Photos

Wed, 2020-11-18 12:14
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This would be Joan Mir's weekend, though a nerve-wracking one


It would also be Franco Morbidelli's weekend. Cool demeanor translating into scorching pace


It would not be a great weekend for Maverick Viñales. The 2020 Yamaha M1s suffered at Valencia


Turn 13 is still one of the finest corners on the calendar. Let us hope that next year, those grandstands can be filled again


The life of a motorcycle racer now includes sitting in front of a laptop to talk to journos. Cal Crutchlow's wit will be missed


Brad Binder's season has been up and down, but the potential the South African has shown is exciting for 2021


Turn 1 would turn out to be a problem for Jack Miller on the final lap


Valencia has always been a tough place for Valentino Rossi, and this weekend was entirely forgettable


Still the prettiest exhausts on the planet


Stylish, but struggling. The Fabio Quartararo story


Miguel Oliveira is having another strong end to the season. And the next race is his home race


The first time Joan Mir found himself running through the gravel at Valencia was for all the wrong reasons...


... he crashed, and had to get a lift from a rival to get back to the pits


Leg, dangled


Pol Espargaro ended up with another podium on the KTM. But can he get a win before he leaves?


How it started ...


... how it finished (part 1)


... how it finished (part 2)


Joan Mir's second trip into the gravel was for a much better reason. No fans is no reason not to have fireworks


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Tue, 2020-11-17 02:18
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The Valencia round of MotoGP is going to be remembered primarily as the race where Joan Mir make history, becoming the sixth Suzuki rider to win the premier class title, following in the footsteps of Kenny Roberts Jr, Kevin Schwantz, Franco Uncini, Marco Lucchinelli, and Barry Sheene. Rightly so, given the significance of that title, and Mir's path to winning the title. You can read more about that in part one of my Valencia round up.

But there was more to Valencia than just Joan Mir clinching the championship. The Circuit Ricardo Tormo is supposed to be a hard track to pass at, yet in all three classes we saw last-lap battles where the lead and podium places changed hands multiple times. We saw the 2019 Yamaha triumph where the 2020 model came up a long way short. We saw KTM take three of the top six positions, and we saw Andrea Dovizioso surprise himself with an eighth place.

So here are some notes from an intriguing and exciting race weekend.

Let's start with all that overtaking. The Circuit Ricardo Tormo is notoriously hard to pass at, with just a few spots where it is worth taking the risk. Turn 1 is the ideal spot, a pass on the brakes after the long front straight a classic move. Turn 2 is another favorite, but after that, the moves required to pass become increasingly risky. There are a few places where you CAN pass, but the costs of getting it wrong are high.

Risks vs reward

That risk-reward calculation takes on a very different character on the last lap, however. Within sight of the line, and with victory up to grabs, it is worth making a more reckless move into Turn 4 or Turn 6, or into Turn 8, or trying to line up Turn 11 through Turn 10, or taking a run at Turn 12 to carry the speed through Turn 13 which will allow you to take a shot at the final left hander, Turn 14.

That may explain why we saw a thrilling conclusion to all three races at Valencia on Sunday. In Moto3, Tony Arbolino benefited from the fierce encounter between Sergio Garcia and Raul Fernandez, in which Garcia came out on top. In Moto2, the crash of Fabio Di Giannantonio at Turn 6 left Jorge Martin, Hector Garzo, and Marco Bezzecchi to scrap it out for the win, the outcome uncertain to the end.

MotoGP served up the icing on the cake, however. Franco Morbidelli had escaped from the start, putting into practice the searing pace he had shown during practice. He inched away from the chasing Jack Miller through the first half of the race, extending his lead to over a second. But as the laps ticked off, the Pramac Ducati rider clawed his way back onto the tail of the Petronas Yamaha rider, putting himself in position to exploit the top speed of the Desmosedici GP20 along Valencia's relatively long front straight to pass into Turn 1 and then get in front and block.

Miller got close on the penultimate lap, but not close enough. That put him in position to try again on the final lap, and as they fired along the front straight for the final time, Miller was finally close enough to pull out of the slipstream and fire past Morbidelli before they reached Turn 1.

What the Australian hadn't counted on was the tailwind blowing along the straight, which pushed him into the first corner a little harder than he had expected. That put him wide on the exit, allowing Morbidelli to draw level. The battle heated up through the first half of the track, with Morbidelli taking a clean line underneath Miller at Turn 2, Miller jamming his bike ahead of the Petronas Yamaha into Turn 4, Morbidelli slashing back underneath at Turn 5.

