If there was ever a round that perfectly encapsulated the cruelty, the glory, and the ecstasy of motorcycle racing, the opening round of the 2020 season would be it.
After eight seemingly endless months of waiting as the Plague raged around the globe changing the way we live, Dorna finally got it together to present a contracted season unlike any other in its long history.
The race had claimed major scalps before it even started.
Dovi was freshly out of surgery after his collarbone snapped during training, and he was very much the unsung marvel of the round which contained so many marvels, it is understandable his gritty third place finish was kind of “meh”.
Crutchlow had a tumble in morning warm-up and was declared unfit to race, much to his chagrin, which saw him raging around the pits wall-eyed with anger.
Rins’ collarbone had also ceased to collarbone when he engaged the gravel during Practice, and Suzuki was left with only one bike on the grid – albeit in Mir’s very capable hands.
Marquez was fast in practice and qualified third, behind an eagle-eyed Vinales and a very determined-looking Quartararo on pole. Behind them sat Bagnaia, and Miller (who had been walking around like a grinning gunslinger all weekend basking in the promise of his forthcoming full factory ride in 2021).
Crutchlow, who had not even sat on a bike in four months, was clearly out to impress in the hope he wouldn’t be forgotten next year, qualified sixth. But then his warm-up tumble and subsequent “No, you can’t race no matter how much you yell” declaration by race control, saw everyone behind him bumped up a place on the starting grid. He is now heading for surgery on a broken wrist (Link).
Binder had also impressed hugely and was already starting to look like the Rookie of the Year – certainly more so than Alex Marquez, who is no doubt trying to understand his brother’s declaration that as far as Repsol Honda is concerned, if you’re not on the podium, it is a tragedy.
Rossi, who was beginning his 25th MotoGP campaign, had been lacklustre all weekend and was starting in 10th. Like his team-mate, Maverick, he had decided to run a soft front tyre when the rest of the field had opted for a hard. It was a gamble that did not pay off for the Doctor, who retired seven laps from the end. The tyre choice also saw Maverick dance with the devil, but he still managed to bring it home in second.
The stands were empty, the crews all masked, and there was not a grid girl in sight when they lined up. It was surreal to say the least.
Jerez was hot. The track temperature on race day was 52 degrees, and it had been a baking and windy weekend on a track that is, by any measure, hard work. There were also no big screens for the riders to glance at as they raced, so there was no way for them to orient themselves in the pack during the race.
When the red light went out, Vinales was first into Turn One, with Marquez, Fabulous and Miller hot on his tail. Miller nailed Fabulous in Turn Six, and Marquez was clearly on a charge behind Vinales, as Fabulous muffed a corner, let Bagnaia through, and then passed him on the next bend. Mir let himself off the hook by trundling off the track, and Suzuki started packing its stuff up and preparing for next weekend.
The next lap was even more dramatic. Marquez passed Vinales in Turn Four. Vinales passed Marquez in Turn Five, and Marquez passed him back again in Turn Six.
I was on the edge of my chair. Clearly no-one was remotely interested in easing themselves into this bizarre season.
Aleix Espargaro removed his Aprilia from the contest, as Marquez started piling on the speed at the front, and then all the crazy shit started.
The reigning world champion low-sided in Turn Four, but as is his wont, somehow saved the bike from total disaster. He sailed off the track into the gravel, stood it up, and rejoined the race in 16th position.
The blokes now in front, Vinales, Miller, Fabulous, and Bagnaia, as well as all the riders all the way down to 15th place, saw Marquez sail into the gravel sideways, grinned in their helmets, and carried on. That was Number 93 done. O happy days, someone else has a chance to win something. Or not.
Marquez then began what will go down in history as one of the most amazing, big-balled comebacks of all time. He had 20 laps left to make it back to the pointy end, and on filthy tyres, immediately began lapping a second faster than everyone else.
Binder, who was also lapping as fast as the front of the field, ran off the track, but also rejoined with a will. He lost 26-seconds on Lap Seven, but finished a scant 29-seconds behind the eventual winner, Fabulous. On lap-times alone, he would have finished second – and everyone will note this next time around. Binder is a serious threat.
But the real drama was playing out at the back of the pack. Marquez began a display of riding few have ever equalled. He passed his brother, and was a mere nine-seconds behind Vinales with a whole lotta laps left to go. He was in fact lapping one-and-a-bit seconds faster than Vinales and passing everyone like the remorseless racing machine he is.
With 20 laps to go, Fabulous made his move, passed Vinales, who was making mistake after mistake and possibly rueing his tyre choice, and began ekeing out an uncatchable lead, with Miller also taking advantage and chasing him in second.
But Marquez was coming.
He passed Oliviera and then Rossi, who did an obvious double-take as the Repsol Honda went around him. Hadn’t he seen Marquez kicking up clouds of gravel a few laps ago? And yet, here he was.
Fabulous was now gapping Miller, Dovi and Pol Asparagro were having a tussle, which Dovi eventually won and then he put Bagnaia in his place and wedged himself into fourth.
And Marquez kept right on coming.
He was lapping at a pace which would see him back on the podium in very short order. Baganaia was his next victim, and Marquez was now six seconds off the lead with eight laps to go.
Fabulous was gone up the front. Now three-and-a-bit seconds ahead of Miller, and not slowing down.
Seven laps from the end, Rossi called it quits, and Marquez passed Aleix Espargaro and Dovisoso in a display of dominance that was breathtaking. Vinales went around Miller a scant 50-metres ahead of the magic taking place behind them.
At the back, Binder was now the fastest rider on the track, but Marquez was the king and engaged with Jack Miller, who tried to have a crack. It did him no good. No-one could stop Marquez…except Marquez.
He was in third and pressing Vinales when he high-sided himself into space on Turn Three. And it was nasty. His right harm had clearly been broken when the bike hit him upon his return to earth, and was flapping madly as he tumbled through the gravel.
Somehow, he managed to walk off the track. When he pulled his helmet off, he was screaming in pain. Neck collar on, he was stretchered away, his amazing run ending in a compound fracture of the humerus and a damaged radial nerve – and a whole bunch of other stuff HRC aren’t saying anything about.
It is unlikely Marquez will be back any time soon. It is possible this is a career-ending injury, which would be a truly terrible tragedy for him and for the sport.
But that’s the price MotoGP exacts from its riders from time to time. And it’s a very high one.
I cannot comment on the rumours that Lorenzo was on the phone to Respol before the dust had settled in Turn Three, but this season is going to be simply amazing, if the first race is anything to go by.
For his part, Fabulous rode the perfect race, measured and blisteringly fast, and rightly secured his first MotoGP win.
The lack of crowd meant you could hear his yells of ecstasy and triumph in Parc Ferme, and everyone would forgive his first words, “F***king Hell!”, to Simon Crafar in the post-race interview.
Those words are quite apt. It was exactly that kind of race – hellishly hot, hellishly brutal, and hellishly exciting.
Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.
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