The VROOM Blog, 2020 in review: A Season Of Firsts…

 In MotoGP, News

There are so many things we could say about the 2020 season of MotoGP – it certainly was a wild ride at points – but the one thing I think we can say for certain is that it was a season of firsts. First wins for riders and for teams, first winners from South Africa and Portugal, first season with multiple back to back races and the first Suzuki Champion in 20 years to name just a few of the ‘firsts’ we were lucky enough to witness this year.

There was of course a time where we questioned whether we would even get a MotoGP season this year. Way back at the beginning of March as the Covid-19 pandemic began to cause ‘lockdowns’ and travel restrictions we found ourselves witnessing the cancellation of both the Qatar and Thailand races, although we did get to see Moto2 and Moto3 races in Qatar as the teams and riders were already out there for a pre-season test before the travel restrictions came into force.

As the pandemic spread, it soon became clear that there was going to be a major impact on sporting events all around the world and we had to wait until June before we had confirmation of a new MotoGP calendar for 2020. It was a calendar like no other with no less than 5 instances of back to back races at the same circuit – Jerez, Austria, Misano, Aragon and Valencia would each provide two races this season. As well as double race weekends at those 5 circuits, we would also see the MotoGP paddock visit Brno, Catalunya, Le Mans and – for the first time ever – Portimão, giving us 14 events in just 19 weekends between July and November.

There was at this point still a possibility that we would see some fly-away races take place later in the season, but these eventually went the same way as Qatar and were cancelled.

It was a long wait for the season to get underway, but it sure was worth it. The season kicked off in Jerez with a one day test on Wednesday before the first race weekend of the season finally got underway on Friday 17th July. (I know that we did have Moto2 and Moto3 back in Qatar, but it seemed so long ago that this really like the start of the season for everyone!)

FP1 was unsurprisingly topped by a certain Marc Marquez, with many thinking that this was a sign of things to come as the season progressed. Oh how wrong that thought would turn out to be…

Combined times after FP3 saw Fabio Quartararo leading the way and straight through to Q2 where he set a blistering lap to take the first pole position of the season ahead of Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez. Q2 was quite the dramatic session and we saw Jack Miller crash on what looked to be a lap that would have put him on the front row. Just as Jack had picked himself up out of the gravel Alex Rins crashed and sent his Suzuki hurtling through the gravel at the same spot – luckily avoiding Jack and his Ducati. While Jack was unharmed and able to return to his pit box, Rins found himself in the back of an ambulance heading for the circuit medical centre – he was later transferred to hospital and diagnosed with a dislocation and fracture of his right shoulder, and declared unfit for the first race of the season.

Also declared unfit for the first race of the season was Cal Crutchlow who suffered a concussion and neck trauma during a Sunday morning warm up crash. He was also later returned to the hospital with a pain in his wrist which turned out to be a fractured scaphoid which would be operated on by Dr Mir with the hope of returning to the track the following weekend.

As the first MotoGP race of the season finally got underway, it was Maverick Viñales who grabbed the holeshot from Marquez and Quartararo although Fabio soon found himself slipping backwards with the Pramac duo of Miller and Bagnaia passing him early on in the race. Early crashes saw Joan Mir and Aleix Espargaro both out of the race, but it was an almost crash from Marc Marquez that would be an early talking point – he lost the front coming through turn 4 but as he does he saved what looked to be a certain crash and went riding through the gravel rodeo-style to re-join the race in 16th.

Back at the front it was still Viñales leading from Quartararo who had made back the places he lost, with Jack Miller in 3rd. Viñales ran wide on lap 9 and Fabio pounced on the opportunity to lead the race and he didn’t look back, clearing off into the distance as Marquez continued to make his way back through the pack – could we seriously see him take a podium finish after the amazing save we had just witnessed? It was looking likely – he had made his way with skill and precision back up to 3rd position only for disaster to strike. He crashed heavily, high siding from his Honda and thumping onto the ground before being hit on the arm by his bike.