Miller took another shot on the way into Turn 11, nearly clipping the back of Morbidelli's Yamaha. But try as he might, he couldn't quite get close enough to dive underneath at Turn 14, and the drive out of the corner to the line was too short for the GP20 to properly unleash its horsepower.

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Mon, 2020-11-16 04:34
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So it turns out somebody does want to win this thing after all. After a wild, wild ride through the 2020 MotoGP season – scratch that, through all of 2020 – Joan Mir has finally been crowned champion. And he did it in the most Joan Mir way possible: not with an extravagant flourish, or with all-out aggression risking everything, but by understanding what was needed, riding to the limits on the day, and seizing the prize when it was offered. This was a title won with the head, with generous measure of guts and heart thrown into the mix.

There's an old cliche about swans, gliding gracefully and calmly across the water while paddling like fury below it. That was how the Suzuki rider came into the second weekend at Valencia, the race where he had the title within reach. Outwardly projecting calm, he had the turmoil of nerves to deal with underneath. Try as he might, Mir could not prevent that tension from breaking through to the surface.

There were signs of trouble when Mir washed out the front at Turn 4 on Friday afternoon. Joan Mir is not a crasher, his tumble in FP2 just his fifth of the season so far, putting him very much at the lower end of the crashing scale. Mir clearly had pace during free practice, but a botched qualifying saw him starting from twelfth. The Spaniard remained his normal, bright, thoughtful self during debriefs, and his body language in the pits did not betray a particular level of agitation. Nevertheless, the turmoil was there just below the surface.

"The important thing is that I was looking calm and I was looking without pressure, but I was not calm and I was not without pressure," Joan Mir said in the championship press conference after crossing the line in seventh, enough to put the title beyond the reach of his rivals. "I was just nervous. Doesn’t mean that this is a bad thing." Nerves help focus the mind and sharpen the senses. But too much, and they can push you into a mistake you can't recover from. Like Takaaki Nakagami at Aragon 2, for example.

Corona curveball

Race weekends are a high-pressure environment which riders can escape from in the space between Grand Prix. But in this strange, Covid-19-stricken year, even that was impossible. "The thing that we don't mention a lot and was difficult for everybody to understand is that the pressure, normally you have it at the track, normally you disconnect. But at home, I was not able to disconnect, because I had also the pressure of the coronavirus," Mir said after the race.

An example? After last week's race at Valencia, where he took a 37-point lead, Mir asked his girlfriend to get tested for the coronavirus, and only drove home to Andorra when that test came back negative. He drove, to ensure he didn't come into contact with anyone, and then isolated at home with just his girlfriend in the few days between Valencia 1 and 2. He felt a huge sense of relief when his Covid-19 test came back negative ahead of this weekend, and he was allowed into the paddock.

Once back at Valencia, he did what was necessary: work on finding a setup which he could use in the race, assess his tire choice, check he had the race rhythm to get the job done. The couple of stumbles along the way left him starting from twelfth, in the middle of a potential pack of trouble. And on the first lap, he nearly found himself in real problems, when Fabio Quartararo missed his brake marker for Turn 2 and ran wide, almost hitting Maverick Viñales ahead, and narrowly missing Mir.

Doing enough

From there, Mir got his head down, made a couple of passes, and got lucky with Johann Zarco and Takaaki Nakagami crashing out ahead of him. He crossed the line in seventh, lucky to hold off Andrea Dovizioso but with a generous buffer of points over his rivals, most of whom had managed to put themselves out of contention. The strongest competition came from the rider with the smallest mathematical chance of being him, Franco Morbidelli riding an outstanding race to take a superb and exciting win over Jack Miller. But Morbidelli came into the weekend 45 points behind Mir, and a seventh place left Mir with a 29-point lead, enough to clinch the championship.

It was not a race Mir had particularly enjoyed. "This race was a nightmare. The race that I struggled more during the all the season," he said in the press conference. "It’s strange to understand the situation because at the moment I don’t know. I don’t care about the race. We got the title, but I suffered a lot. I had a lot of big moments during the race with the front. I was not able to ride comfortable like I normally used to ride."

