2020 MotoGP Round Four
The MotoGP paddock is making the short trip from Czechia into Austria as MotoGP sets-up camp for back-to-back races at the Red Bull Ring at Spielberg with firstly the running of the myWorld Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich this weekend, followed seven days later by the inaugural staging of the BMW M Grand Prix von Styria.
The 4,318 metre circuit is located within the picturesque mountains and forests of the Styrian region, but that is where the serenity ends, as it is one of the most demanding circuits on the calendar for tyres. With just two distinct left turns and a fast left-hand curve, it is the remaining seven right-hand corners which present the huge stresses and heat build-up that the Michelin rubber will have to contend with. Due to these demanding requirements Michelin has a special rear tyre construction, designed specifically for these conditions. The use of these tyres will mean that the new rear construction, with its improved grip and performance that has been so successful so far this season won’t be used at Spielberg. The tyre designed especially for these situations also gets used at Buriram in Thailand, but due to the changes to this season’s calendar because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the double-header at Spielberg will be its only outing in 2020. This could play into the hands of the Ducati riders and some of the others that have struggled with the new specification rear Michelin thus it could be another weekend of quite interesting results. Ducati have often had an advantage in Austria and the return to the previous spec’ rear tyre for this round might add to that advantage.
We can also expect the possibility of wet weather, as the Red Bull Ring has demonstrated several times since MotoGP returned to the circuit in 2016 and this weekend rain is expected to fall on both Friday and Saturday before a return to finer conditions on Sunday, according to the forecast…
Last weekend marked a series of firsts. Some were brilliant storylines with Brad Binder taking his and KTM’s first victory. The first win for a steel framed motorcycle in over a decade, and the first victory in MotoGP for WP suspension. This is a huge deal as Ohlins has enjoyed a stranglehold on the class since Showa stepped back on their activities in MotoGP many years ago. It was also the first time since Yugoslavia in 1973 that the winning motorcycle had not been manufactured in either Japan or Italy.
“I’m super proud to be part of the KTM family. To look at where we started, we have won in every class. To come and do it in MotoGP was incredible, literally a dream come true. I think it just shows that with hard work and dedication everything is possible. The guys put in maximum effort in absolutely everything they do. They are the most insane bunch of people I have ever met. When you have this amount of dedication, it is impossible you don’t get it right. I am super proud of KTM. I have always done well at Spielberg but I have never been there on the MotoGP bike. Every time I arrive at a new track on a MotoGP bike, everything changes. Your whole line choice is so different like your braking markers and we are going to be carrying an extra 100k power extra now.”
KTM will be on a high from their success in Czechia as they arrive in their own beautiful backyard and currently the Austrian brand is holding down second place in the Constructors Championship with a two-point buffer over Ducati. The circuit is known as a very happy hunting ground for the Desmosedici but KTM have logged many miles at Red Bull Ring and might again prove very strong this weekend where Pol Espargaro will be keen to try and reestablish the pecking order in the KTM garage.
While KTM are flying high on the back of their success at Brno last weekend also marked some significant milestones for Honda at the opposite end of the scale. Repsol Honda riders Alex Marquez and Stefan Bradl filled the final two places on the grid which as far as we have been able to ascertain has never happened before. It also marked the first time since Honda returned full-time to the premier class of Grand Prix motorcycle racing in 1982 that no Honda rider has finished on the podium in the opening three races of the year.
The absence of Marc Marquez and the injury to Cal Crutchlow has left Honda seemingly toothless for the first part of this season and despite some fanciful rumours circulating that Marc will again attempt to ride this weekend, Repsol Honda are expected to again be represented by Alex Marquez and Stefan Bradl.
“The second of three MotoGP races in a row and the second time we will have more than one race at the same circuit. In Jerez we were able to benefit a lot from having two races so I think it will be an interesting couple of races. It looks like it will rain, a lot, so I will need to adapt to the RC213V in the wet. It’s a new challenge, but being a rookie is all about accepting the challenges and learning. Our goal for the weekend is to keep understanding the MotoGP class and close the gap to the front.”
Takaaki Nakagami has been the brightest light so far for Honda and has scored more points than Crutchlow and Alex Marquez put together. One can only hope that Taka continues to step up and features even more strongly this weekend and throughout the remainder of the championship.