It was very quickly clear that Marquez was hurt, but what was unclear was just how badly the injury would turn out to be. One of the lasting images of the season will be the pain that was etched on his face after he had struggled to remove his helmet with only his left hand. Marc was stretched into an ambulance and taken to the medical centre and the race continued with Quartararo now some 5 seconds ahead of the rest.

Fabio stormed across the line ahead of Viñales and Dovizioso to win the race with such enthusiasm that he set off the airbag in his leathers! Scoring his first MotoGP win, Fabio also became the first MotoGP race winner for his Petronas team and the first French winner since Regis Laconi in 1999.

As we looked ahead to the second round of the season, we faced the prospect of 3 riders missing the race although both Rins and Crutchlow were planning to have themselves declared fit for the race. Marquez on the other hand would surely miss round 2 having broken his humerus – he too would be operated on by Dr Mir in Barcelona.

While a great deal of the focus that weekend was on Marquez and his injury, for me that weekend belonged to Fabio. And if the first Jerez weekend belonged to Fabio, the second one belonged to Yamaha but we’ll get to that…

A great deal of the talk in the run up to the second weekend in Jerez was about the ‘validity’ of the championship should Marc Marquez be ruled out long-term due to his arm injury. It had started with an article claiming that without Marquez the championship wasn’t legitimate, and then Alberto Puig (Repsol Honda Team Manager) gave us his thoughts. Namely that if someone other than Marc wins the championship this year then that rider cannot be proud of the himself for doing so without ‘the best rider in the world participating’ in the championship. I’d love to hear Joan Mir’s thoughts on that…

I had many thoughts on this at the time and they were nicely summed up by the ever direct Jack Miller who simply said that the comments were a ‘complete crock’. Don’t get me wrong, Marc Marquez has been the man to beat for the last few seasons, and has won 8 World Championships – 6 of those coming from his 7 years in the premier class – but that doesn’t mean he is the only man capable of winning it. I found it incredibly disrespectful to suggest that any other champion wouldn’t be worthy just because Marc may miss races – they all started on a level playing field and Marc’s injury was no-one else’s fault, he crashed on his own.

At the end of the first weekend of action, it looked highly unlikely that Marquez would race in Jerez for the second weekend, but no sooner had I written that down back in July did we hear that he would in fact be travelling back to Jerez and would attempt to ride. His garage had been dismantled and it was up to Alex Marquez’ team to rebuild it as Marc flew in for a fitness test, which he passed. Alex Rins and Cal Crutchlow were both also passed fit to ride.

Marquez sat out the Friday sessions but was out on track on Saturday for FP3 and FP4 before we saw him go out in Q1 before returning straight to the pits without completing a lap. HRC announced shortly after that Marquez would take no further part in the weekend – for the first time in his premier class career, Marc Marquez would miss a race. He gave it his best shot, and then when his body told him ‘no more’ he stopped and while I do respect that I can’t help but think that someone in that team should’ve put their foot down and said ‘no’ much earlier. I know that hindsight is a wonderful thing and that we can never truly know what is going to happen, but that was surely far too much, far too soon for Marc’s arm and as a result he hasn’t raced for the rest of the season. He has undergone two further surgeries since and is now taking the time required to recover, something that I wonder if he wishes he had done earlier.

It was Fabio Quartararo who took pole again ahead of Maverick Viñales, with Pecco Bagnaia taking his first premier class front row in 3rd. As the lights went out Fabio took the holeshot ahead of Viñales, Rossi, Miller and Bagnaia, as disaster struck at the first corner for KTM with Brad Binder crashing and taking Miguel Oliveira out with him.

Valentino Rossi took advantage of a mistake by his teammate at the final corner of the first lap, passing Viñales to take 2nd, and it wasn’t long before he found his VR46 Academy protégé Bagnaia swarming all over the back of him. Another of Rossi’s protégés – Franky Morbidelli – found himself a victim of a possible engine issue at Yamaha as his bike broke down and his race was over.
Bagnaia made his way past Valentino but was soon out of the race after his engine started spewing smoke causing Rossi and Viñales to slow their pace behind him. Thankfully Pecco realised the issue and pulled off of the track quickly.