Mir's race was an exercise in pragmatism, something he has practiced throughout 2020. He always had his eyes on the biggest prize, and did not allow himself to be distracted. At the start of the 2020 season, Mir had been a dark horse, always there or thereabouts, never the star attraction who everyone had as their favorite for the title. By the end of 2020, and with the benefit of hindsight, Mir's championship looks almost inevitable. In this most topsy-turvy of years, Mir's consistency and calmness won the day.

Pieces of the puzzle

The 2020 MotoGP championship proved to be a more complex than usual jigsaw puzzle, requiring a number of pieces to fall into place to pull it off. First, the bike had to be right, and Suzuki's GSX-RR proved to be the all-round package most suited to the string of back-to-back races and unusual conditions which marked the 2020 season. Secondly, the progress made by Joan Mir as a rider, and with the experience of a year in MotoGP under his belt. Thirdly, Mir's character, and how he held up under this most strange of years. And fourth, the team and the organization which got Joan Mir here in the first place.

Where to start?

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Thu, 2020-11-12 09:05
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Is this the 2020 MotoGP champion? Or can it still go wrong for Joan Mir?


Unfamiliar number, unfamiliar name, outstanding performance. Garrett Gerloff impressed in his one day on Valentino Rossi's bike


Valentino Rossi was forced to miss Friday due to a positive Covid-19 test. But he had a negative test on Friday, and rode on Saturday


Weird weather conditioned the weekend. Danilo Petrucci rides a fully wet track under a clearing sky


It made for some wonderful photos though. Here's Miguel Oliveira in the rain


And here's Valentino Rossi in bright sunshine and standing water


This was the weekend Maverick Viñales lost the MotoGP title, he said on Sunday after starting from pit lane due to taking a 6th engine


Slicks, a dry line, a clear visor, and Turn 13. Alex Rins approves


The one thing photographers rave about at Valencia in November is the light. This is why


Andrea Dovizioso never really got going at Valencia. He never had enough time to set the bike up


Fabio Quartararo managed to lose the 2020 MotoGP title pretty much on his own, crashing on the first lap, and eventually picking up 2 points


Brad Binder brakes to enter the pits at Valencia


Pol Espargaro got off to a blinding start from pole, but he would not be able to resist the Suzuki onslaught


A familiar picture: a 2019 Ducati leading a 2020 bike. Johann Zarco had a strong weekend at Valencia 1


Alex Rins led for much of the race ...


But it was his teammate who crossed the line first


Brad Binder did a Brad Binder - rough start, long lap penalty, fastest rider on track for the second half of the race, to finish 7th


The end is in sight...


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Tue, 2020-11-10 05:27
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For most of the 2020 Grand Prix season, nobody has wanted to win a championship. Every time someone has taken a lead at one race, they have found ever more creative ways to throw it away at the next. Fabio Quartararo got off to a lightning start, winning the first two races of the season. Then he let his lead slip away, Andrea Dovizioso making inroads into the Petronas Yamaha rider's advantage.

Behind the leaders, Maverick Viñales made a strong charge, then faded away, then came back again with a win at Misano 2. Jack Miller started off strong, had a DNF, then a run of good results and another DNF and has been up and down (literally, in a couple of cases) ever since. Takaaki Nakagami closed in relentlessly by finishing inside the top ten every race, until he crashed out of the lead at Aragon 2.

It was hard to see who was in the driving seat of the championship. Quartararo took back the lead at Barcelona, but hasn't finished any better than eighth since then. Dovizioso has slowly slipped further out of reach, while Maverick Viñales has barely stayed in touch with the top of the championship. Franco Morbidelli has won two races to close the gap, but had some poor finishes and a DNF as well.

Throwing it away

Much the same is true in the support classes as well. In the Moto2 championship, Luca Marini looked to have an iron grip on the title before injuring himself in Le Mans and passing the baton to Sam Lowes. In Moto3, the championship lead has seesawed between Albert Arenas and Ai Ogura, with neither managing to seize the advantage.

That pattern looked set to continue at the European Grand Prix, the first round of the two to be held at the Valencia circuit. An insane Moto3 race saw Albert Arenas black-flagged, Celestino Vietti highside himself out of third in the opening laps, John McPhee crash out, and Ai Ogura close the gap to Arenas again. In Moto2, Sam Lowes threw away his championship lead by crashing out, while Enea Bastianini couldn't capitalize after finishing in fourth.

