Archive for the ‘Moto’ Category

MotoGP: Catalunya Off, Season in Peril

April 6, 2020

© Bruce Allen

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya announced today that the MotoGP race scheduled for the weekend of June 7 will be postponed. This, then, pretty much seals it for Mugello, which is scheduled for May 31st, in the heart of coronaland in northern Italy, which is absurd. Which then leaves, as things now stand, a season-opener in the friendly confines of The Sachsenring in eastern Germany on June 21st.

As if.

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At first one thinks, “Well, they’ll jump someone into the 5/31 and 6/7 slots, take a week off and then proceed to Germany and Assen for a Round 4.” But here’s the problem with that thinking. That’s Old Thinking, when big crowds in confined spaces were to be desired. To think that some venue somewhere, anywhere, today, is going to invite a MotoGP weekend while the virus rages at numerous places in the world–that they would jump the line for the privilege of doing so–is Old Thinking.

New Thinking recognizes that the 2020 season is not going to happen. If, by October or November, the Powers That Be stage a few “friendlies,” testing sessions with prizes awarded, with a handful of locations and fans chosen by lottery or antibodies, that would likely be it. No records would be kept of the competition. The results from Qatar in March for Moto2 and Moto3 would be entered in the record books but would not be recognized as actual 2020 championships. They would be race results and nothing more.

Personally, I don’t believe any of this is going to happen. No country with sane leadership would allow such a thing to happen. Poor Finland, who tried so hard to have their shiny new track ready for a race weekend in July, is going to have to keep the track afloat for a year or so while the long-term nature of these viruses is discerned.

Screenshot (123)My worry is, as one of the doctors discussing the issue said recently, that coronavirus becomes, until an effective vaccine is developed, tested, and given to seven billion people, a seasonal virus, like the flu, but that kills a lot more people. It would mean that ‘social distancing’ would become somewhat built-in to American/global living, waiting for development and distribution of an elusive vaccine. Which might or might not be effective against your particular strain of the virus, of which there are many.

Ergo, it appears that the 2020 MotoGP season is toast. This raises a number of questions for riders. It was looking like Fabio Quartararo and Valentino Rossi would trade Yamahas in 2021, with the Frenchman moving up and the legend moving down. We here thought that was a ridiculous idea, even if Vale had been able to complete his victory lap on the factory bike in 2020, blowing kisses to the fans amidst clouds of day-glo yellow smoke. Without the victory lap, it sounds like Rossi still wants a final season on the factory bike.

What kind of problems, one wonders, does that cause for young Fabio, who seems determined to be The Next Great Rider. Beyond the Yamaha guys, there are questions about the status of premier class contracts across the board, excluding Marquez, since all but one were, in 2020, the second year of two-year deals, with a bevy of theoretical riders hitting the market for the 21-22 seasons. Marquez has signed with Repsol Honda/ HRC until forever. Which means he got to spend this year working on his shoulder and his tan, playing video games, and making €16 or 20 million along the way.

It’s good to be the king

If coronavirus does, in fact, become a seasonal thing, coming back year after year, live Catalunya2 sporting events would appear to be something of the past. The notion of a world without sports, without concerts, without festivals, even conventions–you get the picture–is unsettling, to say the least. MotoGP would likely become just another relic of the good old days, of Sundays at legendary places like Mugello, with 100,000 drunk Italians yelling for Rossi, riders making moves in the slipstream, the noise incredible, the tension almost physical.

If this is it, this was good stuff.

Best Case: No MotoGP Until June

March 21, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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As of this morning, MotoGP is scheduled to open its 2020 season, Round One, in early May at Jerez in southern Spain. From there, the paddock is to travel to Le Mans two weeks later, followed by Round Three at Mugello two weeks after that.

Ain’t none of that happening.

Spain’s rate of infections and deaths has begun to soar. The French have already taken steps to limit gatherings. And Mugello sits at Ground Zero for the most serious outbreak in the world, in Italy. As April arrives, one can be certain to hear that first Jerez, then Le Mans, then Mugello will all be “rescheduled,” which is becoming Dorna’s equivalent to every parents’ response of “we’ll see,”–just a different way of saying no.

