Valencia MotoGP Sunday Subscriber Notes: The Dangers Of Racing, And The Season In Miniature

In these subscriber notes:

  • The dangers of motorcycle racing
  • Marc Márquez' remarkable season
  • Andrea Dovizioso's remarkable season
  • Jack Miller rides again
  • Why Danilo Petrucci is staying in factory Ducati
  • What riders think of Johann Zarco
  • Yamahas lacking grip, with one exception
  • Joan Mir on why being a rookie at Suzuki is harder than on a Yamaha

The last race of 2019 was a demonstration of just how dangerous motorcycle racing can be (although footage from the crashes at the Macau Grand Prix puts that into some perspective). The cold, the wind, and to be frank, allowing a rider who should have been black flagged for spewing liquids all over the track on three separate occasions this week to start a race created a host of situations which could have turned out really badly. But we got lucky.

Let's start with Aron Canet. The Moto3 rider had white smoke leaking from his Sterilgarda KTM during FP1 on Friday. He had white smoke leaking from his bike on the sighting lap before the race, which caused him and then Ayumu Sasaki to crash at Turn 6, and the race to be delayed. Despite the problem with Canet's KTM, the Spaniard was allowed to start the race, and more white smoke emerged from the bike, the KTM containing a seemingly endless supply.

Whether Canet's bike caused any crashes or not (other than for Sasaki) is open to question. But there were plenty of crashes during the race, a major smash on lap 3 causing the race to be red flagged. It was one of those incidents which underline the dangers of motorcycle racing, especially when it is as close as it is in Moto3. Carlos Tatay went down in Turn 11, with a bunch of riders following him. Tatay's bike became an obstacle for the riders behind, taking down Niccolo Antonelli, Dennis Foggia, Makar Yurchenko, and Jeremy Alcoba, bikes hitting riders and riding over them. It was a miracle nobody was seriously hurt, though Foggia was taken to hospital, and is likely to be out of action for a while.

Windy and wild

Crashes continued in Moto2 and MotoGP. A combination of the cold and the wind made conditions difficult. With track temperatures of 15 and 16°C, the surface was just above the minimum of 11 or 12°C at which the Michelin rubber can generate grip properly. Add to this was a gusting wind coming from the south, giving the riders a tailwind down the straight and carrying them into Turn 1 with more speed than expected, and trying to lift the bikes at Turn 6, the highest point of the track (though that is a relative term at Valencia).

"On the sighting lap to the grid I said to the team, 'it's so windy, it's horrendous. Can't even ride'," Cal Crutchlow said. "It was really, really bad. Then in the race it was not as bad as I thought. But 6 was bad, I saw Valentino lose the front once into 6, then he started to slow down quite a bit." Joan Mir agreed. "At the end I was also struggling a bit to turn in some corners because of the wind. Turn 6 I was struggling, the wind was blowing like this, also to stop the bike a bit on the first corner," the Suzuki rider said.

Crutchlow would end up crashing out in Turn 1, a combination of high wind and pushing to catch Joan Mir in the group ahead of him. "I actually felt really good in the race and that I could close the gap to the top six," the LCR Honda rider said. "I got past Valentino after being stuck behind for quite some laps. I thought I now have to push to go across, braked a little bit late and went out onto the dirty party of the track. As soon as I was on the dirty part of the track, I was still trying to turn the bike because I didn't want to go off the track and that was it. But when I lost the front was when I finally touched the white line for the pit exit. But it was my own fault, I braked too late because I was pushing to come across."

Follow the leader

The stranger, and more dangerous crash was at Turn 6. Danilo Petrucci was the first to go down there on lap 14. He didn't understand what had caused the crash. "I don’t know," the factory Ducati rider said. "We were checking and I was slower than the lap before and a little bit less angle, so no reason to crash. but three of us crashed in the same corner, so I don’t know what’s happened really."

Petrucci's crash caused a chain reaction. Johann Zarco was the next to go, at the same place. "I saw Petrucci crash, so immediately I thought 'keep the pace and maybe you can catch Valentino'," the Frenchman said. "But just a few seconds after I was crashing also in this Turn 6. Not exactly at the same place as Petrucci but I had the crash losing the front, so I maybe lost a little bit of focus in that moment or maybe the conditions were a bit difficult. Also I am still not able to bring the bike in the good way as I would like and should on this Honda bike. So I crashed."

Zarco was so angry with himself about losing the chance of a good finish and bolstering his case to stay in MotoGP that he stopped paying attention and turned his back on the track while standing in the gravel trap. That very nearly turned out very nastily, as Tech3 rookie Iker Lecuona was the next rider to follow Petrucci and Zarco into the dirt at Turn 6.

"If I'm honest, I don't know what happened in the crash," Lecuona said. "I know two riders crashed in the same lap at the same point as me, and same like me. So I don't know why I crashed, I didn't brake any later, I didn't push more, but I crashed. For sure, it's very strange to see three crashes very similar or the same, maybe the temperature is a possible cause, maybe the Moto3 race, where Canet lost all the oil, so maybe a little bit of oil with this cold temperature, it's possible to have this crash for three riders. But I don't know."

