San Marino MotoGP – Doing the Right Thing, Wonderfully!
September 16, 2020
MotoGP in a nutshell is simple, you start, go around a circuit for a finite number of times before the fuel goes out and the first one that crosses the finish line wins the race. And it is this simplistic nature that truly makes MotoGP so special, especially in its current era. Yours truly got to understand it way back in 2008 when it was the first time, I watched a complete MotoGP race, before that, I had only read about the brief race reports in Automotive Magazines of the time. I used to wonder how could going around the circles generate so much euphoria, and I got the answer within a single race. This is why, I am hoping there were many first-time viewers of the sport last Sunday when certain Franko Morbidelli crossed the line in First, his maiden, at the San Marino MotoGP.
The race itself was a story that followed the script of the year 2020 perfectly, and thus turned out to be as unexpected as it could ever be. That we are in the middle of the greatest era of the sport is an understatement, but the signs of this being only a beginning of something far greater, far grander that we have witnessed thus far are all out in the open and crystal clear. Maybe the hurrah of the ICE MotoGP would well be it’s most glorious before it signs off in a few years. And like every other sport, at the thick center of this beautiful run are the sportspersons involved. I, on a personal level, have always believed that the onus of society’s moral and ethical compass firmly lays on the athletes and the artists, for everything else takes the core human emotion of passion for granted.
This is why in a sport that has all the ingredients and the opportunities to project and revel in toxic masculinity and self-centrism, there was a young man doing the things that truly matter, equality, compassion, empathy, and bravery through not just words, but also through actions, expressions and in a way that your favourite food leaves its flavour in your mouth for a long time. The San Marino MotoGP thus was a brilliant portrayal of, like what Morbidelli said, “Doing the Right Thing”, wonderfully.
San Marino MotoGP – Expected before the Unexpected
The first five races of the season had been a rollercoaster ride for the whole paddock but it was most evident in the Yamaha part of the paddock. The fortunes of the manufacturer and all its riders have fluctuated from glorious to horrendous and being monumentally lucky in between. The twin header at Red Bull Ring was a walk through fire for the brand and the ones who had M1’s listed to their names, but for certain Maverick Vinales, it was particularly treacherous, the rider escaping certain death and severe injuries by a whisker back by some of the most astonishing displays of the presence of minds and lightning-fast reflexes you would ever see.
This meant that the two-week breather came at the right time for the lot and on the other end of which was a track that has all the markings of being a far comfortable outing for the M1’s. Misano, with its tight and short design, offers a perfect layout for the M1 and where Yamaha has always been strong. Even then, the last Yamaha victory at the track was by the hands of Jorge Lorenzo. Last year, Fabio Quartararo had reached within inches of clinching his maiden win at this same track had it not been for Marquez brilliance shattering the young Frenchmen’s dream. However, that day, four Yamaha’s finished behind Marquez making it the first-ever time when four Yamaha’s were in the top 5 in MotoGP.
Thus, a Yamaha dominance was an expected outcome when we reached Misano this year, especially when last year’s winner was absent from the show. It also seemed to play into Yamaha’s hand that this year, Misano is holding two back-to-back races as well. But then, between 2019 and 2020, the Misano track had been resurfaced and except for Yamaha, every other manufacturer had already tested on the new asphalt. KTM, having tested there twice!
The bewildered rider collective of Yamaha wondered why the official Yamaha test rider Jorge Lorenzo had not tested on it to get the team up to speed for it. Their questions were understandable, Lorenzo has been one of the greatest in the sport, and not utilizing his potential to test on a new asphalt on a track that suits the Yamaha was ought to be confusing. Yamaha’s response to it could be summed up with just one word, Yup, the same word that is running, rather pausing the world in 2020, COVID. Though, if it was able to put water on the fire to the criticism is up to reader/ viewer discretion.
However, as soon as the bikes started rolling out on the track in FP1, it was evident that Yamaha had not lost their edge even after no testing on the new asphalt. Instead, all the Yamaha’s looked stronger. From FP1 to FP4, there was always a Yamaha M1 on the top of the timing sheets and the championship leader Fabio Quartararo seemed like a clear favourite for the race as he belted out sun 1’32 laps like ‘drinking water’, as Morbidelli talked about in the post-race interviews. Looking beyond the Yamaha riders, the situation looked alarming for almost every other manufacturer. Andrea Dovizioso and Jack Miller, the two Ducati riders have found it extra difficult to deal with the bumps that were still there and now even more pronounced after the new asphalt, surprisingly.
Suzuki’s the best handling and the smoothest bikes on the paddock faired much better with both Rins and Mir showing fast speeds and better control through the problematic bumps, but still weren’t as fast as the Yamaha’s through a complete lap. KTM’s too weren’t showing the promise that we expected from them after having two tests on the same new asphalt in the past 3 months. Honda, well, the maker continued its freefall ever since Marc Marquez highsided in the season opener. Its blush-saver, Taka Nakagami too was suffering terribly with the shake he had to deal with when going over the bumps. Everyone reckoned, the new asphalt has produced incredible grip but the bumps are just too bad now. Only the M1 seemed to fend off the unnerving bumps with its famous agility and stability over them and through the fast corners.
