The 2020 MotoGP season was the most unpredictable in modern times and provided some of the most riveting racing we’ve ever seen. This one deserves a second look.
Photography by Gold & Goose
It looked, for a time, like we weren’t going to get a MotoGP season at all in 2020. Covid-19 was rampaging through every corner of the globe, the situation in some countries almost changing by the hour.
Spain and Italy—the heartlands of MotoGP—bore the initial brunt of the Covid chaos, citizens forced to stay in their homes from April until the end of May, and with Covid deaths soaring in both countries, MotoGP racing was the furthest thing from most people’s minds.
The season was due to begin in Qatar on March 8, and for the Moto2 and Moto3 classes it did—just not for the premier MotoGP category. This was due to the Moto2 and Moto3 teams still being situated in Qatar following their final preseason test, with most team members having not flown back to their European bases.
From the desert night, MotoGP stared at the possibility of having no championship at all. The next two months saw commercial rights holders Dorna working feverishly behind the scenes with governments around the world to cobble together a season befitting of a world championship, and it became apparent that every race would need to be held in Europe.
As such, the American, Italian, Australian, Japanese, Dutch, German, Argentinian, Thai and Malaysian races were all canceled, and double rounds (races held one week apart at the same track) were held at Jerez in Spain, the Red Bull Ring in Austria, Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli in San Marino, Motorland Aragon and the Ricardo Tormo Circuit in Valencia, Spain, to make up the numbers. Brno in the Czech Republic stayed on the calendar, as did Le Mans in France, Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, and the spectacular Portimao circuit in Portugal was granted the end-of-season race for its MotoGP debut.
All races, bar those run at Misano and Le Mans, were held without fans, and even then, fan access to the track was extremely limited.
MotoGP 2020 In Review | The Crash
For MotoGP, their season began with the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez in the searing Andalusian heat of July 19, and it would be a race where the missing fans gave some indication of the strangeness that was to envelop the rest of the season.
The talking points of the season started with the biggest one, as Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) pushed the limits that little bit too far, as he usually does, only this time with such ramifications they could prove the apex of his career.
Marquez had earlier run off track while leading at turn four, dirt tracking his way back onto the circuit to be a distant 16th by the time the dust settled. What followed was one of his finest rides, as the six-time MotoGP World Champion put on a racing clinic, dismantling the world’s best one by one in what must have been a demoralizing experience for those he passed.
It all went wrong, however, with four laps to go at turn four. Now up to third and closing on second-placed Maverick Vinales, Marquez asked too much of the Repsol Honda and it sent him skywards over the highside in an almost identical crash to the one that ended fellow Repsol Honda legend Mick Doohan’s career in 1999 at the same corner. Marquez bounced and cartwheeled through the gravel and was punted by his wayward machine square in the right humerus for good measure.
His broken arm may have seemed like a routine injury often suffered by the world’s hardest tarmac racers, but, like Doohan’s horrific leg injury suffered in 1992, it was far from it. Marquez underwent surgery and was incredibly (some say dubiously) declared fit to ride less than a week later for the second Jerez GP, only to pull out after a handful of laps on Saturday.
It was later revealed Marquez re-fractured the arm by “opening a window” at his house, according to a press release by Repsol Honda, and meant the world champion was not just out for a few races, but the whole season, as his recovery proved much slower than expected.
As a result, Marquez claimed another record off Freddie Spencer. He’d already taken the title of youngest MotoGP race and title winner from the legendary American, now he would take the honor of the first rider since Spencer not to score a point in a title-defense season.
With the king abdicating, the door was left wide open for the next generation of MotoGP stars to stake their claim.
And first to step up to the plate was Marquez’s 2019 thorn, Fabio Quartararo. The young French sensation was already long gone out front by the time Marquez crashed in the opening Jerez race, and took his debut race victory—a feat he repeated one week later to confirm his status as heir apparent.
It was not all roses for the Yamaha factory, however. Both Valentino Rossi and Franco Morbidelli suffered engine failures in the first two rounds, something that would come to haunt the factory later in the season.
MotoGP 2020 In Review | KTM’s First
If the first two rounds saw a familiar face up front, round three gave us a victory no one expected. South African Brad Binder, former Moto3 World Champion, is widely regarded as a star of the MotoGP future, and he showed why there’s such promise by storming through the pack to take his and KTM’s first MotoGP victory from Franco Morbidelli and Johann Zarco.
