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David Emmett

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And so a strange and unexpected season draws to a close.

Fifteen rounds of Grand Prix motorcycle racing – fourteen rounds of MotoGP, after the premier class were forced to skip the opening race at Qatar at the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic – were far, far more than we expected in the early months of the year.

It is a credit to Dorna, the manufacturers, and to the teams that we have made it this far. It hasn’t been easy, and it meant squeezing a punishing schedule into a very brief period of time, and limiting the number of tracks and countries MotoGP visited, but in the end, we got our money’s worth.

So it is fitting that we end the 2020 MotoGP season at a brand new venue MotoGP has never visited before, the first new track since Buriram joined the calendar in 2018.

It was supposed to be a steady, stable weekend with consistent weather for all three days of the Valencia MotoGP round. But it’s 2020, so of course, that didn’t happen.

After a solid day of dry weather on Friday, conditions turned on Saturday. Not by a lot, but just enough to render chasing a quick time in practice and qualifying a treacherous business, with light rain coming and going throughout.

After the track dried in FP3, it never really rained hard enough to need wet tires. But there was just enough rain at times to make grip supremely treacherous, and to force riders to take bigger risks than they might have wanted.

“Well, for sure I think we are not the fastest, but it’s only Friday.” A common enough refrain after FP2, with another day of practice and qualifying to go before the race on Sunday. But when it is championship leader Joan Mir saying it, on the weekend he could wrap up the title, is it a sign of trouble?

So far, Mir has been remarkably calm and composed under pressure. He has impressed even nine-time world champion and MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi. “Nobody bet on Mir at the beginning of the season, but already in the last races of last season he did a big improvement and also in the winter test he was strong,” Rossi told us on Friday evening.

It is Groundhog day one last time. The last of the back-to-back races at the same tracks beckons, the riders returning to the scene of last week’s triumphs and tragedies.

Will we see a repeat of last week? Will there be another Suzuki Ecstar 1-2? Will the KTMs be at the front again? Will Ducati have another worrying weekend? Does Yamaha face disaster again?

The weekend certainly kicked off with a repeat performance of Valentino Rossi’s Covid-19 saga. Last Thursday, news started to leak that Valentino Rossi had failed a COVID-19 test, and would not be able to travel to Valencia for the European round of MotoGP.

In the end, he had two positive tests 24 hours apart and missed only the Friday sessions, taking to the track on Saturday morning for FP3. That gave American rider Garrett Gerloff his time in the sun, or rather, the rain, the spray, and the sun, the weather wreaking havoc last weekend.

Valentino Rossi had a narrow escape this week, after initially failing another COVID-19 test. The Italian produced two more negative tests, and has been cleared to race at the Valencia round of MotoGP.

The Italian had flown back to Italy on Sunday night, and on Tuesday had a PCR test. That test came back positive with a very low viral load, a result which can occur with people who have had COVID-19 and have had symptoms.

Andrea Iannone has lost his appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against his suspension for failing a drug test.

The CAS ruled that Iannone had failed to prove that he had ingested drostanolone, the banned substance that had appeared in the urine sample taken from him after the Sepang race, as a result of eating contaminated meat. 

Both Iannone and the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) had appealed against the 18-month suspension imposed by the FIM’s International Disciplinary Court (CDI).

Andrea Dovizioso’s future is becoming increasingly clear, and his choices are going to have a knock on effect for the test rider market.

According to a report from Motorsport.com‘s Oriol Puigdemont, Dovizioso has decided to take a sabbatical and spend a year racing motocross, in the hope of making a return to MotoGP in 2022.

What is the point of free practice? It is to prepare bike, rider, and team (not necessarily in that order) for Sunday’s race. On a good weekend, you spend Friday testing your base setup and getting an idea of which tires to use.

On Saturday, you refine the setup and check how your preferred tire lasts over something approaching race distance. In warm up on Sunday morning, you might try a final tweak in search of more tire life or a fraction more performance.

The penultimate piece of the 2021 MotoGP rider puzzle has fallen into place.

As has long been reported, Luca Marini and Enea Bastianini will be riding for the Avintia Ducati team next year. The young Italian pairing will be riding updated Ducati GP19s, with strong support from Ducati.

It was an open secret that Bastianini would be moving up to MotoGP after the Italian Moto2 rider announced as much at Misano in September.

Marini’s move was also long-anticipated, as protracted negotiations continued over how the VR46 Racing structure would replace the funding lost by replacing Tito Rabat, who had a contract with Avintia for 2021.

Those details took a long time to sort out, but are finally settled.

It has been such a bad day for Yamaha that I feel bound to start this report off with the highlight for the Japanese factory: Franco Morbidelli finished in the top three for both sessions of free practice on Friday at Valencia.

He and Petronas teammate Fabio Quartararo are directly through to Q2, at least provisionally, dependent on the weather on Saturday morning.

Garrett Gerloff, replacing Valentino Rossi in the Monster Energy Yamaha team on Friday, was very impressive, getting up to speed quickly in very difficult conditions, despite not having any experience of either MotoGP bikes, Michelin MotoGP tires, or the Ricardo Tormo Circuit at Valencia.

And Valentino Rossi’s second PCR test came back negative, meaning he can take over from Gerloff again from Saturday morning.

That was the good news. The bad news was pretty terrible, however, bad enough that it made even a cynical old hack like me feel sorry for Yamaha’s PR staff.