By the final stages of the race Quartararo had an impressive 8 second lead and he took his second win of the season ahead of fellow Yamaha riders Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi, with Takaaki Nakagami in 4th – perhaps a surprise for many having made improvements following the comparison of his own data with that of the absent Marc Marquez.

Following a one week break, the paddock reconvened in Brno for the Grand Prix České republiky in early August and much of the talk was again about Marc Marquez who had undergone a second surgery on his arm having damaged the titanium plate that was holding his humerus together in a ‘domestic incident’. Alberto Puig told the media that Marc had damaged the plate while ‘opening a very big window… like a very big door’ at home. The plate in his arm was replaced with a new one, and Honda test rider Stefan Bradl was drafted in to replace Marc for the Brno weekend.

Pecco Bagnaia suffered a leg break following a nasty crash in FP1, meaning he would be absent until Misano with Michele Pirro taking Pecco’s Pramac seat for the two rounds in Austria.

Qualifying day in Brno was a spectacle for all of the wrong reasons for Dovi, and for Honda. Dovi failed to make it through to Q2 and would start the race from 18th position and the two Repsol Hondas of test rider Stefan Bradl and rookie Alex Marquez qualified last and second last for the Czech GP. It has long been talked about that Honda appear to have put all of their eggs in Marc’s basket and that didn’t seem to matter while he was fit and winning championships, but now that he was out injured it was a problem. Cal Crutchlow was the top Honda in qualifying in 12th, meaning that for the first time since the introduction of MotoGP in 2002 there was no Honda in the top 10 of qualifying. Oh dear…

Surprisingly, it was Johann Zarco who claimed pole position for what is effectively a third tier Ducati team on a year old bike. Zarco was joined on the front row by Quartararo and Morbidelli, and as the lights went out Zarco hit reverse and Quartararo grabbed the holeshot ahead of Aleix Espargaro with Franky Morbidelli sliding into the lead when Fabio ran wide.

Franky pulled out a bit of a lead as Brad Binder made his way up to 2nd place with Pol Espargaro and Johann Zarco colliding behind him. Zarco was able to continue, but Pol’s race ended in the gravel.

Brad Binder reeled in and passed the Yamaha of Franky Morbidelli with relative ease and was leading in only his 3rd MotoGP race – he immediately began to pull away from Morbidelli as drama unfolded for Zarco in 3rd place. Zarco was given a long lap penalty for the incident with Pol – an incident that I still think was a ‘racing incident’ rather than something that deserved to be punished – and what a long lap penalty it was! Zarco swept around the long lap as though he was on rails and didn’t even lose his 3rd place in the process – I think it is fair to say that that was the best long lap of the season.

Back at the front Brad Binder crossed the line to win his and KTM’s first MotoGP race, becoming the first South African to stand on top of the podium in the premier class and the first rookie winner since a certain Marquez back in 2013. Binder’s win means that South Africa became the 19th nation to win at least one premier class race. Binder also set his first MotoGP fastest lap during the Brno race, which was also KTMs first fastest lap in MotoGP.

Petronas’ Franky Morbidelli finished 2nd to take his first premier class podium and Johann Zarco finished in 3rd.

Having won the first two races, Fabio Quartararo found himself plagued by tire issues and finished back in 7th but he still extended his championship lead.

As the MotoGP circus rolled into Austria there was a lot of talk about the weather – it had been raining during set up – would we see our first wet race of the season? In short, no we wouldn’t! We would see plenty of drama though – first of all the Ducati and Dovi will they / won’t they came to its conclusion. Early on in the weekend Davide Tardozzi confirmed that Ducati would be making a decision about Dovi’s future with the Factory Ducati team after the back to back Austrian races, but then on the Saturday Dovi’s manager Simone Battistella dropped the bombshell that Dovi would be leaving the team at the end of the season. He also confirmed that the decision had nothing to do with money, and that there was no ‘plan B’ – Dovi didn’t have another contract signed.

The real drama this weekend though was out on track as it was during that first race in Austria that we saw that crash. You know the one I mean. The one where Zarco went wide and came back across the track colliding with Franky Morbidelli and sending them both hurtling through the gravel.