By now, Alex Rins (Ecstar Suzuki) was back on form after mangling his shoulder in a crash during qualifying at the opening round at Jerez, going on to claim fourth in Brno as he began to build a championship charge.
For championship leader Quartararo, Brno signaled the start of a downward spiral in his title hopes. Seventh place, followed by eighth at the opening Austrian round, 13th the next week at Austria 2, a DNF at Misano 1, recovering slightly to fourth at Misano 2 and finally a win in Barcelona that put him somewhat back on track.
The first Austrian race, round four, saw the second big talking point of 2020. With 20 laps to go, ninth- and 10th-placed Franco Morbidelli and Johann Zarco collided at the fastest part of the Red Bull Ring. At close to top speed entering turn three, Morbidelli’s Yamaha tumbled along the edge of the track, and in a stroke of sheer luck, split the two factory Yamahas of Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi in what could have been a fatal encounter had it made contact. Vinales wasn’t out of the woods yet, as Zarco’s exploding Ducati grazed the top of his Arai helmet. It was one of the most spectacular and potentially tragic accidents ever seen in MotoGP, and the fact no one was seriously injured was nothing short of a miracle.
MotoGP 2020 In Review | Beginning of the End?
The Austrian race also signaled what may prove to be the end of the illustrious career of Andrea Dovizioso. The week Pramac Ducati’s Jack Miller was confirmed as moving up to the factory Ducati team for 2021, Dovizioso announced he was unable to come to terms with the factory and would leave the team at the end of the season.
Feeling undervalued in the Ducati outfit and refusing to take a pay cut bought on by the financial strains of Covid-19, Dovizioso decided to pack his bags but not before sticking it to the bosses one last time by taking the win that same weekend in Austria—his first and, as it would turn out, only win of the season.
Later in the year, and with no MotoGP offers on the table that interested him, Dovizioso announced he would be taking a one-year sabbatical from the sport. This could turn into possible retirement, as teams look to younger, hungrier riders from Moto2 to fill the next generation of MotoGP seats.
However, while Austria saw the beginning of the end of Andrea Dovizioso’s MotoGP career, it signaled the start of someone else’s. Suzuki’s Joan Mir had endured a subdued start to the season, taking DNF-5-DNF results so far, but Austria 1 proved to be a turning point. The former Moto3 World Champion scored his first MotoGP podium at the Red Bull Ring in second, just 1.3 seconds off Dovi in first, with Miller taking third for his first podium of 2020.
Austria 2 was the point where Mir had well and truly arrived. After Pol Espargaro qualified on pole, Mir built up a commanding 2.4-second lead over the ever-improving Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Idemitsu Honda) when the red flag flew after Maverick Vinales’ brakes exploded entering turn one at 140 mph. The Spaniard bailed, and his bike smashed into the air fence, breaking in two.
Incredibly, the Ecstar Suzuki team had run out of their weekend’s allocation of soft tires for the 12-lap sprint restart, and Mir dropped to fourth at the flag.
The final lap of Austria 2 will go down as one of the best of not just this year but the decade, as Jack Miller and Pol Espargaro locked horns with Miguel Oliveira right behind them. Miller went for the Hail Mary, sending it up the inside of Espargaro at the final corner only to run wide and let Oliveira sneak under the pair of them in the dash to the line for a famous first victory for not just himself, but the Tech 3 team after being in the Class of Kings for 20 long years.
MotoGP 2020 In Review | The Kids Are All Right
After escaping with nothing more than cuts and bruises from his monumental Austrian get-off, Franco Morbidelli signaled his title aspirations with a debut victory at his home race at Misano at round six, beating fellow VR46 Academy rider Francesco Bagnaia and Mir. This result, more than any other this year, signaled the shift in MotoGP as the three former junior-category champions filled the podium places.
It appeared Bagnaia had finally hit his stride in MotoGP, using a wide, sweeping corner-arcing style compared to Dovi’s more point-and-shoot approach to get the best out of the Michelin rear tire that troubled Ducati riders all season.
He proved this the following week at Misano 2, bolting into the lead before overcooking it and crashing out with seven laps remaining.
