One of the many good things about being a MotoGP rider is that you get offered a lot of free stuff. Take a careful look at the social media feed of any rider and you will see stickers and logos on display, discretely or blatantly, on all sorts of items: caps, sunglasses, t-shirts, jeans, jackets, bicycles, underwear, motorcycles, leathers, MX gear, helmets. You name it, and some brand or other will have given it to a rider to show off on their social media.
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Two unnamed riders have been caught infringing the Grand Prix testing and practice regulations. In a press release issued today, the FIM announced that breaches of the rules had been reported, which would be investigated during hearings to be held at the (re)opening of MotoGP at Jerez, on July 19th.
Though neither the names nor the specific infraction were mentioned in the press release, the wording of the announcement makes clear that the incident involves either Moto2 or Moto3 riders, and that they are accused of having used bikes which were not eligible to be used for training.
Since circuits opened again, and training restarted, riders have flocked to tracks all over the world to get back the feeling of speed. They have taken every opportunity to ride at tracks like Barcelona, Misano, and Jerez, to prepare for the restarting of a packed schedule.
Andrea Dovizioso has been discharged from hospital after having surgery to fix the collarbone he broke in a regional MX race on Sunday. The Italian broke his left collarbone on a landing after a jump, and was taken to hospital in Modena, where he was operated on by a group of surgeons led by professor Giuseppe Porcellini on Sunday night.
Dovizioso suffered a displaced fracture, meaning the collarbone was broken completely at the end closest to the sternum, and the two sections had separated. Surgeons inserted a plate and six screws to bring the collarbone back to its original position and size, and declared themselves to be very happy with the outcome.
Andrea Dovizioso has been taken to hospital with a suspected broken left collarbone after crashing during a regional motocross race in Faenza, Italy.
The Italian had been given permission to take part by Ducati. The race, at the MX track in Faenza, was part of the regional MX championship of the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy. He had crashed on a landing after a jump, injuring his left shoulder. Dovizioso was taken to hospital in Forli, his home town, for further examination, and to confirm whether the collarbone is broken or not.
Dovizioso becomes the second rider to injure himself training ahead of the (re)start of the 2020 MotoGP season. Last week, Marco Bezzecchi injured his leg in a training accident.
With three weeks to go to the official start of the 2020 season for the MotoGP class (Moto2 and Moto3 have already raced at Qatar back in March, lest we forget), the 2021 grid is starting to fill up. Of the 22 seats available next year, 12 have already been filled: Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo in the factory Yamaha team, Alex Rins and Joan Mir at Suzuki, Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira, and Danilo Petrucci and Iker Lecuona in the factory and Tech3 KTM teams respectively, Marc Márquez at Repsol Honda, Jack Miller in the factory Ducati team, Aleix Espargaro with Aprilia, and Tito Rabat, who already had a contract before the start of the season.
There are a few more seats we can pencil in as near certainties: Pol Espargaro at Repsol Honda, Franco Morbidelli at Petronas, Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin in Pramac Ducati, Alex Márquez at LCR Honda. Cal Crutchlow is almost certain to be back, whether that be with LCR Honda or Aprilia – the Englishman appears to be giving serious consideration to what might be an attractive payday before he retires. Johann Zarco is likely to be on a Ducati again in 2021, the odds being that he is forced to accept another season at Avintia.
That Danilo Petrucci was heading to KTM was an open secret, after the Italian and his manager, Alberto Vergani, visited the Austrian factory's race department in Mattighofen. That he would not be replacing Pol Espargaro in the factory Red Bull KTM team is a huge surprise. Instead, Petrucci is to switch to the Tech3 satellite team, and take the place of Miguel Oliveira, who is to be moved up to the factory squad.
According to Italian media, the reasons Petrucci is headed to the Tech3 team are twofold: firstly, as the KTM press release makes clear, because all four KTM RC16s will be full-factory spec, and with full factory support. And secondly, because Brad Binder had a clause in his contract stating he would be in the factory team in his second year.
It has been a busy couple of days at Misano, with the KTM and Aprilia MotoGP teams, and test teams from Suzuki and Ducati, joined by WorldSBK representatives from the KRT Kawasaki squad, and a small army of Ducati teams. The MotoGP and WorldSBK riders have been able to try out the new asphalt at Misano in the blistering heat of an Italian summer.
Miguel Oliviera is fastest after the first two days, the Red Bull Tech3 rider just a couple of tenths faster on Wednesday than Pol Espargaro had been on Tuesday. Oliveira's best time of 1'32.9 is two thirds of a second off Maverick Viñales' pole time set last September, two tenths off the outright race lap record set by Andrea Dovizioso in 2018, and 1.3 seconds slower than Jorge Lorenzo's pole record from the same year.
World championship motorcycle racing takes another step back to the season returning at Misano. The next three days sees both MotoGP and WorldSBK teams testing at the Italian circuit, preparing for the resumption of hostilities at Jerez in July and August.
Present are the MotoGP teams of KTM and Aprilia, allowed extra testing due to their status as concessions teams. Aleix Espargaro and Bradley Smith are riding for Aprilia, the second test for the Italian factory. Espargaro was forced to miss the first test, unable to travel to Misano, and so waited for this test to get back on track, as he explained to Tammy Gorali in an interview a week ago. He joins Bradley Smith, promoted from test rider to permanent rider for 2020, to replace Andrea Iannone, still suspended after a positive doping test.
Though racing has stopped, necessity is forcing teams and factories into making choices. With almost everyone in MotoGP out of contract at the end of 2020, and only a few riders already signed up, seats have to be filled for next year and beyond, racing or no racing.