Except for the Yamaha’s the most promising among the rest-of-the-filed was Bagnaia, the rider returning from a severe fracture in his right leg. Before his injury, the Italian youngster had finally started showing the talent for which Ducati had hired him and the one he showcased during the testing as far as winters of 2019. His single lap pace was amazing and he showcased his VR Ranch bestowed skills through the bumpy Misano to perfection as well. It also helps that for VR Academy riders, Misano is essentially free to race whenever you want, but it doesn’t take anything from the fact that no matter how many laps you do around a circuit on production bikes, riding a MotoGP around it is a different thing altogether.
As fast as Quartararo was, he was still only good enough to start from third on the grid. Vinales has broken the record at the Misano circuit lapping it faster than anyone else and spectacularly clinched Pole. He was followed by Morbidelli in second. Yamaha completed its clean sweep with on-grid positions with Rossi in fourth as Miller and Bagnaia completed the second row. On in the middle of the third row, it was Mir with his fellow factory Suzuki rider Rins in front. Dovizioso could only manage the best of ninth on the grid. The Italian veteran finding life hard due to the bumps that kept unsettling his rhythm and that new rear Michelin for 202 that remains a puzzle. For him, the race was going to be all about damage control.
Zarco took the lead on the fourth row, still suffering a bit from his broken wrist. The KTM’s faired below expectations with Pol Espargaro staring from the eleventh and the spectacular winner from the Styrian MotoGP starting from a lowly twelfth. Honda, on the other hand, had it going worse if that was even possible. Their top place rider was Nakagami who was to start from 14th on the grid. Crutchlow had to unfortunately sit out the race after been declared unfit to race. His arm pump operation recovery was not going as expected and there was a lot of fluid build up in his right arm, so much so that it looked a water-filled balloon, with waves and all. Both Repsol riders, Bradl and Alex Marquez were to start from the tail end in 19 and 21 on the grid.
San Marino MotoGP – Yeah that Script, throw it out!
It was Franko Morbidelli who catapulted out in the lead from the middle of the second row, benefiting perfectly from the ‘gift’ that Yamaha gave him in the form of a holeshot device after his first podium at the Czech Grand Prix only a few weeks ago. In contrast, both Vinales and Quartararo had a dismal start and saw Rossi in fourth passed both of them setting in behind Morbidelli ins second. Both Yamaha riders had it even worse when Miller too passed them at the start slotting himself in third. Not even half a lap had gone and two of the strongest riders throughout the weekend had already been relegated to P4 and P5.
Up ahead Rossi tried to take the lead but his apprentice from VR Academy but the latter braked hard and late closing the door for the Doctor. He had put Rossi’s move on Rossi, braking late into a corner. The teachings have been great at the ranch, apparently. At the back, Vinales was already trying to manage his lead over the incoming freight train headed by Quartararo with both Ecstar Suzuki’s of Rins and Mir. As Vinales abided time for his hard rear, the only one in the race, to get up to optimum temperature, Quartararo was getting impatient as a gap of around half a second had already built up from Miller in third. Behind the close group fighting for fourth, Bagnaia, was coming in fast, setting fastest laps of the race regularly. He might still be walking on crutches, but he had lost no speed during his absence.
Shortly after, Quartararo managed to pass Vinales on Lap 7, at Turn 14. As he looked to reduce the gap between him and Miller, disaster struck for the young French sensation as he crashed out when his front folded into Turn 4. He would later blame his overexcitement for the crash that left the 2020 MotoGP even more open. This year the championship keeps dropping extraordinary twists like it’s magic. Quartararo had given up his championship lead on a track where it seemed a mere formality that he would end up extending it. He rejoined the race in P20, 15 seconds behind Bradl.
Devoid of any knowledge of the shift in the fate of the championship behind him, Morbidelli continued his charge from the front while Rossi still keeping him honest. Not much further back was Miller but his teammate had already galloped past Vinales decimating his defense with brute Ducati power on the straight. But by Lap 12, the Italian had already made a gap of almost a second over Rossi while Miller had fallen into the crutches of Rins and Bagnaia. After spending a short time swarming all around the tailpipes of Miller’s GP20, Rins made a beautiful classic Misano Turn 2 pass and was now in fourth. Shortly after, Bagnaia had the Australian covered and passed him at Turn 8. With rins within sniffing distance and Rossi just 1.8 seconds ahead, the fight for the final podium place was only going to get intense from now on.
By the time only 12 laps remained, Morbidelli had already made a gap of over 1.7 seconds in the lead. While both Rins and Bagnaia reached within half a second of Rossi, it was Mir who was now the fastest man on track. With the race leading into the last 10 laps, Mir got the better of Miller and has his sights set on both Rins and Bagnaia who were already at the heels of Italian Demi-God. Rossi was running his best pace of the race but it still was no match to the young one’s baying for his blood. It was when Bagnaia made a beautifully executed and blisteringly fast pass over Rins as he sliced underneath the Spaniard in Turn 11 showing off his GP20’s beastly grunt. And it wasn’t over yet, as Bagnaia did not take long enough to relegate Rossi to the last podium position. Bagnaia was now in second and had already started to make a gap.
