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David Emmett

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It has been a long winter. Longer than normal. Under normal circumstances, MotoGP bikes would have been on track in Sepang a month ago. But as we have learned the very hard way, these are anything but normal circumstances.

The Covid-19 pandemic has demanded the very utmost of human endurance and organizational ingenuity to try to have even the slightest semblance of normality.

But on Friday it starts, at last. The first official MotoGP test of the year kicks off with the shakedown test for the test riders, and an extra day of riding for the three true MotoGP rookies, Luca Marini, Enea Bastianini, and Jorge Martin.

The entire MotoGP grid will join for two days of action on Saturday and Sunday, and the prelude to the 2021 MotoGP season will be well and truly underway.

Entire MotoGP grid? Not quite. Marc Márquez will not be present at the test, the Repsol Honda rider still in the midst of the rehabilitation process from the broken right arm he suffered 8 months ago at Jerez.

He will not participate in either of the MotoGP tests. And it seems extremely unlikely he will participate in the first two races in Qatar either. But he will race this year, and his return will probably be sooner rather than later.

2021 is going to be a decisive season for Valentino Rossi. Then again, we have been saying that for some time, as the 42-year-old Italian MotoGP legend continues his career well beyond what even the most experienced MotoGP hands ever expected.

Will he carry on racing? Has he still got what it takes to chase podiums and win races? Is a seventh MotoGP title and tenth Grand Prix title still a realistic possibility?

Those are big questions after Rossi’s worst ever season in Grand Prix racing. The Italian scored his lowest points total with 66 points from 12 races, his lowest points average at 5.5 points a race, and his worst finishing position in the championship with a 15th position.

He scored a single podium, matching his previous worst season tally in Grand Prix in 2011, when he also ended with just one podium during his disastrous first year at Ducati.

Franco Morbidelli was the surprise of the 2020 MotoGP season. The Petronas Yamaha SRT rider shocked the MotoGP world by finishing second in the championship, and comfortably the best Yamaha rider, on a year-old M1 machine.

But Morbidelli went into the 2020 with very little pressure on him. After a mediocre 2019, in which he had been overshadowed by his teammate Fabio Quartararo, expectations for him were low.

That was not how Franco Morbidelli saw it himself. Angry and frustrated at his performance in 2019, he massive stepped up his training and focus for 2020. That effort paid off handsomely, with three race wins and a second place in the MotoGP riders championship.

Morbidelli goes into 2021 in a very different position. Universally acknowledged as one of the favorites for the title, a great deal is expected of the Italian, despite once again being the only Yamaha rider on the older, 2019-spec M1.

He has a new teammate, Fabio Quartararo having departed for the factory team, while Morbidelli’s long-time friend and mentor Valentino Rossi steps down from the Monster Energy Yamaha squad to join him in the Petronas Yamaha SRT team.

After yesterday’s launch of the Petronas Yamaha SRT team, today the media got a chance to speak to Franco Morbidelli.

It was a fascinating interview, in which Morbidelli revealed himself to be part athlete, part poet, and part philosopher, and showed a remarkable sense of perspective.

Morbidelli spoke of his ambitions for 2021, his relationship and rivalry with Valentino Rossi, and the importance – or lack thereof – of racing.

Fausto Gresini, double world champion and long-standing Grand Prix team manager, died this morning as a result of complications arising from a COVID-19 infection.

The 60-year-old Italian was being treated for COVID-19 in the intensive care unit of the Carlo Alberto Pizzardi hospital in Bologna, Italy.

Gresini had been diagnosed with COVID-19 shortly before Christmas 2020. His condition worsened sufficiently for him to be admitted to hospital shortly after Christmas.

From there, his condition grew worse, occasionally showing only minor improvements, but the disease caused severe damage to his lungs, meaning he required help breathing for long periods of time.

The toll from the disease mounted up, Gresini eventually succumbing to the complications arising from COVID-19.

Around this time in a normal year, we would be back from the launch of a couple of the MotoGP manufacturers, and looking forward to a couple more as we prepared to travel to Sepang for the first test of the year. But this is not a normal year, of course. Nor was last year, for that matter.

So instead of packing my bags in preparation of the test at Sepang – originally scheduled for February 19th-21st – I, like the rest of the media, are checking our microphones and internet connections to get ready to do the MotoGP launch season from home.

And not just the launch season: in all probability, the media won’t be allowed to physically attend a MotoGP race for the first half of the 2021 season at the very least. But at least we will have a 2021 MotoGP season.

A huge fire has destroyed a large part of the facilities at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina, home to the Argentinean round of MotoGP.

The fire started in the early hours of Saturday morning, and damaged the building housing the pit garages. Fortunately there were no casualties.

According to a statement released by Héctor Farina, Director General of the circuit, the fire destroyed the pit complex, the media center, the VIP rooms, and Race Control.

For the first time since 2014, a rider prepares to defend the MotoGP title for the first time in their career.

But, the circumstances in which Joan Mir is preparing for the 2021 season are very different to who Marc Márquez prepared after he won his first MotoGP title back in 2013.

The Covid-19 pandemic means no mass celebrations, no jetting around the world to have his photo taken with sponsors, to fulfill the requirements in his contract. No going directly from the previous season into testing, with barely a break in between.

Joan Mir has had plenty of time at home, with media engagements few and far between, a necessary consequence of the pandemic. He has been in his home in Andorra, training, working to get ready for the coming season.

Earlier this week, he spoke to a group of journalists about the year ahead. And here, too, he reaped the benefits of the pandemic: he participated in a large-scale media event from comfort of his home.

No time wasted traveling, just change into a team shirt, sit down behind a laptop, and fire up the webcam.

He was as professional in the zoom debrief as he has been in every aspect of his career. And the zoom debrief was as well-organized and smoothly-run as we have come to expect from the Suzuki Ecstar team.

It’s hardly a surprise that Joan Mir won the 2020 MotoGP title.

Just hours after the Brno circuit announced that it would not be hosting World Championship motorcycle racing, another MotoGP round bites the dust.

In this case, though, it is merely a postponement for a year, with the Thai government announcing that the Buriram round of MotoGP will not take place in 2021, but that the five year contract has been shifted along a year.

According to a story in the Bangkok Post. the Thai government has reached an agreement with Dorna to skip the race in 2021, but to extend their contract to host MotoGP to cover the period from 2022 to 2026.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the MotoGP calendar. The second and third rounds of MotoGP, at Termas de Rio Hondo in Argentina on April 11th and at the Circuit Of The Americas on April 18th have been officially postponed.

In their place, Qatar will host back-to-back races at the Losail International Circuit on March 28th and April 4th, and reserve circuit Autódromo do Algarve at Portimao will host a race on April 18th.

Though officially only postoponed, the Argentina and Austin rounds are almost certain to be canceled, a move which had long been expected.