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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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Wed, 2020-10-21 00:55
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In part 1 of the subscriber notes from Aragon, I looked at how the podium happened, and its impact on the championship. But much more happened behind the podium, which also helped make the podium happen and affected the way the title chase is playing out. So here are a few more notes and thoughts from Aragon 1.

Returning to the podium, it is worth reflecting on exactly what Alex Márquez has achieved. The Repsol Honda rider's second podium in two weeks was impressive mainly for being set in the dry rather than in the wet, as happened last week at Le Mans. There was no luck involved, nobody crashed out ahead him. Márquez fought his way forward all the way to the leader Alex Rins. He came pretty close to catching him and passing him too.

The onboard footage from Joan Mir's Suzuki GSX-RR, viewable on the MotoGP.com website as one of the optional camera views, give a very clear view of exactly how Alex Márquez is riding. Seen from Mir's bike, you can see how much Alex Márquez looks like his brother Marc on the bike, despite being 10cm taller and a more slender build. His body shape and language was the same, his head dropped, his elbow held down and inside as he forced the front through the corners. It was an instructive view of just how far the younger Márquez has come.

What was clear from the onboard footage – and from the overhead footage from the helicopter as well – was that he had understood how he needed to get the bike to turn. Márquez is pushing the front and using the gas with the rear to get the bike to turn. That gave him the ability to get the Honda RC213V to hold a tight line and turn inside of the bikes which need a more sweeping line.

That ability had come through a better understanding of the bike, Alex Márquez told the post-race press conference. "I think I start to understand why everybody say that Honda is a difficult bike," he said. "I think it’s a difficult bike because you need to be strong in all the points. Not like Yamaha, they need to focus a lot to have a lot of corner speed and acceleration. Maybe also Ducati, they focus more on acceleration only. With the Honda you need to be strong in all the points, in the brake points, the corner speed, but also in acceleration."

There was no time to relax on the Honda, nothing the bike did of its own accord, Márquez explained. "This is the point that for that reason it’s so demanding to the rider, because you need to be always on the limit. If you try to relax a little bit you lose one second. Maybe with another bike you lose two tenths. This is why it’s so difficult and so demanding physically for the rider. I start to enjoy it. I start to have the bike in my hands. For that reason, everything is coming in a better way. I start to understand a little bit better, especially the front part of the bike."

Progress made

The Honda itself had also made steps forward, though it was more a slow process of refinement rather than a big single step. New parts tested at Misano had made a difference, but they were just one of a number of factors which had contributed to the RC213V being more competitive.

"The improvement I think was not only from one thing," Márquez explained. "I think in Misano two, in Misano test, we tried some new things, small things that gave me a little bit more the confidence. Also we went a little bit more in the Marc ways on the setup. Now I have more feeling on the front and having a little bit more feeling with the bike. This is always good. Maybe the bike is a little bit more critical with cold conditions like Friday morning, where I crashed in turn two, but I feel the front tire more. We improved the turning a lot, also I think the grip."

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Tue, 2020-10-20 16:15
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The wall, instantly recognizable as Motorland Aragon, one of the most picturesque tracks on the calendar


Cold and wind meant teams were fitting covers to the brake discs, partly for aerodynamic help, partly to keep the heat in


The cold caught Fabio Quartararo out on Saturday, the Petronas Yamaha rider highsiding viciously at Turn 14


Many feared Quartararo had blown his shot at the title when he was carted off in an ambulance. But he escaped with just bruising


It hurt though. Not enough to stop him from taking pole, but he had to put himself through the wringer to get that


Back with a vengeance: two podiums in eight days for Alex Marquez. The real deal?


Two Suzukis and a Honda. We had been expecting an armada of Yamahas


Qualifying doesn't really matter. P10 on the grid catches P2 on the grid. Rins and Viñales were on their way to 1st and 4th respectively


Cal Crutchlow gets his race face on. Front row of the grid, he needed it


They also serve who only stand and wait


Pecco Bagnaia's up and down year: from leading a MotoGP race, to crashing out on lap 3


When body language speaks volumes


Winner at last. Nobody had anything for Alex Rins


Pol Espargaro came into Aragon with high hopes. 12th is not what he had in mind


2020 - face masks and eye protection. But MotoGP riders can carry it off with style


When you are so used to be in the podium press conference that you have time to examine your boots


Spending so much time cooped up together leads teams to develop private jokes which are incomprehensible to the outside world. Don't ask.


