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Thailand MotoGP News: No News

There was a flurry excitement in the MotoGP media after the Chinese round of the F1 series in Shanghai was postponed due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, as the corona virus has been officially named. The excitement concerned the MotoGP race in Thailand, at the Buriram circuit, due to take place on 22nd March. Would the second race of the season be able to go ahead?

The answer to that question is the same now as it was nearly a month ago: yes, the Thai GP in Buriram will go ahead as planned, unless the situation changes, and governments issue official warnings against traveling to Thailand.

Ahead of the Sepang MotoGP test, which took place last week, I contacted IRTA for an official statement on whether the Sepang test and the opening rounds at Qatar and Thailand would be going ahead. IRTA secretary Mike Trimby gave the following statement: "Neither IRTA or Dorna are competent to issue advice on this matter. We are advising the teams and other companies to respect any advice issued by their respective governments. Obviously, we will react to any new developments but currently there are no changes of plan for the first events of the season."

The chances of the Thai round of MotoGP being canceled look very slim at the moment. According to the World Health Organization, there have been 33 cases of the COVID-19 virus recorded in Thailand, as of 13th February 2020, with no fatalities so far.  That compares to 29 in Japan, 18 in Malaysia (where the Sepang test was just held), 14 in the United States, 16 in Germany, 3 in Italy, and 2 in Spain. In China, by contrast, there have been 46,550 recorded cases, 1,820 of which were new on 13th February.

So the Buriram round of MotoGP is due to go ahead, unless there is a serious outbreak of COVID-19 in Thailand, the Thai government bans entry to foreign visitors, or governments in Europe (where most of the riders and team members are based) advise against traveling to Thailand.

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Bradley Smith: New Aprilia RS-GP 'Worth The Wait'

2019 was a long, hard year for Aprilia. The hiring of new Aprilia Race CEO Massimo Rivola signaled a year of rebuilding for the Italian factory, as Rivola took over the organizational side of the MotoGP project, freeing up Romano Albesiano to concentrate on building a brand new RS-GP from the ground up, and providing Albesiano with the resources to do so. That project forced Aprilia riders Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone to battle on through the 2019 season with a bike which was struggling to be competitive.

The wait came to an end at the MotoGP shakedown test at Sepang, where Aprilia rolled out the new RS-GP, in the hands of test rider Bradley Smith. "Those six or seven months of waiting were worth it," was Smith's verdict after the first full day of testing on the 2020 prototype.

"We had two or three big areas where we struggled," Smith told MotoMatters.com on Monday, "But the great thing is that the engineers managed to touch everything on the bike. They looked at every area¸and improved all the areas we were complaining about." Aprilia's engineers had not just addressed its main weaknesses, but had made steps forward in every part of the bike.

The change was badly needed, Smith said. "This was built in 2017, so it's a three year old bike," the Englishman said of the RS-GP campaigned last year. "Things have moved on since then, especially the Michelin tires, which have changed quite a bit. MotoGP sort of moved away from us. And if you look at Yamaha, they were struggling in 2017 and doing better now, things of sort of moved more in their direction."

Smith was very positive about the times set on the new bike. The Aprilia rider ended up just a tenth behind Suzuki test rider Sylvain Guintoli, the Frenchman riding a GSX-RR which proved capable of winning races in 2019. And Smith had been keeping a little bit in reserve. "The bike is so new that we only have two 2020 machines and a limited number of spares. When I was doing my time attack, there were a couple of places I was holding back a bit. The last thing I wanted was to hand the bike back in a box."

With just two bikes and limited spares, Smith was sharing his time between the old bike and the 2020 RS-GP. The Englishman was working on electronics with the old bike, to save mileage on the new machine. But it was on the 2020 RS-GP that Smith set his quickest time.

Having just two bikes available means Smith won't be riding on the last day of the shakedown test on Tuesday. He hands both machines over to Aleix Espargaro, who has not ridden so far during the shakedown test. Espargaro will be able to test both the old and the new bike together, as well as run back-to-back tests with the new bike to start working on base setup for the machine. Espargaro will be joined by Lorenzo Savadori, who is at Sepang learning to ride the MotoGP bike, and being evaluated as a possible future test rider.

Smith will be back in action at the official test, which starts on the 7th February.


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Factories Prepare For 2020 MotoGP Season At The Sepang Shakedown Test Starting Sunday

In just a few hours from now, MotoGP bikes will roll out onto the track for the start of the 2020 season. They will do so almost completely out of the public eye (prompting the philosophical question of if an RC213V is fired up at a circuit, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?) as three days of the MotoGP shakedown test gets underway at Sepang.

The shakedown test is a private test, meaning it is closed to the media and public. There is no live timing publicly available from the test, and lap times will be both difficult to come by and probably unreliable, as teams and factories release the times they want to make public (if any), rather than a neutral timing system recording every lap.

Yet this shakedown test is extremely important, for a number of reasons. It is the first test for the brand-new Aprilia RS-GP, designed from the ground up, with a new 90° V4 engine. It sees Jorge Lorenzo make his testing debut for Yamaha, back with the Japanese factory after three years away. And it is a chance for the MotoGP rookies to get a little more track time under their belts.

Roll call

Who will be at the test? For Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Ducati, it will be their test riders. Stefan Bradl will be putting more laps on the 2020 spec Honda RC213V for HRC, after having tried the bike for the first time at Jerez two weeks ago at the WorldSBK test at the track. For Suzuki, Sylvain Guintoli will be continuing work on the 2020-spec engine for the GSX-RR, Suzuki continuing to chase more horsepower without losing rideability, much as they did in 2019.

Michele Pirro will take the next evolution of the Ducati Desmosedici GP20 out for a spin, continuing work on the new chassis, and testing the new, more powerful engine for the bike.

If the media were allowed into the test, then all eyes would be on the Yamaha garage, where Jorge Lorenzo makes his return to the Japanese factory. Yamaha, too, are working on the engine, chasing a bit more power, but especially a bit more drive out of corners and a bit better deceleration into corners. For the shakedown test, Lorenzo will be circulating with Japanese test riders Kohta Nozane and Katsuyuki Nakasuga.

It is as yet unknown whether Lorenzo will ride at the official Sepang test which starts on 7th February, but it is likely that work will be handed over to Nozane and Nakasuga, while all four Yamaha MotoGP riders get on with testing the new bike.

Making concessions

Stefan Bradl is not the only Honda rider at Sepang for the shakedown test. With the reduction in official tests, extra allowance has been made for rookies to get more seat time ahead of their first season. That means that Alex Márquez will be on the Repsol Honda at the shakedown test, to get three more days of testing under his belt ahead of the official Sepang test which starts on Friday.

There are two other rookies on the grid in 2020, of course, but both Brad Binder and Iker Lecuona would probably be riding anyway. Manufacturers who have not scored enough podiums in the previous season are allowed unrestricted testing, limited only by the test tire allocation over the season.