However, it was only the beginning of Rossi’s headache as Rins was still close behind and Mir was coming in hot behind the two, with just 1.4 seconds gap in between. Rossi kept showing is masterclass as he continued to defend Rins’s advancements while Mir kept closing in faster and faster. With only three laps remaining, Rossi was still in third while having reeled in Bagnaia into the mix as well. Rossi was 0.4 seconds faster than Bagnaia and suddenly his hard-fought second place and first-ever MotoGP podium was at stake. All this while Morbidelli has continued to have a race of his own with a lead of 3.2 seconds over the drama behind.
With less than two laps to go, Rins went in a bit hot into Turn 16 losing the drive that let his teammate pass through easily in Turn 1. In the last lap, Rossi was inches close to Bagnaia and looked like he would snatch P2 from the younger Italian. However, it was Mir who broke Italy’s collective heart as he mugged Rossi of the final podium position at his home track. Rossi did try to fight back but went slightly wide in Turn 13 meaning the dream 200th Podium was not possible at his home track, at least this Sunday.
However, the story of the day was happening further ahead as Franko Morbidelli crossed the line snatching his first-ever MotoGP race win. It had been coming for quite some time now, and it was a moment that that couldn’t have come at a better time. The entire weekend, the SRT Petronas Yamaha rider hadn’t put a foot wrong and the victory stamped his class in style. He is no longer in the shadows, especially of his spectacular teammate Quartararo. And he had won on a bike that is still the lowest spec M1 on the grid. And with it, the 2020 MotoGP season has already given us 5 different race winners, 4 of which are first-time race winners of which Morbidelli was the latest.
It is also worth noting that Pecco Bagnaia too achieved his first-ever MotoGP podium, while still riding in excruciating pain on his yet to fully heal right leg. For a rider who still cannot walk without the help of crutches and someone who had missed racing for more than a month. To come back and start from exactly where he left off is a monumental effort. This shows that his maiden race win isn’t too far away either and that he is now the real deal he always promised to be. In him, Ducati has found a rider than can make the Desmosedici do things that other riders aren’t able to do. He was spectacular at Andalucia until his unfortunate engine issue when no other Ducati rider could show up for a fight. He did the same at Misano as well, every other Ducati rider suffered on the bumps but Bagnaia made his GP20 submit to his style and consistently be among the fastest people on the track.
Maybe the biggest surprise outcome of the race was Andrea Dovizioso crossing the line in a lowly P7 and yet ending up as the championship leader in the process. Quartararo crashing (2 crashes actually) of the race meant that Dovizioso now leads the championship by 6 points. You just cannot write a script like 2020 can. The most disappointing outing once again went to Vinales who frankly seems to have found himself stuck in some sort of a horrid loop, he is blisteringly fast during testing, he is among the topmost during the whole weekend, but when it comes to the moment when it all counts, he fails to make a mark. Something is wrong with how he approaches or deals with the race pressures and both him, and Yamaha needs to find some urgent answers to it, or else these are going to be tough years for both of them.
Miller eventually ended in P8 behind Dovizioso and wasn’t impressed with the result. The top Honda was once again Nakagami, who again saved the mighty Honda some serious blushes. He also continues to be the only rider who has finished in the top 10 in all races this year. Both Repsol riders, Alex Marquez (P17) and Bradl (P18) finished outside the points showing just how deep a ditch HRC finds itself in due to the absence of Marc Marquez. P10 went to Pol Espargaro who was the top KTM followed by Oliviera (P11) and Brad Binder (P12) followed by Aleix Espargaro in P13 and Lecuona in P14. The final points-scoring place went to Zarco. Danilo Petrucci had a disheartening end to a tough weekend in which he not only had no speed but he also lost his grandfather who he was incredibly close to.
Franko Morbidelli – A racer to admire and a Man to Love
We have all known the calm cool demeanor that Morbidelli emits and we all have always admired how thorough and thoughtful his replies are even for the most unnerving of questions. But, when he pulled the wraps off the customary special Misano lids that (now) all Italian riders do, the design he had chosen left everyone in and on the outside of the paddock intrigued. If you ask how special it was? Well, it took major eyeballs and discussions away from Valentino Rossi’s special Misano lid, something that is quite a feat in itself. Then it was Morbidelli’s answer to a question on why he choose the design and what it means in the post-qualifying press conference.
It was 3 minutes of absolute awe-inspiring words chosen and expressed with incredibly thorough thoughts and expressions. Within those three minutes, Morbidelli had taken a stand on the world’s need for revisiting quality, compassion, and respect for each other. As a person of Italian-Brazilian lineage racing for a Japanese company in a sport that travels across the world, he is a perfect brand ambassador of anti-racism that is rampant in so many variations across the world. Thorough his effort he also proved that his heart is in a right place and that MotoGP riders can and do look beyond the paddock and the frantic life that surrounds them and understand the realities that need to be accepted first before they can be changed.