2020 MotoGP Round Two – Jerez
Gran Premio Red Bull de Andalucía
With Boris Mihailovic
The anticipation for this round was off the scale.
The reigning world champion, Marc Marquez, broke his humerus the week before, and yet the Spanish media was convinced about his intention to race.
People were agog with incredulity. No way could such a thing occur, could it? The effects of anaesthesia alone take a few days to wear off, and yet here was Marquez, sauntering into Jerez, trundling his suitcase behind him with his injured arm not in a sling, a mere two days after Dr Mir plated his broken bone.
Social media was alive with speculation. Was it a publicity stunt by HRC? Was Marquez just screwing with the field’s heads. Was he even human to make this attempt?
We were forced to wait until Saturday. Marquez chose to sit our FP1 and FP2 on Friday. A smart call given the teams had all the data they needed from the previous week, and conditions would be much the same this round, if not a little hotter.
So he held his fire and waited, and the anticipation grew greater as a result.
On Saturday Marquez duly wheeled his Honda out of the garage and joined the field for the crucial FP3 – which sets the riders up for Q1 and Q2.
His fellow riding-wounded were Rins and Crutchlow, but all eyes were on Marquez.
He did not disappoint…well, maybe a little. But he still managed to bang out a few fastish laps, which put him into Q1 for the first time in living memory. He was obviously uncomfortable and it seems it was his elbow giving him grief, and there was more talk of possible nerve issues.
Qualifying One was the clincher. Marquez rode out, then rode right back in again, and went straight to his trailer out the back. Within minutes, HRC had declared he would not race on Sunday.
As magnificently Herculean as his effort was just to have a go at muscling a MotoGP bike around a stinking hot Jerez, the prospect of actually doing an entire race was a bridge too far. There is footage of his arm looking like an egg-plant – both in size and colour.
Crutchlow and Mir soldiered on, but once again, Quartararo was all-conquering. He positioned himself on pole as the air temperatures rose into the high thirties and the track, hovering at about 60, promised to fry the marrow out of everyone’s bones during the race. It was brutal, and the attrition rate was high.
Next to Fabulous on the front row sat Vinales and Bagnaia, once again shaming the factory Ducati boys who were back in eleventh (Petrucci) and 14th (Dovizioso). Miller was sat in seventh on row three.
Rossi had surprised everyone, including his fans, by finding fourth, beside KTM’s Oliviera – and anyone who thinks the acquisition of Dani Pedrosa by the Austrian factory isn’t paying dividends is not paying attention – and Fabulous’s Petronas team-mate, Franco Morbidelli in sixth. Takaaki Nakagami, had clearly been shown the special cupboard where HRC keeps its special motorcycle things (actually just Marquez’s data), and had secured eighth, just ahead of Brad Binder.
Hole-shot devices are all the rage, and they do work a treat, but there was a slight cloud hanging over the Yamahas – all the Yamahas – as the race kicked off.
Rossi had been sidelined with a mechanical fault the previous round. Vinales has allegedly used four of his five allotted engines, and engines had apparently been shipped back to Japan for forensic spanner-banging. Would the feral heat of Jerez further conspire against Yamaha?
The first corner saw Fabulous, Vinales, and Rossi, with Miller hot on their wheels, commence battle. The first corner also saw Miguel Oliviera bring sadness to KTM, when Binder nudged his back wheel, then rammed him with his bike, and ended his race, almost taking Smith out in the bargain.
As they started Lap Two, Fabulous was still in front, followed by Rossi who had done Vinales in Turn 12, while Bagnaia rounded up Miller.
And then Quartararo just piled it on. And on. And on some more.
Behind him, Vinales discovered Rossi is a thousand sons-of-bitches to pass, but that did not stop him trying. Maverick later said he had trouble breathing during the race. Sucking in Rossi’s blazing exhaust fumes through the 60-degree filter of hot air rising from the track could not have been helpful. In fact, Rossi looked by far the fresher of the two in Parc Ferme after the race.
Five laps in, and Fabulous was three seconds clear of Rossi and riding smoothly. Iker Lucuonoa crashed for the third time this weekend, while Maverick drifted back into the clutches of Miller and Bagnaia. It was wondrous to see the Pramac Ducati blokes riding like they were the factory team, as Dovi and Petrucci floundered about mid-field.
Emboldened by his own performance, Miller then lunged past Maverick, ran super-wide and surrendered his third place to Bagnaia.
Asparagus A sent his Aprilia into the gravel as Fabulous put four seconds between him and Rossi. Vinales, who had worked himself back into third, then made one of his usual race-errors, ran wide on Turn Six, and suddenly Bagnaia found himself in third place. Vinales was clearly unsettled, and Miller passed him at the end of the main straight and set off in pursuit of Bagnaia.
Their jousting over third had allowed Morbidelli to start tormenting Maverick, and then helpfully, Miller fell off. Bagnaia was now on Rossi’s tail, while Petrucci also helped everything and saw himself off into the gravel.
Then Rossi, like so many others, ran wide in Turn Six, and allowed Bagnaia through.
The gap to Fabulous was now 4.5 seconds, and it was now Morbidelli’s turn to torment Rossi.
Binder, who had been working his way forward after seeing off Oliviera, high-sided himself into space and drove his nuts into his thick South African neck on the way down.
With ten laps to go, the field was down to 15 riders, so everyone was in the points.
And then there were 14 riders.
Morbidelli’s Yamaha failed to proceed in exactly the same place Rossi’s had a week earlier.
Behind him, Crutchlow, livid with suffering and pain, pulled into the pits, had his team threaten his LCR Honda with tools, then rejoined the race.
Fabulous was uncatchable at the front – and nothing but a major error or a crash would stop him claiming a back-to-back victories.
Vinales was back to threaten Rossi for third, while Bagnaia was having the race of his life in second – and it was all glory and wonder…until his Ducati began to spout smoke like a Kenworth.
The track temperature was now 63-degrees and Rossi was cleverly fending Vinales off at almost every corner as Bagnaia finally pulled out of the race.
Rossi was now in second and Yamaha had a stranglehold on the podium.
It took Maverick until the second-last lap to get around Rossi, who ran a little wide on a corner, and then it was done.
Fabulous first, Vinales second, and Rossi third, his 199th premier class podium and his 235th career podium.
Nakagami claimed a wonderful fourth, followed by Joan Mir and a sweat-flayed Dovi, who is making himself more affordable to Ducati with each passing race.
Rossi celebrated like he’d won the title – even climbing the tyre wall and waving to a non-existent crowd. The Doctor’s sense of humour remains intact, it seems.
The real hero was, of course, Fabulous, who now has 50 big-arse points. Vinales is ten behind him, and Dovi is 24 shy in third.
Brno is next in two weeks’ time, which will give Marquez time to heal. He has no points going into Round Three. And that’s not something he has experienced before.
Quartararo is oozing confidence at the seams and keeps taking his clothes off at every opportunity. Rossi is talking about finding a new direction with his set-up, and Maverick is very much in touch with the lead. For Yamaha, it will all come down to reliability.
The rest seem to have their work cut out for them.
I think the best is yet to come from this amazing season.
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.
MCNEWS.COM.AU is a specialist on-line resource that provides motorcycle news for motorcyclists. MCNews covers all areas of interest for the motorcycling public including news, reviews and comprehensive racing coverage.