Dorna says you need 13 rounds to make it a season. The riders and teams are lobbying to reduce that number, perhaps to 10. Whatever. Our previous diatribe on the domino theory still applies. The virus is working its way in swaths across the globe, and no racing event or venue has any guarantee of being legally allowed to proceed. Assuming they held a race, how many fans would attend anyway?

The world as we knew it three months ago no longer exists, at least for now. The new world is smaller, poorer, and isolated, reduced to living life online. Entire industries are going to get scoured from the American scene–restaurants, movies, bars, professional and college sports, the list goes on. If this becomes some kind of semi-perpetual situation, with good seasons in the summer and bad seasons in the winter, most retail businesses face ruin. A world in this condition is not one which will be able to continue to support the racing industry. MotoGP sponsors, whose businesses are getting hammered, are going to be bailing on contracts for a sport that could be mothballed for another year or more.

Not wishing to sound overly apocalyptic, I am concerned that a five race MotoGP season in the late fall would not be worth doing. The juice, as it were, is not worth the squeeze. As much as I want to watch these guys race, it appears the world has shifted on its axis. It is hard to admit that this season is already screwed, but it’s the truth.

We will all stay on top of it. Thanks for stopping by.

 

COTA Closes Indefinitely

March 17, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Circuit of the Americas Closes Indefinitely

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This release yesterday from COTA. in Cycle News.

IMS ownership may be wondering: Could the MotoGP paddock return to the once-majestic, currently-owned-by-Roger-Penske old lady, who’s received more layers of paint over the past century than you’ve had birthdays?

Saturday night--Motorcycles on Meridian

Motorcycles on Meridian on Saturday night, 2008

Although the seating capacity is unreal–250,000–the layout itself is dull, narrow, flat and slow. If COTA goes down for the count, IMS could get the 2021 race by default. TV-wise, NBC, currently suffering a severe case of buyer’s remorse, will have a hard time making it look full unless Penske does the right thing and let all comers in for free on Saturday, which will bump sales on Sunday, given the hair-raising capacity of the bikes and riders.

Saturday gives neophytes FP3 and FP4, Q1 and Q2 in all three classes. Bikes, as many know, are on the track all day, doing ridiculous stuff. For people with some racing in their blood it is a brand new world. It’s better now than it was back when it was held here annually. Penske knows a thing or two about racing and marketing, and should be able to get 100,000 paying fans in on Sunday. It could happen. It could also be a first step toward bigger things here for MotoGP, if there’s not a Hurricane Ike, the way there was in its initial 2008 visit.

Just not this year. If, for some reason, MotoGP came to Indianapolis in, say, October, presuming the flyaway will be cancelled, getting the place ready and improvements made would be a slapdash affair, unlikely to spur attendance. Maybe it would work out. If it could be worked out, Penske is the guy to get her done. But fans in the American midwest, including the writer, are hoping it returns to the Motor Speedway next year.

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Spain declares national emergency over coronavirus

March 13, 2020

MotoGP 2020 and The Domino Theory

March 11, 2020

© Bruce Allen

For those of you too disgustingly young to remember, in the game of post-WWII geopolitics, many on the right found credence in the following graphic as it relates to the spread of Global Communism, the evil to end all evils. This theory was what got us into Vietnam.

Domino Theory

First it was the cancellation of Round 1 in Qatar (the big bikes only), followed quickly by the postponement of Buriram to later in the year, pushing Aragon up a week. A warm-up for the dreaded flyaway rounds in October and, now, November. This week, COTA postponed the Americas Grand Prix to November 15, pushing Valencia back to November 22. Argentina had no virus cases when they defaulted into the newest Round 1 scheduled for April 19; today there are 17. Does anyone see a pattern here?