While pickings have been very slim for Honda the tidings over at Yamaha are great but also somewhat strange. The satellite team has continually out performed the factory effort. French youngster Fabio Quartararo took two dominant victories in the opening rounds and despite struggling with tyre wear at Brno, he is the star for Yamaha this season and was on the podium in Austria last year despite the Red Bull Ring generally not being a circuit that favours the Yamaha YZR-M1. He must be rethinking his decision to take that promotion to the Tier 1 team next year after such success this year with Petronas SRT.
“It wasn’t the best weekend at Brno, but we will go to Austria with nine more points in the championship. That was important to do. The Austrian track is one that I really like and I’m really looking to these next two races there. We know that KTM will be strong again as they’ve tested a lot there, which means they will have a lot of important data to use in the races. Of course, we will have to see what the conditions are when we arrive, as at the moment the weather forecast is very mixed, but I think we can be quick there and be back on the podium. We will definitely be trying to repeat, at least, the top-three finish from last year.”
While Quartararo had his struggles in Czechia his Petronas SRT team-mate Franco Morbidelli scored his maiden MotoGP podium. The 25-year-old Italian suffered a mechanical DNF in the second round at Jerez and without that misfortune might actually now be leading the MotoGP World Championship ahead of his team-mate. Either way Petronas SRT have a very handy 21-point lead over their factory counterparts in the Monster Energy squad and Yamaha are leading the constructors championship. At the Red Bull Ring though in the modera era the best a Yamaha rider has done is third.
“I think it has finally sunk in that I achieved my first MotoGP podium last time out! I’m really happy because it has given us a big injection of confidence going into these two races in Austria and the knowledge that we can fight at the front. On paper it doesn’t look like one of our strongest tracks, but that is just on paper! We will have to see what the conditions are like and how we feel in the first practice session on Friday. I’m really looking forward to it though and can’t wait to be back on track after these next few days.”
After finishing second to Quartararo in the opening two rounds Maverick Vinales was looking distinctly dejected after scoring only two points at Brno.
“I think this is my worst result with Yamaha. I don’t know what happened, honestly. In the race I couldn’t keep the pace, not even for one lap. I just lost a lot of grip since the beginning, and little by little it got worse and worse. It was very difficult to ride the bike. The only thing that I could do was try to finish and try to take some points. If I had risked more I might have scored zero, and that would have been a mistake. So we took two very valuable points and, on the bright side, the leader of the championship also didn’t do great today, so this lessens the damage. We have to check the data and try to be fast again in Austria. We know that Spielberg has a lot of stop-start corners and focuses on fast acceleration, but we did a good job there last year. It‘s a difficult track to get right. In 2019 we had a lot of problems with tyre degradation, so that will for sure be an area that we will be working on this weekend. If we do a good job, I think we can have a good weekend.”
Valentino Rossi arrives in Austria with high motivation. Though he would have liked a podium at the Czech GP, he felt positive about his overall performance, especially the fact that he made up five positions during the race. He is keen to find out what he can do this weekend. The Doctor is more familiar with the Spielberg track than most. He first visited the rostrum there in 1996, taking third place in the 125cc class, and secured a second place in the same class a year later, before a 19-year hiatus in Austrian GPs. The Italian‘s best premier class results there are the fourth places he achieved in 2016 and 2019. He is currently 7th in the championship classification, but only needs to bridge a 4-point gap to enter the top 3.
“Last year in Austria it was a good race. I started from the fourth row and finished fourth, not so far from Quartararo, who was on the podium. I was able to finish in front of Maverick and Rins, so that wasn‘t so bad. But every year is a different story. For sure, the atmosphere in Austria will be very different from the first three races, because it looks like it will be cooler there than what we had in Spain and Brno. This could bring advantages and disadvantages, but, anyway, for us it‘s very important to be competitive there too. We will try our best.”
Suzuki’s promise has largely been unfulfilled with Alex Rins carrying a shoulder injury and Joan Mir making a mistake at the season opener and then being taken out last weekend in Czechia by KTM youngster Iker Lecuona who has managed to crash out of every race this season.
Rins played it smart at Brno, managing his tyres and his shoulder strength to come through from 11th place on the grid to an eventual fourth place finish, only a tenth away from stealing a podium from Johann Zarco.
“I’m excited to race again because everything went well in Brno and my confidence and strength are improving day by day. I need to take care of my physical condition, because it took a lot of effort and energy to achieve the fourth place last weekend, so I’ll continue with my physio treatments and let’s see how it goes. In the past we have struggled a bit on the Austrian circuit, but I have faith that this year things can be better.”
