2020 MotoGP Round 14 – Valencia
With Boris Mihailovic
I guess the first thing to do is to congratulate Joan Mir on winning the 2020 MotoGP World Championship. It’s only good manners, after all.
The kid did a sterling job of consistency, with a focus on the prize that belied his years.
Sadly, those same good manners are lacking in the chorus of: “But it’s not a real championship because Marquez was not riding.”
Not a real championship?
I bet it felt pretty real for Marquez when his bike snapped his humerus like a twig, ended his 2020 championship, and possibly his career.
I bet it felt pretty real to both Rossi and Vinales when they escaped flying-motorcycle death by centimetres in Austria.
And I’ll also bet if feels very real to each and every rider who grids up on Sunday and risks his life so I can sit on my couch in my underpants and wonder at their inhuman riding skills.
This is not a sport of “ifs”. I keep telling people that.
It’s a sport of absolutes. Which is its appeal, after all.
That being the case, there is no guarantee Marquez would have destroyed all comers this year. At all. All he did was destroy his humerus.
Mir, on the other hand, contested a very close and eye-crossingly exciting and difficult season, which was run, against all odds, in the teeth of a global pandemic.
That this kid, from a country with 1.46 million Covid cases and more than 40,000 deaths, was able to keep his focus on motorcycle racing during the most competitive MotoGP season of all time, is a testament to his worthiness as a world champion. He should be lauded. Not questioned.
But there were lots of other questions as the circus returned to Valencia for the second-last round.
Dovizioso had allegedly armed himself with lawyers, and was looking to sue Ducati for not yelling loudly enough at Yamaha for cheating with its engines. He also decided he might take 2021 off, unless of course HRC gives him a call once it works out whether Marquez is going to have a third surgery on his arm. And that is a saga that will certainly play itself out over the next year.
Iannone had also armed himself with lawyers. Probably ones he met in some sleazy Roman bar when he was out scoring steroids and pingas, because they didn’t do him any good at his appeal. He copped the full four-year ban because he failed to produce any evidence to back up his assertions some bastard in Malaysia was injecting cows with breast-cancer drugs and supplying restaurants with the tainted meat – restaurants where MotoGP riders go all the time, but its name escaped him.
Yamaha, whose season has been marred by both penalties and race successes, is now being publicly criticised by its riders, despite its success on paper.
No less a personage than Rossi stated publicly that Yamaha was giving its riders bikes that were too slow and unreliable. And not doing anything about fixing the issues – apart from some dodgy shit with the valves, and winning seven races.
In response, Yamaha immediately sacked its test-rider, Jorge Lorenzo, and hired Cal Crutchlow in his place for the 2021 season.
Lorenzo’s reaction was to tweet some inanity about replacing gold with bronze, and then going shopping for another hypercar.
So it’s fair to say there was all kinds of tension as the riders carried their kit bags into the circuit on Friday.
The championship would be Mir’s if he just finished on the podium. That’s what the pre-race mathematics said.
It certainly didn’t look like that would be the case when he qualified in 12th, right beside Fabulous in 11th, and who was, once again, not having a good weekend.
Rins was also not shining like a diamond, having qualified in 14th. But he did find himself in some very fine company at the blunt end of the grid. Rossi was in 16th and Dovizioso in 17th – both clearly having reached the “I just don’t give a shit” stage of their 2020 season.
At the front, it was all Morbidelli. He looked omnipotent. His race pace was great in Practice, and if the maths went his way and Mir was less than focussed, then the decider would be at Portimao next week.
Beside him sat Miller in second, clearly enjoying himself and relying on his Ducati’s stonking straight-line speed, while Nakagami finished off the front row.
The methodical Japanese rider had been studying all the telemetry at his disposal for the last week with the focus of a laser, and he looked very samurai-like in his intent.
The second row was Zarco, who’s like the crazy wild card Iannone used to be, and is as liable to podium as he is to end up in Clinica Mobile. He was followed on the grid by Pol and then Maverick.
So there was lots of variety in terms of manufacturers at the sharp end.
When the lights went out, Miller’s Ducati easily won the drag-race to Turn One, but not so much out of Turn One. Jack ran wide and Morbidelli sailed past followed by Pol Espargaro.
Fabulous, eager to be fabulous once again, almost rode into the empty stands in his excitement to pass people. Rins found himself in eighth and Mir in tenth during the first few corners.
Before the first lap had ended, Miller had shot past Pol and secured himself in second behind Morbidelli. Nakagami was in fourth, and Olivier in fifth, and it looked like there would be a serious race ahead of them all, especially with Brad Binder getting his charge on and passing Aleix Espargaro in the middle of the pack.
By lap three, Miller was fastest on the track. But that was only until Mir was the fastest on the track – and Davide Brivio’s heart-monitor was well into the triple figures. None of them could expect the human metronome that Morbidelli then became, reeling out laps within tenths of seconds of consistency.
Nakagami appeared to be holding up the riders behind him – Oliveira, Zarco, Rins, and Binder. But Zarco fixed that all by himself on the next lap by crashing helpfully out in Turn One just after Rins passed him, and he’d had a crack at passing the Suzuki rider back.
