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David Emmett

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The Red Bull Ring has faced much criticism in the six years since MotoGP started going back there, mostly about the safety of the riders on track. But one thing that gets overlooked is the circuit’s propensity for generating drama off track.

In 2020, we had Andrea Dovizioso announcing he would not be racing with Ducati again in 2021.

In 2019, we had the drama with Johann Zarco splitting with KTM, with additional drama around Jack Miller possibly losing a place to Jorge Lorenzo, who would return to Ducati to take Miller’s place at Pramac.

The year before, Yamaha had held a press conference in which management and engineers officially apologized to factory riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales for building a dog-slow bike that left them 11th and 14th on the grid.

Spielberg was the place where Romano Fenati got into an altercation with the Sky VR46 Moto2 team, and was sacked in 2016.

So much discord and division. Perhaps the circuit is built on a conjunction of ley lines, or perhaps the Spielberg track was built on an ancient cemetery where the contemporaries of Ötzi were buried.

Or perhaps the middle of a MotoGP season is when tensions generally reach boiling point. The latter explanation is the most likely, perhaps, though a good deal less entertaining.

Yamaha has suspended Maverick Viñales from participating in this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring.

In a press release issued today, the Monster Energy Yamaha said Viñales had been suspended for “the unexplained irregular operation of the motorcycle by the rider during last weekend’s Styria MotoGP race”.

According to Yamaha, this behavior was visible in the data logged by the Yamaha M1, and that data forced Yamaha to draw the conclusion that “the rider‘s actions could have potentially caused significant damage to the engine of his YZR-M1 bike, which could have caused serious risks to the rider himself and possibly posed a danger to all other riders in the MotoGP race”.

Though Yamaha would not expand on this statement when asked, the behavior they are referring to is clear from reports by people at the track, and is visible in the lap times.

It has been a fascinating day of thrilling action at the Red Bull Ring. Records have been broken, riders have pushed the limits of their bikes, and the fans – back in full force at last – have added some of the atmosphere that has been missing during the long Covid-19 pandemic.

There was elation and heartbreak, a sensational pole in MotoGP, and above all, glorious Austrian summer weather.

Yet it all lacked a sense that it stood outside reality, had no bearing on the actual racing, nothing to do with MotoGP. Perhaps that is the illusion of a return to racing after such a long summer break, the longest in recent history.

But more likely, it is because while the fans lapped up the action under the sunshine, we all knew that whatever happened on Saturday is likely to be undone by the weather gods on Sunday.

Franco Morbidelli is to race for the Monster Energy Yamaha team next year.

Speaking to us, Yamaha Motor Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis confirmed that the Italian is to move up to the factory team for the 2022 season, once the details of the contract have been sorted out.

Jarvis was speaking to us as part of a much larger interview to be published after the Austrian round of MotoGP.

Morbidelli’s move to the factory team is a result of a situation which was hard to imagine at the start of the 2021 season. Back in January, Yamaha looked to have one of the strongest rider lineups in MotoGP.

In an ideal world, MotoGP teams can use practice to prepare for the race on Sunday. Test tires in FP1, make setup changes in FP2, finalize the setting in FP3 and FP4, then into qualifying to be ready for the race.

In an ideal world, conditions are comparable enough through all practice sessions on Friday and Saturday to find the optimal setup choices for Sunday.

But we don’t live in an ideal world, of course. Temperature differences and changing conditions leave a lot to a mixture of experience and guesswork. Even then, as long as you have dry weather, you can get pretty close.

It was an odd day today. The moment we heard that there would be an extra press conference to be held by Valentino Rossi, the work of a journalist goes into overdrive.

Preparing a story for if he announced his retirement, worrying whether to write an alternative story, for if he had announced he would be switching to Ducati and racing in his own team, putting out feelers to see what people thought the announcement would be.

Weighing rumors that he would be doing one thing or another.

The most remarkable thing about today’s announcement was that nobody knew which way it was going to go.

Normally, decisions of such import leak out; there were rumors that Jorge Lorenzo was going to retire for weeks before hand, Casey Stoner’s retirement had been credibly reported at least three weeks before the announcement, and Dani Pedrosa’s retirement had been telegraphed for a long time.

Even Rossi’s decision to drop long-time crew chief Jeremy Burgess had been leaked to the press a week beforehand.

And in truth, the leak probably forced Rossi’s hand, and into making an announcement before the Valencia race, instead of after it. Rossi got his revenge later, however, planting a false story with the same journalist a year or so later.

If it’s scenery you’re after, the Red Bull Ring, or Spielberg, or Zeltweg – choose your favorite name for the Austrian circuit – is hard to beat.

Mugello maybe? The Italian track sits in a valley, rather than being set up against the lower slopes of a mountain, but Spielberg wins on the mountain backdrop behind it.

Phillip Island, perhaps? The Bass Strait makes for a stunning setting, but is it more dramatic than the Austrian Alps which frame the Red Bull Ring?

It’s race week again. For both the MotoGP and WorldSBK paddocks, with the World Superbike series also making its debut at a new track, the Autodrom Most in the northwest corner of Czechia 55 km south of Dresden and 75km northwest of Prague, and which looks on paper to offer a nice, varied array of corners and challenges.

But WorldSBK at Most (be ready to be drowned in a tidal wave of superlative-based puns) comes after just a single weekend away, the production-based series having raced at Assen two weeks ago.

MotoGP is back after its longest summer hiatus in recent memory, a whole five-week absence from racing.