Some MotoGP Notes on the Aftermath of the Spanish GP

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An awful lot happened at Jerez on Sunday, when the 2020 MotoGP season resumed/started. First, an update on Marc Márquez.

After a preliminary examination in hospital, with the swelling of the initial trauma surrounding Márquez’ broken humerus starting to reduce, doctors are optimistic that Márquez has not suffered damage to the radial nerve in his right arm.

That would greatly improve his chances of a speedy recovery, a pin or plate enough to hold the bone in his upper arm together. Dr Mir, overseeing Márquez’ care, told the media that Márquez could be ready to race in Brno.

That would mean missing just a single race, the Grand Prix of Andalusia, to be held on Sunday at Jerez once again. But it would also leave Márquez a long way behind in the championship in an extremely shortened season.

Defending his title would not be impossible, but would take an even more exceptional performance than last year, where he only finished either first or second.

In the worst case scenario, where there is some kind of nerve damage, Márquez would be out for a three or four more weeks, which would mean skipping Brno and both races in Austria.

That would mean losing five races out of thirteen, leaving just eight remaining. Coming back to win a title after that would be pretty much out of the question.

Slow Hand Jack

So to the things I didn’t get round to mentioning on Sunday night. Obviously, much was rightly made of Andrea Dovizioso’s podium at Jerez, his first in the MotoGP class, and how it affects his negotiating position with Ducati.

But we shouldn’t overlook the fact that Dovizioso was the first of four Ducatis in the top nine. Jack Miller crossed the line in fourth, while his Pramac Ducati teammate Pecco Bagnaia finished seventh. Danilo Petrucci, still suffering the consequences of a big off at Turn 11 during Wednesday’s test, still managed to take ninth place.

Miller seemed slightly disappointed on Sunday after narrowly missing out on a podium. “It could have been better, but this was a really good race for me,” the Australian told us. “If you compare to last year at Jerez, these conditions and such a long time without racing fourth was good. The most important thing for me today was finishing the race.”

That proved more difficult than expected, with a recurrence of an occasional numbness in his right hand. Miller put that down to an issue with the compulsory brake protector fitted at the end of his handlebar.

“The biggest problem I had was some numbness in the hand from halfway through the race. We need to work on my position on the handlebars for this because from this point I was a sitting duck. The bike felt great, the tires felt great but I lost the feeling of the grip and couldn’t be as smooth on the throttle.”

Hang Off

Miller’s theory is the fact that he spends so much time hanging a long way off the right-hand side of the bike at Jerez, with its many long, fast right corners. “I had the same problem here last year, and I think it’s because you’re sitting outside the bike so much,” the Pramac Ducati rider explained.

“Sitting in the garage with the boys and thumbing through what it could have been, we’re hanging off the bike so much, with half the hand off the outside grip on the bars, that I felt some tenderness in my hand from when I put my hand back on the bars. We’re going to try something different with the brake protectors for it.”

“Marc hangs half his hands off and I do the same but I don’t think it’s arm pump, I think it’s to do with how I hang on to the handlebars through right handers because it’s not an issue through left handers.” The brake protectors are only compulsory on the right handlebar, protecting the front brake.

The heat was absolutely punishing, Miller told us. “It was physical with riders in a group and my body was absolutely cooking out there because it was so hot. With the other bikes I was getting baked and my hands and feet were boiling.”

The Australian was pleased with how his fitness had held up. “It was physically and mentally draining but I never felt out of breath on the bike. It shows that you don’t need to posting photos of you training with no shirt on every second day to prove you can ride a bike.”

Thirteenth, But Much Better

As with Ducati, where Andrea Dovizioso took the spotlight in a remarkably strong performance, Pol Espargaro’s outstanding ride with the KTM also overshadowed the result of his rookie teammate.

Brad Binder crossed the line in 13th, nearly 30 seconds behind the winner, Fabio Quartararo, one place behind Alex Márquez, as last rookie and the last of the factory riders.

That does not sound impressive. But Binder’s finishing time was marred by a long excursion through the gravel after a mistake at Turn 5, the right hander leading on to the back straight.

“When I grabbed the front brake I locked up the front wheel a bit and when I put the angle to keep the bike turning I lost the front,” the South African said. “I just managed to pick it up and took a trip through the gravel, which messed up my race obviously and left me 26 seconds down.”

He followed it up with the usual PR-friendly apologies to his team. “I need to say sorry to my team because today we could have done a good job and taken a good result.”

When riders say that, it is usually more the eternal optimism which every top athlete has to have to keep their self belief. But in Binder’s case, he was not kidding.

What If?

How good a result did Binder miss out on as a result of running through the gravel? If you take out his worst two laps – the first lap, including the start, and lap 7, the lap in which he ran wide – then he completed the other 23 laps in 38:01.508.