Jerez is scheduled for May 3. Some might want to wager that it will become Round 1; others, such as myself, suspect that it, too, will be postponed. The ‘rona appears to be doing The Wave on the planet, migrating somewhat randomly from place to place, seeking the old, those without medical care, thriving in cold weather. Each person infected incubates the virus for five days during which he will infect two other people. The point here is that if the virus follows its current, ahem, vectors, it could push the season back to Christmas, limit it to a half schedule, or scrub it altogether. This is a concern.

Prior to posting this article, this news bulletin appeared.

 

 

MotoGP 2020 Season Preview–Part Two

March 9, 2020

© Bruce Allen. This column was written before the coronavirus kicked the hell out of the 2020 season schedule. We’re posting it anyway, as is. 

The Stuff I Left Out of Part One 

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini: Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone 

It’s spring, and the swallows of optimism return to the Capistrano of the MotoGP grid. The best thing about the preseason is that everybody’s undefeated; unbounded hope and ridiculous projections are the order of the day. This extends to the heretofore downtrodden factory Aprilia entry. To say the 2020 version of the RS-GP is an improvement over the 2019 version is to not say much. But to hear Aleix tell it, the new bike is a burner, one upon which he would be a consistent podium threat were the season to start today. Isn’t that adorable?

Allegations of PED use by #2 Andrea Iannone are still unsettled at this writing, but it looks like the Italian will be drawing some kind of suspension, as if things couldn’t possibly get worse for the team. Iannone has protested his innocence while the attorneys did everything possible to get his status confirmed before the Qatar test. Didn’t. I would love it if the bike were suddenly fast; good for all concerned. Either way, 2020 appears to be a pivotal year for Aprilia in MotoGP. We would like to see them stick around.

LCR Honda: Cal Crutchlow and Takaa Nakagami 

The odd couple. The grizzled, acerbic Brit we’ve known for so long alongside the calm Asian youngster coming off surgery that ended his season last year. Still recovering, still throwing it out there. Owned, lock stock and barrel, by HRC, who sees him as the Next Great Japanese Rider, one of which they’re in desperate need. Land of the Rising Sun and all that. No telling if Nakagami is that rider for the long haul, but he is for now, and can expect a slow start to the season. Last year, as a sophomore, he finished 13th, just behind Joan Mir, with two DNFs and the three DNS to end the season after his brutal off at Motegi, in front of the suits.

Cal, once again, must accept the fact that his bike was not designed around him, but around Marquez, and that he’ll never be as fast as Marquez despite “being on the identical bike,” which is true but misleading. Beyond that fact, he did an ankle, like, two years ago and it’s still messed up, plus he’s getting old. His gait, when he gets as old as me, will resemble three-time Oscar winner Walter Brennan, Grandpa McCoy on The Real McCoys, a TV sitcom from back when men were men and women were glad of it, as my friend Joe observes.

Cal carries a lot of titanium and is old for his age. This should be his last year in MotoGP, unless he wishes to take a step backwards with a lesser team. As devoted to his family as he appears, I expect he will call it a career, one which might have been different if only blah blah blah. He had a couple of premier class wins in 2016 and a number of others since that slipped away. He will have trouble keeping it in the top ten in 2020 and will need to avoid the six retirements he endured last year.

So, Honda’s satellite team will have trouble putting either rider in the top ten for the season. 2021 appears to bear the promise of change in the ranks.

KTM MotoGP Program in General

This is about one manufacturer and two teams. The highly directive Austrians running the show see no reason they should not become the top manufacturer in MotoGP and Moto3. The riders, writers and critics, however, see oodles of reasons they will not soon displace Honda from the top of the heap. This infuriates the Austrians, who, in turn, devote yet more budget to their project, raising expectations and putting enormous pressure on the riders.

So, as most of you know, the riders on the #1 Red Bull team will be veteran little brother Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder, recently called up from Moto2, one of the last of the KTM Mohicans before its exit from Moto2, a South African rider accustomed to wrestling untamed bikes and watching Hondas flying by on the straights. The RC16 fits both descriptions. Binder, instead of Miguel Oliveira, got the #2 factory seat for a variety of reasons, most of which worked against Oliveira, who ends up on the #2 team again, this time “mentoring” another rookie call-up from Moto2, Iker Lecuona. The musical chairs at KTM are mostly a result of Johann Zarco saying no mas late in 2019, creating a hole in the program.