That in itself was a terrible crash, but what followed next was absolutely terrifying – and I still don’t think it’s an exaggeration to use the word terrifying; it was the most frightening crash I’ve seen in MotoGP in a long time. As Zarco slid so far through gravel and grass that he had a massive hole on the hip of his leathers, and Franky barrel-rolled through the gravel, their bikes catapulted themselves across the track and into the path of oncoming Yamaha teammates Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi.

Quite how Maverick and Vale weren’t wiped out by the flying bikes I don’t know – television pictures showed that Vale had had an extremely close call, and photographs and other angles of the crash that came later showed that Maverick had been equally lucky. It’s been almost 4 months and I still cannot comprehend how all four of those riders were able to walk away from that horror show, but I’ll be eternally grateful that they did.

The race was obviously stopped to clear up the carnage of the two flying bikes, and when it restarted Miller lead initially before being passed by Dovi and Rins. Rins soon crashed out leaving Dovi, Miller and Mir to battle for the lead before Mir took advantage of a small mistake from Miller on the final lap to secure his first MotoGP podium in 2nd place behind winner Dovizioso.

You’ve got to love Dovi – 24 hours after announcing he is leaving them he hands Ducati their 5th consecutive win at the Red Bull Ring and their 50th MotoGP win.

The second round at the Red Bull Ring was almost as dramatic as the first. The Styrian GP would be the 900th premier class GP race and up until this point 111 different riders had stood on the top step in the premier class, with a total of 269 riders having finished on the podium. Valentino Rossi has the most MotoGP podiums (199) and with his podium last time out, Joan Mir is the most recent first time podium finisher.

Johann Zarco would start this race from the pit lane following a penalty for the crash in the previous race.

Pol Espargaro took his first premier class pole position in the Styrian GP, and this was also KTM’s first pole which was the first time that a factory had taken their maiden pole since Loris Capirossi for Ducati in the 2003 Spanish GP. This was also the first pole for a manufacturer that wasn’t Italian or Japanese since Proton KR with Jeremy McWilliams at Phillip Island in 2002.

Takaaki Nakagami took his first MotoGP front row with 2nd place in qualifying and Joan Mir having qualified in 4th would start from 3rd as Zarco (who had qualified 3rd) took his place in the pit lane.

Joan Mir was leading the race from Nakagami and Miller when on lap 17 disaster struck for Yamaha’s Maverick Viñales who was forced to jump from his motorcycle at 140 mph as his brakes failed. Maverick bailed and his bike carried on, smashing into the air fence before bursting into flames. It really is incredible to me that these guys have the presence of mind to jump from their bikes at such speeds just to keep themselves safe – Maverick was able to walk away and the race was red flagged and restarted for the second weekend in a row at the Red Bull Ring.

The restart provided great entertainment with Miller and Pol Espargaro battling it out for the lead after initial leader Mir dropped back to 4th, but it was the final corner of the race that was the most entertaining of all. Miller took advantage of Pols defensive riding and dived under the Spaniard at the final corner, pushing them both wide – wide enough for 3rd place man Miguel Oliveira to sweep past them both and secure his first MotoGP win! It was a fantastic move by Miguel in his 150th GP race start, and he secured not only his first win but also the first Portuguese premier class win and the first win for Herve Poncharal’s Tech3 team. Oliveira also became the first Independent Team rider to win on a non-Japanese bike since the introduction of MotoGP in 2002 – before Styria, only Yamaha and Honda Independent Team riders had managed to win in MotoGP.

Heading into a two week break before Misano, the MotoGP championship was too tight to call – there had been 4 different winners and 11 podium finishers, and Fabio’s total of 70 points was the least number of championship points after 5 races for the championship leader since the late, great Nicky Hayden who had 83 points back in 2006.

Misano is well known as being the round where Valentino Rossi unveils a ‘special’ helmet design for the weekend. Many of the Italians in the paddock do the same, but it is always The Doctor’s designs that are the most anticipated 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.

Talking of Covid-19, this was the first weekend that we saw a rider test positive and have to stay away at home – Moto2 front runner Jorge Martin had tested positive but was asymptomatic.