After all this chaos – indeed, a whole season's worth in all three classes – the MotoGP race restored some sense of stability. In what was a race exemplary of what Valencia has to offer – the riders close enough to keep up the tension, but passing opportunities few and far between – Joan Mir repeated what he has been doing for most of the season: finish on the podium, score points, extend his lead.

This time, he did it with conviction, winning the race convincingly and ending the threat of repeating Emilio Alzamora's feat of winning a championship without taking a single victory. And he did it by beating his teammate Alex Rins while his main rivals struggled. With two races to go, it looks at last as if there is someone who wants to win the 2020 title after all. And there will be no asterisks or question marks over the legitimacy of his victory either.

A lot happened this weekend, but most of it has already been covered. So in these subscriber notes:

  • How Joan Mir finally triumphed
  • Did he win, or was he let through?
  • The importance of a good base setting
  • The advantage of private testing
  • The strength of the KTMs
  • Binder's astonishing race
  • Nakagami's fatal flaw
  • Why things aren't as bleak as they look for Yamaha
  • The incredible statistics of the 2020 season

But first, back to how Joan Mir won the European Grand Prix, where his victory leads the championship, and what he needs to do to wrap up the title.

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Thu, 2020-11-05 22:22
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Yamaha have been punished for an infringement of the MotoGP technical rules at the opening race of the 2020 MotoGP season at Jerez, and at the same time, their riders have dodged a bullet. After the infringement was finally uncovered, the FIM Stewards decided to deduct points from Yamaha in the manufacturers championship, and the Monster Energy Yamaha and Petronas Yamaha SRT teams have had points taken away in the teams championship. But crucially for the 2020 MotoGP riders championship, no penalty was given to Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Viñales, or Franco Morbidelli. That means that the standings in what everyone regards as the most important championship, the riders championship, are unchanged.

Details in the press release from the FIM and Dorna are thin, but enough can be gleaned from the press release, from sources in the paddock, and from some of the stories which have been circulating in the paddock, such as these at The Race, at Motorsport.com, or at the Gazzetta Dello Sport. The punishment has been imposed because Yamaha illegally changed the valves used in their engines after they were homologated ahead of the Qatar MotoGP round, and before the first race at Jerez. The MotoGP race at Qatar ended up being canceled after it became impossible for the MotoGP teams and riders to return due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The sequence of events appears to have been as follows. Yamaha submitted their engine blueprint to MotoGP Technical Director Danny Aldridge for homologation ahead of the scheduled Qatar race, as required by the MotoGP regulations. Engine homologation is typically done on the basis of design specs, while a sample engine is submitted to Danny Aldridge as a reference ahead of practice. It would be impractical for Aldridge and his staff to strip and document each engine that weekend, however, and so design blueprints are accepted as homologation documents.

Time to think

But in the nearly four month layoff between the Qatar test and the first race at Jerez, Yamaha changed the valves used in their engines, using a different spec to the ones documented in the homologation papers submitted to Danny Aldridge. This is a clear breach of the technical regulations, caused by what the FIM press release describes as "an internal oversight," which resulted in "Yamaha Motor Company fail[ing] to respect the protocol which requires them to obtain unanimous approval from MSMA for technical changes."

This meant that all four Yamaha riders lined up on the grid at Jerez 1 with illegal engines. But the different valves used proved not to be able to withstand the heat and load of the scorching temperatures and pace of the first round in Jerez. Maverick Viñales suffered an engine failure in FP3 of Jerez 1, and Valentino Rossi had an identical failure during the race.

That created huge problems for Yamaha. They were forced to fly in new engines from Japan for all four riders for the Andalusia round, or Jerez 2, while the engines used at Jerez 1 were all shelved. Whether that solved the problem for Yamaha is still unresolved, as Franco Morbidelli lost an engine during Jerez 2.

The infringement was only discovered much later. Yamaha had submitted a request to MotoGP Technical Director Danny Aldridge to change the design of the valves, to allow the Jerez engines to be unsealed and have the valves replaced. Such a request has to be approved unanimously by the remaining MSMA members, however, and when the MSMA requested more details of the change, Yamaha withdrew their application.

True crimes

This appears to have triggered an investigation, or at least sparked some interest. But it was not until Valencia that the FIM Stewards had a strong enough case to impose a penalty. Rumors were circulating in the paddock on Wednesday, and the punishment was announced on Thursday.