So all four contracted KTM riders are at Sepang – Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder in the factory team, Miguel Oliveira and Iker Lecuona in the Tech 3 satellite squad – as well as test rider Dani Pedrosa. The test is key, for the further development of the new chassis tested at the end of last year, but especially for Miguel Oliveira, who is coming off shoulder surgery in late 2019.

New dawn

The test is perhaps biggest of all for Aprilia. The Italian factory has its brand-new RS-GP at the track, and the new engine will need a lot of dialing in and setting up. The bike should have a good deal more power, giving its riders a better chance of holding their own against the other five manufacturers.

We got a first glimpse of the bike on Twitter this morning, when the official Aprilia account tweeted pictures of the RS-GP:

In terms of the chassis, it looks very similar to the RS-GP of 2019. But there are a few major changes worth noting. Obviously, the things that draw the eye are the massive front wing. A large surface underneath the nose will offer a significant amount of downforce.

But the large wing distracts the attention from elsewhere: the intake for the airbox is now huge, much larger than it was in 2019. That is entirely consistent with an engine producing more horsepower: the more power an engine makes, the more fuel it needs. The more fuel it needs, the more air it needs.

The new engine is also visible in the exhaust layouts, which now resemble the Ducati much more closely (or perhaps the KTM). The upper exhaust is also offset, to leave space for a box underneath the tail. Have Aprilia started playing with mass dampers as well? We will get a better sense when we can see the bike for ourselves.

Aleix Espargaro, Bradley Smith, and new testing stand in Lorenzo Savadori will get to ride the bike at Sepang starting from Sunday. Andrea Iannone is absent, as he is still suspended due to failing a drug test at Sepang last year. A verdict on Iannone's case is expected on Tuesday, but Bradley Smith will take his place for the time being.

Official test

Fans disappointed by the lack of coverage for the shakedown test won't have long to wait. The official test starts on Friday 7th February, and runs until Sunday the 9th. There will be live timing, and Dorna will be producing a live show of 90 minutes at the end of each test day from Sepang. More details about that on the MotoGP.com website.

Naturally, I will also be at the test, covering it for MotoMatters.com. We will have daily updates on events and developments, and analysis of where the various factories stand. Be sure to check the website for times, and to follow me on Twitter and Instagram for updates and photos.

We will be introducing new ways of supporting the site in the next few days, before the official test starts. In the meantime, settle in and get up to speed with our subscriber content describing how some of the factories are preparing for 2020.


Gathering the background information for detailed articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.

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Jorge Lorenzo Confirmed As Yamaha MotoGP Test Rider For 2020

Yamaha's media onslaught - and their assault on the MotoGP title - continues, with the Japanese factory signing Jorge Lorenzo as a test rider for the 2020 season, as we suggested they might yesterday. Lorenzo is to start immediately, taking part in the shakedown test at Sepang, and will continue his work testing in Europe for Yamaha, as well as taking part in the other official IRTA tests during the season.

For the moment, Lorenzo is to be a test rider only, with no wildcards planned. Yamaha is open to giving Lorenzo a wildcard, should he change his mind about them. Currently, he is content to be a test rider, with no ambitions to race. The injuries suffered during the 2019 season on the Repsol Honda knocked the desire to race out of him. But Lorenzo has had a long period to train and recover, and will start his testing duties fitter than he has been in a couple of season. What effect that will have on Lorenzo's interest in racing is yet to be seen.

The signing underlines how serious Yamaha are approaching the task of regaining supremacy in MotoGP. The Yamaha was strongest in recent years when Lorenzo led development, and Maverick Viñales praised the bike left to him by Lorenzo in 2017 when he joined Yamaha, Viñales winning three of the first five races that season. Viñales will be hoping that Lorenzo can return the bike to those heights.

The press release appears below:


JORGE LORENZO TO STRENGTHEN YAMAHA FACTORY RACING TEST TEAM IN 2020

Yamaha is delighted to welcome back three-time MotoGP World Champion Jorge Lorenzo. He will join the Yamaha Factory Racing Test Team programme with the aim to boost MotoGP development during the 2020 season.

Gerno di Lesmo (Italy), 30th January 2020

Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. and Yamaha Motor Racing are delighted to announce that five-time World Champion and very successful Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo will be reinforcing the Yamaha Factory Racing Test Team for the 2020 season.

Lorenzo is not only a big name in the MotoGP paddock but also a widely celebrated Yamaha rider. He made his debut in MotoGP with Yamaha in 2008 and spent nine years with the Factory MotoGP Team, winning all three of his premier class titles on the YZR-M1, in 2010, 2012, and 2015 respectively.

Starting from the MotoGP shakedown test, held in Sepang, Malaysia from 2-4 February, Lorenzo will ride the YZR-M1. He will also take part in other Official IRTA Tests and some private Yamaha tests this year, with the sole aim to help Yamaha‘s engineers with the 2020 MotoGP development. The Spaniard is the perfect man for the job as he is known for his smooth, precise riding and clear feedback. He will be supported in his search for innovation by Silvano Galbusera, who will be Crew Chief for Lorenzo in the Yamaha Factory Racing Test Team.

So far, no wild card rides are planned for Lorenzo in 2020, but Yamaha is open to the possibility, should he decide to race again.

LIN JARVIS
MANAGING DIRECTOR, YAMAHA MOTOR RACING

Of course, we are delighted to welcome Jorge back at Yamaha. When we knew that Jorge would stop his active racing career, we immediately started to consider making a proposal for him to join us.

"The statistics of his achievements with us in those nine years together speak for themselves. He is a vastly experienced MotoGP rider, who is closely familiar with the M1 and the people at Yamaha. We have come to know Jorge as a very precise and motivated rider, with flawless consistency and good technical insight: all the qualities you need in a test rider at this high level.

"Combining Jorge‘s experience, knowledge, and riding speed with experienced Crew Chief Silvano Galbusera is an important element in Yamaha‘s strategy to strengthen the Test Team, which aims to bridge the gap between the engineers and test riders in Japan and the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team.

JORGE LORENZO
YAMAHA FACTORY RACING TEST RIDER

I‘m very happy with the decision to join the Yamaha Factory Test Team. I was always planning on staying involved in MotoGP and returning to the paddock, and I think this is a suitable role for me. I know the team and the M1 well. The Yamaha really suited my riding style, and it will be very interesting to ’meet up with my old bike again‘.

"Returning to Yamaha brings with it some good memories. We secured many podiums and victories, and three titles together, so we know where our strengths lie. I want to thank Yamaha for this opportunity, because this allows me to do what I love – riding motorbikes and pushing the limit – whilst enjoying a slightly calmer lifestyle than I did in previous years.