It would astonish me if any of the four KTM riders were to finish the 2020 season in the top five. The top ten would be less astonishing but still a major surprise. Pol claims a noticeable increase in grunt; I suspect that’s little more than the swallows returning to Capistrano. I have friends who read this stuff who are huge KTM buffs and get mad at me all the time for my negative outlook. To which I can be counted on to reply, “Scoreboard, baby.”

The Satellite Ducati Programs

The secondary and tertiary Ducati teams, Pramac and Reale Avintia, head into 2020 with decidedly different prospects. Pramac, whose riders have put pressure on the factory riders for a few years, boasts Australian badboy Jack Miller and Italian high-potential sophomore Pecco Bagnaia, both of whom will be seated upon brand-new GP20 Desmos, both of whom have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. Miller seems destined to take over a factory seat in 2021, probably Petrucci’s, while Bagnaia undoubtedly has designs on Dovizioso’s ride in, say, 2023. Miller had a solid 2019, Bagnaia not so much, though on a year-old bike. Miller has a top five look to him while Bagnaia could be a top tenner if he can keep the shiny side up. As was the case last year, his positive pre-season testing results are once again raising expectations.

Reale Avintia Ducati, on the other hand, has a slightly sweetened deal with Ducati Corse but year-old bikes and two questionable riders. Johann Zarco, whose prospects as a Tech 3 Yamaha rider once seemed unlimited, came apart with KTM last year and now faces a rebuilding job on his reputation. A year-old Ducati may not be the best place to undertake such a task, but beggars can’t be choicey. Teammate Tito Rabat, a Moto2 world champion, is now a journeyman MotoGP rider with plenty of sponsor money hoping to score points, period. He, too, carries around a lot of titanium. Contract wise, his deal expires at the end of 2021, an off-year agreement that I’m sure someone somewhere understands.

Petronas Yamaha SRT

By now, a number of readers will have suspected that in my rush to get this to the editors I left out the most exciting young team on the grid. All eyes will be on the two satellite Yamaha riders when the season opens in Qatar. Sophomore sensation Fabio Quartararo, who sounds French but is mostly Spanish, had a phenomenal rookie-of-the-year season in 2019 and comes back this year on a full spec M1, ready to rumble with Marquez and Co. Franco Morbidelli, his Italian teammate, has great expectations as well, as the older Yamahas have, in many cases, out-performed the current version. Quartararo got his ticket to the factory team punched a few weeks ago.

Both riders were fast in the Qatar test, as were Vinales, and Rins on the Suzuki. In this last test, the Hondas were lagging all three days until, they claim, they found the elusive setting they sought and now everything is A-OK for the season opener. Please compare the results in last year’s Qatar test with the final 2019 standings.

The message here, if any, is that we are not to get too excited over what takes place during the Qatar test or, for that matter, the Qatar round, as it is an outlier in too many ways to be predictive for the season. At first glance it appears Yamaha and Suzuki are big fans of the new Michelin rubber, while the Honda and Ducati riders are singing the blues. Rookie Brand Binder was the top KTM rider during the last test, in P9. Aprilia, I’m hearing, is under pressure to cut ties with Andrea Iannone, facing a PED suspension, though there must be more to it than that. This appears to be a program in disarray, needing to decide if they are going to fish or cut bait, as it were. This getting hammered each week by what they probably view as inferior brands must be getting to some of the suits. Like standing under a cold shower tearing up thousand euro notes while getting screamed at. Living the dream.

Once again, during these long, predictable Marquez years, we find ourselves hoping that things won’t get settled until Valencia, but mostly believing it will be a bunch of really fast riders, Alien-class riders, chasing a fully-healed Marquez as the season makes the first big turn at Jerez. From there, it’s in God’s hands. If Marquez finishes 18 of this year’s 20 races, he will win the title. Assuming he does, the chasers will include Quartararo, Vinales, Morbidelli, Dovizioso, Rins and Miller. Mir, Petrucci, Rossi perhaps, for old time’s sakes; his protégé Bagnaia an occasional appearance. Much the same as last year. And the year before that. And, if memory serves, the year before that.

