The VROOM Blog: #SanMarinoGP – Morbidelli masters Misano for maiden win

 In MotoGP, News

I think I might have to invest in a thesaurus if I have to keep coming up with words to describe this season! Every time I think to myself that it’s going to settle down, and someone will take charge of this championship those 22 superstars go out and prove me wrong. I’m not a fan of being wrong, but I am thoroughly enjoying this.

After 2 full weekends off – which felt like ages – this weekend in Italy was the first of two back to back rounds at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, and the first of a mammoth run of 9 races in 11 weeks.

There were two rumours circulating in the days running up to the weekend – one would prove to be untrue (or denied at least) and the other true. Firstly there were reports that the Petronas team who have still not officially announced Valentino Rossi for next season were rumoured to instead be interested in signing Andrea Dovizioso, and that Rossi would retire. Petronas team boss Razali Razlan quickly put those rumours to bed, posting on his Facebook page that they were ‘not considering Dovi at all for 2021’, and Rossi himself denied retirement rumours, calling them clickbait and saying that he is in no hurry to sign, but that the deal is nearly done.

The second, and more concerning story was that there was a rider who had tested positive for Covid-19. It was confirmed that Moto2 title contender (and potential Pramac Ducati rider for 2021) Jorge Martin had tested positive, but was asymptomatic and isolating at home. He is hoping to return for next week’s second race at Misano, but will obviously have to be retested before he can travel to the circuit. Hopefully we’ll see him back in action soon.

The season of discontent continues in the Factory Ducati team with Danilo Petrucci telling journalists on Thursday that he is not currently having fun on his bike, and that perhaps living ‘in a house divided’ is not helping. Ducati of course find themselves in the position of having both of their factory riders departing at the end of this season, with Danilo off to Tech 3 to ride a KTM, and Dovi going, well nobody knows where he is going at the moment, but he will be leaving Ducati. Jack Miller will step up from Pramac Ducati to race in red next season, and we now know that Johann Zarco will not be riding with the Avintia team next season, but will remain on a Ducati.

Also confirmed this weekend was Moto2 title challenger Enea Bastianini’s signature on a Ducati contract, and although he says he doesn’t know which team he will ride with, he is likely to fill the seat vacated by Zarco. So will we see Zarco in the red of the Factory team next season or will he ride for the Pramac team? I’m not a betting person, but if pushed I would have gone for Zarco to Pramac with Pecco Bagnaia stepping up with Miller to the Factory team. That would leave one seat remaining at Ducati next season – the second Pramac seat, which is looking likely to go to the aforementioned Moto2 rider Jorge Martin.

Talking to Suzi Perry on Sunday morning, Pramac Ducati team manager Francesco Guidotti confirmed that it was possible that Pecco would step up to the Factory team and that Zarco will be with his team next season (I should’ve placed that bet) alongside a rookie. When asked if that rookie would be Martin, Guidotti wouldn’t confirm but did smile and say that an announcement might come next weekend…

Big news this weekend also was the fact that fans were being allowed into the circuit for the first time this season. 10,000 fans were lucky enough to be able to witness the spectacle of MotoGP live. Lucky, lucky people! Would they be able to see Rossi take his 200th GP podium at home?

Thursday afternoon saw both Pecco Bagnaia and Cal Crutchlow passed fit to ride as Pecco returns – still using a crutch to walk – from a broken leg sustained at Brno, and Cal recovers from arm pump surgery. If you’re interested (and not about to eat) there’s a rather graphic set of videos showing the before and after stages of the fascia removal. Cal eventually withdrew from the weekend on Saturday having been declared unfit due to the wound not healing as expected and the risk of infection being too high. He is currently aiming to be back in Barcelona providing the arm heals in time.

One of the highlights of MotoGP at Misano is finding out what design The Doctor will run on his helmet for the weekend, and he did not disappoint this year. The helmet was unveiled just before the start of FP3, and featured a large blue ‘performance enhancing’ pill with a 46mg dosage on the top, and on the back was a blister pack of pills with one having been removed in order to give the oldest rider in the field that little boost that he might need to keep up with all those youngsters he has to race against! And boost him it did as The Doctor not only topped FP3, but set the fastest lap of the weekend so far.