By comparison, if you do the same for race winner Fabio Quartararo, his fastest 23 laps took 37:58.105, 3.4 seconds faster than Binder on the KTM. Compare that with Maverick Viñales’ best 23 laps, and Viñales’ time of 38:03.625 is 2.1 seconds SLOWER than Binder.

If you repeat the exercise, but just take out the time lost in the crash – by replacing his time in lap 7 when he ran wide with an average of the times set in laps 6 and 8, then Binder’s overall race time would have been 41:27.207. That is 3.4 seconds slower than Quartararo’s winning race time of 41:23.796, and 1.2 seconds FASTER than the 41:28.399 race time of Maverick Viñales, who finished in second place.

There are a lot of things wrong with this kind of speculation. For a start, it takes no account of the fact that Viñales spent a good deal of the race having to worry about Andrea Dovizioso and Jack Miller, while Binder had clear track ahead of him, and could just focus on riding.

But the fact that Binder had the pace for second place on his debut is a remarkable achievement, and one which risks going unnoticed in the excitement of the opening round.

What Could Have Been

Marc Márquez finished third in his first MotoGP race. Jorge Lorenzo finished second. Though we have no way of knowing how the race would have played out if Binder had not run wide on lap 7, he could have found himself in elevated company indeed.

Binder had surprised even himself with his speed. “I knew I could be there in the group, with the guys,” he said. “I didn’t know I would be able to sit there quite comfortably. That was a bit of a shock for sure.”

“I expected to be absolutely on the edge from lap one to the end and it turns out MotoGP is quite a lot similar to racing any other bike! It’s still a motorbike, and it’s the average time over 25 laps that gets the job done. The big difference I saw today is that anyone can do these super-quick laps in qualifying.”

“All in all it was great to up there with these guys. I also got an amazing start and I felt good. Unfortunately after the big mistake I just settled into my rhythm and tried to get to the end and it turns out that my pace was really competitive. I look forward to giving it a try next week.”

While the opening weekend was a success for Yamaha, Ducati, and KTM, it was nothing short of a disaster for Suzuki. Alex Rins crashed in qualifying, fracturing his right arm and forced to sit out the race.

Joan Mir made a mistake while trying to pass Bradley Smith and crashed out. During preseason, the test, and much of practice, the Suzukis had proved to be highly competitive. But all that went for naught on Sunday.

“Really disappointed,” Mir said after the race. “At the end I’m not happy. We made a bad start. Then I lost a couple of positions. I need to work a little more on the starts. It’s difficult to maintain our position.”

“Then when all the bikes were more or less in line I started to overtake some riders. I was behind Smith who made a super good start. In turn 9 he slowed down a lot and I tried to overtake him in that point and I lost the front.”

New Normal for Moto2

While MotoGP were getting their first taste of action in 2020, it was a restart for the Moto2 and Moto3 classes at Jerez.

That had been somewhat peculiar affair for the smaller classes, especially for Moto2, given that they found themselves racing just after sunset, with much better grip conditions, instead of in the heat of the day, as had originally been scheduled before the MotoGP race had been canceled.

The radically different grip at Jerez shook out a couple of the surprise runners at Qatar. Joe Roberts had been a star in the opening round in the desert, but on track rendered greasy by the Andalusian heat, Roberts struggled, finishing outside the points. Bo Bendsneyder, another surprise package in Qatar, had exactly the same problem.

Tetsuta Nagashima, on the other hand, proved his victory in Qatar was no anomaly. The Japanese rider couldn’t match the pace of Sky VR46′ Luca Marini, but the Red Bull KTM rider finished second, and now has a comfortable lead in the championship.

Marini and Jorge Martin had both struggled with front tire choice at Qatar, but both riders came good in Jerez, Marini taking victory while Martin crossed the line in third. Sam Lowes finished fourth, a strong result after missing the race in Qatar with a shoulder injury.

Some semblance of normality appears to have returned to the Moto2 championship. The real surprise is Aron Canet, who finished fifth in Jerez, improving on his eighth place in his Moto2 debut at Qatar. The Aspar rider has adapted to Moto2 with impressive speed.

Asia Rising

The Moto3 class nearly saw a repeat of the podium at Qatar, but John McPhee tried a little too hard into the final corner, putting himself on the outside on the exit of Turn 13, where he was nudged off track and into the gravel.

Albert Arenas and Ai Ogura did return to the podium, Arenas taking his second win in a row, and now with a clear lead in the championship. Arenas is looking exceptionally solid in 2020, managing the Jerez race methodically and cleverly.

Ogura’s second-place finish at Jerez, coming on top of third at Qatar, is illustrative of the strong cohort of Japanese riders currently in the lower classes.

Ogura, Tatsuki Suzuki, Ayumi Sasaki, and Yuki Kunii all emerged through the Asia Talent Cup, the Dorna-backed series created as a pathway into Grand Prix racing for riders from Asia. With Ogura comfortably second in the Moto3 standings, it seems fair to say that has succeeded.

Photo: MotoGP