2020 Spanish MotoGP
In News,  MotoGP

2020 Spanish MotoGP – A Scorcher in a Scorcher for ages!

Oh boy! It is good to be back. When the lights went out on Sunday, it was a culmination of a wait that had lasted 245 days, more than twice what we usually (barely) go through each winter before the new season. The reasons behind it are all known and it is still a miracle of sorts that we are getting MotoGP again starting with the 2020 Spanish GP even as the COVID-19 pandemic seers along globally, reaching further inroads to places no one wants it to reach and then beyond. And this has been possible due to the intense effort put in by Dorna and all involved stakeholders. Just like how an artist uses their art to pay their respects, the only way the paddock could think of honouring the victims of this disease was to go racing, and they did it in a rather spectacular way.

This wait has also been a monumental test of the patience and love fans have for the sport and Sunday proved that the racing missed them the same as well. For we were treated by not only intense racing but genuine superhuman efforts as the track temperature throughout the weekend was well beyond what any sane person would like.

The closest analogy I can think of about the eventual arrival and the pleasure of the race day at the 2020 Spanish GP can be found in the preparation of a famous Rajasthani cuisine, ‘Lal Maans’ or ‘Red Meat’ in which the meat is cooked mostly in its own fat for long hours which a collection of fine spices in a large clay pot resulting in a dish that has an intense aroma, astonishingly soft meat and a flavour which if get to describe would make this a food article. But I hope you got the idea, the racing that we witnessed on Sunday was a privilege, it proved why MotoGP is, by a fair margin the greatest motorsporting event out there.

2020 Spanish GP – Drama before the Race

That the first race after the onslaught of the pandemic would be raced under extreme temperatures was evident from the Wednesday test itself which was mainly all about letting the riders get up to speed with their bikes after long. With such excruciating weather forecast for the 2020 Spanish GP and a shortened calendar where 13 races are condensed in a small 18-week window, it was evident that being injury-free was even more so significant. However, leading up to the main race, it was all too clear that it was not an easy thing to fend off for the riders. During the test, Petrucci had a nasty crash after his GP20 came in contact with the oil spilled by Espargaro’s Aprilia. Petrucci arrived into the race weekend with a problematic neck and by the time the race ended he also had a stomach ache to go with it.

During the race weekend, it was evident that the grip was at a premium and the hot track remained closer to or above a scorching 60 degrees through most of the day, both combined are a perfect recipe for disaster. Add to it the narrow flowing layout of the circuit with one of the fastest corners in the calendar, crashes were waiting to happen and they did, exacting severe injuries to the involved, potentially ending the title fights even before they began.

The first serious injury arrived for Alex Rins in Q2 well during final runs he went in too hot into Turn 11 only to see Miller already on the gravel and in line for a hit, trying to save an imminent disaster Rins tried jumping off his GSX-RR which though managed to stay away from Miller did not fare well for the Spanish rider as he tumbled through the gravel trap, his Suzuki following him in a barrel roll that made for a scary but spectacular visual in slow motion. Miller just like Petrucci just before him came out unscathed from the event. Rins, on the other hand, suffered a fracture in his right shoulder which was also dislocated, to add to the pain, the surrounding area had also sustained muscle damage meaning that Rins had to at least miss the race on Sunday while his return for next week is still uncertain. When he crashed Rins had a pace good enough for 9th on the grid.

The next casualty of the high temperature and low grip was Crutchlow the following morning when he crashed at a fast Turn 8 during morning warm-up. The concussion and neck trauma caused by the heavy tumble meant the Brit was declared unfit for the race. It was a massive blow for Crutchlow who is still in search of a ride in 2021. He would have started from 6th on the grid. After the race, it was reported that the Crutchlow injury was far more serious as he had suffered a tiny fracture to the left scaphoid bone and would need to be operated on it on Tuesday.

He remains hopeful to race next week though. It also showcases the depth of troubles Honda finds itself in for 2020, all HRC riders have gone back to the 2019 chassis in search of any semblance of confidence at the front after the final winter tests clearly showed that the 2020 chassis and aero was proving to be an even tougher mountain to climb for its riders in terms of front end response. But more on that later.

2020 Spanish GP – A Race for the Ages!

With the track temperature close to 60 degrees, the main race had all the makings of an equal fire breathing affair. On pole was Fabio Quartararo repeating the feat from 2019 and with the fastest ever lap around Jerez on two wheels. Following him was Maverick Vinales who had been fast and consistent throughout the weekend. Completing the last slot on the front was Marc Marquez, the reigning world champion having a scary fast race pace. Everyone knew, if Marquez had his wish, he would bolt out at the front and leave the rest in his wake to fight amongst each other.