"I‘m very motivated to get to work and can‘t wait to start riding. I want to do my best for Yamaha‘s future, and I hope my riding experience will be helpful to Yamaha‘s engineers and riders to bring the title back to Yamaha.

NOTES

Jorge Lorenzo was born on the Balearic island of Mallorca, Spain on 4 May 1987. He began riding motorbikes at home at the tender age of three, and within months of taking to two wheels he was competing in his first minicross races. In 1995, aged eight, he won the Balearic title and followed that up the next year by taking the Island‘s minicross, trial, minimoto, and junior motocross titles.

Lorenzo graduated to road racing and national competition in 1997, and it didn‘t take him long to adjust, winning the Aprilia 50cc Cup in 1998. Despite officially being too young, a special dispensation in 2000 allowed him to compete in the Spanish 125cc series at the age of 13. He made history the following year when competing in Europe and becoming the youngest ever winner of a European 125cc race.

In 2002, the precocious teenager once again showed that age was no barrier to a quick rise up the ranks of motorbike racing. He made his Grand Prix racing debut on his fifteenth birthday, on qualifying day for the 125cc Spanish Grand Prix. He had to miss the Friday practices as he wasn‘t old enough yet.

After three years in the 125cc class, he moved up to the 250cc class championship. When he switched to Aprilia in 2006, the Spaniard came into his own. He dominated the field, taking 8 wins out of 16 races and scoring 11 podiums in total. He made sure to show this was not a fluke the following year: having swapped his usual number 48 for a number 1, he convincingly duplicated his title winning ways, securing 9 wins out of 17 races and 12 podiums.

The man from Mallorca had made his point: he was ready to challenge along with the big guns in the premier class, and Yamaha took the opportunity to scoop up this racing talent in 2008.

Back with number 48, his first year in the Yamaha Factory team started in the perfect way. Lorenzo secured pole at the first race, setting a new lap record that previously stood for ten years. He went on to claim two podium finishes before his first MotoGP victory came at only his third race with Yamaha. However, a series of crashes and injuries would compromise the remainder of his debut season on the M1. But Lorenzo showed his unshakable determination: he kept pushing and still took fourth place in the final championship standings, earning him the Rookie of the Year award.

A switch in 2009 to the number 99 that Lorenzo fans have grown accustomed to, was the first sign of change. ’X Fuera‘ (a nickname alluding to his flamboyant outside overtaking style, depicted with a red cross on his helmet) was calmer and more collected and it showed in the results: a second place in the overall rankings, behind team-mate Valentino Rossi. These achievements also earned Yamaha the Constructors and Team Trophy that season.

The next year it was Lorenzo‘s time to shine. He took 9 out of 18 race wins and a staggering 16 podiums (12 of which were achieved at the first 12 rounds of that season) to take a formidable first MotoGP Championship victory in Malaysia.

Returning to the number-1 plate in 2011, he narrowly missed out on the title honours again, taking second place despite a serious crash during round 16 at Phillip Island bringing a premature end to the Mallorcan‘s season. But he got to enjoy the sweet taste of victory once more in 2012, when he proved to be unbeatable. He started his campaign with a win at the opening round and overall took podiums in every single race bar two, including six wins and ten second places, earning himself his second premier class crown in Australia.

This achievement was followed by a second and third place overall in the next two years, both seasons having been compromised by big crashes in Assen (2013) and at the Sachsenring (2014). However, Lorenzo is known for his steely performances. And so, in 2015, he claimed the number-one spot once more. During this dramatic season only team-mate Rossi was able to compete with him. The championship fight came down to the wire, but in the end it was Lorenzo who took the victory in Valencia, earning him his third and final MotoGP title.

Lorenzo completed one more season with Yamaha, taking third in his ninth year in the premier class and bringing the partnership‘s total to 44 wins, 107 podiums, and 39 pole positions. He ran two seasons with Ducati and one with Honda, before announcing his retirement as a MotoGP rider at the end of 2019. In 18 seasons he secured 68 wins, 152 podiums, 69 pole positions, and 5 World Championships. This will rightfully see him inducted as a MotoGP Legend at the 2020 Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez.

Whilst he will be thoroughly missed by racing fans this upcoming season, they might not have to miss him for long. No wild card rides are planned for Lorenzo in 2020 as of yet, but Yamaha is open to the possibility.

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Maverick Viñales Signs Through 2022 With Yamaha - What Does It Mean For Yamaha And MotoGP Going Forward?

The first penny has dropped in the long march toward the 2021 MotoGP grid. Yamaha have announced that they have signed Maverick Viñales to a two-year deal, for the 2021 and 2022 season.

The move marks a clear decision, both on the part of Yamaha and the part of Viñales. The Spaniard had offers on the table from two other manufacturers, with Ducati especially keen to sign Viñales for 2021. But assurances given to Viñales about his role in developing the Yamaha M1 helped him make his decision. Viñales is to determine the future direction of Yamaha, based on the strength of his performance in the second half of 2020.

Betting on Viñales to lead the MotoGP project makes sense for Yamaha. In the three seasons since arriving at Yamaha, he has racked up more wins, podiums, and poles than Valentino Rossi, and finished ahead of him two seasons out of three. Viñales has 6 wins to Rossi's lone victory at Assen, 19 podiums to Rossi's 13, and 9 poles to 1 for Rossi. Viñales finished third in 2019, and first Yamaha rider, while Rossi ended the year in seventh, behind even Fabio Quartararo.

This is also a choice for stability in the future. Yamaha are now certain of Viñales staying for the next three seasons, whereas Rossi is yet to make a decision on his future, and even if he does decide to keep racing, he is likely to sign contracts for one year at a time, so that he can choose to retire at the end of each season if he no longer believes he is competitive.

Signing Viñales first also provides certainty for Yamaha. The Spaniard is a proven winner and championship contender. In Fabio Quartararo, they have a youngster who is clearly exceptionally talented, but he has only ridden a single season, and in a satellite team. Quartararo rode entirely without pressure in 2019, and performed exceptionally. But having to compete in a factory team where the atmosphere is focused entirely on winning the championship is a different kettle of fish. Quartararo seems to handle pressure well, but we will only really know how well he does that once he is subject to the intense pressure of expectation in a factory squad.

But which factory squad will that be? Ducati has made it clear that they are also interested in securing the services of the young Frenchman. And Yamaha can see exactly what they have in terms of talent with Quartararo. Yamaha have credited Quartararo with opening up the eyes of the factory Yamaha riders to what the bike was capable of, and pushing that little bit harder. There seems no doubt that Yamaha will want to keep the Frenchman, and that probably means giving him a factory seat.