Mir had jigged himself into ninth place and was already, if things stayed the same, world champion.
Turn One was proving a little diabolical. Riders were copping a tailwind down the straight, so some of them were overcooking the turn. Morbidelli and Miller were not among them. In fact, Franco was eking out a bit of a gap on Jack, a tenth here and a tenth there. But Jack was not just letting it go, nor was Pol. There was a 1.3-second gap back to Oliveira in fourth, Nakgami in fifth, Rins in sixth, and Binder in seventh.
Fabulous, who was busily trying to be less shit than he has been thus far in the season, then took himself out of the race and the championship by folding his front-end in Turn Six.
On the next lap, Dovi bestirred himself and set out after Mir, who was now in ninth and cruising steadily. Taka also bestirred himself and decided he would prefer fourth place, and passed Oliveira.
Up the back, Rossi and Crutchlow (13th and 14th) were racing each other for old time’s sake, as Rins set off in pursuit of Taka and also relegated Oliveira back a place.
Mir then managed to shove Aleix Espargaro between himself and Dovi, and Brivio’s heart monitor took note of the pass.
Morbidelli had pushed out a one-second lead on Jack and Pol, and it was another two seconds back to Taka and his mates. It was all starting to look a little processional, with 15 laps still to go.
Morbidelli’s lap times were freakish. He was running either 1:31.7s, 1:31.6s, 1:31.5s, or 1:31.4s at the halfway stage of the race.
Young Marquez, who showed so much hope a few races ago, had high-sided himself during practice and landed so hard on his bum, it must have impacted his bowel movement into his brain. He was thus playing with Bradl up the back, which must have made HRC weep a little at how badly its season had gone this year.
Ten laps from the end, Miller began to close the gap on Morbidelli, and the edge of the couch was where I felt I now had to sit. Surely Jack was gonna do the deed on Franco and become the 453rd different winner this year (yes, I have lost count)?
Taka had also closed the gap on Pol in a display of determination that was great to see this late in the race. And then, as the Japanese rider passed KTM’s most non-winning rider, his determination and his front-end deserted him, and he was into the gravel at Turn 14. How Pol missed running over the sliding Nakagami is anyone’s guess.
But all the tension was at the front. Miller was not leaving Morbidelli alone, and Franco was not making it easy on Jack. They were running almost identical lap times. The Ducati would be great down the straights, but the Yamaha was very good in the corners. And we knew this and they knew this – and so it became very tense at the front.
Mir was already world champion by this stage. You could tell by Brivio’s heart monitor, and the Suzuki crew were getting out the T-shirts and shining up the golden helmet – something they had not had to do in 20 years, when Kenny Roberts Junior won his one and only world title.
But at the front, Jack and Franco were in the moment and championship be damned. Jack had managed to close up on Franco’s rear wheel, and outdragging him down the main straight as they headed into the last lap, Jack passed him into Turn One.
But Franco switched to the inside of Jack and held a tighter line through Turns One and Two, and once again Jack was back in second. Then in Turn Four he passed Franco again. Then Franco passed him back in Turn Five.
Sitting was no longer possible. I was now standing. And I remained that way as Franco kept his nerve and pipped Jack over the finish line by nine-one-hundreths of a second. Pol came home three seconds later.
But all the cameras were on Mir – who was the 2020 World Champion, and utterly beside himself with joy. Awash with tears, and lost for words, he actually said: “I don’t have words” in his post-race interview. And it was impossible not to feel absolutely overjoyed for the young and immensely likeable Spaniard.
Morbidelli was also a mile-wide smile when the cameras finally found him in Parc Firme. He and Jack had clearly enjoyed their last-lap tussle, which Franco deemed: “Clean and sporting”, then added: “It was the best victory of the year, maybe even the best one of my life! It was all about giving more than you have on the last lap and that’s what both of us did.”
Jack was equally pleased. “That was so, so close… when you get beaten in a MotoGP race by about five metres after 27 laps you’d think I’d be disappointed or even a bit angry, but definitely not today. That was great fun out there, I did everything I could, and I got a great result. Less than a tenth of a second from it being a greater one, but Franky was faultless and you have to hand it to him. But finishing second and having as much fun as I did, that’s a good Sunday for me. Hope you guys enjoyed it too.”
Next week, we shall all reconvene for the final round at Portimao in Portugal. A non-FIM-sanctioned track Rossi described as a “roller-coaster.”
And I reckon it will be one hell of a ride to cap off one hell of a season.
MotoGP Race Results
|DNF||Takaaki NAKAGAMI||Honda||9 Laps|
|DNF||Fabio QUARTARARO||Yamaha||19 Laps|
|DNF||Johann ZARCO||Ducati||22 Laps|
MotoGP World Championship Standings
MotoGP Constructors Championship
MotoGP Team Championship
|1||TEAM SUZUKI ECSTAR||309|
|2||PETRONAS YAMAHA SRT||230|
|3||RED BULL KTM FACTORY RACING||209|
|5||MONSTER ENERGY YAMAHA MOTOGP||169|
|8||RED BULL KTM TECH 3||127|
|9||REPSOL HONDA TEAM||85|
|11||APRILIA RACING TEAM GRESINI||46|