2020 keeps throwing up surprises. If having eight different winners on four different manufacturers, including the rookie Brad Binder, wasn’t enough, the array of riders qualifying on the front row is remarkable.
Twelve different riders have qualified on the front row of the grid, if we include Alex Rins as the twelfth at the Teruel Grand Prix, or Aragon 2. That is over half of the 22-strong grid.
It was a much more pleasant day that greeted the MotoGP riders for the second round at the Motorland Aragon circuit. Air temperatures for FP1 were 18°C on Friday morning, versus 11°C a week ago.
Temperature differences were less marked in the afternoon, but the big difference was in the wind: it had returned since last week, but was not the icy affair it had been previously.
Riders had a chance of making it from Turn 14 all the way to Turn 2 without losing all temperature in the right side of the front tire and ending up in the gravel. Only three riders crashed today, as compared to eight a week ago.
It is groundhog day again for MotoGP, the paddock back in the place they left – or in many cases, never left – last Sunday. Some did, of course, and may have picked up the coronavirus as a result.
Riccardo Rossi, of the BOE Skull Rider Moto3 team, is one of those, the Italian now quarantined at home after testing positive for the virus, and forced to miss the race.
Rossi – Riccardo, not Valentino, who is also still at home in Italy – tested positive on Wednesday. There is a chance that the Moto3 rider caught the virus on his way home from Spain to Italy.
For the past couple of months, rumors have been doing the rounds that Spanish oil giant Repsol was about to withdraw its sponsorship of the factory Honda squad, and Red Bull would step in to take over as title sponsor.
It looked like we would have another twist in this weird and unsettling season this morning. At Turn 14, the current MotoGP championship leader’s Yamaha M1 got a little squirrelly as he rode over the kerbs.
A little too squirrelly, the front stepping out and then the rear gripping and flicking Fabio Quartararo up into the air, and down onto his left hip. When the Frenchman finally slid to a halt, he struggled to get up, clearly in enormous pain.
He was stretchered into a waiting ambulance, and taken off to the medical center.
For a while, it looked like this could be a serious blow to Quartararo’s title chances, handing the advantage to Joan Mir.
But scans and X-rays revealed that the Petronas Yamaha rider had gotten off relatively lightly, with only bruising and a hematoma in his left hip.
A match for the bruise to his right hip suffered in a crash on Friday morning.
There is a particular type of crash which happens in the wet. A rider will be heading toward a corner, and will start to brake for a corner. At the moment they start to tip the bike into the corner, the front wheel whips out from underneath them almost instantaneously, dumping them on the floor.
The crash happens without warning, and without there being anything the rider can do about it. One minute you are up, the next you are on the ground.
The crash happens because on a wet track, grip is unpredictable. Tires cool, and where you thought there was traction, there was in fact none. A tire that might have been working on one side a couple of corners previously has lost so much heat due to the rain, the wind, that the grip you had previously disappears into thin air.
We saw a lot of those crashes in MotoGP FP1 this morning at Aragon, despite clear blue skies and a bone dry track. The reason? The track temperature was simply too cold, and as a result, the tires don’t reach the required temperature either.
The rubber which is soft and sticky when up to temperature is suddenly stiff and slick as glass, like the tires on a 1:12 Tamiya replica of a MotoGP bike.
Johann Zarco and Fabio Quartararo both went down at Turn 14, a notorious point for that particular type of crash to happen.
Andrea Iannone’s doping saga appears to be coming to an end.
In a press release issued today, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced that the court would issue its decision in mid-November on the two appeals lodged against Iannone’s 18-month ban for testing positive for drostanolone, handed down by the FIM International Disciplinary Court (CDI). Those appeals were heard on Thursday, October 15th.
In Brno, it was a TV cameraman. In Austria, it was a rider in the Red Bull Rookies Cup. At Misano, it was Jorge Martin. At Le Mans, it was a Yamaha engineer.
And at Aragon, the coronavirus finally reaches the MotoGP grid, with Valentino Rossi testing positive for the virus on Thursday afternoon, before he was scheduled to depart from his home in Tavullia to travel to Aragon.
It was inevitable really. As case numbers start to explode at the start of the European winter, and with a group of 1400 people traveling between their homes (if they are lucky – staff from outside of Europe are stuck in Europe until the end of the season, with no opportunities to see friends and family until almost December) and various race tracks, the probability of Covid-19 hitting the paddock was large.
Despite the rigorous protocols put in place by Dorna for MotoGP (compare and contrast with WorldSBK, where things are much less strict) Valentino Rossi has tested positive, along with a number of other paddock workers.
It is an open question whether we make it to the end of the season, or even past the Grand Prix of Teruel at Aragon next week. As cases rise, the need to be leading the championship grows ever more imperative.
“It was a very tricky day in Le Mans, like always,” was the verdict of Fabio Quartararo on Friday evening, after a wet morning session and afternoon practice on a track which was rapidly drying, but never quite dry.”
“He spoke for just about everyone, the track proving especially treacherous in the afternoon, ending FP2 almost completely dry with a few damp patches, enough to catch a few riders out, including Aprilia’s Bradley Smith and Aleix Espargaro, Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso, KTM rookie Brad Binder, and the LCR Honda of Takaaki Nakagami.
Most were just harmless falls, the front washing out on a damp patch, but Bradley Smith found himself propelled into the air when the traction control on his Aprilia RS-GP couldn’t react quickly enough to the rear spinning up when he hit a damp patch on track.
And so we enter the final stretch of the 2020 MotoGP season – and the fact that six Yamaha engineers are stuck in Andorra due to one of them contracting Covid-19 is a reminder that the end of the 2020 season might come sooner than expected.
MotoGP heads to Le Mans, for the French Grand Prix, not in May, when the series usually heads there. That means cooler temperatures, not just in terms of air temperatures, but in solar intensity as well.
Le Mans in early October gets four hours less sunshine than in mid May, and with the sun much lower in the sky, it doesn’t heat the asphalt as much even when it is hidden by curtains of cloud, or drenched in rain.
But Le Mans has some saving graces. Firstly, the weather in October is pretty much as you might expect, something which proved problematic in Barcelona, where temperatures were about 10°C colder than expected.
One unnamed Yamaha engineer has tested positive for Covid-19 in the period between Barcelona and Le Mans, and as a result of MotoGP’s bubble structure, the group of six engineers, including M1 project leader Takahiro Sumi, have been quarantined in Andorra and are to miss the French Grand Prix at Le Mans.