This weekend saw fans allowed into the circuit for the first time all season, and those lucky people were treated to a cracking weekend of racing.

For the first time since Honda returned to the premier class of GP racing back in 1982 there was no Honda in the top 12 places on the grid, with the ‘honour’ of top Honda going to Nakagami in 14th. Qualifying this week was all about Yamaha – Viñales secured pole position ahead of Morbidelli, Quartararo and Rossi, marking another first since the 80’s. This was the first time Yamaha have taken the top four grid positions since 1988 when Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey, Kevin McGee and Christian Sarron did the same.

At one point it looked like the podium in this race would be locked out by Valentino and his VR46 Academy riders, but in the end Joan Mir mugged The Doctor for 3rd position as Franky Morbidelli became the 4th rider in six races to take his first MotoGP win, with Pecco Bagnaia coming second on his return following a broken leg.

We had a new championship leader after this weekend – Andrea Dovizioso was now leading from Fabio Quartararo, Jack Miller and Joan Mir. There were only 23 points covering everyone down to Nakagami in 9th place!

The second weekend at Misano – or the Emilia Romagna GP – saw Maverick Viñales on pole again, this time ahead of Miller and Quartararo. This was Maverick’s third pole of the season and this time he was able to convert it to his first win of the season, as well as becoming the first Spaniard to win this year.

This weekend also saw Alex Marquez top his first MotoGP session, and secure a solid 7th place finish in the race ahead of championship leader Dovizioso. The top of the championship was now super tight, with four points covering the top four of Dovi, Fabio, Maverick and Joan Mir.

My absolute highlight this weekend though was Dovi’s leathers. The usual ‘Undaunted’ butt-patch was replaced with one that read ‘Unemployed’ with Dovi stating he lost a bet with his friends!

The Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya was up next, and would see Valentino Rossi make history by becoming the first rider to reach 350 premier class starts. The weekend got off to a good start for The Doctor with the announcement that he had finally put pen to paper on a deal to join his VR46 Academy protégé Franky Morbidelli in the Petronas squad for next season. Vale will continue to be provided with factory machinery and hopes that he and Morbidelli will be able to work together to help each other improve.

Franky Morbidelli took his first ever pole position, with Quartararo and Rossi joining him on the front row. Franky grabbed the holeshot as Dovi saw his championship hopes take a massive hit as he was wiped out by Zarco in just the second corner. Rossi was fighting for what could have been his 200th podium when disaster struck and he crashed out of 2nd place. The race was won by Fabio Quartararo who hadn’t been on the podium since winning the first two races of the season – he was joined on the podium by the Suzuki duo of Mir and Rins.

Mir’s podium makes him the first Suzuki rider to score 3 consecutive podiums since Kenny Roberts Jr in 2000, and Rins joining him marks Suzuki’s first double podium since Misano 2007 when Chris Vermeulen and John Hopkins finished 2nd and 3rd behind Casey Stoner.

Race winner Quartararo regained the championship lead and was 8 points ahead of Joan Mir as we headed to France for Fabio’s home race.

Le Mans saw Fabio qualify on pole ahead of Jack Miller and Danilo Petrucci. Petrucci’s 3rd place was his first front row start since his 3rd on the grid at the Italian GP last year on his way to winning his only GP to date. Fabio’s closest rival in the championship – Joan Mir – qualified back in 14th for what turned out to be a wet race.

This was the first wet race of the season, and the first wet race of no less than 7 riders’ premier class careers! Obviously the 3 rookies – Binder, Alex Marquez and Lecuona – hadn’t raced in the wet yet as this was the first one of the season, but by my reckoning neither had Bagnaia, Oliveira or – critically – championship top two Quartararo and Mir.

The race looked as though it was going to be dominated by Ducati riders with Petrucci, Miller and Dovizioso leading the way, but Miller suffered a technical issue and the likes of Rins, Pol Espargaro and Alex Marquez were all on the move. It was Petrucci who took an emotional win in France, with Alex Marquez in 2nd and Pol Espargaro in 3rd. This was Alex Marquez’ first MotoGP podium as well as Honda’s first of the season. Who’d have thought that Honda would have to wait 9 races before scoring a podium?