However, it was not to be, Yamaha’s new holeshot device worked like a dream for Vinales as he catapulted ahead of Quartararo while Marquez couldn’t match and was overtaken by Miller’s astonishing start from fourth landing him in the second position into Turn 1. Miller’s lead did not last long though when Marquez came through easily through as the Australian went wide. Miller was further overtaken by Quartararo at Turn 2 relegating him back to 4th, but then Miller used his Desmosedici grunt to get up the inside of the Frenchman down into the Dani Pedrosa corner.

Further ahead, Viñales was already showing first signs that his gamble of putting a soft front tyre wasn’t going to pay off as he got out the seat around Turn 8. Bagnaia too was charging ahead and was able to go past Quartararo on Lap 2 but could not stay ahead for long as Quartararo went back through at the final corner. For the leading duo of Vinales and Marquez a fast game of cat and mouse was going on, the Repsol rider was faster and the two went toe-to-toe at Turn 4. In a matter of moments, Marquez managed to make his move stick at the Dani Pedrosa corner.

With clear track out in front, it was expected the Marquez would make a break from the pack soon enough but it was not to be. The rubber left by Moto 2 before combined with the high track temperature meant the grip was at its lowest during the race.

By the Lap 4, it looked that it was going to be a Marquez show at the front as Vinales looked in trouble with his front tyre and Quartararo was still fending off the chasing pack. But it was in Lap 5 the entire dynamics of the race changed and the thrill went up several launches. Marquez while trying is best to create a considerable gap from still chasing Vinales lost the front at fast Turn 4 and produced what would be amongst the greatest (and fastest) of saves in his already glorious list of saves. Everything about the save was at a truly exceptional level that only Marc Marquez can claim to hold a key to.

Marquez lost the front entering Turn 4 and by the time the track ended and the gravel began, he has managed to save the fall with his knee sliding across the track, and just at the edge of the kerb he ‘somehow’ managed to lift his Honda straight and entered the gravel trap showcasing his extreme MX skills as he defied every odd to stay upright. He then entered the race in P16 and at one time went as low as P18. But then, as is the case with Marc Marquez and the present era of MotoGP is, it was only the beginning of insanely captivating moments for the remainder of the races.

With Marquez’s crash/save, it was Vinales who got the lead and he tired capitalizing on it while his front tyre deteriorated all this time. Miller was closing in and so was Quartararo, Bagnaia, Dovizioso, and Pol Espargaro. All could smell a podium; few could see a win. Vinales knew that he could not run the pace that Marquez was doing and went ahead trying to control the race pace form the front. Vinales knew only he and his teammate Rossi were running the soft front while everyone else was on the hard front. This meant at that stage of the race, as Vinales tore through his front rubber, others still had more of it.

Behind him, Miller continued to stay strong in the second spot closely being followed by a charging Quartararo who soon overtook him. Up at the front Vinales had started suffering badly from the front as he made a mistake at Dani Pedrosa corner and then went wide at Jorge Lorenzo corner letting both Quartararo and Miller pass through.

As the lead at the front changed, an orange helmet was seen blazing through the track overtaking rivals through the pack as if it was a computer game. Marc Marquez was coming in fast and he was furious. Within 5 laps he had gained 8 places from P18 to P10 and was lapping the more than a second faster than Vinales in 3rd. At the same time, Quartararo was easily creating a considerable gap between him and Miller. In what will be discussed for years to come, in a monumental display of racecraft, unmatched pace, absolute talent, and unquestioned supremacy, the reigning world champion did the fastest race lap of 1:38.3, 0.4 faster than Quartararo in lead. By Lap 15 Quartararo had extended his lead up at the front by more than 2 seconds over Miller but Marquez continued his assault towards podium contention relentlessly in the back.

With only 8 laps to go, as the temperatures rose, Marquez continued his charge through the mid-pack as he passed Rossi, Morbidelli, and Bagnaia as if they were standing still. Rossi was suffering badly and looked as if he was strolling and shortly after had to retire from the race due to a mechanical issue with his YZF-R1. Coming back to Marquez, he did not take much longer to easily pass Dovizioso as well. The Italian being more than a second slower than Marquez did not help his chances much either. This meant for the charging Marquez, Miller, and Vinales were within a striking distance. Even though Quartararo was 5 seconds ahead, a second position was at least up for grab and Marquez looked like a man on a mission.