That puts pressure on Valentino Rossi. The Italian has previously said that he wants to wait until after the first few races in Europe before making a decision on his future. But with Ducati – and possibly also Suzuki – chasing Quartararo hard, the factory Yamaha team will want a decision sooner rather than later. Rossi will want to understand both how competitive the Yamaha M1 is, and how competitive he can be in 2020 before making a decision. But that may mean making up his mind by Jerez, or even Austin, rather than Mugello.

There may be an option for Rossi to move back to the Petronas Yamaha team, but fitting Rossi into another team is not simple. And to do it for a single year would disrupt the Petronas team significantly, if Rossi demanded that he bring his entire squad with him. Some of the mechanics and engineers in that group have strong ties inside Yamaha, and may also have ideas of their own about moving.

The first domino has fallen, and it will have wider repercussions for 2021 and beyond. The next domino is likely to be Marc Márquez staying with Honda, but Viñales' choice for Yamaha sets in a sequence of events which will determine the face of MotoGP for quite some time to come.

The press release from Yamaha appears below:


VIÑALES RENEWS CONTRACT WITH YAMAHA FOR 2021-2022

Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. is delighted to announce that Maverick Viñales has signed for two further years with the Yamaha Factory Racing MotoGP Team.

Gerno di Lesmo (Italy), 28th January 2020

It is with great pleasure that Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. confirm Maverick Viñales as one of the Yamaha Factory Racing MotoGP riders for the 2021 and 2022 season.

Viñales has shown great riding, motivation, and consistency so far in his three years of racing with the Yamaha Factory Racing MotoGP Team in the MotoGP World Championship. The successful partnership led to a third place in the overall standings in 2017, a fourth place in 2018, and another third place in 2019.

Further Yamaha highlights on the Spaniard‘s résumé are 6 wins and 19 podiums, including his Yamaha debut race and Yamaha‘s 500th GP win in Le Mans, both in 2017, as well as 9 poles in total out of 55 Grand Prix weekends aboard the YZR-M1.

These achievements on top of his undeniable talent and unshakable determination have Yamaha fully confident in their partnership with the 25-year-old. On 6 February they will start the first MotoGP Test of this year in Sepang, Malaysia, kicking off their 2020 campaign to clinch the premier class title.

LIN JARVIS
MANAGING DIRECTOR, YAMAHA MOTOR RACING

We brought Maverick into the Factory team in 2017, knowing he is a special talent. He is highly motivated and dedicates himself to being physically strong and is always ready to give his maximum and extract the best from his YZR-M1. In his first three seasons with us, he has given Yamaha 6 wins, 19 podiums, and 100% of his commitment. Now, as the YZR-M1 is improving race by race, we foresee a very bright future for him at Yamaha. Maverick‘s decision to sign with the Yamaha Factory Racing MotoGP Team for two further years so early shows the strength of our mutual appreciation and underlines the shared conviction that together we can challenge for the MotoGP World Championship Title.

MAVERICK VIÑALES
YAMAHA FACTORY RACING MOTOGP RIDER

I‘m extremely happy because I feel like I get to keep ’my own team‘. This will be the second year with my current crew, and after this I have two more years to look forward to. I‘m so excited! I think that if we keep working really hard we are heading the right way. For me, it was very important to make this announcement before the season started, because I‘m highly motivated and want to be able to fully concentrate on the 2020 season. I don‘t want to spend too much time thinking about the future. There were no reasons not to stay with Yamaha, because they feel like family. Yamaha is giving me a lot of support and, as I said, I have ’my own team‘, which is something I really need. We need to keep working and be very strong. Our main objective is, as always, to be World Champion and try to bring Yamaha the number one honour again. I will try my best. For sure, I will give everything I have to make our team proud too. I would like to say ’Thank you‘ to Yamaha for their faith in me. They are giving me a lot of confidence, and I really have trust in our partnership. I think we will both be growing very fast and we will keep pushing.

NOTES

About Maverick Viñales:
Age: 25
Height: 1.71m
Weight: 64kg
Grands Prix Contested in Total: 158
Grand Prix Wins: 23
Grand Prix Podiums: 63
Grand Prix Pole Positions: 20
World Championship Titles: 1

MotoGP
2019 – 3rd, Race Wins 2
2018 – 4th, Race Wins 1
2017 – 3rd, Race Wins 3
2016 – 4th, Race Wins 1
2015 –12th, Race Wins 0

Moto2
2014 – 3rd, Race Wins 4

Moto3
2013 – 1st, Race Wins 3
2012 – 3rd, Race Wins 5

125cc
2011 – 3rd, Race Wins 4

Maverick Viñales Biography:

Viñales was born in Figueres, Spain, on January 12th, 1995. He began racing in minimotos at just three years of age before moving onto motocross. In 2002 his passion for speed brought him to circuit racing. He competed in the Catalonian 50cc Championship and followed it up with several successful seasons in the 70cc “metrakit” bikes.

Viñales got hold of the Catalonian 125cc Championship Title in 2007, he successfully defended his crown in 2008, and won the Mediterranean Trophy that same year. The following year he also competed at selected events in the German IDM 125GP Championship for RZT Racing aboard an Aprilia RS 125 R, achieving a best result of seventh. In 2009, he moved up to the CEV Buckler 125GP series, partnering with Miguel Oliveira in the Blusens-BQR team. Viñales secured the Rookie of the Year award, finishing as the runner-up to Alberto Moncayo in the championship standings by just four points and claiming four successive podiums during that season.

In 2010, Viñales and Oliveira joined different Blusens teams and battled it out for the CEV Buckler 125GP Championship Title. Despite winning two races to Oliveira‘s four, Viñales won the title by two points, thanks to finishing on the podium at all seven races of the season. The European Championship Title was also decided between the two riders, and again it was Viñales who came out on top.

The Spaniard moved to the 125cc World Championship for the 2011 season with the SuperMartxé VIP team. He impressed during pre-season testing at Valencia and finished ninth on his Grand Prix debut in Qatar. After retiring at Jerez due to a technical issue, Viñales finished fourth at Estoril, narrowly missing out on a podium to Johann Zarco in a photo finish, with a margin between the pair of just 0.002s. Two weeks later at Le Mans, Viñales took his first front-row grid start in third place and went on to seal his first victory by 0.048s at the age of 16 years, 123 days. This incredible performance made him the third-youngest rider to win a Grand Prix race, behind Scott Redding and Marco Melandri. Securing three further victories that same year, Viñales finished his first Grand Prix season in third place in the championship rankings and claimed the Rookie of the Year award.

The youngster went into the 2012 season as the title favourite in the newly formed Moto3 championship. He won five races on the Blusens Avintia FTR Honda early on in the season, but a lack in consistency, some misfortunes, and a dispute with his team resulted in a missed race in Malaysia, which allowed Cortese to win the title and Luis Salom to snatch second in the final standings, with Viñales taking third overall.

