In The Paddock Column

Michael Scott | December 2, 2020

In The Paddock

COLUMN

Well, we made it. No thanks to Covid-19. A kind of full GP season, that overcame threats of further cancellations all the way to the hastily replanned November conclusion.

And—maybe thanks to Covid-19—it was a season of rare fascination.

The year the big beasts bit the dust, literally, for Marc Marquez, who took Honda down with him after his horrible Jerez crash. No one would wish it on him, but boy, wasn’t it compelling without him?

The unexpected came in battalions, and the pre-season preconceptions did a big face-plant. As did many of those that arose in the first couple of races, when it finally got going in Jerez in July.

Yamaha didn’t need a big crash or bad luck to overturn expectations. They managed it all by themselves.

Their latest factory bike more often hampered than helped Rossi and Vinales, and while it looked for a while as though Quartararo was going to become a Big Beast in spite of being hampered by a 2020 M1, that didn’t last, as he too was ambushed by the bike’s inconstancy.

Funnily enough, in a year of failure this is likely to see heads roll, Yamaha actually managed more wins and podiums than any other factory. Just too seldom for the same rider twice. And almost never for biggest star Rossi.

“A couple of takeaways will doubtless be ignored in future, that back-to-back races at the same track can be brilliant, for all the groundhog-day complaints. Slow learners get a second chance, for one thing. Two in a row at Phillip Island, Silverstone and COTA next year, please, to make up for the ones that got missed.”

It was left to Morbidelli, the lowliest rider condemned by his junior status to a year-old bike, to finish top Yamaha. Indeed, he was actually title runner-up, a mere 13 points shy. But by the same tortured, morale-sapping logic that kept Rossi on the top tier of entitlement when obviously knocking on towards the outer limits of his sell-by date, the sorcerer’s apprentice is condemned to spend next year on the same old bike again. Now it will be two years old.

Maybe the same unintended consequences will prevail, once again, for him, for without an engine failure and an entirely innocent crash (with Zarco) in Austria, he might even have been champion. Hope his pay grade matches his achievements.

Ducati was content with shooting their top rider Dovi where it hurt, in the braking zone. Luckily, they had the ever-improving Jack Miller to take up the burden. Unluckily, when he wasn’t getting knocked off, his bike kept stopping. Other riders were spasmodically fast, and Dovi did manage a win. But more often he was ambushed in qualifying and overshadowed in the race.

It was left to underdogs Suzuki to pick up the pieces. Which they did with modest sufficiency. When spectacular is not good enough, then good enough will reap its own rewards.

It was all so close, and so unexpected. There were other underdogs on top. KTM came out guns blazing, and young riders holding the triggers. Binder’s rookie win was a revelation.

Taka Nakagami was another, like Morbidelli on a year-old bike, left to carry the load after big Marquez disappeared, little Marquez was finding his feet, and old-boy Crutchlow was injured.

Also out of the shadows, the feared ex-outcast Johann Zarco, another to make a year-old bike look fresh and new.

Only Aprilia failed to ride the trend. They were the worst-hit virus victims, with Iannone absent on a drugs rap, and the scope to test and develop a brand-new engine severely Covid-restricted. Even their parts suppliers suffered in the lockdowns.

So, the serendipity didn’t work for everyone, but still eight of 14 MotoGP races were won by independent-team riders; Portimao’s thriller had no factory riders on the podium—a first since 2004.

A couple of takeaways will doubtless be ignored in future, that back-to-back races at the same track can be brilliant, for all the groundhog-day complaints. Slow learners get a second chance, for one thing. Two in a row at Phillip Island, Silverstone and COTA next year, please, to make up for the ones that got missed.

Secondly, who needs spectators? Apart, obviously, from race promoters. Everyone else got on just fine, even if they said otherwise. Dorna made a lot of cheesy fan-pleasing vid-clips with riders reading from scripts that “we do it for you.” Drivel. They do it for themselves, because they are obsessed, and because they are driven by overweening talent, and because they love racing. The fans are just there to share it. Or not.

Thirdly (and by the way), Portimao winner Miguel Oliveira is not a dentist, no matter how often commentators say so. He suspended his training to go racing, and he’s brilliant at it.

Finally, massive congratulations, especially to Dorna, for making it happen when it looked (more than once) as though everything was lost.

They did it for fans. Or was it perhaps for their wallets? Who cares? The important and wonderful thing was that they did it at all. 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.