It was left to Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales to pick up his only win of the season at Misano 2, heading home that man Joan Mir once again with Pol Espargaro taking his second podium of the year in third.
By now, incredibly, Andrea Dovizioso was leading the championship with 84 points, one clear of Quartararo and Vinales, with Mir with 80.
But that was it for Dovi’s title charge, as he crashed out of the next round at Catalunya at turn two, taking Johann Zarco with him.
Quartararo resumed normal service (for him) by taking victory in Catalunya, once again from Mir and Suzuki teammate Alex Rins, although his hopes of a long-awaited home French MotoGP victory were dashed by a damp track that saw wet-weather specialist Danilo Petrucci storm through for a second career victory. Petrucci headed the stupendous Alex Marquez in his debut podium performance, with Pol Espargaro once again third.
Alex Rins finally took his first win of the season at the next round of Aragon, his home track. Rins had to fend off Alex Marquez, who had clearly found the way to ride the RC213V against the best in the world. The junior Marquez finished 0.2 seconds off the win, with Mir once again minimizing the title damage in third.
MotoGP 2020 In Review | Rossi Tests Positive
The first Aragon race saw more drama, with Valentino Rossi confirming he’d contracted Covid-19, thus ruling him out of the next two rounds. He appeared back for the first Valencia race, but only after Garrett Gerloff put in a stunning performance as a guest of the Yamaha factory on Friday, putting himself well and truly in the shop window for a ride in 2022.
Mir continued to rack up the points with another third at Aragon 2 behind winner Morbidelli and Rins, and headed to the Ricardo Tormo Circuit at Valencia for the first of that track’s doubleheader rounds with a point to prove.
Now in the championship lead after Quartararo finished a disastrous 18th and eighth in Aragon’s two races, Mir needed a win to silence the critics who said he wouldn’t be a worthy champion if he didn’t win a race.
Mir did just that at Valencia 1, taking the win over Rins after the latter made one tiny mistake at the hairpin at mid-race distance, allowing Mir through to a lead he would never relinquish.
MotoGP 2020 In Review | Suzuki Shines, Yamaha Freezes
While Mir and Suzuki were looking odds-on for the title, it was going belly-up over at Yamaha.
Rossi’s and Morbidelli’s engine blow-ups in the first two rounds were traced to a set of faulty valves from an outside supplier. However, due to MotoGP’s engine-freezing rules, Yamaha couldn’t open their motors to rectify the problem. A request was put into the Motorcycle Sport Manufacturers’ Association (MSMA) to do so but was later withdrawn.
The issue stemmed from Yamaha using engines with different valves than the sample engine that was delivered to the MSMA at the start of the season. The result was the loss of 50 Constructor’s Championship points and 20 points from the Team’s tally, but no title points were docked from the riders.
By the time the pack reconvened for the second Valencia race, it was clear the title was Mir’s to lose. The Suzuki rider was in the box seat with 37 points in hand over Quartararo, and only needed to leave 26 points ahead to take the title. An easy ride to seventh sealed the deal for the Majorcan, as Morbidelli and Miller put on another edge-of-your-seat last lap that saw Morbidelli the winner over the gritty Aussie, with Espargaro third, again.
MotoGP 2020 In Review | Farewell Party
As the series moved to the final round at Portimao, it was something of a farewell party. Cal Crutchlow had recently been confirmed as Yamaha’s test rider for next year, replacing former World Champion Jorge Lorenzo, and Dovizioso was on the way out, too. Rossi was saying goodbye to his factory Yamaha team as he joins Petronas Yamaha, and Tito Rabat was riding in what will likely be his last MotoGP race.
Pol Espargaro was leaving KTM for Repsol Honda, Alex Marquez was leaving Repsol Honda for Crutchlow’s old LCR Honda spot, Zarco was moving up to Pramac Ducati, Petrucci was off to KTM, and Miller and Bagnaia were both having their final ride in Pramac colors before heading to the factory team in 2021.
The first race at Portimao for MotoGP turned out to be a homeboy benefit, as Miguel Oliveira blitzed all before him to take pole and a runaway race win, his and Tech 3 KTM’s second MotoGP race victory.