The next year, the young gun moved to Team Calvo alongside Ana Carrasco. He won his first two races back-to-back at the Spanish and French Grands Prix and kept his competitive form throughout the season, fighting at the front of the field. Viñales, Rins, and Salom went into the final round with a gap of five points across them all. The championship was decided in Valencia by a battle between Rins and Viñales. In the end, Viñales took the race victory and the Moto3 World Championship Title by a twelve-point margin.

The Moto3 World Champion then signed a Moto2 contract with Pons Racing, joining former title rival Salom. Viñales didn‘t have to wait long for his first intermediate class victory, which came at the Circuit of the Americas on 13 April, 2014. He ultimately finished the season in third place with four wins and nine podiums, earning himself another Rookie of the Year award.

In September 2014, it was announced that Viñales would move up to the premier class for the 2015 season, riding for the factory Suzuki team. Despite being a rookie and riding for a factory that was returning to MotoGP, he had a very good MotoGP season. Scoring points in 16 out of 18 races in a competitive field and under challenging circumstances, the young contender proved to be a notable rider. He finished the season in 12th place, winning again the Rookie of the Year award, thus completing his collection (125cc, Moto2, and MotoGP).

In 2016 Viñales shone anew. He finished third at the fifth round in France, achieving his first MotoGP podium, and it wasn‘t before long that he got to step onto the top of the rostrum. At the twelfth race, the British Grand Prix held at the Silverstone Circuit, he registered his first ever MotoGP win. He finished the season strong with two more third places in Japan and on Phillip Island, to secure fourth place in championship. His talent and strong mentality were undeniable and didn't go unnoticed by Yamaha, who signed Viñales for the 2017 and 2018 season.

Viñales lived up to the hype. After a very strong debut on the YZR-M1 during the pre-season, the young Spaniard went on to win the first two races in Qatar and Argentina. He later followed up the achievement by securing Yamaha its 500th Grand Prix victory in Le Mans, after a sensational fight with team-mate Valentino Rossi. Despite the season being filled with grip issues, the Spaniard brought in solid points, scoring second places in Mugello and Silverstone and third places in Brno and Phillip Island, to ultimately conclude the season in third place.

After such a strong first year with Yamaha‘s Factory MotoGP Team, Viñales was hungry to show his talent again in 2018, but the season proved to be one of the most difficult in his premier class career. Nevertheless, the Spaniard kept his motivation high, scoring podiums at the rounds at COTA, Circuit TT-Assen, the Sachsenring, and Buriram. He returned to winning form in the race at Phillip Island, giving Yamaha its first victory since the round at Assen one year prior. He finished the season in fourth place overall, just five points behind his team-mate in third position.

2019 signalled a new start for Viñales. He changed his rider number from #25 to #12 and welcomed new Crew Chief Esteban García to his side of the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP pit box (he had worked with him before in 2013, winning the Moto3 World Championship). After a difficult start to the season, the changes that were made began to bear fruit. Though taken out by fellow riders on three separate occasions in the first half of the season (in Argentina, France, and Catalunya), the Spaniard still visited the podium regularly in 2019. He scored a third place in Jerez and followed it up with a stunning win in Assen, a second place at Sachsenring, third places at Silverstone, Misano, and Buriram, and another epic win in Malaysia. Viñales‘ relentless determination earned him third in the overall championship standings and has him fully motivated to push 100% in 2020.


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Marc Marquez: Recovery From Shoulder Surgery More Complicated Than Expected

For the second winter in succession, Marc Márquez is recovering from shoulder surgery to fix a problem with dislocation. It didn't slow him down much in 2019, the Repsol Honda rider finishing the season opener at Qatar in second place, losing out to Andrea Dovizioso by just 0.023 seconds. He went on to win the next race in Argentina by nearly ten seconds, and crashed out of the lead in Austin. It was to be the only time Márquez finished outside of the top two.

So when Márquez decided to have surgery on his right shoulder last November (in 2018, it was his left shoulder which was operated on), he was confident of a quick recovery. The right shoulder was far less damaged than the left had been, and the surgery was much more simple. He spent far less time in surgery in November than he had done a year ago.

Shoulder surgery is a difficult business, however. On Wednesday, at an event organized by Repsol, Marc Márquez spoke to the media about the progress of his recovery. It was taking much longer than he had hoped, he said: two weeks ago, he still didn't have the strength to lift even a glass of water. The loss of muscle was clearly visible in a short video he posted on Twitter.

Simpler operation, tougher recovery

"The operation was more simple but the recovery has been more complex and more difficult," Márquez told the media. "Last year I arrived to the first tests pretty much ready and this time I think I will be more or less in a similar position. In the last two weeks I’ve made a pretty big step and at the start of the month I wasn’t that optimistic."

"The recovery was not more intense than last year, it was also less painful but it has been more difficult," he said. "They told me that when they open the shoulder that there are nerves and muscles that can be affected." That had forced Márquez and his physiotherapist Carlos Garcia to adjust their expectations. Márquez was spending four hours a day on rehabilitation, and all day working to prepare his body and his fitness for the coming season.

"It has taken longer than we thought," Márquez said. "I’ve disappeared a bit from social media because I’ve been 100% concentrated on what I needed to do. There is still a difference [to his other shoulder], but I really want to ride again and try at least one type of bike before going to Malaysia. We haven’t done it yet because I haven’t been ready but I hope for next week as we’ll be going to Malaysia the week after." Márquez has already been driving a kart, to prepare him mentally, but he will want to ride a dirt track bike or a minibike before he flies out to Sepang.

Preparation

All that hard work was starting to pay off. "The evolution in the last weeks has been pretty good, but it’s possible that in preseason I won’t be able to do all the laps that are necessary and should be made. We will work hard with the physio and the team to monitor this recuperation and to try the things we need to do to have a bike ready to fight for the title again."

At the Sepang test in 2019, Márquez had run limited laps, forced by his team to reduce the time spent on track. That will be the plan for 2020 as well, Márquez explained, though it was complicated by the fact that with a rookie teammate in his brother Alex, he will have to do the bulk of the development work. The upside was that Cal Crutchlow will be fully fit at the Sepang test this year, rather than coming off ankle reconstruction surgery as he was in 2019.

"Last year Jorge Lorenzo was injured and so it fell to me to evolve the bike," Márquez explained. "Now the dynamic is the same because my teammate is Alex and he’s a rookie and cannot ask much when it comes to concepts of the bike because – like Jorge Lorenzo – he has to understand the bike and know how a Honda is. There is also Cal Crutchlow who is very capable to also have a second opinion of the development. I think the test in Malaysia will be like last year; I won’t be able to do all the laps I want but it will help to work on the shoulder as well."

No hindrance

Will this slow Márquez down? History suggests it will have little effect. By the time the first race at Qatar came around in 2019, the Repsol Honda rider was ready to challenge for victory, just losing out to Andrea Dovizioso. There is little reason to expect 2020 to be much different.