The engine usage charts give a hint of Yamaha's strategy. The Jerez 1 engines have been shelved since that first race, though they were bought out at the Styria MotoGP round at the Red Bull Ring, or Austria 2. They only made a brief appearance there, with Franco Morbidelli and Maverick Viñales using Jerez engines. That round didn't end well for Yamaha either, Morbidelli finishing fifteenth, and Viñales crashing out of the race when his brakes overheated and failed heading into Turn 1.

That these are the engines being punished is clear from the points being deducted from the teams: Maverick Viñales did not finish at Austria 2, and so scored no points. Neither Fabio Quartararo nor Valentino Rossi used their Jerez 1 engines in Austria, and so had no points deducted there. But Franco Morbidelli scored a solitary point for fifteenth, which was added to the 11 points for fifth in Jerez 1, and Fabio Quartararo's 25 points for the win to add up to 37 points, which were deducted from the team standings.

Hoist by their own petard

It is remarkable how Yamaha's decision to "fail to respect the protocol" to inform the other MSMA members about changing engine spec has backfired. They changed the valves for the first race at Jerez, which promptly failed, costing them engines. It was immediately obvious that measures were needed, and so they appear to have reverted to the original design, as homologated before Qatar. This was at least reliable.

However, it left the Yamaha riders with just 3 engines left to complete the season, or the remaining 13 races, where their rivals had 5 engines to last for those 13 races. In the case of Maverick Viñales, who was forced to use a second Jerez 1 spec engine after losing an engine during practice, it left him with just 2 engines for the rest of the 2020 season. To improve durability and ensure they make it to the end of the season without having to start from pit lane, Yamaha has reduced the maximum revs by 500 RPM.

So Morbidelli, Quartararo, Rossi, and Viñales have been racing with one hand tied behind their backs – or at least a few fingers taped inconveniently together – for the 2020 season. They have had to be sparing with track time, and juggle engines judiciously to manage. And with three races still to go this year, there is no guarantee they will be able to make it to the end without needing to use an extra engine and start a race from pit lane. With Quartararo, Viñales, and Morbidelli still in the hunt for the championship, that is not a risk they can afford to take.

Getting off scot-free

This may be the reason why the riders were spared having points deducted for infringing the technical rules. Yamaha have managed to inflict serious punishment on themselves and their riders, without the aid of the FIM Stewards. Had they stuck with their original design, it is entirely possible that they would not have had to decrease maximum revs, and give up top end at tracks like Brno and Austria, a commodity which was already in short supply for the Yamahas.

Had points been deducted from Quartararo, Viñales, and Morbidelli, it would have had a serious impact on the championship. The three Yamaha riders would have dropped from second, third, and fourth respectively to fifth, sixth, and fourth. Quartararo would have gone from trailing championship leader Joan Mir by 14 points to having a deficit of 39 points. Viñales would have gone from 19 to 39 points behind, and Morbidelli from a deficit of 25 to 37 points.

That would have benefited Andrea Dovizioso and Alex Rins. The Factory Ducati rider would have gone from fifth to second, his deficit reduced from 28 to 19 points, and Suzuki's Rins would have gone from sixth to third, though his gap of 32 points would not have changed, as he missed the Jerez race through injury. Dovizioso, however, would have been declared winner.

Will Suzuki or Ducati appeal and demand points be deducted from the Yamaha riders? For Suzuki, it seems unlikely – Japanese manufacturers tend to operate on a code of honor, and may feel that it would not be right to appeal. Ducati, on the other hand, have shown a determination to follow the letter rather than the spirit of the law in search of an advantage. That remains pending.

Precedent

However, it does set a rather dangerous precedent. In the modern MotoGP era, riders have neither knowledge nor, in most cases, understanding of the technical details of the bikes they are riding, and therefore cannot be held responsible for the spec of the bike underneath them. But it allows factories to get away with giving their riders an unfair advantage, while suffering in the teams and manufacturers championship only. Though those championships matter to manufacturers, the big marketing value lies in the rider championship. Should a Yamaha rider catch and beat Joan Mir in the 2020 championship, that title will be surrounded by question marks.

How was Yamaha's infringement not discovered earlier? When MotoGP bikes are scrutineered, they are generally only given an external check: weights are checked, seals are checked to see if they have been broken, and the bike is evaluated as to whether it complies with the rules. Engine internals are taken on trust, any changes visible if the seals are not intact.

The breach of the rules here took place between homologation and the race, and was only made possible by the long lay off due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Normally, there isn't sufficient time to change parts between homologation and the first race. This time there was. And Yamaha have paid the price for violating the trust on which much of the cooperation between the MSMA members, and between manufacturers and MotoGP's technical scrutineering staff, is based. You would expect that they will face much greater scrutiny in the seasons to come.