Best independent rider at Aragon. The irresistible rise of Takaaki Nakagami continues apace, as his consistency starts to count


The light. Photographers love the light at Aragon

 


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Tue, 2020-10-20 02:51
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It seems like everybody wants to win a race in 2020, but nobody wants to win the championship. The Aragon round of MotoGP produced another new winner, and shook up the championship once again. The result you might have expected after qualifying never materialized. Yamahas finished top in all four free practice sessions, and there were three Yamahas in the first four slots on the grid after qualifying, Cal Crutchlow in third the only non-Yamaha on the front row.

What happened? Well, the temperature went up, and that persuaded riders to gamble on the medium front with little or no data on the tire. Racing and practice turned out to be two very different things – who would have thought? Tire wear, especially the way tires wear, became a factor. And riders who love the track found a little bit extra.

With his convincing victory, Alex Rins became the eighth winner of the season, and the eighth winner in as many races. Starting at Brno, we have had victories for Brad Binder, in Austria we had Andrea Dovizioso and Miguel Oliveira, at Misano there was Franco Morbidelli and Maverick Viñales, Fabio Quartararo in Barcelona, and then Danilo Petrucci at Le Mans.

The last time that happened was in 2016, in Michelin's first year in MotoGP. In the eight-race stretch between Mugello and Misano, from May to September, Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi, Jack Miller, Marc Márquez, Andrea Iannone, Cal Crutchlow, Maverick Viñales, and Dani Pedrosa all took victory. By the end of 2016, Andrea Dovizioso had made it nine winners overall. You wouldn't want to bet against a ninth, maybe even a tenth winner emerging from the four races remaining in the 2020 MotoGP season.

Closer now

There is a difference between the 2016 and 2020 seasons, however. The switch to Michelins had a big impact on 2016. The teams and factories were still trying to adapt their bikes and their setups to the Michelin rubber, after years perfecting their bikes for the Bridgestones. A lot of races were decided by riders and teams getting it right on Sunday, while others didn't. The weather was a factor too: of the eight races between Mugello and Misano, three of them - Assen, Sachsenring, Brno – were wet.

There's a new rear Michelin in MotoGP for 2020, but that hasn't had anywhere near the impact of a complete switch of tire brands. And though the weather has been a factor, with races being held at tracks at very different times than usual (Jerez in July, Barcelona in September, Le Mans in October), there has been only a single properly wet race.

The biggest difference in 2020 is the closeness of the field. There are now four Yamahas, two Suzukis, four Ducatis, three KTMs, and after Aragon, two, maybe three Hondas which either have won races or have looked capable of winning. Yamaha, Ducati, Suzuki, and KTM have all won races, Yamaha, Ducati, KTM, Honda, and Suzuki have all had podiums. There have been 15 different riders on the podium.

That happens because the differences between the bikes are small. That is reflected in the race as well. Neil Morrison, with a little help from Thomas Morsellino, pointed out on Twitter that the Aragon round of MotoGP was the second closest top ten in history, with just 9.6 seconds between the winner, Alex Rins, and Johann Zarco in tenth. It was also the second closest top fifteen in history. And so far, the ten MotoGP races of 2020 have produced the second and fifth closest top tens in history, and the second, fourth, and eighth closest top fifteens.

There is once again much to talk about, too much perhaps for a single article, so these subscriber notes will be split over two parts. In part 1, we will talk about the podium, and how the winners came from so far behind on the grid, outclassing the Yamahas who had been so fast in qualifying:

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Wed, 2020-10-14 22:37
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Joan Mir invented the sport of gravel skiing when he crashed, stood up, slid, and ran on Saturday


October racing means light magic. Brad Binder turns up the contrast


Alex Marquez would get another taste of wet weather, and capitalize on the opportunity


Suzuki in wet weather trim, with full shrouds around the Brembo carbon discs, and tape on the radiator to keep the heat in


Johann Zarco arrived at his home GP with a good deal less pressure on his shoulders


Unlike El Diablo, Fabio Quartararo, who looked like cleaning up in the dry


Ducati's rear wheel aero cover on Jack Miller's Pramac Ducati. Note also the torsion meter sprocket carrier


Clear visors in the rain mean you can follow Alex Rins eyes


A rough weekend for Valentino Rossi ...