Seriously, I have told MO that I’m only going to post stuff when it’s important or I have a bee in my bonnet. At times this column becomes like work, and I was never all that whooped up about work. Same thing with reality. As Groucho Marx, my comedic hero, once observed, “I’m not that big on reality, but it’s still the only place you can get a decent meal.”

Let’s go racing.

Argentina confirms 6 coronavirus cases

March 9, 2020

 

Health authorities in Argentina announced six new cases of novel coronavirus on Friday, according to a press release from the government of Argentina.

This brings the country’s total number of cases to eight.

According to the statement, all six new cases had traveled to different European countries. Those diagnosed with the virus are two women and four men between the ages of 57 and 72-years-old.

Qatar: Premier class race scrubbed.

Buriram: Race delayed until fall.

Austin: City under state of emergency.

MotoGP 2020: Screwed.

MotoGP: Coronavirus is now a thing

March 2, 2020

© Bruce Allen   March 2, 2020

Here we are, on the cusp of MotoGP 2020, and along comes your basic global pandemic just in time to disrupt the racing season. First, it was the premier class race weekend in Qatar cancelled, as all incoming travelers from Italy were to be put in mandatory 14-day quarantine, thereby defeating the purpose of returning to Doha. The lightweight and intermediate class bikes were already at Losail testing, and are staying and racing this weekend. The “crowd,” at these things is usually thin anyway; this year should be eerily sparse.

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Now we hear, just today, that Round 2 in Thailand is cancelled completely, but hopes to be re-scheduled later in the year. And it’s kind of silly to think that the xenophobic United States would allow a big ol’ group of ferners to invade–INVADE!!–Austin in April for COTA. By then, the U.S. should be in full bloom, virus-wise, with National Guard units stationed at all southern border crossings and ports-of-entry to block the entry of airborne pathogens into U.S. airspace. As if. Strong borders are healthy borders. Uh-huh.

Argentina, as of today, has no reported cases of the virus, making it one of the later countries in line to experience the essentially inevitable spread of the illness. Will it be there by mid-April? Given the state of the art in early March, one would argue yes. We could easily see Round 4 go up in smoke. Looking at the calendar, it is easy to envision, if one is in the right mood, the entire season being cancelled, one race at a time, the domino theory in full swing, until mid-season, when sponsors, etc., are going to want to pull the plug and cut their losses. It could happen.

What little I know about pathogens against which humans show little or no resistance is that they tend to multiply logarithmic-ally, the curve starting horizontal and quickly arcing to an almost vertical slope. Not everyone who is exposed to this one gets sick, and most of those who get sick recover; a mortality rate of around 2%. Which sounds small, until one considers the possibility that 2%, when applied to the billions of planetary inhabitants, comes out to a big number.

It seems clear that pretty much everyone everywhere is going to become exposed at some point in the not-too-distant future. Despite this fact, gatherings such as MotoGP race weekends are frowned upon, due to the proximity and numbers of fans, which would be less-than-usual anyway, for the same reason. All of which must have Dorna, the manufacturers, and the sponsors plucking their eyelashes out, one at a time, under such stress. When it’s deus ex machina at work, it’s time to call the insurance companies, who will cite “hand of God” in rejecting their claims. Call the lawyers.

Clearly, this is going to have a major effect upon the MotoGP season. The most important, from here, is that it gives Marc Marquez time to heal, and gives Honda time to figure out WTF is wrong with the 2020 bike. Everyone else, other than Andrea Iannone, looked ready to rumble.

A 16- or 17-race season, beginning in May at Jerez, might be the best thing to hope for. To hope that the virus, like the flu virus, gets worse when the weather is cold and kind of goes away when things warm up. But then there are those cases in Qatar already…

Therefore: The fate of the entire racing season depends upon whether the coronavirus becomes less, um, aggressive in warm weather. What little data I’ve seen suggest this is likely, in which case life in the paddock will go on in an abridged season. In the unlikely event it does not, we could be talking about the 2021 season before June.