Aleix Espargaro showed some great bursts of speed last weekend at Brno but over race distance the Aprilia could not run with the leading group as the race wore on. Still, despite his dirft back to tenth place, Aleix finished only eight-seconds from the podium and Aprilia carry some very positive omens with them on the 330 kilometre drive across the border from Brno into central Austria.
“I’m pleased that I finished the race after what happened in Jerez, although I can’t be entirely happy. Unfortunately, we were not as incisive in the race as we were in qualifying. I didn’t have the pace to stay with the best. However, on one side, we stayed in the top 10 on a track where we struggle historically, and this can be the real ground zero for the start of our season. We need to work especially on acceleration and on speed in mid-turn, although on the latter aspect maybe the two crashes in Jerez had an impact, convincing me to take fewer risks. In any case, I want to see the glass as half full, so we are staying positive and focused. We know our limits and we need to give it our all to solve the problems.”
Will Dovizioso get back in the game this weekend at a circuit that holds some great memories for him? The 34-year-old Italian might have looked like an also-ran in Czechia but he is still fourth in the championship standings. Ducati have won every time MotoGP have raced at the track since it returned to the calendar.
“The Czech GP has shown everyone how difficult it is to make predictions this year. Every race has a different story and so, although Ducati has achieved four successes at the Red Bull Ring in the last four years, now we have to think that our priority is to regain the feeling with the Desmosedici GP bike. It is in difficult times like this that we have to stick together, and I see the next race in Austria as a good opportunity. We have to keep calm and work as we’ve always done.”
Danilo Petrucci is not setting his sights too high….
“The race in Brno was disappointing because, honestly, I thought I would get a better result, especially after the good qualifying on Saturday. We are struggling to find the feeling with these tyres and have been inconsistent throughout the weekend. We must try to stay positive and work hard to change this dynamic. The only goal I set myself for the Austrian GP is to improve in each session, to get to have good feelings for the race. If we continue to work hard, our time will come”
Jack Miller is currently ninth on 20-points and will be looking to push further up that order although as he mentioned this week, Red Bull Ring has generally not been all that kind to him. He also reflected on what was a frustrating weekend for him at Brno.
“I tell you, it was a strange old weekend. Other than (Johann) Zarco – and he’s on last year’s Ducati, remember – none of the other Ducatis had any pace at all. I’m riding around behind ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso) in the race and I’m thinking to myself that this was like deja vu, I rode around behind him here last year too – but that was for second and third, not 11th and 12th. So, we definitely need to analyse what’s happening – a real head-scratcher. Yeah, it was good to crack the top 10 but considering I was on the podium here last year – I’ll leave here pretty frustrated. Austria this weekend – and the one after that in this strange season – the Ducati usually goes well in Austria but I haven’t had much luck there the last few years, so at least I get two goes at fixing that this time. It’ll suit our bike, so I’m hopeful we can do something better there this week.”
At Brno Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) took the team’s first podium, his first on a Ducati, was back on the box for the first time since Malaysia 2018, and did it from pole – via a Long Lap Penalty. One of the most spectacular moments of the race – not something often said – Zarco didn’t let it get in his way. And as we head for Austria, he’s on the bike that won last year…
“After a nice Czech Republic Grand Prix, we arrive to Austria, a track that normally is good for Ducati, so I’m very curious to see my feeling on the bike. I still have many things to learn and I’m working on myself to control always better the bike and it seems that weather will be very changing, so it will be I think the first time I can ride the bike in wet. If the grip is quite OK and there are not surprises, even on wet I can be competitive. So really looking forward to start this Friday.”
It will be an interesting weekend and one that could throw up yet more twists in what is turning out to be a thrilling season full of surprises.
MotoGP World Championship Standings
myWorld Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich Schedule
Updated 2020 MotoGP Calendar
|5||16 August||Red Bull Ring-Spielberg|
|6||23 August||Red Bull Ring-Spielberg|
|7||13 September||Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli|
|8||20 September||Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli|
|9||27 September||Barcelona – Catalunya|
|10||11 October||Le Mans|
|11||18 October||MotorLand Aragón|
|12||25 October||MotorLand Aragón|
|13||08 November||Comunitat Valenciana-Ricardo Tormo|
|14||15 November||Comunitat Valenciana-Ricardo Tormo|
|15||22 November||Autodromo Internacional do Algarve|