Crashing at Turn 4 in practice ...


And then in the same place on the first lap of the race. That made it three crashes in three races


Words were exchanged between Pecco Bagnaia and Miguel Oliveira. But they sorted it out after qualifying


Pole at home, and a punishing pace in FP4. Who could stop Fabio Quartararo in the race?


The weather, and a gaggle of Ducatis, that's who


4 into 1. Or rather, 4 into Turn 9, as Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Alex Rins, and Andrea Dovizioso all try to fit into the Chemin aux Boeufs esses


Jack Miller would be foiled by the rain, and using an engine which was starting to display problems during warm up. It let go in the race


Danilo Petrucci rode a near perfect race, controlling from the front, and reminding the world just how good he is


Saving the honor of HRC, Alex Marquez scored a superb podium in the wet at Le Mans.


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Mon, 2020-10-12 23:36
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If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that it is pointless to try to make sense of 2020. There is neither rhyme nor reason to this year; you just have to let it wash over you like an autumnal rain shower and hope to emerge on the other side, if not unscathed, then at least in some sort of shape to continue. It is impossible to make plans, impossible to predict what might happen next.

So it is in MotoGP too. After Barcelona, we started to believe that a shape was emerging to the 2020 MotoGP championship. That favorites were emerging who would do battle over the title for the remaining six races. Naturally enough, this turned out to be naively optimistic, reckoning without the weirdness which runs like a shimmering thread through this pandemic-blighted year. We really should have known better.

Le Mans confronted us once again with the reality of 2020. A rain shower as the bikes headed out for the sighting lap threw the race into disarray, reshuffling the cards once again. Teams had to gamble on whether the rain would persist, and if so, for how long, and make choices about tires and setup. Once the race started on a very obviously wet track, the rain came and went, ending any thoughts of pitting for slicks, leaving the riders to sink or swim by their tire choice, and how well they managed to preserve their tires to the end.

Even then the race wasn't that simple. There was chaos at the start, Valentino Rossi crashing out at the chicane, throwing another wildcard into the mid pack melee. Riders were shuffled toward the back, but then came through the field as a result of smart tire management and fortuitous tire choices. And perhaps just with getting lucky with conditions.

Where to begin? Here's a selection of subjects in these subscriber notes:

  • Jack Miller's cruel luck
  • how the weather made tire choice both crucial, and a lottery
  • Was this an inline 4 vs V4 race?
  • Maverick Viñales' decision to skip launch control and do it himself
  • why qualifying matters, and sometimes doesn't matter
  • a day that was simultaneously very good, very bad, and pretty insignificant for the championship contenders
  • a two-meatball race, something we haven't seen before
  • Danilo Petrucci and Alex Márquez, an unlikely podium and a chance to take aim at their critics
  • MotoGP's Mr Regularity

There is a lot to try to make sense of, though this time, that may be hard. But we have to begin with weather, and how the rain, and tire choices made, would have a profound impact on the outcome of the race. Though ironically, not so much on the championship.

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Thu, 2020-10-01 18:52
Body:


Contrary to appearances, Fabio Quartararo was not lying down on the job at Barcelona


Which Maverick Viñales would turn up this weekend, we asked ourselves? Unlike Misano, the wrong one.


Franco Morbidelli pushed early, but had no tire left at the end of the race. Alex Rins did the opposite, and finished ahead


A weekend of up and downs for Valentino Rossi...


His deal to race a factory Yamaha in the Petronas team was announced...


He qualified on the front row of the grid, key to a good result on a Yamaha M1...


He chased down Franco Morbidelli and looked to be on course for a podium, maybe even a win ...


Until ...


Down...


Out...