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MotoGP 2020 Season: Team Projections

February 29, 2020

Here’s our annual look-ahead, 2020 version, at the team results we expect to see at the end of Round 20 in Valencia:

  1. Repsol Honda—Marc and Alex combine for 475 points.
  2. Petronas Yamaha—Could challenge for top team.
  3. Factory Yamaha—Ditto.
  4. Suzuki—A step away, but ascending.
  5. Factory Ducati—No real progress since last year.
  6. Pramac Ducati—Challenging factory team for #5.
  7. LCR Honda—Cal has peaked, Nakagami is hurt.
  8. Red Bull KTM—Improving. Binder looks good early.
  9. Avintia Ducati—Don’t see Zarco top-tenning.
  10. Factory Aprilia Gresini—A shot at 9th place, maybe even 8th?
  11. Tech 3 KTM—Oliveira will endure another year of misery.

MotoGP 2020 Season Preview – Part One

February 27, 2020

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The Marquez era marches on 

Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez is, as per usual, the early favorite to make it seven world championships in eight tries in 2020. Sure, there are a lot of fast challengers—Yamaha NKT (new kid in town) Fabio Quartararo, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso, Yamaha’s inconsistent Maverick Viñales topping that list—and Marquez is coming off right shoulder surgery. Sadly, the result is likely to be the same. If you’re planning to wager on anyone other than ReMarcAble Marc, best get yourself some odds.  

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The subtext to the season deserves some exploration. Several high-profile riders are approaching the end of the chain, career-wise. Names like Rossi, Crutchlow, even Dovizioso. Lorenzo is all but done. Likewise, as usual, there is a crop of dynamic young pretenders looking to get in on the big money. Guys like Fabio, the Suzuki duo of Alex Rins and Joan Mir, Ducati’s Jack Miller. Now that Marquez is a true legend, mid-career, he will be the target of all these fast movers, young and old. Heading into a contract year, typically a two-year-commitment (unless you’re #93—more on that later), means plenty of musical chairs. Young guns on the way up versus grizzled vets with surgical scars on the way out. 20 rounds of grueling travel and high-stakes riding. Hidden agendas. Palace intrigues. No real offseason—always testing, testing, testing.

All of which takes place in a breathtakingly expensive pursuit of second place. And less than that for the two manufacturers, KTM and Aprilia, who have yet to deliver the results envisioned by them and for them a number of years ago. Hope springs eternal for their riders, including the Espargaro brothers, as both factories are looking to become the next Suzuki alongside Honda, Yamaha and Ducati. Top tier. They appear to have taken another step forward but don’t appear to be there yet.

Marquez wields a heavy-enough bat that he was able to get HRC to sign his little brother Alex, the reigning Moto2 world champion, for the #2 seat on the team. His contract for 2021-24 (!) is already done. He has skills well beyond those of mortal riders and he loves what he does. He has a powerful motorcycle built to his specifications that only he can ride, as young Alex is about to discover. The world, in 2020, is his oyster. You can cut the tension with a feather.

Management has insisted on a complete MotoGP season preview from me, despite the likelihood of another Marquez title. I have agreed but am limiting my comments and observations to things about which I’m relatively certain, which, as many of you know, are few and far between. Despite my suspension by FIM, and having been blackballed by Dorna, Motorcycle.com wishes that I continue to submit “racing news.” Beginning now, the deal is I submit articles when there’s real stuff going on. Maybe 15 or 20 columns tops per season. I’m happy, getting out of the October grind. Evans is happy for some relief on his ‘subcontractor’ budget. Now, if someone would just send me to Finland.

You, the reader, however, are stuck, because I still have a few things on my mind.

In an effort to illuminate the fact that MO is getting a great deal from me, I am dividing the 2020 preview into two parts: 1) Most of the Stuff, and 2) The Stuff I Left Out of Part One. This should give you, the reader, the greatest collection of news you can use from the world of MotoGP, even if the organization thereof is rather incoherent. ‘We’ here at MO are tired of the predictable old formats and are seeking ways to bill management without having to do actual research or check specific boxes. Our goal is to become the Jack Kerouac of motorcycle journalism. As an aside, have you ever seen a more schizophrenic use of the editorial “we?”