Marquez on Turn 13 with six laps to go passed Miller who then straight back returned the favour on the home straight. However, Marquez, clearly having a much better pace, passed miller in Turn 2 in an exchange of favours again and this time made it stick. With this, Marquez was on the podium, a fact that would have been unimaginable considering what had happened just a few laps ago. With Vinales within sight, a magnificent second position looked like a certainty.

With four laps remaining Marquez was ready to make a move on Vinales and it was when the most significant twist of the race and probably 2020 championship arrived. As Marquez came close to Vinales at Turn 3, his RC213V ear lost grip and then found it back resulting in a Marquez suffering a monstrous highside that saw him land hard and fast on the track on his right shoulder. As Marquez horrendously tumbled through the track first and then the gravel trap later, his RC213V has hit him hard along the way as it slid.

Though Marquez was able to stand up after a while, it was evident that he was in severe discomfort and pain. He held his right hand gingerly and he walked with the marshals to safety. Soon after he was rushed directly to the medical center in an ambulance with a neck brace. The visuals made for a truly concerning sight. It was later diagnosed that Marc Marquez has suffered a severe injury to the shaft of the humerus, a complete fracture. Luckily though, this is not completely displaced. But is worrying though, is that there is a possible paralysis of the radial nerve. But more on it later.

Among the whole drama, the always steady, sharp, smart and calculative Dovizioso waited like a peak predator for the race to come to him, something that he had said he would do after the qualifying. And he did exactly that, finishing on the podium for the first time at Jerez, a long-running bogie track for Ducati. He had cared for his tyres well but was at pains to explain through every question after the race that Ducati needs more speed here to be close to being properly competitive. After the race, he rated the race being even tougher than the ones in Sepang and Buriram, as he barely could stand straight for the interviews. This should be enough to understand just how incredibly hard it was to be on track on Sunday proving that these MotoGP racers are among the fittest and bravest athletes in the world.

With all the drama taking shape/ having occurred behind him, Quartararo was on his way to a glorious maiden MotoGP win, when he crossed the line he not only avenged the heartbreak he had at the same track last year where a gearbox issue had thrown him out of contention, but he also became the first French premier class winner in 21 years. That he thoroughly deserves the win would be an understatement as the race was even for the long-standing and experienced riders the toughest race, they have participated in. Treacherous heat, non-existent grip, uncertain tyre wear, and intense fatigue including a pack of riders who are all more experienced and race winners chasing him, this victory of Quartararo is nothing short of exemplary achievement that the French sensation thoroughly deserves.

More on Marquez situation

Marquez is to be operated on the injury on Tuesday and at the time of writing this article, Marquez had just arrived in Barcelona and was headed to the hospital. With Marquez out of contention for at least the next weekend, the baton for HRC would be held by his younger brother who is only one race old in the premier class. On a bright side, he did finish as the highest placed rookie crossing the line in 12th but he is far from being competitive, and having any high hopes from him would be a mistake. Alex Marquez needs some time on the Honda to get used to it in Rae trim. Honda has also suffered due to Crutchlow’s injury as well.

This begs a question, after all these years of criticism from within in range of riders, has the RC213V finally reached the un-rideable level that everyone that warned about, a threshold that even a motorcycling phenomenon like Marc Marquez can no longer tame? As fast as Marquez was throughout the whole weekend, it was evident that he was able to do it because he could keep the bike consistently above its limits. Never once Marquez looked comfortable while doing it and there always was an air of an impending crash looming charge. Sadly, for Marquez, that inevitable crash came at the worst of the time and in a terrible way. Honda is in a grave situation for 2020 and they would need to take revolutionary efforts to make the 2021 Honda a much easier to handle package, this iteration seems to have reached its peak.

Brad Binder – A truly mind-blowing debut lost in the ‘Eventful’ Race

The race was a monumentally tough race to even participate and survive even for the most seasoned of the riders is a fact now. This is why having any expectation from the rookies was asking too much. They were gifted with such a race for the first time they truly experienced the racing, none of them had any experience of the fighting with a GP machine for a full race distance in the cut-throat racing environment where even a slightest of mistake would be punished. Thus, even though all rookies have impressed during pre-season testing, the expectations weren’t high.

However, it seems someone forgot to tell Brad Binder all this because the first-ever South African in the premier class showcased and utterly magical performance throughout the race as he wrestled his factory KTM RC16 to lap times that could have seen him on a podium and at least a fighting chance at the win had he not off-track on Lap 7 losing time. This meant he was relegated o the dead-end of the pack but he ended the race in 13th position. The way he did that has stunned the paddock and the already sky-high expectations from him have gone even higher. The next generation of MotoGP is here and it lays a strong claim to continue the incredible run that MotoGP is having.

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Photos Courtesy: MotoGP