In The Paddock Column

Michael Scott | March 11, 2020

In The Paddock


Saying that MotoGP 2020 got going with a skeleton staff might seem in poor taste, given that the naughty old coronavirus is leaving an increasing number of corpses in its wake. It’s been the early-season winner, creating havoc in the best-laid plans of the no-longer-so-smug series management.

Dorna responded quickly and so far effectively to a fast-changing situation. But they couldn’t prevent the season starting at Doha with only the junior classes. A bit like Hamlet without the prince, a love affair without a partner, a hamburger without the patties. Or more accurately, a Sunday roast dinner without the beef.

(The woke-vegan virtue-gaining of this last image must stay in abeyance, however. Pollution of the desert night comes less from the exhausts of 22 gas-profligate MotoGP bikes, more from banks of grumbling generators providing enough lighting for streetlamps “from Doha to Moscow”– a journey few would voluntarily undertake.)

The havoc means disappointment for riders and fans alike, with everything put on hold. But it also means opportunity. The postponement of the season start is another chance for factory engineers to get ready.

In the Paddock Column
No one wants to see MotoGP races canceled, but Honda (and other teams) will use the downtime to its advantage, especially the healing Marc Marquez (93) and his rookie brother, Alex. Photo by Gold & Goose

So far, the opening round at Losail is without the main players. MotoGP had already tested there and gone home again; Moto2 and Moto3, however, were already there for their tests, and thus in place to race in front of the usual empty grandstands when Qatari officials effectively shut the borders, especially Italian travelers. This ruled out not only such riding luminaries as Rossi, Dovizioso and Petrucci, but whole swathes of factory crewmen. No MotoGP race then.

A day later, round two in Thailand was indefinitely postponed.

This shifted the putative start of the season to the GP of the Americas, four weeks after the Qatar event. However, the way the virus and associated panic is going, this is also at risk. On to Argentina on April 19, then. Or even Jerez in the first weekend of May, etc.

It remains to be seen. Dorna’s emergency calendar reshuffle has already shifted the Thai race until after the summer break, and when CEO Ezpeleta said that he might have to ask the FIM to delay its December prize-giving ceremony, he was only half-joking.

The major beneficiary is Repsol Honda, for both personal and technical reasons.

Marc Marquez has at least another four weeks to regain full strength after his second successive bout of mid-winter shoulder surgery. Unlike at the tests, he will be able to “ride as I like,” which is always formidable.

Factory engineers have also had a reprieve, after the underwhelming test performance of the 2020 RC213V, always a fast but flawed machine, all-conquering only in the hands of Marquez.

Among the usual problems colleague Cal Crutchlow reported a lingering problem with front-end fidelity that makes the Honda alarmingly crash-prone on corner entry, as he and Marc demonstrated. Meanwhile, the 2020 chassis and aero package were so disappointing that Marquez switched back to a previous version in his bid to do better than seventh-fastest.

Chassis changes are permitted through the season, but aero, engines and gear-ratio choices are frozen from the start of scrutineering before the first event. Since that first event remains at some indeterminate future date, this allows engineers to think again about the Qatar test data, without the pressure of having to make instant decisions.

Tire specs also remain in abeyance, but Michelin is unlikely to want to change plans already set in rubber, being in any case busy enough finding ways to get the tires already delivered to Qatar and Thailand back to Europe. The bikes and attendant equipment, by the way, are already back in Europe, awaiting developments.

Not only Honda will be glad of the delay. Aprilia’s all-new 90-degree V4 arrived in Losail virtually untested and proved quick but unreliable. They will appreciate the chance to put some more miles on the motor, both on track and on the dyno.

Ducati, Suzuki and KTM will also not be sitting on their hands, but Yamaha has a special chance to take extra benefit. While only official test riders are allowed to exercise MotoGP bikes, Yamaha has the services of Jorge Lorenzo, which should prove a significant asset.

The rest of us will just have to wait.

It seemed timely that Dorna introduced the MotoGP Fantasy game just days before the cancellation, giving “a new way for fans to enjoy” the championship. Sadly, a look at rules that would otherwise have held minimal interest shows that the game is linked to real-life results.

Ah well, for something that is really virtual (and also virtually real) there is always the MotoGP E-sport Championship, where the racing is all on screen.

Now, remember to go and wash your hands after reading this. CN


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Michael Scott | MotoGP Editor Scott has been covering MotoGP since long before it was MotoGP. Remember two-strokes? Scott does. He’s also a best-selling author of biographies on the lives of legendary racers such as Wayne Rainey and Barry Sheene.