Emilia-Romagna MotoGP
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Emilia-Romagna MotoGP – And the Twists keep on coming!

“You cannot write a script like this” has been a far consistently used dialogue around the thrilling 2020 MotoGP world championship across the paddock and fandom alike. In a shortened season on a backdrop of a pandemic that sees the championship shrunken to just the European continent and racing at a few circuits back-to-back, all promised to result into a season of chaos and unpredictability. And this is exactly what we have got served with. And yet, the main protagonist behind this unusually scintillating season, even by the standards of the last few ones, it is a tyre compound. The new Michelin rear has been a puzzle for most of the paddock and the uncertainties thrown in by it were again visible quite clearly at the Emilia-Romagna MotoGP.

We headed into the seventh race of the season with top riders within a sniffing distance of championship lead. There had already been five different race winners in the last six races, out of which four were first time race winners in the class. The Championship was lead by Andrea Dovizioso, who except for the Austrian MotoGP victory, doesn’t have any good results going on for him. But he was leading the championship by doing the one most significant thing, finishing every race. The only other rider to it this season was Nakagami, who is the only one to finish in top 10 at every race this year. Then there were the Yamaha’s and their consistent presence both at the front and at the wrong end of the race results. But when we headed for the second time around the spectacular Misano circuit this year, the Yamaha’s were expected to feature at the front again.

Emilia-Romagna MotoGP – Pace before the Race

That the times would be faster than the previous round, aided by the Tuesday test and the rubber laid down by it would be fast, was understood. However, the track had cleaned the surface for the Emilia-Romagna MotoGP, but it did not stop the entire paddock from setting fastest times ever on the track on two wheels.  And this was when for most part of FP1 and FP2, almost all front runners from the previous race weekend worked on the race pace and did not try put in time attacks. This meant that by the time FP3 arrived, there were quite a few big names languishing outside the top 10. A furious FP3 session beckoned, and pre-qualifying ‘qualifying’ did not disappoint.

By the end of FP3, it was clear this time around it was not the Yamaha’s only who had one lap pace as well as a race pace, but there was a Ducati GP20 in the mix as well. Pecco Bagnaia has continued exactly from where he left off last Sunday with his first MotoGP podium. The Italian having come to terms with the demands of his GP20 this year has started to showcase the incredible promise he came with in his rookie year in 2019. He is still not yet 100% fit and still needs a crutch to walk around after breaking his right leg earlier in the season. But this hasn’t taken off any pace out, in fact, right now, he is able to do things on the GP20 that neither Dovizioso, Miller or Petrucci are able to do.

This is both hugely promising for Bagnaia and deeply worrying for the rest Ducati riders as they are being outclassed by the least experienced rider on a GP20. This was something that was not hidden from anyone in the paddock as well, while the cheeky tweet by Ducati CEO, Claudio Domenicali, after Misano Race 1 added further fuel to the fire. The Italians, they do make extraordinary automobiles with glorious racing history, but they aren’t so good at rider management seems to an inherent style, and they seem to take it as a compliment makes things even more complicated than it should be.

FP4 further established that the race was going to be fought between the likes of Bagnaia, Quartararo, Mir, Vinales and Pol Espargaro, while the rest too had good pace, but these are clearly much better than the rest. Andrea Dovizioso, who could only manage a best of P13 in combined practice times continued to suffer with his rear tyre woes throughout the FP4, a session where he sets the rhythm going usually. It was until the last part of the Q1 that saw Dovizioso put in a fast lap as he managed to pass into Q2. But when it was time for Q2 he again failed to make any forward momentum on GP20 and could only manage a best of P10.

Up ahead, Vinales took another pole, but was lucky to have got it as Bagnaia’s blisteringly fast lap at the end of Q1 was cancelled after he went ever so slightly out of track limits coming out of final turn. This had relegated the young Italian to fourth, the same place where he had started the previous race. Behind Vinales, Bagnaia’s fellow Pramac Ducati rider Miller took the middle of the front row after setting a fast lap in a session he seemed to suffer for most part, the last position on the front row went to Quartararo. At this point the French youngster was only six points behind Dovizioso in the championship and he looked in prime place to take over the lead at the end of the race in a days’ time.

Emilia-Romagna MotoGP – The Twist Fest

With two Ducati GP20 in the front two rows, it was always going to be a case that at least one would lead into the first corner and Miller starting from second exactly that. Miller catapulted ahead pole man Vinales while Quartararo just about managed to stay ahead of Bagnaia who had already overtaken Pol Espargaro for a place. However, it was not to be for Miller as Vinales was back in front at Turn 4. Behind the leading group, Franko Morbidelli, the race winner from a week ago, was made to run wide by a crashing Aleix Espargaro. Morbidelli was lucky to stay upright but was eventually relegated to the last position. The number 21 had already been suffering from a bad stomach bug meaning he was down on energy levels throughout the week and this off-track excursion did not help him either. Just what a week can do to one stars is surprising.

Emilia-Romagna MotoGP

Up ahead, Binder starting from sixth had already passed his team mate for fifth while byt he end of Lap 2 Vinales was already almost a second ahead in the lead.  Tragedy struck for the Italian MotoGP demi god at his home track when Rossi went down at Turn 4 in his 250th GP with Yamaha. That elusive 200th podium still remains out of reach for the veteran. Behind the race leader, fast progressing Bagnaia passed Miller for second while Binder zoomed pass Quartararo in Turn 10 to get to final podium place. Sadly though, the rookie sensation in factory KTM colours could not continue his charge and was out of the race when he fell at Turn 14 shortly after.