Next up was a double header at Aragon and there was major news coming out of the paddock on the Thursday – Valentino Rossi would be missing both Argon rounds having tested positive for Covid-19 and unlike Jorge Martin, Rossi’s statement said that he had been feeling unwell. Valentino and the Yamaha team were optimistic of a return in time for Valencia so declined to fill the seat for the time being.

FP3 saw a massive crash for championship leader Quartararo who was thrown into the air before slamming down on his right hip. He was stretchered off and taken to the medical centre where it was confirmed that nothing was broken and he was passed fit to carry on with the weekend.

It was this weekend that saw Dovi lose his cool after failing to make it through to Q2 having unwittingly provided a tow to teammate Petrucci who went through at his expense. Dovi launched his glove across his pit box and storm off.

Despite that monster crash it was Quartararo who took pole position ahead of Viñales and Crutchlow.

For the first time since 1999 we were witnessing a race with no premier class champion on the grid, and Franky Morbidelli grabbed the holeshot before running wide and gifting the lead to Viñales. It was Alex Rins who came out on top and took his (and Suzuki’s) first win of the season with Alex Marquez backing up last weekend’s wet podium with a dry one in 2nd. Joan Mir – who was quickly becoming recognised as perhaps the most consistent rider in the field – finished in 3rd and took the lead in the championship.

This weekend also saw Honda reach the impressive milestone of 100 different riders taking a Honda to victory across all classes. Jaume Masia took victory in Moto3 to become number 100 on a list of names as distinguished as Mike Hailwood, Freddie Spencer, Wayne Gardner, Mick Doohan, Daijiro Kato, Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner, Marc and Alex Marquez, Jack Miller and even our own Cal Crutchlow and John McPhee. My favourite thing about the list of 100 different Honda race winners is that 69th on the list is Nicky Hayden.
The second round at Aragon finally produced a pole position for Honda in 2020 with Takaaki Nakagami storming to pole position ahead of Morbidelli and Rins. Alongside Pol Espargaro and Franky Morbidelli, Taka’s pole position means that there have been 3 maiden pole sitters in a season for the first time since Marc Marquez, Stefan Bradl and Cal Crutchlow back in 2013.

Joining Taka on the front row would be Franky Morbidelli and Alex Rins while championship leader Joan Mir would be starting from the fourth row. Taka got a cracking start as the race got underway but his lead lasted less than 5 corners as he crashed out at turn 5, ending his race in the gravel. It was Franky Morbidelli who took advantage – and the lead – and didn’t look back until he had crossed the line to take his second win of the season ahead of Rins and Mir.

With crashes in this race, both Nakagami and Marquez ended their impressive runs of being the only riders to finish every race so far this season. My personal highlight of this weekend was Alex Marquez telling the media to stop asking him questions about Marc!

Next we headed to Valencia to begin the final run of 3 races in 2020, and for the first time in the MotoGP era Valencia will not be hosting the season finale.

We saw the MotoGP debut of Garrett Gerloff during FP1 and FP2 on Friday as Valentino Rossi was unable to return to the paddock until Friday afternoon having provided two negative Covid-19 tests. Gerloff gave a decent account of himself in the two sessions he had before returning the M1 to The Doctor.

Iker Lecuona was ruled out this weekend following a positive test for his brother – close contact rules meaning he was unable to participate until completion of a quarantine period.

Just when we thought perhaps we had had our fill of drama for the season, it emerged that Yamaha had been penalised for a breach of technical protocols and had been docked team and constructor points, but not rider points. More woes for Yamaha as they had to put a 6th engine into Viñales’ bike meaning that they had passed the limit of 5 for this season and Viñales would have to start the race from the pit lane. There was also a positive case of Covid-19 within Viñales’ team which meant a number of team members had to go into isolation.

Pole position in Valencia went to Nakagami who would no doubt be looking to make up for his mistake last weekend. Alex Rins and Pol Espargaro rounded out the front row with Joan Mir in 5th. For the first time ever there are 3 KTM riders within the top 10 of MotoGP qualifying – Pol Espargaro, Oliveira and Binder would start from 3rd, 7th and 10th respectively.

