamaha squad. The two sides of the LCR Honda garage follow a few days later on Facebook, Alex Márquez being presented at noon on February 19th, and Takaaki Nakagami at 10am on February 20th, while the Repsol Honda squad of Marc Márquez and Pol Espargaro will be presented on Monday, February 22nd.
Much media interest is expected for the Repsol Honda launch, Marc Márquez making his first public media appearance since last year. Many questions will be asked about his fitness, his injury, and much more.
Technically, of course, the Ducati Factory launch wasn't actually the first MotoGP team to launch. Last week, the Avintia/Sky VR46 Ducati squad of Enea Bastianini and Luca Marini streamed their team presentation via Instagram from what appeared to be a gas station in Andorra. Instagram Live proved to be a problematic platform for a team launch, especially when done from a phone with a spotty internet connection. No doubt the factory launches will all run a little more smoothly.
What's going on?
As we are still awaiting the start of the 2021 MotoGP season, meaningful news from the championship has been rather thin on the ground. But here is a quick overview of some of the most important stories at the moment.
The most shocking news in recent days was the huge fire which destroyed the building housing the pits at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina. Though the race had already been officially postponed (and unofficially canceled), the blaze put paid to any realistic chance of the race being held there in 2021.
The cause of the blaze appears to have been tracked down, according to German-language website Speedweek, quoting Argentinian daily Clarin. The fire was the result of a short circuit, which occurred at the site where some welding work was being done in the area housing the VIP lounges.
Fausto Gresini and Covid-19
Similarly disturbing is the long-running saga of Fausto Gresini's battle with Covid-19. The Italian team manager contracted the virus shortly before Christmas, and after a brief spell in hospital in Imola has spent the past month in the Intensive Care Unit of the Maggiore Carlo Alberto Pizzardi hospital in Bologna.
Although no longer being held in a medical coma, Gresini's condition is still very serious, with a severe respiratory failure due to the coronavirus and complications arising from the disease, including pneumonia. It has been a tough time for Gresini, and the MotoGP world is hoping for the best possible outcome for the Italian.
Barcelona's Turn 10 restored
In more positive news, the Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya has received FIM and FIA approval for the changes made to Turn 10 at the circuit. Since the tragic death of Luis Salom in 2016 at the track, the circuit has used the F1 hairpin at Turn 10, instead of the classic long, round corner used up until then. The reason for dropping the classic layout was a lack of run off on the outside of the corner.
The circuit changes have addressed that problem with an ingeniously simple adaptation. The round corner has been restored, but the straight between Turns 9 and 10 has been shortened by several meters, and using the F1 hairpin as the starting point for a rounder corner. The two turns – the F1 hairpin and the long MotoGP corner – have been replaced with a single, more sweeping turn.
This is good news for the circuit, as the more sweeping variant of Turn 10 was a more natural corner for motorcycle racing. It has seen some classic battles – it was the place where Marc Márquez and now Repsol Honda teammate Pol Espargaro touched in Moto2 in 2012, forcing Espargaro into the gravel and generating controversy over the championship. And it should allow for a wide range of lines for the MotoGP bikes.
There has also been a steady trickle of contracts with the MotoGP manufacturers, as they look ahead to the next five-year contract period with Dorna in MotoGP, from 2022 to 2026. Teams and factories are signing on for the next five-year slice of MotoGP.
The contracts are important because it means both guaranteed slots on the grid for five years, and guaranteed funding for the teams. It also means stability in the MotoGP technical regulations, with only minor changes allowed during the contract period through 2026. Dorna and the MSMA have that time to review the rules and discuss whether any major changes to engine capacity, type, etc need to be made.
All six MotoGP manufacturers are expected to sign up, as are most MotoGP teams bar Avintia/Esponsorama, which is expected to be bought out by the VR46 organization. So far, KTM, Honda, and Ducati have already signed up, as has the LCR team of Lucio Cecchinello. Suzuki, Yamaha, and Aprilia are expected to follow soon, Aprilia and Gresini going their separate ways so that Aprilia can compete as a factory, and Gresini race as an independent team once again.
As a nine-time World Champion and legend of the sport, Valentino Rossi has the luxury of being able to keep his media appearances to an absolute minimum. Normally, he only does TV interviews, a contractual obligation it is very hard to get out of. Interviews with the written press are few and very far between.
Leading Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Serra was lucky enough to be given the chance to interview Rossi, his first interview with the written media since joining the Petronas Yamaha squad. Though wide-ranging in nature, the interview, in Italian here, does not contain very much we didn't already know.
Rossi talks of the strangeness of living through the Covid-19 pandemic; on the one hand, more time for training, on the other, less ability to socialize. "It's like having the plague," he joked. He spoke of why he wants to keep racing – "I race because I think I can win" – but explains that winning is much harder now, with so many good riders on the grid. He had been very close several times, he said, but the margin between winning and losing is now much slimmer.
Rossi laments losing his spot in the factory Yamaha squad, putting it down to the "MotoGP vice" of signing contracts very early, even before the 2020 MotoGP season had begun. He also described the fact that Andrea Dovizioso is without a ride as "absurd". "He is fast, he is an expert."
The part of the interview making all of the headlines is Rossi's comments on Marc Márquez. The Italian is still clearly very bitter indeed about the events of 2015, and how he saw them play out. It was impossible to forgive Márquez for what he had done, Rossi said. "What Márquez did to me is unforgivable," he told the Corriere della Serra.
Just how bitter is Rossi about it? He used the interview to claim that Márquez was not the strongest rival he had faced, a peculiar claim given that Rossi has only finished ahead of Márquez in the championship in one of the seven seasons they have competed against each other (not counting 2020). Rossi also suggested that Márquez' return to racing after breaking his humerus at the first Jerez round of 2020 was only possible because Dorna pushed the limits to a previously unheard of extent.
For those of you who can read Japanese, there is also a fascinating interview with HRC bosses Tetsuhiro Kuwata and Takehiro Koyasu, who spoke to MotoMatters.com contributor Akira Nishimura for the Mr Bike website. There is much in the interview of interest, but one significant point was that Kuwata-san insisted that if Marc Márquez is not fit and ready to race at the start of the 2021 season, then it will be Stefan Bradl who takes his place. That implicitly rules out Andrea Dovizioso getting Márquez' ride, as many believed he would.
For those who don't read Japanese, the interview is still worth perusing. The Mr Bike website has a host of photos of the 2020 Honda RC213V without the fairings on, an exceptionally rare sight indeed.
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.