The only possible obstacle is a more demanding calendar: in 2019, Márquez had three weeks to recover after the first race of Qatar, while this year, there are only two weeks between Qatar and the second race. That race is in Thailand, rather than Argentina, and the intense heat and humidity in Buriram will also be far more punishing than it was in Termas de Rio Hondo.

There was also a gap of three weeks between the Austin race and Jerez, whereas in 2020, there are four races rather than three before the series heads back to Europe for the Jerez race. But Márquez continues to prepare as well he can for Sepang, and the start of the 2020 season.


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2020 Week 3 News Round Up: Bike Launches, Iannone Update, Aprilia's New Bike, Marquez' Slow Recovery

As the world of motorcycle racing starts to get into the swing of things, activity is starting to ramp up. The first of the MotoGP factory launches is due this week, Ducati to present their 2020 livery and (unchanged) rider line up in a 13th Century palace in the middle of Bologna. That event happens on Thursday evening, the 23rd January, and I will be attending to try to find out more about Ducati's plans for the coming season.

The other factories will have to wait. The three Japanese factories will be launching their bikes just ahead of the Sepang test. Repsol Honda go first, holding their launch in the Indonesian capital Jakarta on 4th February. The Monster Energy Yamaha and Petronas Yamaha SRT teams will be holding their launches at the Sepang circuit on the 6th February, as will the Suzuki Ecstar team.

By then, testing will already be underway, with test riders and MotoGP's three rookies – Alex Márquez at Repsol Honda, Brad Binder in the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team, and Iker Lecuona in the Red Bull KTM Tech 3 squad – taking part in the shakedown test at the Sepang circuit. The shakedown takes place from 2nd to 4th of February. As concessions teams, the factory KTM and Aprilia teams will also be taking part.

Iannone's future in the balance

Andrea Iannone will not be taking part in the shakedown test, that at least is certain. The Gazzetta dello Sport is reporting that Iannone has a date set for his hearing at the CDI, the International Disciplinary Court. That is to be held on 4th February, the last day of the shakedown test, at 1pm at the FIM headquarters in Mies, Switzerland.

As explained at some length in a previous article, Iannone's defense will be based on arguing food contamination. The burden of proof for that is extraordinarily high. Iannone must not only prove that the traces of drostanolone found in his urine got there because he ate some kind of contaminated food, but he must also prove he had no way of knowing that his food could be contaminated, or reason to suspect it might be contaminated. In essence, he has to prove he was certain the food was safe to eat.

The CDI has 45 days to make a decision based on the evidence presented, though it is likely the court will reach a decision more quickly, especially given that the 2020 MotoGP season is set to start on 8th March. A range of outcomes is possible, from acquittal, to a reprimand, all the way up to a four-year ban. Avoiding a four-year ban will be extremely difficult, however.

Aprilia now has a backup plan. Lorenzo Savadori is to take Iannone's place at the test. The Italian rode for Aprilia in WorldSBK, and is currently uncertain of competing in WorldSBK this year due to sponsorship issues. Bradley Smith will continue to test as normal at Sepang, but if Iannone is not cleared to race at Qatar, the Englishman will take his place in the factory Aprilia squad. The brief flirtation between Aprilia and Max Biaggi turned out to be nothing more than an exchange on Twitter, after the Italian legend had tested their new RSV4-R at Sepang.

A glimpse of the future

The Sepang test is going to be a vital one for Aprilia. The Noale factory will have two of their brand new RS-GPs at the test, featuring a 90°V engine. The engine angle was confirmed in an interview on GPOne with chief engineer Romano Albesiano. Italian broadcaster Sky was given access to Aprilia Racing's dyno, where the engine was being tested, and the images clearly showed a 90°V configuration.

The engine has been completely redesigned, Albesiano told GPOne's Paolo Scalera. Cooling system and gearbox have been repositioned to allow both the greater V angle, and an external flywheel, as used by Ducati and, reported, Honda. An external flywheel allows the weight to be changed from track to track, making it better adapted to each circuit.

Much work was done on the ignition firing interval and sequence, Albesiano explained, in an attempt to find the ideal configuration. That has also required changes to the chassis and aerodynamics, to accommodate the different dimensions of the new engine.

More change is on the horizon for Aprilia after 2021. In another interview with GPOne, team boss Fausto Gresini confirmed that Aprilia will have their own full-time entry as a separate factory team from 2022 onward, when the new contract period begins. That will leave Gresini free to become an independent team once again. Staying with Aprilia as a satellite team is definitely an option, but there have long been rumors that Gresini is looking at Suzuki as an option.

Yamaha to improve its starts?

In an interview with leading Indonesian website TMCBlog, Maverick Viñales gave a glimpse into what Yamaha are working on ahead of the Sepang test. The M1 has outstanding handling, but it has two weaknesses: a lack of power, and mediocre starts. Yamaha has already brought a couple of engine updates so far during testing, but Viñales let slip that the starts are something which Yamaha are also working on.

Sepang could see the Japanese factory debut a holeshot device similar to Aprilia and Ducati which would help the M1 get off the line. Whether that locks the front down, like the Aprilia, or the rear, like Ducati, is yet to be seen. You can watch the entire 10 minute interview with Maverick Viñales on the TMCBlog Youtube channel.

WorldSBK testing

While the MotoGP teams have to wait until early February to get back on track, the WorldSBK paddock is only a few days away from starting again. The World Superbike teams will start a two-day private test at Jerez on Wednesday, and a chance to see most of the WorldSBK teams and riders in action. Barni Ducati rider Leon Camier will be forced to miss the test, as he continues his recovery after shoulder surgery.

The Jerez test should be the first chance the WorldSBK teams get to see the new Honda Fireblade. Alvaro Bautista and Leon Haslam will be lining up at Jerez on the new excessively-lettered CBR1000RR-R. Given the reports of how fast the bike has been at previous private tests, with no other bikes present, Jerez should give a much better idea of how the project is going.

HRC test rider Stefan Bradl is also at the Jerez circuit, and will have the track to himself on Tuesday. The German will be testing the Honda RC213V. As a test rider in a test team, Bradl is not covered by MotoGP's winter test ban, which runs from the start of December 2019 to the end of January 2020.

Slow recovery

The man that Stefan Bradl has been working for is still hard at work trying to get ready for Sepang. But that process is not going as quickly as he had hoped, Marc Márquez said at an awards ceremony where he and brother Alex were names Catalan sportsmen of the year. "The recovery is not going as quickly as hoped," Márquez said.

It is possible that his expectations were set too high. The operation on his right shoulder, which took place on 27th November last year, was much less complicated than the operation on his left shoulder in 2018. But the surgery was still extremely invasive, and requires a lot of work to recover from.