Late in the race Alex Rins and Joan Mir were running 1st and 2nd when Alex Rins made a small mistake which allowed Joan to pounce and take the lead before finally winning his first MotoGP race ahead of Rins and Espargaro. More history made for Suzuki at Valencia as Mir and Rins provide the first 1-2 finish since 1982 when Randy Mamola and Virginio Ferrari were on the top two steps at Hockenheim. Mir and Rins have also scored the first double podiums in 3 successive races since 1981 when Suzuki riders did it in four successive races from Belgium to Finland.

Joan Mir was now leading the championship by 37 points meaning that he could wrap the title up in the next race with one to spare…

Valencia saw announcements regarding the futures of both Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow, with Dovi announcing a sabbatical for 2021 with a view to returning in 2022 and Crutchlow taking a role a Yamaha’s test rider.

Franky Morbidelli took pole position for the second race at Valencia and became the first Italian to do so since Rossi in 2014. Miller and Nakagami were 2nd and 3rd while championship leader Joan Mir was back in 12th.

As the first lap of the race came to an end Franky was leading from Miller and Pol with fellow championship contenders Rins, Mir and Quartararo sitting in 7th, 10th and 18th. Lap 9 saw disaster strike for Quartararo as he crashed out of the race and the championship.

The final lap between Franky and Jack was fantastic – they swapped places back and forth but in the end Franky held on to take his third win of the season, with Jack in 2nd and Pol Espargaro in 3rd. Joan Mir came across the line in 7th and that was enough to secure the 2020 MotoGP Championship. Joan became only the second Suzuki rider to clinch the title since Kenny Roberts Jr in 2001 is Suzuki’s 6th different champion alongside Barry Sheen, Marco Lucchinelli, Franco Uncini, Kevin Schwantz and Kenny Roberts Jr. Mir also becomes the first Red Bull Rookies Cup rider and Moto3 champion to take the MotoGP crown.

So we arrived at the final round of the season in Portugal with the champion already decided, but there was still much up for grabs including second place in the championship, Rookie of the year, and the constructors championship. Miguel Oliveira claimed pole position at his home race and became the first Portuguese rider to sit on pole position in the premier class. This makes four maiden pole sitters in 2020 – the first time since 2006 when it was Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, Chris Vermeulen and John Hopkins.

Miguel securing pole position means that Joan Mir is the first rider to win the premier class crown without a pole position since Wayne Rainey in 1992.

As the lights went out for the final time in 2020 Oliveira took the lead from Franky Morbidelli, Jack Miller, Cal Crutchlow and Stefan Bradl, with Joan Mir up to 12th from 20th in a few corners. Miguel held the lead all the way to line, becoming the first MotoGP race winner in Portimão ahead of Miller and Morbidelli.

Miller’s podium meant that Ducati secured the manufacturers championship, and after a battle that had been tied at one point during the season, Brad Binder came out on top in the Rookie of the year race. Franky Morbidelli took second place in the championship ahead of Alex Rins, as well as the top Independent riders’ crown.

Fabio Quartararo, who had a fantastic start to the season and was in contention for the title eventually finished the season in 8th place. Dovizioso leaves Ducati with fourth place in the Championship in a year when really the Championship should have been his – on paper at least! With Marc Marquez out, Dovi would’ve been the best bet for champion having finished second to Marc for the last 3 seasons, still that’s not the way motorbike racing works!

All in all it has been a fantastic season – we have seen a new champion crowned and more ‘firsts’ than you could shake a stick at. I looked back over my blog posts this season and there have been a lot of words like bonkers and wild and honestly I hope 2021 is more of the same. This has been one of the best seasons of MotoGP in a long time – the racing has been close, there have been multiple winners and a lot of humble young men doing about their business.

We must of course thank all of those at Dorna and IRTA who worked so hard behind the scenes to make this season happen and the teams and riders who kept themselves safe and well and able to put on such a fantastic show for us all in a year when we really needed the escape. Roll on MotoGP 2021…

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