We also saw one-off helmets from Petrucci who went with a colour theme to match the Italian flag, and from Franky Morbidelli who became the first rider in the MotoGP paddock to openly tackle the subject of racism and inequality in 2020. When asked to explain the design Franky said that while he wanted to showcase an important issue, he wanted to ‘treat the topic with some lightness’ so the helmet shows him dressed as Samuel L Jackson’s character Mister Señor Love Daddy from the Spike Lee movie “Do the right thing” – Franky explains that Mister Señor Love Daddy calls for a time out from all the racial tensions to ‘stop all the BS’ and for people to stop hating each other. He also wanted to send an equality message in different languages, saying that it is important to remind us that we are all the same, especially in light of the current situation with Covid-19.

Q1 this week saw the KTMs of Pol Espargaro and Miguel Oliveira progress through to Q2, leaving in their wake Petrucci, Binder and all of the Hondas. Taka Nakagami took the ‘honour’ of top Honda in 14th place, meaning that this was the first time since Honda came back to the premier class of GP racing in 1982 that there was no Honda in the top 12 places on the grid. Oh dear…

Q2 saw a crash for Pol Espargaro, but he did manage to get back out and set a time fast enough for 11th on the grid. Pole went to a delighted Maverick Viñales who was so happy that he set his airbag off while celebrating! Yamaha filled the first 4 grid slots for Sunday’s race with Morbidelli, Quartararo and Rossi all finishing directly behind Maverick. In another first since the 80’s, this is the first time since 1988 that four Yamaha riders have taken the first four grid positions in the premier class. The riders that day were none other than Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey, Kevin Magee and Christian Sarron.

Next up behind the Yamahas were the Pramac duo of Miller and Bagnaia, and the Suzuki duo of Rins and Mir, with Dovi rounding out the 3rd row.

As the MotoGP riders lined up on the grid on Sunday afternoon, I was still coming down from the absolute delight of watching John McPhee take the Moto3 win despite having started 17th on the grid, but by the time the lights went out I was fully focussed on the race ahead. Franky Morbidelli took the holeshot closely followed by Rossi, and oh it was fantastic to hear the crowd cheering again – I didn’t realise how much I had missed that this season. Anyway, Franky was leading Vale, followed by Maverick, Jack Miller and Fabio Quartararo, although Miller made quick work of passing Maverick for 3rd before the end of the first lap.

Bradley Smith crashed out on lap 4 – he did re-join but would go on to finish last, and out of the points. On lap 5 Iker Lecuona was hit with a long lap penalty having stalled on the grid before the warm up lap and then still lined up on his original grid spot.

Back to the front, and Franky was still leading Rossi with Maverick, Fabio, Rins, and Mir behind them. Championship leader Fabio made a pass on Maverick to take 4th before making a costly mistake and crashing out on lap 8. Fabio was able to remount his Yamaha albeit down in 20th position. Meanwhile his teammate Morbidelli was still leading, and Rossi was close behind with Miller in 3rd but Pecco was beginning to close in on his teammate having used the power of his Ducati to pass Viñales. On lap 13 Rins was all over the back of Miller, and passed him on the next lap, as did Pecco.

Franky was beginning to pull away from Rossi with a gap of 1.9 seconds by lap 18, and Rins was closing on The Doctor as Mir made his way through on Miller. Fabio entered the pits as Rins and Pecco swarmed all over the back of Rossi, making a three way fight for the final two podium spots. Fabio came back out of the pits only to crash again – signalling the end of his weekend, and most likely his championship lead. As Franky continued to extend his lead to almost 3 seconds, Pecco passed Rossi – could we be looking at an all VR46 Riders Academy podium? You couldn’t help but think that Rossi might be cursing himself for setting up the Academy at this point!