The press release from the FIM Stewards appears below:


FIM MotoGP™ Stewards Notifications of Sanction: Yamaha Motor Company, Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP, Petronas Yamaha SRT

Thursday, 05 November 2020

Please find attached sanctions for Yamaha Motor Company, Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP and Petronas Yamaha SRT.

Due to an internal oversight, Yamaha Motor Company failed to respect the protocol which requires them to obtain unanimous approval from MSMA for technical changes.

For this reason, Yamaha Motor Company have had 50 World Championship Constructor points withdrawn. This is double the points earned whilst not respecting the protocol required for technical changes.

Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP have had 20 World Championship Team points withdrawn. This is the points earned whilst not respecting the protocol.

Petronas Yamaha SRT have had 37 World Championship Team points withdrawn. This is also the points earned whilst not respecting the protocol.


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Sat, 2020-10-31 01:23
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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

The Aragon and Teruel back-to-back shows a similar picture. The Suzukis were on the podium at both rounds, and in the same order. They even improved by almost the same amount, Alex Rins going 4.5 seconds quicker at Aragon 2 than he did at Aragon 1, Joan Mir being 4 seconds quicker. Confusingly, Alex Rins stuck with soft tires for both races, while Mir switched to mediums front and rear, and got no closer.

The third man on the podium at Aragon 1, Alex Márquez, crashed out of contention in Aragon 2, as did Takaaki Nakagami, making comparisons for Honda difficult. Cal Crutchlow was 4 seconds slower in the second Aragon round.

The fortunes of the Yamaha riders are the hardest to explain based on their performance in the first week. Franco Morbidelli was the third most improved rider between Aragon 1 and Aragon 2, finishing the Teruel race 11.5 seconds faster than the Aragon round. But those 11.5 seconds made a huge difference, lifting Morbidelli up from sixth into first place. Morbidelli put his improvement down to switching to the medium rear for Aragon 2.

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Wed, 2020-10-28 16:30
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He could have been the man of the weekend, dominating practice and qualifying. But it all went wrong in Turn 5


Duct tape acts as a simple heat retention device. The more duct tape on the radiators, the colder the day


Alex Marquez showed he was a force to be reckoned with again, at least at the Motorland Aragon circuit


Fabio Quartararo has a unique style, with a lot of weight on his upper body. And if you look carefully, you can see which engine map he is using


These angles are always fun. Here's Maverick Viñales on an out lap with a different dashboard page displayed


Eyes on the prize, Joan Mir


Jack Miller and Brad Binder engaged in earnest debate over the Turn 2 incident. Binder shouldered the blame


Alex Rins made it a good weekend for Suzuki


Not so bad in qualifying, not so good in the race, the tale of Cal Crutchlow


Finishing touches for getting Miguel Oliveira's KTM RC16 ready to go: torque the back wheel, replace the front mudguard


Alex Marquez believes his bike is more nimble when he only uses the front wheel to steer


Taakaki Nakagami, proving he is good enough for pole


But this was the man of the weekend: Franco Morbidelli cruised to a solid win at Aragon 2


This turned out to be Bradley Smith's last weekend on the Aprilia RS-GP. Lorenzo Savadori takes over from Valencia


The Ducatis did not love Aragon


Jack Miller in better days


Joan Mir making the most of the light


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Tue, 2020-10-27 03:37
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The theme for the 2020 MotoGP season, insofar as one is discernible, is that there are two types of rider: riders who are doing their best to win races but lose the championship, and riders (or rider) who are doing their best to win the championship, but not win races. And never the twain shall meet, so far this year.

That was the tale of the Teruel round of MotoGP, also known as Aragon 2. Before the race, Takaaki Nakagami looked on course for his first podium, and possibly his first win, which would have put him right into the title fight. But Nakagami never even made it as far as the first intermediate timing strip, crashing out of the lead at Turn 5.

Of the three race winners in the top four of the championship, Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo found a way to go backwards during the race, while Andrea Dovizioso never even found a way to go forwards. That put Joan Mir more firmly in the driving seat of the championship, but despite a very strong race to finish on the podium, he never really threatened to win the race.

Winners and … winners?