Márquez is still aiming to be ready to test at Sepang, but he will be a long way from 100% fit. The Repsol Honda rider posted a short video of his training on Twitter, and in that video, the difference in muscle mass between left and right shoulders was clearly visible. Recovering full strength in his right shoulder will probably take well into the start of the 2020 season, but Carlos Garcia, the physiotherapist Márquez is working with to prepare for the coming season, was at pains to point out how hard the reigning champion is working. "Nobody knows the hard work this guy is doing on his back, or rather his shoulders. By November, nobody will remember."

Márquez is still some way from being able to ride a motorcycle, but his support team has found a way to get him used to the feeling of speed again. The Repsol Honda rider is spending time driving karts, to get back the sensation of speed. Driving a kart also has the useful side effect of diluting Márquez' desire to get back on a bike. Last time around, his team had to literally take the wheels off his flat track bike. Allowing him to go karting gives him a release valve for his pent up frustration.

Though Márquez' recovery may be going slowly, his rivals should not draw too much comfort from this. The Spaniard was a very long way from being fit at the Sepang test in 2019, but he went on to have one of the most impressive MotoGP seasons in the past couple of decades, and dominate the 2019 championship.


Gathering the background information for detailed articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.

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2020 Week 1 News Round Up: Valentino Rossi's Decision, Jorge Lorenzo's Future, And What Next For Aprilia

The world of MotoGP and WorldSBK has been relatively quiet for the last two weeks, as factories close and teams and riders take time off to celebrate their various holidays. Very little has happened, with people off around the world, and only now returning to prepare for the 2020 season.

Rossi speaks

The winter break did offer an opportunity for Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport to interview Valentino Rossi. Fortunately for English speakers, the interview was translated and posted on the website of esteemed US publication Cycle World, meaning race fans could read the whole thing for themselves, and not have to rely on translations of interpretations of summaries posted on many websites.

The interview with Rossi was wide-ranging, held in the wake of his testing Lewis Hamilton's F1 Mercedes, and so naturally, there was much talk of F1. Rossi revealed that he came close to switching to F1 at the start of the 2006 season, but decided against it in the end. Fortunately for MotoGP, as the Italian went on to win two more world championships, and is still competitive at the age of 40.

Will he still be competitive when he turns 41 in a few weeks' time? Rossi believes he can be. He told Paolo Ianieri that he feels he is still the same rider that beat Casey Stoner in 2008, a criteria set by his former crew chief Jeremy Burgess. The problem is that he is older, and his rivals are stronger, Rossi said. He knows he has to make a decision this year.

Decision time

But it is a decision which is still to be made. Before making the decision, Rossi wants to see if he can be more competitive than he was in 2019, and if not, there is no reason for him to continue. He will talk to his close friends and family, he said, before making up his mind.

The problem is, of course, that time is not on his side. With everyone out of contract at the end of 2020, the pressure for the factories will be to sign riders as early as possible. But Rossi needs time to understand whether he should continue or not, he said. "I would like to have a little more time. Unfortunately, today in MotoGP everything is decided at the beginning of the year. I will need a little bit to understand, like mid-season," Rossi told Ianieri.

After the interview was published, there were some headlines suggesting that Rossi would be willing to accept a demotion to the Petronas Yamaha team for 2021 to keep on racing. But that is not quite what Rossi said. The Italian merely pointed out that Yamaha will be facing a dilemma (or perhaps trilemma is a better way of phrasing it), trying to fit three riders – Maverick Viñales, Fabio Quartararo, and himself – into two seats. He was positive about the Petronas team, but at pains to point out that much was still open, and either Viñales or Quartararo in a position to move on.

But there is no need to rely on my interpretation of the interview. Better to read for yourself what Valentino Rossi said. The entire interview is worth reading. You can find it on the Cycle World website.

Lorenzo's future

In the interview, Rossi also broached the possibility of Jorge Lorenzo taking a role as a test rider with Yamaha. Rumors of Lorenzo returning as a test rider started in mid December last year, but there has been little movement on that so far. Lorenzo has returned from his extended post-retirement vacation in Bali and is back at home in Switzerland. The Spaniard is posting photos on Social Media of himself training, so he looks determined to get back into shape.

Whether that means he will take on a role as test rider remains to be seen. The Spaniard has been basically riding injured since Aragon in 2018, and the crashes at Barcelona and Assen, where he fractured his vertebrae, left him visibly frightened. He was afraid in his last race at Valencia, fearful of a final crash that could leave him with permanent spinal damage.

A role as test rider means being willing to push a bike to its limit, and take risks doing so. Only Jorge Lorenzo knows whether he is willing to take that risk. In an interview with Spanish website Motosan.es, he at least acknowledged that that is one possibility he has on the table. How taking up that option would affect his return to the paddock in a TV role is as yet unclear.

One thing is for certain, however. Lorenzo will not be a test rider for Ducati. Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna was keen to have Lorenzo return to the Italian factory, but only if the Spaniard had wanted to keep racing. Ducati's Sporting Director Paolo Ciabatti ruled out the idea of Lorenzo becoming a test rider to German language publication Speedweek.

Who replaces Iannone?

The other Italian factory may also be in need of a test rider. On Tuesday, Andrea Iannone's B sample from the drug test he failed at Sepang is due to be tested. If the B sample doesn't clear Iannone, his provisional ban will turn into a permanent one.

Who will replace Iannone? The most logical thing for Aprilia to do would be to promote current test rider Bradley Smith into the factory team, alongside Aleix Espargaro. That would appear to be the most likely course of action, according to Aprilia sources, but if there is one thing we learned from the 2019 MotoGP season, it is that nothing is certain, even when contracts have been signed. Smith will definitely be on the brand-new RS-GP at the Sepang and Qatar tests, and is the most likely candidate to be on the grid at Qatar.

If Smith does receive a promotion, that would leave a vacancy for a test rider. Aprilia already have Matteo Baiocco under contract, who tested for the Noale factory for the last couple of years. But with the objective being to make a big step forward in 2020, they will want a second rider to push the limits of the bike.

New test rider, new bike

Karel Abraham is likely to fill that gap. The Czech rider finds himself without a ride, after being unceremoniously pushed aside to make way for Johann Zarco in the Reale Avintia squad. Abraham has already done some testing work in the past for KTM, and his feedback was judged to be solid.

Having a strong rider will be vital for Aprilia. The Italian factory is due to roll out a brand new bike at the Sepang test, with a completely new engine. That engine will have a new V angle, with some reports suggesting it will be a 90°V, rather than the narrower angle currently being used. The objective is to produce more power and improve both acceleration and deceleration, engine braking playing an enormously important part in MotoGP.