This, Then, is Most of the Stuff 

As of Valentine’s day, subsequent to the Sepang test, we have an idea what’s in store for each of the teams, the easiest way to compare prospects of riders and machines. In keeping with our Dharma Bums approach to 2020, they are presented in no particular order, mostly as an exercise to see if I can remember them all. My most vivid recollection of the recent off-season was how Karel Abraham, after years of loyal, if not productive, service, gets unceremoniously hoisted from his Avintia Ducati seat in favor of downtrodden journeyman Johann Zarco. This change damages the future of the Brno round, as Karel’s dad owns the track and much of the country, and may react poorly to his son, the attorney, getting publicly ejaculated from his chosen profession, etc. Anyway, here goes.

MotoGP Teams and 2020 Prospects

Repsol Honda: Marc and Alex Marquez 

The good news about this new familial partnership is that dad Julià Márquez can now have both of his usual mental breakdowns simultaneously. And while everyone knows about Marc, young Alex, the unexpected Moto2 champion in 2019 despite several mediocre years there, rode his brother’s coattails to a MotoGP ride on the baddest premier class team in existence. He has been presented with a 2019 RC213V and told to go to work.

It could easily be a long year for Alex, on a steep, painful learning curve while big bro is taking home all the hardware. A long couple of years, now that you mention it. Perhaps it’s genetic, and young Alex takes to the Honda as a fish to water and finds himself some early top tens. It is easy to envision Marc in the role of mentor, as they truly seem to get along. It can’t be easy being Marc Marquez’s little brother but give Alex credit for standing in there and letting the comparisons shower down while he learns his trade at the top of the world.

One recent bit of news is that Marc will not be 100% when the lights go out in Qatar, rehabbing from surgery on his right shoulder for three months instead of the prescribed six. Not sure why he waited until January to have the surgery. The single, solitary pinpoint of light at the end of the 2020 tunnel is if Marquez gets off to a slow start, not returning to full strength until, say, Jerez. That pinpoint of light would be in the form of an Alien rider, a Vinales or Quartararo, say, getting off to a quick start, winning two or three, and creating a gap to Marquez leaving Argentina. A 60 or 70 point gap. Then, we might have us a horse race.

Of course, none of that is going to happen. But it paints a pretty picture, Marquez finishing third for the year, still in all the podium pictures, but the dream having received a dent due to injury which must, one assumes, be expected in this sport. Having largely escaped serious injury since 2011 in Sepang, one could argue he is overdue. He’ll probably laugh off the shoulder and win the opener and win in Austin and head back home fully healed and ready to rumble again in 2020. #93.

The bad news, for the rest of the riders, is that Marquez’ new contract with HRC is a four year deal, twice as long as a “normal” contract. The somewhat contrived notation that Rossi, for instance, won titles with two different manufacturers, so there, gets flushed willingly by Marquez, who essentially has an entire division of a major international industrial conglomerate devoted to keeping him happy and on top. And no Andrew Luck nonsense for our boy Marc, who still keeps very little titanium in his person. For a guy who pushes the limits of adhesion for fun, he’s had surprisingly few bone-shearing crashes in his career. More hair-raising saves than wrecks.

Factory Movistar Yamaha Team: Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales

Perhaps the most intriguing team in the 2020 championship, for a host of reasons. This will be nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi’s farewell tour, blowing kisses to legions of yellow-clad screamers amidst clouds of fluorescent yellow smoke, fright wigs in place, wanting to be able to tell their kids and grandkids  they saw the great Valentino Rossi during his final appearance at [insert track name here]. Rossi, on an improved Yamaha, settling for top-tens during his last season which should have probably been 2017.