After the early spate of more or less expected signings, the latest round of deals are more of a surprise. None more than the expected deal for Pol Espargaro to join Repsol Honda in 2021, displacing Alex Márquez as brother Marc's teammate before the younger Márquez has had a chance to prove his worth. That, as I wrote previously, will inevitably lead to a parting of the ways between Marc Márquez and HRC, I believe.
It has been two weeks since news of that deal emerged, and yet there is still no confirmation. Despite protestations to the opposite, the deal is very much on. But there is something of a hiccup along the way, in the form of a contractual stipulation that forbids Espargaro from discussing a deal with another factory before September 15th. No announcement will be made before then.
Actions speak louder than words
There is a plan for the 2020 MotoGP season. With the COVID-19 outbreak receding all across Europe, Dorna have been given a second chance at setting a calendar for the 2020 MotoGP season.The newly published calendar will see 13 races held at circuits in Europe in the first instance, with the possibility of four overseas races being tacked on at the end of the year, if conditions permit. The calendar is explictly still provisional, subject to local rules and regulations concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.
The races will be held at 8 different circuits in 6 countries, with a number of circuits hosting races on two consecutive weekends, to maximize the number of rounds held, and minimize logistical complications. The races planned in Europe will all be held behind closed doors, with no fans or media present, and a very restricted number of paddock staff present.
It was a day of good news and bad news for Aprilia. On the day that the Court of Arbitration of Sport announced that WADA had appealed against the penalty imposed on Andrea Iannone, demanding his suspension be extended to the full four years set out in the doping code, the Italian factory was also able to announce a two-year contract extension with Aleix Espargaro. The Spaniard will remain with Aprilia for the 2021 and 2022 seasons in MotoGP.
The move was widely expected. Espargaro has been the mainstay of Aprilia's MotoGP project since arriving at the Noale factory in 2017. In the first three years of his contract with Aprilia, he has had three different teammates, starting with Sam Lowes, then Scott Redding, and finally, last year, Andrea Iannone. Thanks to Iannone's suspension, it looks like Espargaro will have a fourth teammate in 2020, almost certainly Bradley Smith. And that could change again in 2021, if Iannone does not have his doping ban by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has finally announced that they will be hearing the appeal of Andrea Iannone against his doping ban of 18 months, imposed by the FIM International Disciplinary Court at the end of March. However, in a surprise move, the CAS also announced they will be hearing an appeal against the leniency of the ban from WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, who want the full four-year ban reinstated.
At the heart of the case is the doping test Andrea Iannone failed after the race in Sepang, in November 2019. Traces of drostanolone, a banned anabolic-androgenic steroid, used mainly for weight loss, was found in that urine sample. As a non-specified substance, drostanolone use carries an automatic four-year ban under the WADA code, which the FIM signs up to and incorporates.
Picture the scene. The sun is setting over the hills that surround the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. The day has been fierce and the weekend is only going to get hotter. Keeping a cool head, keeping your eyes on the prize will be crucial but all you can hear is talk of chatter.
Chatter is a paddock keyword. You hear about it all the time. You hear it a lot more in June because this isn’t chatter on the bike. It’s chatter inside the paddock.
Rumours become fact very quickly in the MotoGP and WorldSBK paddocks. All it takes is a chance photograph for a story to suddenly have legs and suddenly half the paddock is running around and chasing their tails looking for quotes and concrete information.
The rider market. The silly season. The rumour mill. The fools errand. Trying to keep abreast of the market is an important part of paddock life. Rumours are currency and having good sources gives you a lot of information to trade with people. Trying to report it? If you’re hitting more than you're missing it’s a very good batting average, and people remember the wild swings more than the home runs.
The rumors had been doing the rounds for some time, but last night, things came to a head. Multiple media outlets were reporting that Pol Espargaro has signed a deal to ride for Repsol Honda in 2021. The most interesting facet of this was that several outlets had independent sourcing, making this look highly credible. Information I have seen also confirms this.
Though an agreement seems to have been reached, there are still some hoops to jump through. Speaking to Spanish daily AS.com, Espargaro's manager Homer Bosch said negotiations with Honda, KTM, and Ducati were still going on. "It's not true that Pol has a verbal agreement to go and race for the Repsol Honda team next year," he told AS.
Repsol Honda team boss Alberto Puig issued a similar statement denying an agreement had been reached. "HRC is always thinking about the present and the future of its structure, from the lower categories to MotoGP. Due to the circumstances that we are in, this season is not developing through the usual channels, but that does not mean that Honda stops continuing to plan the best possible future for all their riders. We do not have any contracts signed with anyone that have not already been announced," he said.
While the motorcycle racing world awaits the return of real racing, contract time is heaving into view. Though the methods are different – Skype calls and WhatsApp messages, rather than private conversations at the backs of garages or between trucks – the objective is the same: to find the best match of bike and rider, giving the most hope of success.
Having to work remotely is the least of both managers' and teams' problems. The bigger issue is that there is next to no data to go on. Teams and factories are having to make a guess at who they think will be strong in 2021 based on who was fast in 2019, and who showed promise in the winter tests. Riders have no idea which bikes have made progress over the winter, and which have stagnated. Is it worth taking a gamble on KTM? Has the Honda gotten any easier to ride?
For the Moto2 riders in with a chance at moving up to MotoGP, they have had just a single race in 2020 to show their worth. What's more, it was very far from an ordinary race: the last-minuted decision to make it a night race instead of a day race complicated tire choice, which some got right and some got wrong. Jorge Martin was widely regarded as the hot ticket for promotion to MotoGP in 2021, yet he had a miserable race at Qatar, finishing 20th. Tetsuta Nagashima won the race, while Joe Roberts dominated practice and qualifying. Nobody was mentioning their names as possible promotion candidates in late 2019.