Better luck next time


Joan Mir was like a shark smelling blood in the water


The battle for ninth, tenth, and eleventh. Some come down for Viñales, who finished ahead of Cal Crutchlow and Brad Binder


Brad Binder gets serious


It was not to be for Pol Espargaro, the factory KTM rider crashing out of the race at the halfway mark


Marc Marquez made a brief return to the paddock at Barcelona, to meet with Honda about his progress


And explain how his recovery was going


And dream of a return. Aragon? Maybe. Valencia? More likely

 


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Tue, 2020-09-29 01:15
Body:

It turns out there is someone who wants to win the 2020 MotoGP championship after all. A couple of people in fact, and they are now starting to make an effort to actually win this thing. After last week at Misano, when the top four in the championship were separated by just 4 points, it was hard to discern a shape to the 2020 title chase. Unseasonably cold weather, a punishing track for tires, and the usual run of random racing incidents events shook up the championship at Montmelo. Now, a pattern seems to be emerging from the fog of racing war.

After Misano, just 4 points separated the top four. A week later, there are 24 points covering the first four places, and 8 points – twice what covered last week's top four – the gap from first to second place. The points spread between the top ten has nearly doubled, from 27 to 50 points.

At Misano, Takaaki Nakagami was highlighted as a rider still in with a shot of the championship, not least by Repsol Honda boss Albert Puig, in defense of the job Honda have done in 2020. The LCR Honda rider was seventh, but trailed the leader Andrea Dovizioso by 21 points. With 7 races still left to contest, Nakagami had a shot at the title which was anything but theoretical.

A week later, and Nakagami is still seventh in the championship. But his chances of actually lifting the 2020 title have gone from vaguely plausible to a very long shot indeed. Now, Nakagami is 36 points behind the leader, with only 6 races left. A 36-point deficit would require help from other riders to become champion, and to take points off Fabio Quartararo at two races at least. And if Dorna and the FIM are forced to cancel races once again if the second wave of Covid-19 currently gaining steam across Europe forces governments to impose new restrictions, then a 36-point deficit becomes pretty much insurmountable.

Shakeout at the top

At the Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya, held at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Montmelo, two clear championship favorites emerged, and two others let their title chances slip away. Fabio Quartararo seized control of the 2020 title chase, while Joan Mir established himself as the chief challenger.

Former championship leader Andrea Dovizioso was taken out of contention by another Ducati rider, Avintia's Johann Zarco (who in the same motion, also lost any lingering chance of a seat in the factory team once Ducati announce their 2021 MotoGP line up on Wednesday. Maverick Viñales needed no help taking himself out of contention, swallowed up without a trace in the first lap of the race, and never reemerging to mount a challenge.

What happened? There are a number of issues to cover in these subscriber notes if we are to describe how we got to where we are now, and where we go from here. So here is what we will be discussing:

  •  how a war of attrition ended up with Fabio Quartararo (almost) cruising to victory
  •  Fabio Quartararo's championship worthy rider
  •  the strength of the Suzuki, and especially Joan Mir
  •  the real favorite for the championship
  •  why tire options were so limited, and how different tire strategies created an intriguing race
  •  how disaster struck for Andrea Dovizioso
  •  is Franco Morbidelli's speed deficit as bad as he claims
  •  how Takaaki Nakagami is flying under the radar, and is in line for a podium soon
  •  why Maverick Viñales had a terrible race, and whether this is a permanent feature of his racing

But first, it feels right to pay tribute to the winner. Here is how Fabio Quartararo took victory in Montmelo, and what it means in the championship.

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Sat, 2020-09-26 10:19
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Valentino Rossi at Misano in 2020 - Photo Cormac Ryan Meenan

The deal is done at last. Today, the Petronas Yamaha SRT team has announced that Valentino Rossi will partner Franco Morbidelli in 2021. Rossi has signed a one-year extension of his contract with Yamaha, to race in the Petronas Yamaha SRT team.

This has been a long and difficult negotiation since the beginning of the year. Back then, Yamaha had faced the problem of trying to fit three riders into their factory Monster Energy team.

Ducati had been chasing both Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo, and Yamaha did not want to lose their two young riders. Rossi had told Yamaha that he wanted to wait for the first five or six races before making a decision on whether he would retire, or stay on for another year. Yamaha moved to fend off Ducati's attempted poaching of Viñales and Quartararo by signing them to the factory team, and offering Rossi a factory-supported Yamaha M1 if he decided to continue.