Victory was fought out between Franco Morbidelli and Alex Rins, two riders who on Saturday had been asked if they would be willing to sacrifice their races to help their teammates in the title chase. On Sunday, they answered a resounding no to that question, though frankly, that was more down to the shortcomings of their teammates rather than selfishness or skulduggery on their own part.

And so Franco Morbidelli won his second race of the season. Morbidelli, Rins, Viñales, Quartararo, Dovizioso, all race winners, yet all in an increasingly weak situation in the championship, as the number of races left robs them of chances to make up points. And Joan Mir, with his sixth podium of the season, extended his lead in the championship, while never in with a chance of winning the Aragon 2 race.

"I reckon we might have another Emilio Alzamora situation on our hands," said Jack Miller on Sunday evening, referring to the 1999 125cc championship which the Spanish rider-turned-manager clinched without winning a single race. The season is looking increasingly likely to prove Miller right.

So, how did we get here? In Part1 these subscriber notes:

  • Brad Binder and Jack Miller's eight-second race
  • Takaaki Nakagami, pole position, and pressure
  • Alex Márquez makes it two Hondas crashing out
  • Franco Morbidelli's perfect race
  • Why Alex Rins came up just short
  • Will Joan Mir win a race this season? And does it matter?
  • Yamahas – winning races, but not leading the championship
  • Andrea Dovizioso, and whether the GP19 is better than the GP20

Where to start? How about Turn 2. The tight section after the start is always a magnet for trouble. A tight left followed by a sweeping right means riders get funneled in squashed together, with limited room for maneuver. It is easy to make a mistake, and lose the race before it is even started, taking out yourself, and if you're unlucky, someone else as well.

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Wed, 2020-10-21 19:05
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Marc Marquez on the Honda RC213V at the 2020 Qatar MotoGP Test - photo Polarity Photo

For the past couple of months, rumors have been doing the rounds that Spanish oil giant Repsol was about to withdraw its sponsorship of the factory Honda squad, and Red Bull would step in to take over as title sponsor.

There were plenty of reasons to give credence to the rumors. The global Covid-19 pandemic has caused the oil price to plummet: the price of a barrel of Brent Crude went from nearly $70 a barrel in February to under $20 a barrel in April, though it has since recovered to just over $40 a barrel. That is still roughly 33% lower than it has been for the past couple of years.

That has had a massive impact on Repsol's share price. In November 2019, Repsol shares were at over €15. They have since cratered, and currently stand at around €5.90. Earnings had taken a massive hit too. Profits (or more accurately, EBITDA) were €3.7 billion in the first half of 2019. That had fallen to €589 million in the first half of 2020. And the first half of 2020 included January and February, before the impact of the Covid-19 crisis really hit.

Then there was Red Bull. The Austrian energy drinks giant had steadily been strengthening its partnership with Honda. They had previously been title sponsor to the Honda WorldSBK team, and Honda provided the engines for the Red Bull F1 team. Red Bull had made no secret of their interest in increasing their sponsorship of the factory Honda team, especially as Marc Márquez has long been a Red Bull athlete, and he is to be joined next year by Pol Espargaro, who has just spent the past four seasons at the Red Bull KTM Factory team.

Would Repsol drop its Honda sponsorship, and leave the field clear for Red Bull? There was growing momentum inside the paddock for the notion that this might actually happen.

It didn't, of course. Today, Repsol and Honda announced they had extended their relationship for two more seasons, with Repsol remaining as title sponsor for the 2021 and 2022 seasons.

The renewal was almost inevitable, for a number of reasons. Repsol has been title sponsor to the factory Honda team for 26 years now, and has become almost synonymous with the Japanese manufacturer. The two brands are so heavily interwoven in MotoGP that separating them out has become almost impossible. They have won 15 titles in those 26 years, stamping an indelible mark on the championship.

Repsol's partnership with Honda infographic

The length of that association has made it almost impossible for Repsol to leave Honda and remain in MotoGP, or even any form of motorcycle racing. The association between Repsol and Honda is so firmly fixed in the minds of motorcycle racing fans that it is almost impossible to think of one without thinking of the other.

On the one hand, this is extremely mutually beneficial, for both Honda and Repsol. Fans driving by a Repsol filling station will immediately think of Honda; fans seeing a Honda CBR1000RR in a showroom will automatically think of Repsol. That is the core function of sponsorship and marketing, to reinforce positive associations for the brands involved.