At the front, Vinales had started to fall into the clamps of rapidly progressing Bagnaia as he set fastest lap of the race. By the next lap Bagnaia closed the Monster Energy Yamaha down and Pol Espargaro riding on soft Michelin rear that he had not favoured in the previous race has started finding rhythm and set a new fastest lap of the race.  On Lap 5, following another fastest lap of the race, a 1:32.3, and Vinales going wide in Turn 4, Bagnaia easily passed into the lead. Now with a clear track in front and a pace that no body seemed to be matching, at least in the leading group, Bagnaia had his maiden MotoGP victory in sight. He had made 0.6 seconds over Vinales rapidly while Espargaro and Quartararo were losing the sight of the leading duo.

A bit further behind, the stunning mid-race resurgence that mir has been consistently showing started to arrive again. He had easily broken away from the close group fighting for top 10 and was now setting his targets on Quartararo that was 3.5 seconds ahead on ap 7. The gap looked big and but Mir had a clear track in front of him and he was consistently firing much faster laps than the French rider. Further ahead, the leading duo for most part had a gap of around 0.6 seconds maintained, but soon Bagnaia had started to eek out just a little bit more as the gap starting hovering in the 1.1 to 1.4 second range.  Behind them, Mir continued his blistering pace as we was less than two seconds away from the podium battle now.

Emilia-Romagna MotoGP

Just when Bagnaia looked like set to achieve his stunning maiden premier class victoy, disaster struck as he crashed out at Turn 6. He would later talk about the crash after the race that how he had no idea what happened, that maybe he had hit some dirt or a tear off as only explanation since his throttle position, lean angle, everything was exactly the same as the previous laps.  Though Bagnaia has thought that it ‘might’ have been a tear off, but his team mate had ‘certainly’ suffered race ending event caused by a tear off. On Lap 2 Miller’s GP20 sucked in a tear off from Quartararo and lost power, eventually pushing the Australian out of the race. Now with Vinales in the lead it was the onus on the factory Yamaha rider to manage the race well and get what would be his first race win of the season. A bit behind, Quartararo and Pol Espargaro’s fight for the podium places was getting intense.   

The intense fight between Quartararo and Pol Espargaro continued to intrigue, every time the French youngster tried showing the factory KTM rider a wheel, Pol would showcase some amazing defending skills and not let him pass. This skirmish had further helped Mir to make even more time over the duo as he was 0.6 seconds faster. With only six laps to go, Mir was already in the sniffing distance of the duo in front and the dog fight for the podium finishes just got even more intense. It was around the same time Quartararo in front of Mir was given track limits warning, a pivotal moment in the race for the SRT Petronas Yamaha rider. And also, with six laps to go, Quartararo was handed a track limits warning – something that would prove to be costly for El Diablo in a few minutes time.

Mir did not take long to make a pass over Quartararo with only three laps to go and it was a stunning and classic Turn 2 pass. Soon Mir was in P2 and Quartararo followed him overtaking Pol Espargaro. The KTM rider seemed losing the podium finish fight as his soft Michelin rear now looking worse. But just then, Quartararo was handed a long lap penalty and the Championship contender had just the last lap to make it happen. A penalty that would eventually end up being a 3 second after race time penalty meaning Quartararo losing his third place to Pol Espargaro.

Up ahead Vinales crossed the line in first continuing Yamaha dominance at the Misano. He also became the sixth race winner out of seven races this year. With his victory, Vinales again becomes a main title competitor. And with Andrea Dovizioso finishing the race in an abysmal eight, it meant that Vinales closed in with both Dovi and Quartararo in the tally. In fact, with Quartararo relegated to fourth due to the time penalty, Vinales has exaclt same points in the championship as number 20.

Further back, Oliveira suffered from a bad qualifying but after showing great pace in the second half of the race he crossed the line in a decent P5. Worth mentioning is Nakagami stunning run this year as he again ended up being the top placed Honda in P6, he has finished every race inside top 10 and stays the only rider to have done it this year so far.  However, it was the stunning ride by Alex Marquez, the Repsol Honda Rookie in P7 that was among the best rides of the day. The younger Marquez has continued to grow familiar with the beast of a RC213V and mostly flown under the radar this year, but his growth has been steady and commendable. Also, It needs to be said that Alex Marquez crossed the line ahead of Dovizioso who throughout the race could overtake the rookie.

Franko Morbidelli crossed the line in P9, and that was when he was at the dead last after the first lap incident with Aleix Espargaro. In the later part of the race suffering from stomach issues he was till setting lap times comparable to the podium finishers showing he could have had a much better result. Danilo Petrucci made I to top 10 with P10 and never really looked in a good state throughout the weekend. The new rear Michelin continues to raise havoc in the factory Ducati garage. Zarco was P11 followed by Rins in P12 and Smith in P13 completed the finishers list as rest of the riders crashed out for suffered technical issues.

It was a thrilling race but the most beautiful moment of the race came after it when Taka Nakagami stopped at the corner his great mate Shoya Tomizawa lost hi life at the start of the Moto2 era to pay his tribute.

It is getting denser at the top!

With Vinales finishing first, Quartararo letting go of a hard fought P3 due to time penalty and Dovizioso who doesn’t seem to find any love from the new Michelin rear, and a certain Mir on a factory Suzuki GSX-RR ramping up points tally, we have four riders on the top of the championship points tally with just four points between them. This is any one’s championship right now with Mir being the rider with the biggest claim as he has grabbed 69 points in last four races, the most among his rivals.  However, as topsy-turvy as this season has gone so far it might just change in the blink of an eye at Barcelona. It seems the championship has restarted for its second half and it only will get even more thrilling as we go ahead.

Emilia-Romagna MotoGP

Pictures Courtesy: MotoGP