On lap 22 Rins mounted an attack on Rossi, lunging at The Doctor, but failing to pass him as Rossi closed the door on the Spaniard and set his sights on his protégé Bagnaia whom he was catching. With just one lap to go Rins ran wide and Mir took full advantage before going on to mug Rossi on the last lap with a fantastic move up the inside to deny him his 200th podium at home – there is always next week though…

Franky Morbidelli crossed the line to become the fourth rider in 6 races to win their first MotoGP race, with Pecco Bagnaia coming home in second for his first MotoGP podium despite having to hobble to and from his bike due to his recovering leg injury. Joan Mir broke Italian hearts and denied Rossi a podium, but I don’t really think anyone would grudge him the 3rd place finish.

Valentino Rossi once again proved what a fantastic sportsman he is, stopping on the cool down lap to congratulate his Academy riders on their excellent performances before returning to his pit box with a big smile on his face. It is fantastic to see how much Rossi has ploughed back into the sport that he loves – he set up the VR46 Riders Academy in 2013 to support and develop young Italian riders and has seen much success for many of the riders, including the Moto2 Championship for Franky in 2017 and Pecco in 2018. The Moto2 race also saw the top 2 positions locked out by Academy riders with Luca Marini taking the win from Marco Bezzecchi. Rossi joked after the race that having had such a great day he would close the Academy down and go out on a high! He also went on to say that ‘during the race, when Bagnaia overtake me and Franco was already on top, I started to think: who had the idea to build up the f***ing Academy?’ He was of course joking – this success was always the goal.

After the race Franky was as cool as ever, if perhaps a little lost for words at his success. He made me smile when Gavin Emmett asked him where he sees his season going and he replied ‘I don’t know – after all, I am just a satellite guy that rides a satellite bike…”

Once again we end a race weekend with absolutely no idea who is going to win this Championship. So far this season we have had 5 different race winners (4 of them brand new race winners) and 12 different podium finishers, and the top 9 riders in the Championship are covered by 23 points. Yes, you read that correctly – there are currently NINE riders covered by less than a race win and the new Championship leader – Andrea Dovizioso – has only finished on the podium twice so far this season. MotoGP in 2020 is remarkable.

Tuesday saw a test for all MotoGP riders – a perfect opportunity to fine tune their bikes for the second Misano round of the season. Race winner Franky Morbidelli was absent from the test due to a stomach upset, and Stefan Bradl also missed out due to numbness issues with his right hand.

Bradl’s absence gave Nakagami the opportunity to ride a 2020 Honda – he said that he felt comfortable on both his own 2019 bike and the 2020, with no negatives to report back to the team.

Championship leader Andrea Dovizioso completed everything he wanted to in the morning session and said that his confidence has increased a lot looking forward to next weekend; with Davide Tardozzi confirming that they have found what was missing this weekend.

Valentino Rossi tested a new carbon fibre swing arm, and a new exhaust. The aim of the exhaust was to improve top-end speed, but currently there has been no improvement there. Fabio focussed mainly on race pace, and said that he has found something that will hopefully improve performance on Sunday.

One of the main talking points from the test was the trial of a radio system that would allow race direction to talk to the riders while they are out on track. Carlos Ezpeleta – Dorna Managing Director said that the main purpose of the test at this early stage of development was to find out whether riders were able to hear the messages coming through, and to check that the riders were not distracted by messages that may come through mid-corner or at points of high concentration. He said that rider feedback at this stage was mostly positive.

Dovi said that while he was able to hear race direction clearly, he found that without having earplugs in the noise of the bike was too high; he also said that if possible they would remove the cable and use wireless earphones instead. Pecco Bagnaia tried wearing the earphones inside his helmet without actually riding the bike, but also pointed out that the noise of the engine would be too high with the system as it is.

Maverick Viñales finished the test fastest despite a crash late in the day, with Nakagami and Zarco rounding out the top three.

This coming weekend sees the action resume in Misano and it will be interesting to see who comes out on top. Will Dovi still be leading the Championship? Will Vale get that 200th podium? Will we see another first time winner? Who knows? Certainly not me!

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