Aprilia have taken on a number of new engineers to help design the new bike, working on the engine, electronics, and aerodynamics. Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola has made major changes inside the organization to make the racing department more effective, and get better results from the engineers. Such a radical shake up in terms of bike design will take time to get right, and will need a lot of work from a competent test rider to help steer the project in the right direction.

Sad news

The start of the year was also marked by tragedy, however. IRTA official and former Suzuki MotoGP mechanic Gary McLaren died in a fireworks accident in Thailand. I knew Gary only a little, but he was a clever and friendly man, passionate about racing, always helpful. He is a loss to the paddock, and will be missed. Thoughts with his friends and family.


Gathering the background information for detailed articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.

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Jorge Lorenzo To Return To MotoGP Paddock In 2020

Jorge Lorenzo's announcement at Valencia that he would be retiring at the end of the 2019 MotoGP season came as a shock to the paddock. In the immediate aftermath, attention focused on who would take his place in the Repsol Honda Team, speculation reaching a crescendo when HRC announced they had signed Alex Marquez to ride alongside brother Marc in the factory squad.

With MotoGP testing out of the way, and Jorge Lorenzo returned home to Switzerland after his hard-earned extended vacation in Bali, Indonesia, talk has now turned to Jorge Lorenzo's future. The Spaniard himself has already told Austrian TV that he expects to be back in the MotoGP paddock in 2020.

Although Lorenzo has not revealed what he expects to be doing when he returns to the paddock, there have been rumors for several weeks that the Spaniard is looking at getting into TV. Lorenzo speaks Italian and English fluently, as well as Spanish, and given his status as a former world champion, will command a sizable salary. That would rule out all but the biggest broadcasters of the MotoGP series.

Today, we also learned that Lorenzo could also be back on a bike in 2020. Motorsport.com journalist Oriol Puigdemont reported that Yamaha have offered Lorenzo a role as test rider for the Japanese manufacturer. 

Yamaha have been without a European test rider since dropping Jonas Folger at the end of the 2019 season, though no clear reason was given. Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis explained at Valencia that Yamaha had wanted to streamline their testing program, as the European and Japanese test teams were often following different working programs and returning different feedback to the factory, making it hard for the factory to choose a direction and develop.

In the future, he explained, they would push forward with a single Japanese test team, which would test more often at European test tracks. Although that test program would focus mainly on Japanese test riders Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Kohta Nozane, Yamaha had not ruled out using a European test rider.  

Initially, Johann Zarco had been offered the role of Yamaha test rider, but it was made clear to the Frenchman that if he took the role, he would have to turn down the opportunity to replace Takaaki Nakagami on the LCR Honda. Zarco elected to replace Nakagami, and find a seat in MotoGP for 2020, which he eventually landed with the Avintia Ducati squad.

With Zarco out of the frame, approaching Lorenzo makes a huge amount of sense. The Spaniard helped develop the Yamaha M1 throughout his time with the Japanese factory, providing valuable feedback alongside Valentino Rossi, and helping Yamaha to build a bike that won five championships during his stay there, three of which Lorenzo won. 

Will this see Lorenzo make a return to racing full time at the end of 2021? That seems unlikely, given the severity of the spinal injury Lorenzo suffered in his crash at Barcelona and Assen. Lorenzo will be 33 next year, and was relieved to retire from racing in one piece. That injury still hangs over his head, and may yet prevent him from taking the testing role - the story on Motorsport.com says only that Lorenzo has been offered the job of test rider, not that Lorenzo has accepted it.

A job in television would not prevent Lorenzo from taking a role as test rider. Stefan Bradl, test rider for HRC, also works as a presenter and pitlane reporter for Servus TV, the broadcaster for Germany and Austria.

Whatever Lorenzo decides to do, the Spaniard looks certain to be present in the paddock in 2020.  

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Andrea Iannone Provisionally Suspended For Steroid Use

Andrea Iannone has been provisionally suspended from all racing activity for violating the FIM's antidoping code. A urine sample taken from Iannone at the Malaysian round of MotoGP at Sepang was found to contain traces of anabolic steroids. Once the findings of the sample, analyzed by a WADA-accredited laboratory, were reported, Iannone was handed a provisional suspension in line with the FIM antidoping code.

Iannone can appeal the result, and request that the B sample (the second sample taken at the same time) is analyzed. He can also appeal to the CDI (International Disciplinary Court) for his suspension to be lifted, but to do that, he would have to be able to provide evidence that the samples he provided had been contaminated in some way, or that he had taken the banned substances accidentally (something which is very difficult for anabolic steroids).

If Iannone does not appeal the result, or analysis of the second sample confirms the findings of the first, then Iannone faces an automatic four-year ban. Anabolic androgenic steroids are so-called non-specified substances, which means that it is almost impossible for them to enter the body accidentally or without knowledge of the person using them.

This is where Iannone's suspected offense is different to previous doping offenders, such as Ant West. West was found to have used so-called specified substances, which can be taken inadvertently, as West claimed, by using a supplement which did not label the ingredients clearly. Anabolic steroids are used to build muscle mass and burn fat, as well as to reduce inflammation in some cases. They are very hard to take by accident.

A four-year ban would automatically end Iannone's career. A number of rider and team managers had identified Iannone as one of the riders likely to leave MotoGP at the end of 2020, but he had also been expected to head to WorldSBK, where he would have been a very welcome addition. A four-year ban would make that impossible. 

Iannone's suspension and possible ban leaves Aprilia in a quandary. The most obvious solution to any ban would be to promote Bradley Smith from his role as test rider. Smith has been pivotal in helping develop the Aprilia RS-GP, and providing input for the new bike to be launched at the Sepang test in February next year.

The press release announcing Iannone's suspension appears below:


FIM Antidoping
FIM Grand Prix World Championship

Rider Andrea Iannone provisionally suspended

The Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) has advised Italian Grand Prix rider Andrea Iannone that he is provisionally suspended pursuant to Article 7.9.1 of the 2019 FIM Anti-doping Code (CAD). The decision to provisionally suspend Mr Andrea Iannone was mandatory following the receipt of a report from the WADA accredited laboratory in Kreischa b. Dresden (Germany) indicating an Adverse Analytical Finding of a non-specified substance under Section 1.1.a) Exogenous Anabolic Androgenic Steroids (AAS) of the 2019 Prohibited List, in a urine sample collected from him at an in-competition test carried out by the FIM at the round of the FIM Grand Prix World Championship held in Sepang, Malaysia on 3 November 2019.

Mr Andrea Iannone has the right to request and attend the analysis of his B sample.

Mr Andrea Iannone is provisionally suspended with effect from 17 December 2019. He is therefore barred from participating in any motorcycling competition or activity until further notice. Under Article 7.9.3.2 CAD, Mr Iannone may request lifting of his provisional suspension.

Under the World Anti-Doping Code and the FIM Anti-Doping Code, the FIM is unable to provide any additional information at this time.

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