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David Emmett

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This weekend, MotoGP bikes have been rolling onto the track for the start of the 2020 season.

They have done so almost completely out of the public eye (prompting the philosophical question of if an RC213V is fired up at a circuit, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?) as three days of the MotoGP shakedown test gets underway at Sepang.

The shakedown test was a private test, meaning it is closed to the media and public. There is no live timing publicly available from the test, and lap times are probably unreliable, as teams and factories release the times they want to make public (if any), rather than a neutral timing system recording every lap.

2020 sees the start of a new decade (convention has it that decades are zero-based, going from 0-9, so please, numerical pedants, just play along here), and if there is one thing we have learned from the period between 2010 and 2019, it is that a lot can change.

Not just politically and socially, but in racing too. So now seems a good time to take a look back at the start of the previous decade, and ponder what lessons might be learned for the decade to come.

It is hard to remember just how tough a place MotoGP was in 2010. The world was still reeling from the impact of the Global Financial Crisis caused when the banking system collapsed at the end of 2008.

That led to a shrinking grid, with Kawasaki pulling out at the end of 2008 (though the Japanese factory was forced to continue for one more season under the Hayate banner, with one rider, Marco Melandri), and emergency measures aimed at cutting costs.

That meant that in 2010, MotoGP had only 17 permanent riders on the grid, from four different manufacturers. Hondas filled the grid, supplying six of the riders with RC212Vs, while Ducati were providing five riders, including one to the newly joined Aspar team.

Yamaha supplied four bikes then, as now, though the Tech3 Yamaha team received satellite bikes, rather than the factory spec M1s the Petronas team has now. And Suzuki still had two bikes on the grid, though 2010 was the last year that happened. A year later, they were down to a single bike, and in 2012, they were gone.

On Thursday, Ducati presented its 2020 MotoGP team at a spectacular location: the Palazzo Re Enzo in the heart of Bologna’s main Piazzo Maggiore square.

Before the launch was live-streamed to the public, the main protagonists spoke to the media to lay out Ducati’s plans for the 2020 MotoGP season. And though nothing inside the team is changing, and factories always attempt to keep their cards close to their chest, they always manage to let one or two things slip, whether inadvertently or not.

Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali kicked off the press conference with a justification of why Ducati goes racing. The crux of his argument was that disruptive technologies and a rapidly changing political environment made it imperative for companies to be as independent as possible. That meant being able to rely on their own knowledge, and not having it taken away by outside factors.

“To be economically independent, we at Ducati absolutely think that investment in research in development is crucial,” Domenicali told us.

“And we at Ducati consider racing as the most advanced part of our research and development. And when we put together all the effort for racing, for production bike research and development and all the tooling to make and produce new bikes for racing and production we are above 10% of our total company turnover.”

The first penny has dropped in the long march toward the 2021 MotoGP grid. Yamaha has announced that they have signed Maverick Viñales to a two-year deal, for the 2021 and 2022 season.

The move marks a clear decision, both on the part of Yamaha and the part of Viñales. The Spaniard had offers on the table from two other manufacturers, with Ducati especially keen to sign Viñales for 2021.

But, assurances given to Viñales about his role in developing the Yamaha M1 helped him make his decision. Viñales is to determine the future direction of Yamaha, based on the strength of his performance in the second half of 2020.

After the press conference part of Ducati’s 2020 MotoGP launch, we got a chance to ask Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall’Igna a few more questions about the Italian factory’s plans for the coming season.

Dall’Igna expanded on some of the things he had told the press conference, such as his priority for the Desmosedici GP20, and how he expected the new Michelin rear tire to affect the racing.

But Dall’Igna also answered some other questions as well. The Ducati Corse boss talked about why he wanted more power from the GP20, the support on offer for Johann Zarco, how he sees rider contracts, and Ducati’s thoughts on racing in Endurance.

He even fielded a question about Marc Márquez, and managed to answer it by not answering it.

For the second winter in succession, Marc Márquez is recovering from shoulder surgery to fix a problem with dislocation.

It didn’t slow him down much in 2019, the Repsol Honda rider finishing the season opener at Qatar in second place, losing out to Andrea Dovizioso by just 0.023 seconds.

He went on to win the next race in Argentina by nearly ten seconds, and crashed out of the lead in Austin. It was to be the only time Márquez finished outside of the top two.

So when Márquez decided to have surgery on his right shoulder last November (in 2018, it was his left shoulder which was operated on), he was confident of a quick recovery.

Testing resumes today at Jerez for the WorldSBK class. At least, it will if the track dries out enough to make conditions usable. Heavy overnight rain has soaked the track, and more rain is expected over the next two days.

The WorldSBK field will be hoping for dry track time for a lot of reasons, not least because it will be the first time that the Honda CBR1000RR-R will be seen at a public test.

As the world of motorcycle racing starts to get into the swing of things, activity is starting to ramp up.

The first of the MotoGP factory launches is due this week, Ducati to present their 2020 livery and (unchanged) rider line up in a 13th Century palace in the middle of Bologna.

That event happens on Thursday evening, January 23rd, and I will be attending to try to find out more about Ducati’s plans for the coming season.

The other factories will have to wait. The three Japanese factories will be launching their bikes just ahead of the Sepang test.

Since they returned to the MotoGP paddock officially – and not under the guise of the ART, the RSV4-based bike which raced first under the Claiming Rule Team banner, and then in the Open Class – Aprilia has struggled.

Their MotoGP program got off to a bad start, the loss of Gigi Dall’Igna to Ducati forcing them to reschedule their plans.

Romano Albesiano, who took over as head of Aprilia Racing, found it hard to combine his role as lead engineer with the organizational duties of managing the racing department.

Albesiano came from a development and engineering background, and seemed to lack interest in the practicalities of a running a race team. Those took time away from developing the RS-GP, and so the project floundered.

2020 is supposed to be a big year for Aprilia. The reorganization instigated by Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola has helped free up lead engineer Romano Albesiano to design a brand new RS-GP from the ground up. The bike is expected to be much more competitive than the 75° V4 which has served them up until now.

But they enter 2020 with every chance of being without an important part of the MotoGP program. Andrea Iannone’s lawyer confirmed to Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport that Iannone’s B sample from the drug test he failed in Sepang has also come back positive. The Italian now faces a four-year ban for use of the anabolic steroid drostanalone.

The quantities found in the sample were minute, Iannone’s lawyer Antonio De Rensis told Gazzetta. “The counter-analysis showed the presence of metabolites equal to 1.15 nanograms per milliliter,” De Rensis said.

Taking into consideration that the sample was extremely concentrated due to Iannone being dehydrated from the hot and humid MotoGP race in Malaysia, that would point to an even lower concentration, De Rensis claimed.

This would corroborate the theory of accidental contamination through food, according to Iannone’s lawyer.

The world of MotoGP and WorldSBK has been relatively quiet for the last two weeks, as factories close and teams and riders take time off to celebrate their various holidays.

Very little has happened, with people off around the world, and only now returning to prepare for the 2020 season.

As we wait for the bikes to be back on track, and thus the news flowing again, here are the headlines that are tracking during the off-season.