But it also creates a dilemma. Because Repsol and Honda are so closely linked, the value of Repsol switching to Ducati or Yamaha, for example is reduced. Fans would for many years still think of Honda when they saw a Repsol Yamaha. Likewise, fans will still think of Repsol were Red Bull to step in as title sponsor for Honda. Fans, journalists, and commentators would spend a long time accidentally saying "Repsol Honda", then having to clarify. That would be bad for Repsol and Honda, and bad for their respective new partners.

This is a conversation I have had with bosses of other factories in the past. They have pointed to Ducati and Philip Morris as an example: Philip Morris cannot move to another team, because Marlboro is still so strongly linked to the Ducatis, through years of sponsorship. The benefit of establishing long-term relationships is that the effectiveness of the marketing grows stronger over time. But it also means that it gets harder to break those bonds.

The only way that Repsol would leave Honda would be if they were to pull out of MotoGP sponsorship altogether. That is always a possibility, but the current economic crisis was never going to be a justification for pulling out of sponsorship. The amount Repsol spends on sponsoring the factory Honda MotoGP team is rumored to be in the region of €10 million a season. With a turnover in the region of €50 billion, and profits, even in a bad year of several hundred million euros, the amount spent on sponsoring the Honda MotoGP team is not much more than a rounding error. And given the popularity of MotoGP in Repsol's key markets in Spain and South America, the exposure they get for that money vastly outweighs the cost.

Of course, Honda might also decided to set a different course. They may feel, as rumors late last year suggested, that HRC were wary of the growing Spanish influence inside their MotoGP team. With Repsol providing the money, the race team based in Spain, and Marc Márquez (understandably) exerting sizable influence over the team and the MotoGP program, Honda may be tempted to seize back control. That would start by seeking an alternative for Repsol.

But that would be a very radical step. And with Marc Márquez' absence proving once again just how dependent HRC are on the Spaniard for their success, it would risk pushing Márquez out and losing him to a rival factory. That does not seem like a wise strategy at all.

And so Repsol and Honda continue their partnership, for another two years at least. And in twelve or eighteen months, rumors will once again emerge of an imminent split between the Spanish oil giant and the Japanese manufacturer. And in all likelihood, they will sign another contract to stay together even longer.

There have been rumors of a Repsol/Honda split for almost as long as I have been in the paddock. It is yet to happen. And I am not holding my breath.

The press release appears below:


Repsol and Honda to continue iconic partnership

The most recognized partnership in racing is set to continue for a further two years as the Spanish energy company and the Japanese manufacturer extend their successful relationship.

Few could have imagined that in 1995 the most recognizable colours in the MotoGP World Championship would be born and achieve unrivalled successful more than 25 years later with 180 premier class wins and 15 Rider World Championships, cementing the Repsol Honda Team as the reference in Grand Prix motorcycle racing. More than half of the premier class world titles won since 1995 have gone to the Repsol Honda Team. In addition, the Repsol-Honda collaboration has led to 10 Team Championships since the award was created in 2002. A record of 180 wins and 447 podiums in 500cc and MotoGP.

A close working relationship between the Repsol Technology Centre, which is located in Móstoles (Spain), and HRC laboratories in Saitama (Japan) has produced a winning formula based around the bike, rider, fuel and lubricants working in harmony. This long-term cooperation is an example of the enduring collaboration between two global companies that always seek to overcome challenges and aspire to excellence. Repsol and Honda have been able to make the most of their strengths and achieve a winning formula, which is based on the combination of bike, rider, fuel and lubricant.

Yoshishige Nomura
HRC President

“It is always a great feeling to extend our partnership with Repsol, this time for a further two years. Together we have achieved incredible success and formed a partnership which is unique in motorsport. Working as one we have, and will continue, to overcome all obstacles and hardships which are presented to us. 2020 has been a difficult year for the world, but together with Repsol we have continued to work towards our goals. We are now looking forward to continuing this journey together and writing many more pages in the history of Grand Prix racing.”

Begoña Elices García
Repsol's Executive Managing Director of Communications and the Chairman’s Office

“The renewal of this agreement with a partner as important to Repsol as Honda in MotoGP is proof of the strength of our alliance, especially in the current international climate caused by the coronavirus pandemic. For Repsol, the technological factor is key and this historic association has provided a lot of innovation and collaboration. Together we have achieved great sporting goals and we have also made our products evolve towards excellence. Continuing to advance along this successful path, always at the service of society, is what drives us to continue to improve day after day.”


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