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David Emmett

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If ever there were a day where qualifying and practice told two very different stories, it was Saturday at Brno. The tales were linked and related, interwoven in many ways, but the differences outweighed the common threads.

The grid tells a tale of heroism, surprises, and the cruel application of sensible rules. Practice is a story of dark foreboding, of the grim war of attrition that awaits on Sunday afternoon. Qualifying was tough; the race is going to be much, much tougher.

Qualifying is always the highlight of Saturday afternoon, though the final free practice session, FP4, is what matters most. With nothing on the line but race setup, and conditions close to what they will face at race time on Sunday afternoon, teams and riders show what they are really capable of.

Even then, the story told is not in the overall result, but tucked away in the analysis timesheets, where teams send out riders on old tires, to see how they hold up once they get a lot of laps on them.

The MotoGP paddock has its first confirmed case of COVID-19.

A cameraman, employed by Dorna but assigned to work with the French broadcaster Canal+ tested positive for the disease during a routine test taken during the Brno round of MotoGP, in preparation for the Austrian race at Spielberg next weekend.

Fortunately, the cameraman has no symptoms of the disease at the moment.

What did we learn from the first day of practice at Brno? Not much, but that in itself is valuable. The COVID-19 pandemic meant that the Automotodrom Brno circuit has not seen much action, so there is very little rubber on the track.

The circuit has always been fairly low grip, but it is much worse now than it has ever been. It needs rubber down on it before any conclusions can be drawn.

That makes figuring out what is going on rather tricky. The track is changing session to session, as bikes deposit a thin smear of Dunlop and Michelin rubber on the surface of the track and in the crevices between the grit particles used in the aggregate.

That leads to big changes in grip levels: Fabio Quartararo’s fastest time in FP2 was over eight tenths faster than the best lap set by Takaaki Nakagami in the morning session. Quartararo’s best time from Friday was nearly three quarters of a second slower than the best time at the end of the first day in 2019.

With the times so far off the pace – Quartararo’s time is two whole seconds off Marc Márquez’ outright lap record, and half a second slower than the race lap record – and grip still changing, conditions were just to inscrutable to draw any conclusions from, or at least any conclusions which might last beyond Saturday morning.

Trying to work out which tire will work best was almost possible on Friday. There are still too many unknowns.

With MotoGP heading to Brno for the first of three races, a new chapter opens for the championship. The two season openers at Jerez were somehow anachronistic, races out of time, and out of place.

The searing heat of an Andalusian summer turned the Circuito de Jerez into an alien space, the searing heat punishing riders, bikes, and tires. It proved costly, too, Yamaha losing three engines to the heat in two races, Ducati losing one, that of Pecco Bagnaia.

Those lost engines are likely to have long-term consequences for Yamaha, though it seems as if Ducati have escape a little more lightly.

The COVID-19 pandemic has once again reshaped the 2020 MotoGP calendar, though this change had long been expected.

Today, Dorna and the FIM announced that the three races outside Europe still on the calendar – in Argentina, Malaysia, and Thailand – have all been canceled. Taking their place at the end of the season is one extra race, officially unspecified as yet.

A few days after the events of the Andalusian Grand Prix, with time to let what happened in Jerez to sink in, there was a lot that missed in my Sunday race notes.

If you want to know about Yamaha’s high hopes and deep concerns, Rossi’s podium return, the Ducatis, KTMs, and what it might mean for Brno and Austria, first go back and read it on MotoMatters.com. Here’s what I missed the first time around.

He came. He tried. But in the end, it proved impossible. Even for a man whose ambition and competitive drive burns as fiercely as Marc Márquez’.

After riding with fewer problems than he feared on Saturday morning, the fracture in his right arm started to swell in the afternoon, and made riding impossible.

Marc Márquez was forced to face the limits of human endurance and willpower, and accept that racing on Sunday would not be.

Saturday afternoon was the first time that the media had had a chance to actually speak to Márquez since his crash last Sunday.

He hadn’t spoken to the media after the race – for the obvious reason that he was injured and needed medical attention – nor had he spoken to us on his return to the track.

His mind was focused laser-like on Saturday morning, when he would get a chance to ride – skipping Friday was part of the deal he made with HRC before they would even allow him to get on a bike – and he wanted no distractions.

But on Saturday afternoon, after his body had forced him to throw in the towel, Márquez finally told us exactly what happened a week ago, when he crashed out of the race, and kicked off the roller coaster ride which ended with him pulling into his garage after a single lap during Q1.

After trying to ride on Saturday at Jerez, Marc Marquez has been forced to pull out of Sunday’s Andalusian Grand Prix at Jerez. The Repsol Honda rider rode reasonably well in FP3, and was passed fit after the session to continue.

But Marquez started to struggle in the afternoon. The reigning champion put in a stint of eight laps on his first run in FP4, but only went out for two more after that.

He attempted to ride in Q1, but came back in directly after his out lap, and walked out of the back of the garage and into the truck.

Same circuit. Same weather conditions (more or less). Same riders (more or less). Same bikes (more or less). So why do we even need practice? Why not just skip all of Friday and go straight into qualifying on Saturday?

Compare the combined standings at the end of the first day of the Spanish and Andalusian Grand Prix.

Just five of the 22 entries are within one position of their place in the combined standings of both FP1 and FP2 at the end of Friday: Maverick Viñales, 2nd-1st last week and this, Jack Miller 6th-7th, Fabio Quartararo 15th-14th, Pecco Bagnaia 18th-17th, Tito Rabat 19th-18th.

The rest of the field varies wildly. Discounting the walking wounded – Marc Márquez, who didn’t ride, Cal Crutchlow, and Alex Rins – riders are five, even ten positions further up or further down the order at the end of Friday practice.

Franco Morbidelli was 12th last week, 4th this week. Andrea Dovizioso was 4th last week, 10th this week. Valentino Rossi was 13th last week, 2nd today.

Rossi may be one of the few exceptions, in that he has made significant improvements since last weekend, though more of that later. For the most part, the difference is not necessarily of speed, but of strategy.

With a weekend of practice and racing under their belt, most teams and riders already have a clear idea of where they stand in terms of setup, and so are working on minor changes in pursuit of a few more tenths.

There was a lot more work on race setup, and a lot less on chasing a quick lap for Q2. Q2 can wait until Saturday morning.

As the restart of the 2020 WorldSBK Championship draws near, Dorna and the FIM have issued an updated calendar.

In the previous version of the calendar, the British, Dutch, and Qatar rounds of the WorldSBK series were listed as to be determined.

These three races, at Doningon Park, Assen, and the Losail International Circuit, have now been canceled due to the organizational headaches created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday, June 27th, 2013, Jorge Lorenzo took a flying lap around a soaking wet Assen during FP2, and hit a patch of water at Hoge Heide, the blisteringly fast right-left flick before the Ramshoek and the GT chicane.

The Spaniard hit the ground hard, breaking his left collarbone. Trailing Dani Pedrosa in the championship by 7 points, Lorenzo decided to fly back to Barcelona for surgery.

Lorenzo flew to Barcelona on Thursday night, had his collarbone plated in the Dexeus Institut that night, and spent Friday morning recovering. Friday evening, Lorenzo was on a plane again, on his way back to Assen, and contemplating riding.