That meant Rossi and Petronas were condemned to one another, if you can use such a phrase for the most successful premier class rider in history and the best satellite team in MotoGP. And each side had their own list of demands: Rossi wanted to bring his entire crew with him, along with various others, Petronas were willing to take only his crew chief David Muñoz and data engineer Matteo Flamigni. Then there was sorting out the mass of sponsors on both sides.

At Jerez, it became clear that Rossi would only be allowed to bring Muñoz, Flamigni, and rider coach Idalio Gavira to Petronas. That sparked a long negotiation over the rest of the conditions, the final details of which were only settled in the week between the two races in Misano, when Petronas Yamaha boss Razlan Razali visited the VR46 headquarters along with Yamaha racing boss Lin Jarvis. That resulted in the deal signed in Barcelona.

Rossi's move leaves the remainder of his crew in a difficult position. Mechanics Alex Briggs and Brent Stephens have been told there is no place for them in Yamaha, mostly a question of travel costs. Briggs lives in Australia, and Stephens in New Zealand, and both were used to flying home in between races. American Mark Elder will stay with Yamaha, as will Belgian Bernard Ansiau, it is believed.

The fact that this is a one-year deal is another reason Petronas were not keen on taking Rossi's crew. Briggs, Stephens, and Ansiau have all been with Rossi for a very long time, most since he arrived in the premier class with Honda. If they had decided to retire along with Rossi, Petronas would have been forced to look for replacements. That was not a task they relished after investing so much time in putting together their team at the beginning of the 2019 season.

Will 2021 be the end of Valentino Rossi's MotoGP career? It is too early to say. He already has a podium this season, and believes he is capable of more. If he fares worse in 2021 than he does this year, then he may decide to hang up his helmet, especially given that there are talks of the VR46 team making a move up to MotoGP.

But that is all still a long way off. For the moment, Valentino Rossi stays on for another year.

Below are the press releases from Petronas and from Yamaha announcing the deal:


Valentino Rossi to join PETRONAS Yamaha SRT in 2021

9-times World Champion confirmed to continue in MotoGP with the Malaysian squad together with Franco Morbidelli

PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team is proud to announce that Valentino Rossi will join the squad for the 2021 MotoGP season. Valentino Rossi needs no introduction, considered by many as the Greatest Of All Time through a record-breaking career in the premier class of the sport since 2000.

Rossi – Urbino, 16th February 1979 – has competed in the premier class since 2000 and is the only rider in history to win 125, 250, 500 and MotoGP World Championships. In the premier class alone, Valentino boasts seven world titles, 89 race wins, 199 podiums, 55 pole positions and 76 fastest laps. As part of PETRONAS Yamaha SRT in 2021, the Italian will compete aboard a Yamaha YZR-M1 for the ninth season in a row.

The move will see Rossi join the satellite team in what will be only their third season in the MotoGP category, after the Malaysian squad made their debut at the Qatar GP in 2019. That first season in the premier class saw PETRONAS Yamaha SRT rack up six pole positions and seven podiums, and win the Independent Teams’ Championship. This year has already seen two pole positions, four podiums and three race wins, and the lead of the outright Teams’ Championship, for the outfit.

The announcement of Rossi alongside fellow countryman and friend Franco Morbidelli completes the PETRONAS Yamaha SRT line-up for 2021 – a line-up eager to write another chapter of MotoGP history next year.

Razlan Razali - Team Principal

On behalf of PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team and all its partners, it is an absolute honour to welcome Valentino Rossi – an iconic rider and legend into the team next year. His experience will be a great asset to the team as we move into our third season in MotoGP and we are sure we will be able to learn a lot from Valentino. At the same time, we will do our absolute best to assist him to be competitive to reward him for the trust he has in us as a team. We are humbled by this opportunity and ready to take on the challenge. We believe that the combination of Valentino and Franco will provide a truly formidable force on track to help us in our goal of being as competitive as possible together next year. We can’t wait!

