MotoGP went all ‘Groundhog Day’ by welcoming the riders and teams back to Jerez just days after it played host to the belated 2020 MotoGP season opener.

Nonetheless even a few short days was enough for the news cycle to keep rotating at a furious rate of knots as Marc Marquez went from Jerez to the Barcelona operating table and back to Jerez in three short days despite initial fears he’d be out for several events.

Of course, it’d prove a threshold too high for even the most ‘alien’ of them all, Marquez calling quits after qualifying to then watch Fabio Quartararo notch up a second win and in so doing open up a 50 point lead over him.

In truth, there weren’t many weak links in Spain this weekend with race day fallers at least showing pace prior to that, which in turn allowed some of the lesser fancied riders to shine instead. But who gets our thumbs up and down this week…?

 

 

THE WINNERS

Valentino Rossi

Yes, there were faster riders this weekend and yes, he was a touch lucky to get a podium but the gulf in performance between this Sunday compared with last Sunday was enough to make even the most cynical VR46 onlooker crack a smile.

While big steps forward week-to-week aren’t extraordinary in MotoGP, the fact Rossi was pedalling the same lines that became something of a predictable throughout the second-half of 2019, few expected the Andalucia MotoGP to be substantially different.

But it was from the get go on Friday, Rossi keeping himself near the sharp end all weekend and looking racy when it mattered too by circulating in second for much of the race and having the measure of Maverick Vinales until the penultimate lap, something he hasn’t been able to say for a while. Pecco Bagnaia’s retirement from second helped give him a literal leg up onto the podium but this step forward was important for the way it was unexpected.

The trick, however, will be to apply it everywhere…

Pecco Bagnaia

While Andrea Dovizioso’s ‘will-he, won’t-he’ back and forth with Ducati in their contract negotiations has been a fairly constant staple of the headlines for the past few weeks, it’s easy for forget that in fact four of the six Ducatis on the grid don’t have a confirmed rider yet.

However, Pecco Bagnaia took a big step towards officially cementing a prolonged stay with the manufacturer into 2021 with another eye-catching turn on the privateer Pramac Ducati.

Surpassing his week-old career-best qualifying by nabbing a maiden front row start ahead of every other Ducati, Bagnaia carried it through into the race as comfortably out-performed his higher profile team-mate Jack Miller (who crashed anyway) to run in second position… until his GP20 cried enough with seven laps to go.

A cruel outcome but potentially a teaser for what Bagnaia could do with a factory ride next year if Dovizioso and Ducati cannot meet those terms…

The underdogs show their bite

Quartararo and Maverick Vinales notwithstanding, the Spanish MotoGP and the Andalucia MotoGP races were nowhere near the copy/paste races many were expecting, despite the almost identical conditions.

Indeed, this weekend was definitely more about the underdogs coming to the fore, most notably Takaaki Nakagami. The Japanese rider sauntered to a modest 10th in Jerez last weekend, but a glance at Marc Marquez’s data for the 2019 RC213V Honda he now rides led to visible improvements.

So much so he topped two practice sessions this weekend and kept his head as others lost theirs to pick his way up to fourth, a career-best result that spared Honda’s blushes in the wake of Marc Marquez and Cal Crutchlow’s ailments.

Though we’ve (perhaps controversially) listed them under the ‘loser’ category this time (let us explain below), Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder deserve to be highlighted for their exemplary Saturday efforts. Oliveira on the Tech 3 KTM deserves particularly praise after reaching Q2 for the first time via Q1 before placing it fifth on the grid – a vast improvement on his previous best of 13th.

It’s a shame the race lasted more than 10secs…

MotoGP makes the wait worth it

While it’s all well and good casting opinion from the comfort of our own thinking chairs – something we all do, usually daily when it comes to MotoGP – but while Dorna has copped some flack in the past on various matters by us as much as yourselves, it deserves nothing but credit for hosting two events that were so unaffected by COVID-19 that we’d totally forgotten there were no spectators in attendance. We’ve even gotten used to the masks…

Indeed Dorna, the FIM and every one of the many people involved in making MotoGP happen sifted their way through an unprecedented and logistically demanding challenge over several weeks to ensure the show went on and two trouble-free events to kick off the year is the best reward it could hope for.

Honourable mentions:

Alex Marquez: The rookie was heading for our 'losers' list after qualifying last of all on Saturday, but he made strong gains in the race - attrition of not - to secure eighth. That's already a better result than Jorge Lorenzo managed in 2019...

Alex Rins and Cal Crutchlow: While a footballer rests up for weeks with injury, these guys are out and being competitive just days after surgery. Foolhardy or not, that takes some pretty firm teeth clenching...

The Losers

Andrea Dovizioso

In much the same way Valentino Rossi ascended the order this weekend, Andrea Dovizioso was the opposing tide to simply go the other way. While the Italian was tempering his expectations for this weekend by emphasising just how much above expectation his podium was a week earlier on the unfavourable Jerez circuit, he still wouldn’t have been expected to be that far back.

In the end sixth doesn’t look so bad from 14th on the grid, Dovizioso doing what he does best with a focused, error-free performance on a bike otherwise not performing to its best.

The following rounds in Brno and the Red Bull Ring will represent an interesting test for Ducati since it’s a team that traditionally goes well at both circuits. However, they occur at the top end of the season this time meaning the GP20 isn’t quite as developed as its predecessors would be, while in Dovizioso’s hands at least, it’s not close to being where he wants it to be.

He will have three rounds to work it into his favour (one in Brno, two at Red Bull Ring) but if Ducati cannot get the measure of Yamaha and at least be close to Marquez on the Honda, it’s title hopes probably end there.

KTM

OK, sure, this needs a little explaining … Fair, KTM don’t come away as losers this weekend per se. In fact, on Friday and Saturday they were even quicker than a week earlier when they produced – as a unit – its best race weekend since entering the sport.

However, it’s the final tenths, the final adjustments and the finesse that will take KTM into the upper echelons of the sport week-in, week-in and it’s tougher than it sounds. Indeed, the KTM is the bike spending the most time laying down in the gravel trap compared with its rivals – mostly because of Iker Lecuona be fair - but silly errors completely negated its evident speed this weekend.

First Pol Espargaro upstaged himself next to his less experienced team-mates by crashing in Q2 to leave him down in 12th and by extension seventh on race day, then Brad Binder committed the cardinal sin of taking out his team-mate Oliveira. Not only that it was at Turn 1 just moments after getting underway from career-best grid slots. It will always be hard to spin a situation like that, but this particularly seemed to be a major missed opportunity.

In terms of raw pace, the first Pedrosa-inspired KTM RC16 appears to have made the biggest step forward of any team out there, while Binder is proving a greater revelation than many expected and Oliveira looks to have made a sizeable jump over 2019 too.

But the fine margins in MotoGP are such that multiple niggles will add up and leave you with just one seventh place finish from four starters. The result would have been looked at very favourably last year but instead looks like an underachievement.

 

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