Anyway, Rossi will be an absolute marketing machine in 2020 before taking over a MotoGP slot and going after more championships as an owner/operator. Some of the luster has come off his ranch, as a number of his fast young protégés have failed to launch in Moto2; for a while there it seemed like most of the young fast movers were all coming through Rossi’s academy. Rossi will not be a factor in the 2020 championship. He will, however, factor positively into the bottom line at Dorna, which will ride him hard this year. For me, the notion that he would accept a contract with a satellite team for 2021, even with Yamaha, is unfortunate, since doing so would make him just another top ten rider. Not good. Stop at the top.

Maverick Vinales, once considered championship material, now considered by most to be contender material, recently signed for 2021-22 with Yamaha, positioning himself as the unquestioned #1 rider on what was once the best bike in the business, pre-Marquez. The 2020 M1 has impressed management enough to sign Vinales to a new deal, confident he will be able to compete for a title on the latest iteration. Maverick Vinales will battle for second place this year—you heard it here first.

Factory Ducati Team: Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci

Early rumblings from Petrucci suggest the 2020 Desmosedici has surrendered the advantage it enjoyed as recently as last year on tracks with long straights, lowering expectations. He turned in a credible performance at the Sepang test while Dovizioso dawdled in the teens, just not really into it. Dovizioso, who entertained dreams of world championships as recently as three years ago, has probably reached the conclusion shared by many others that this is not going to happen. He will settle for the money, the notoriety, the top-five finishes, the celebrity. Not a bad way to earn a living. Capable of scoring a win here or there.

Danilo Petrucci is, to put it bluntly, too normal-sized to win a title in MotoGP. He regularly rides the wheels off his Ducati only to finish seventh, the victim of rear spin and tire wear. Seems like every team owner wants to get rid of him, and that Gigi was shopping his seat to Vinales this past winter. Dude came from nothing, riding an Ioda-Suter in 2013, to within fractions of a second of fame and glory, a story shared by other riders in The Marquez Era. Paging Dani Pedrosa. Now, his size still a factor, he contends, especially at friendly tracks, such as Mugello, where he recorded his first career premier class win last year. I find myself pulling for Danilo; not sure why. Local boy makes good, perhaps. They are going to take away his factory seat next year, pretty sure. Very Darwinian around here.

So I figure Dovizioso fourth for the season, Petrucci 8th. Does that constitute a successful season for Ducati Corse? I think not. I think the racing division needs to ask itself some serious questions about the bike and the riders. They do not appear destined to factor in the championship to any great extent. And a hypothetical 2021 team of Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia would not be expected to threaten Marquez.

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR: Alex Rins and Joan Mir

The 2020 Suzuki team, one of the few outfits without a satellite team, does have itself a young pair of badass riders. As has been the story ever since the factory returned to MotoGP in 2015, the GSX-RR handles like a dream but still lacks sufficient top-end to compete for the full-season podium. These two guys are IMO prime candidates to switch teams heading into 2021, as they may both believe their careers are being stifled by the hardware. Doing so may be the answer to their dreams or the stuff of nightmares. Paging El Gato.

Rins, beginning his fourth premier class season, has shown steady progress, going from 16th to 5th to 4th last season, certainly capable of a top three finish as long as the creek don’t rise. Smooth and fast, he continues to make unforced errors in races that cramp his overall results. In between crashes, he is a consistent top four threat, and had his first two career wins last year.

Mir, a blur in Moto3, a fast learner in Moto2, enjoyed his rookie season enough to place 12th for the year with 92 points, three DNFs and two DNS. His second time around should be majorly improved; he was truly remarkable in Moto3 and has that same extra something that #93 has. Cat quickness. An internal gyroscope turning high RPMs. Rins, I believe, will enter the Alien ranks within three years. Just probably not on a Suzuki. Same for Mir.

While We’re on the Subject 

Without wishing to get ahead of ourselves, we need to keep one eye on the teams that will have open seats at the end of the 2020 season. Not the factory Honda or Yamaha teams. Petronas Yamaha will have at least one. Suzuki may have two, as could Ducati. KTM and Aprilia, almost certainly, depending upon how the year goes. Riders seeking greener pastures in 2021 will not likely find them on the top two teams.

Part Two will post in the next few days.


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