Johan Stigefelt - Team Director

To be able to sign a rider like Valentino Rossi, for what will be only our third year in the MotoGP championship, is amazing. We have evolved from a Moto3 team to a Moto2 team to a MotoGP team in a short time frame and now to be leading the MotoGP teams’ championship and signing one of the greatest riders the sport has ever known is incredible. It has been a long time since Valentino was in a satellite team and we will try our best to help him feel like new again. We want to make sure that he feels comfortable in our team, which we trust in and believe in so much. Our target is to get even better as a team, help Rossi deliver the best results possible and make 2021 a memorable year.


YAMAHA MOTOR CO., LTD. SIGNS 2021 CONTRACT RENEWAL WITH VALENTINO ROSSI

Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. and nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi have officially signed a one-year contract renewal for 2021. The Grand Prix racing icon will take part in next year‘s MotoGP World Championship as a Factory Yamaha rider for the PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team, with full support from Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd.

Montmelò (Spain), 26th September 2020

Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. is pleased to announce that it has signed a one-year renewal agreement with Grand Prix racing legend Valentino Rossi. Fans all over the world will be delighted to know that the nine-time World Champion will be participating in the 2021 MotoGP World Championship as a fully supported Factory Yamaha rider for the PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team.

Due to the global Covid-19 outbreak, Rossi was obliged to state his future intention to continue as a MotoGP rider before competing in a single 2020 MotoGP race. However, having completed seven GP weekends since then, the 41-year-old is certain that he made the right decision. He reunited with his beloved YZR-M1 showing competitive pace and has a lot of fight left in him.

The Yamaha Factory Racing MotoGP Team wants to thank Rossi for his continuous contribution and effort. Currently competing in their 15th MotoGP season together, to date they have secured 4 world titles, 142 podiums, 56 victories, and competed in 250 races.

Rossi can be assured of the team‘s full support for the remainder of the 2020 championship. Everyone is fully focused on completing this season on a high note, as the team continues to push for the three World Championship titles.

LIN JARVIS - MANAGING DIRECTOR, YAMAHA MOTOR RACING

We are delighted that Valentino will be staying in MotoGP for another year, and we are sure the fans of the sport feel the same way. A substantial part of the MotoGP fanbase will have grown up with Valentino and followed him throughout his career.

"This current and final season with the Factory Yamaha Team is his 25th in the motorcycle Grand Prix racing World Championship and his 15th year with Yamaha.

"Early on we assured Valentino that, should he stay in MotoGP for 2021, Yamaha would continue to give him full support and a Factory YZR-M1. In the end, this is exactly what he decided to do.

"I previously stated that this Covid-19 influenced MotoGP season would not be the appropriate year for such a legendary rider to close his career. Valentino has always been so popular with the fans all around the world, so it‘s great that he has decided to continue for at least another season. Hopefully the fans will be allowed back into the tracks next year to savour watching the GOAT in action again.

"I would like to thank the management of the PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team for their enthusiasm and full collaboration to welcome Valentino into their team. They are still quite a ’young‘ team, but they are very professional and serious contenders for race wins and feature in the top of the championship standings, so we are sure that Valentino will feel comfortable and be able to perform at his best level.

VALENTINO ROSSI - MONSTER ENERGY YAMAHA MOTOGP RIDER

I am very happy to continue riding in 2021 and to do it with the PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team. I thought a lot before taking this decision, because the challenge is getting hotter and hotter. To be at the top in MotoGP you have to work a lot and hard, to train every day and lead an ’athlete's life‘, but I still like it and I still want to ride.

"In the first half of the year I made my choice and I talked with Yamaha, who agreed with me. They told me even if there was no place for me in the Factory Team, the factory bike and the factory support were guaranteed.

"I am very happy to move to PETRONAS Yamaha SRT. They are young, but they‘ve shown to be a top team. They are very serious and very well organised. For this year I also changed my crew chief. I‘m very happy with David, and I think we haven‘t reached our best yet. This was one of the reasons why I chose to continue, because the atmosphere in the team is something I like a lot.

"It‘ll be nice to have Franco as my team-mate, as he‘s an Academy rider, it‘s going to be cool. I think we can work together to make good things happen.

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