Had anyone said at the start of the 2020 season the bloke who had fired his bike at 300 km/h into the Brno treetops (Joan Mir), bruising a lung, and putting paid to the latter half of his 2019 season, would now be four-points shy of leading the championship, you would have laughed.
Had anyone told you a bloke with “Unemployed” stitched to his arse, and who finished seventh and eighth in two consecutive races, would be leading the championship after eight races, you would have laughed harder.
And had anyone ventured to suggest a humble tear-off would reshuffle the championship table like a Vegas blackjack dealer, you would have laughed until you hiccupped.
But that’s where we are and that’s what happened at Misano.
One week after the VR46 Academy was toasting its brilliance at humbling the Spanish juggernaut, it was licking its wounds as all three podium flags flew the Spanish colours.
The weekend began with HRC losing yet another rider to injury. Test-mule Bradl was off to get surgery on his arm, and Alberto Puig was hauling even more boxes of special factory parts into Nakagami’s satellite LCR garage in-between telling the media how it’s his remaining riders’ faults Honda hasn’t “got this” in 2020.
Vinales was also talking to the media, mainly about how he no longer had any idea why his bike didn’t function, and he had tried 70 different ways to ride it, and none of them worked, and his life was shit.
Things were not much better in the Factory Ducati garage. Petrucci had lost the will to live, Dovi had replaced the stitched “Undaunted” on the arse of his leathers with “Unemployed”, and Gigi Dall’Igna now spends most of his time hanging with the Pramac boys, Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia, who is still hobbling around on crutches.
Aprilia keeps chasing the media out of its garage with pitchforks and waiting for WADA to drop the hammer on Iannone’s head so it can find someone other than Aleix Asparagaro to crash its bikes, or come last, like the intrepid Smith.
The Orange Empire is still quietly confident it’s going to show well this year, prior to becoming the dominant MotoGP monster it will become in 2021 and 2022.
Only the tiny Suzuki team, broke, sponsorless, without a satellite team, and facing an uncertain 2021, is smiling – and that is largely due to Joan Mir’s relentless and metronomic race-pace.
There was a test between Misano One and Misano Two, but other than make Vinales throw stuff around his motorhome in frustration, it revealed little.
Practice and Qualifying didn’t reveal all that much either. Well, not at first glance. A whole bunch of riders crashed – Bagnaia, Nakagami (twice), Pol Espergaro, and Miguel Oliveira.
And maybe I should have seen the omens.
As it was, I picked Rossi, Bagnaia, and Binder to fill the podium on Sunday – and thus crowned myself the destroyer of worlds.
Jack Miller had had a vicious high-side in warm-up, and was a bruised second on the grid behind Vinales – who had once again performed single-lap miracles while expecting his now usual mid-field finish. He was on his third consecutive pole at Misano, but had not won in 17 races. In third sat Fabulous, who was no way gonna be repeating last week’s DNF, and he knew Maverick would shortly be riding backwards like he always did.
Behind them sat Pol, Pecco, and a most dangerous-looking Binder, who had never qualified this far up the grid before. Rossi was tucked in seventh, with the previous week’s winner, Morbidelli, beside him nursing a vicious stomach bug, and Petrucci in ninth, just ahead of Championship leader and future dole-beast, Dovizioso.
It all kinda looked kinda normal for 2020, I guess.
Miller shot off the start and was the first into Turn One, but Vinales passed him on Turn Four, just as Bagnaia hauled past Fabulous to grab third place.
Aleix Espargaro took this opportunity to examine the gravel and terrify the already unstable contents of Morbidelli’s belly as he slid out and almost took Morbidelli with him.
As Vinales flew half-a-second clear of his pursuers, Rossi crashed, my heart broke again, and Binder passed Miller to grab third.
This South African glory lasted maybe a lap. And the terrible sound of those bastard vuvuzelas could not be heard over the grinding of gravel as Binder exited the race, but heroically remounted, just as Rossi had.
Pol now found himself in a solid third place as Bagnaia went to work on Vinales.
Four laps into the race, and his work was paying off. He was on Maverick’s back wheel.
Binder’s work was not. He had remounted only to fly off the end of the main straight. All the vuvuzelas were then put away.
Vinales and Bagnaia were now 1.2 seconds clear of Pol and Fabulous, while the rest of the field sat some three seconds behind them, so it all started to look a little processional.
And it was still rather early in the race, with 22 laps to go, when Vinales ran wide on Turn Four and allowed Pecco to pass him. Maverick tried fighting back, but the Pramac rider was not to be denied. And he immediately started to gap the Factory Yamaha rider.
A startled Iker Lecuona now managed to pass Jack Miller, who was starting to fade – and through no fault of his own as it turned out. His bike had sucked up one of Quartaroro’s discarded tear-offs and was slowly suffocating due to lack of air.
Pol looked to be slowly moving forward to catch Maverick, and Fabulous also began to creep up on Pol. Behind them, the field was just a snaking line – with none of the riders seeming to be able to mount a challenge to the front-runners.
Except maybe Joan Mir, who was in fifth, but lapping as fast as the leaders.
Miller faded further back, and a surprised Dovi also passed him, and then Jack dropped like a stone through the field as his Ducati gagged to death on trackside litter. He retired in arm-waving disgust.
With 15 laps left, Mir was now endangering Fabulous’ pursuit of Pol, but no-one was really paying much attention. Pecco was 1.6 seconds clear of Maverick, and it was another 2.3 seconds back to Pol in third. The top step of two steps of the podium were apparently unassailable.
Rossi retired 11 laps from the end of the race, and things began to warm up at the pointy end.
Vinales started to find the odd tenth of a second here and there on Bagnaia. But it didn’t appear to be enough until Bagnaia took himself into the pebbles at Turn Six and gifted Vinales the lead.
As the race entered its final few laps, Fabulous had closed right up on Pol and a dogfight began for second place. Mir had also arrived to watch the struggle.
Mir watched it for two laps before deciding he had seen enough of Fabulous arseing about behind the KTM rider, and passed the Frenchman, and then his fellow Spaniard.
Fabulous was inspired! He redoubled his efforts and managed to get around Pol in Turn Three, a scant three laps from the end to secure third place.
But his getting around Pol raised the ire of Race Direction and Fabulous was warned about exceeding track limits. He later said he didn’t see the dashboard message, and that’s entirely possible. One has to look at things to see them, and Fabulous could only see the podium. But he would never stand on it.
He received a direction for a Long Lap penalty on the last lap, on the very same dashboard he was not looking at when he got his warning.
And as he sailed over the line behind Mir’s amazing second place and Maverick’s fortunate first, his third place was gifted to Pol, who really, really felt he deserved it.
The Spanish had conquered Misano Version 2.0, thoroughly and brilliantly. And luckily.
But everyone in the field got points, because only 13 riders finished the race. Seven did not.
And if you thought the championship ladder was close before, you should see the bastard now. It’s down here a bit further under this because that’s where Hedgie always puts it because he understands consistency.
I understand I only have six days to wait until this madness reforms itself at Catalunya.
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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