Miller and Morbidelli engaged again for second and third, this time the Australian getting the better of the Italian. Newly crowned world champion Joan Mir retired with mechanical problems.
MotoGP 2020 In Review | Consistency Prevails
At one point, the 2020 MotoGP World Championship looked like the title no one wanted to win. Title leaders included Andrea Dovizioso and Fabio Quartararo, but neither could sustain the consistency of Mir, who claimed the championship with 171 points ahead of Morbidelli (158 points) and Alex Rins (139 points), with Dovi and Espargaro equal on 135 points but Dovi gaining fourth in the title on account of his Austrian race win, Espargaro fifth. Vinales and Miller were tied on 132 points for sixth and seventh with Vinales getting the nod after winning at Misano. And after crashing at Valencia 2 and finishing 14th at Portimao, Quartararo dropped right down to eighth in the championship with 127 points. Rounding out the top 10 were Oliveira (125 points) and Nakagami (116 points).
Next year, we should see Marc Marquez back in action on the Repsol Honda, but it remains to be seen how a full year off of racing will affect the man from Cevera.
Mir’s title is the first for a Suzuki rider since Kenny Roberts Jr. in 2000, and he becomes the fifth rider to win the world’s most prestigious road-racing title for Suzuki in the company’s history.
We had it all in 2020, and with Mir, Oliveira, Binder, Morbidelli, Quartararo, Bagnaia, Miller, Nakagami and Alex Marquez all now running up front, we have seen a generational shift in MotoGP racing.
MotoGP 2020 In Review | Moto2
The intermediate class once again provided some thrilling racing and distilled into a four-way fight for the title between winner Enea Bastianini, Luca Marini, Sam Lowes and fourth-placed Marco Bezzecchi. At one point or another during the season, each rider could have potentially broken away for a clear title lead, but mistakes and crashes often blighted each rider’s charge.
Bezzecchi’s crash from the lead at Aragon 2 saw the young Italian go from potential champion elect to an eventual championship fourth place, while Luca Marini’s charge ran out of steam in the final rounds of the year.
Sam Lowes was on course to take the title as the season wound down, but a crash due to a mechanical problem at the first Valencia round, then a monster crash in practice at the second, saw his chances of a long-awaited Moto2 title slip away. He gathered himself for third place at Portimao, sealing third in the championship.
It was left to Bastianini to take the gold with 205 points after wins at Jerez and San Marino 2, sealing the title with a tense fifth place behind first-time winner Remy Gardner. Bastianini and Marini will now head to MotoGP in the Esponsarama Racing Ducati team, which will be rebranded Sky VR46 for the 2022 season. Gardner will replace Pramac Ducati-bound Jorge Martin.
American Joe Roberts enjoyed a breakthrough year in seventh overall with three pole positions, including round one at Qatar, and his first podium at Brno’s round three. Roberts moves to the Italtrans team in 2021, replacing World Champion Bastianini.
The USA will have another reason to watch Moto2 in 2021 with the arrival of Cameron Beaubier in the American Racing Kalex team. Beaubier takes Roberts’ vacated spot, and judging by his speed at the end-of-year test at Jerez, will be right at the front when the green light goes out at round one of Qatar next year.
MotoGP 2020 In Review | Moto3
Aspar KTM’s Albert Arenas finally clinched his first Moto3 World Championship in 2020, coming out on top in a class where a tenth of a second often means the difference of either first or fifth place.
Arenas took three victories in Moto3 2020, but never scored another win after round five.
He was chased home in the title by Toni Arbolino, who crucially missed the Aragon round due to Covid-19 quarantine rules after sitting next to someone on a plane who tested positive. Arbolino took one win at Valencia, heading home Ai Ogura and the late-season sensation Raul Fernandez, who took two wins for Red Bull KTM for fourth overall. Arenas, Ogura, Arbolino, Fernandez and Celestino Vietti—fifth in Moto3—will all move up to the Moto2 category next year.
MotoGP 2020 In Review | MotoE
The MotoE World Cup was diluted to seven rounds in 2020, with the Spanish Elvis, Jordi Torres, taking the crown with 114 points with his sole race win coming at Le Mans’ race one. Torres headed 2019 champion Matteo Ferrari and former Moto2 sparring partner Dominique Aegerter, who each took two race wins.CN
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