Wilco Zeelenberg had his own view of events, watching from the pits. "It's pretty cold, and the temperature is dropping a bit, but I think that the three guys who crashed in Turn 6 were all surprised by each other," the Petronas Yamaha team boss told me. "That was a bit strange, because everyone else stayed upright."

Lucky escape

If Zarco was worried that his crash had ended his chances of a ride in MotoGP, his inattention could could have ended his career altogether. When Lecuona crashed, his bike slid on its side through the gravel, making a beeline for Zarco as he stood lamenting his crash. The KTM RC16 swiped Zarco's legs out from underneath him, flipping him around. It was reminiscent of the crash at Silverstone in 2018, when Tito Rabat was hit by Franco Morbidelli's bike, smashing Rabat's femur. Rabat took a very long time to recover from that injury, which had a huge impact on his career.

Zarco acknowledged it was his own mistake for standing there after his own crash. "I was so disappointed because I was feeling that I have lost the race, and I have lost the last race I can do at the moment in MotoGP. So I was so sad about this situation, looking for the bike to see if maybe I can go again. I was still far from my bike. But the sad feeling didn't stay for long because I didn't check behind, I was walking to my bike and Lecuona's bike totally took me away and this was a big surprise."

He was lucky not to have suffered a very serious injury. "It was a really hard shock and immediately the left ankle felt strange so I could not move it, and in the way it took me I was sure something is broken," Zarco said. The bones appear to be intact, but he may have some ligament damage. "I needed time to maybe stand and see if it feels better and now it looks like the bones are all okay. Nothing broken. But the ligaments are maybe not good. I will have an echo scan tomorrow I think."

The year in miniature

In many ways, the final round of MotoGP was a reflection of the way the 2019 season played out. Marc Márquez didn't get a great start, but managed to make his way forward to sit behind Fabio Quartararo and wait for the right moment to pounce. That moment proved to be lap 8, and though he could not open a gap immediately, he eventually broke Fabio Quartararo's resistance. Márquez won the Valencia race by a comfortable margin, exactly as he had won the championship.

It is worth reflecting on just how good Márquez has been this year. 12 wins, 6 second places, 1 DNF from 19 races. 420 points, a record, even discounting the fact that there were 19 races this season. Márquez won the riders and constructors championships all on his own, and the Repsol Honda team won the team championship contributing all but 38 of the 458 points he need to win it.

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It’s a shame that rides are determined so early now because I think Miller would have that factory seat next year. 

Sure, Petrucci won a race, but jack has had more podiums and been more of a presence at the front throughout a weekend. 

Plus, he sure is entertaining and and seems to get along with everyone. Much better than some of the hatred that goes on. 

Man with gun to head wisely surrenders wallet - Sorry, that should have read; After a Global Talent Search El Honda signs Alex Marquez to MotoGP for 2020. The 2019 Moto2 World Champion was declared the winner of an exhaustive talent competition and was awarded a one year contract. Second place was a two year deal, but even Karel Abraham told us to sod off with that offer.

Seriously, I think we all need to take one umbrella step backwards and breathe a bit. Too much of the drama appears to be just reflections off the inside of the MotoGP goldfish bowl. The gnashing of teeth is now so loud I can barely hear the wails...and they are my favorite part.

Brothers...threat or menace? It is not as if HRC has announced they were putting the Krays on the grid next season, and now the whole paddock will be at the mercy of Reg and Ronnie's thuggery ("Very nice motorbikes you have there Gigi...shame if anything were to happpen to them"). No, they have signed two very nice young men who love to race motorcycles, and seem to have the knack of doing so successfully. If one of them seems to posess the stronger Fu, well, his advantage also applies to the rest of the grid. And as Fu disparities go, the gap between Los Hermanos Marquez is a pale shadow of the one that separated KR's kids. One was as clever a rider as I ever witnessed, winning a World Championship on a bike that was literally crafted from J-B Weld epoxy and aluminum filler rod...the other was the one Vale described as "That guy who finishes fifteenth in 600 Supersport".  And yet the Earth didn't wobble off it's axis and burn up in the Sun as a result (or at least if it did the news services failed to report it).

"You had one job to do" - And that was to keep MM happy and under contract, so well played. Winning the Nobel Prize for Fairness was not even on the board for discussion. For a long time it could be fairly said that when Rossi sneezed, the whole of MotoGP caught cold. Now the one reaching for a kleenex is Marc. And the fact that he is making Carmelo Ezpeleta hold the box of tissues while he reaches doesn't bother me one bit. Just as it doesn't bother me how many of Carmelo's relations have found gainful employment at various levels of the sport. The one job I have to do isn't worrying about whether a gaggle of privileged and inbred septuagenarians is dealing from the bottom of the deck while they all wet their beaks. What HRC accomplished, besides a dramatic uptick in drama-induced exploding heads, was to place themselves in the very best position to keep MM happy and under contract going forward. If HRC is about winning...and they most assuredly are just that...then there was no other rider option to even consider other than the one that delivered this result. If Marc had said he wanted to see his Dad alongside him on the grid next year, the right call would have been to stitch up a set of Repsol Leathers for Julià. Because to get and keep Marc, every other team in MotoGP would have done not only that, but given Marc's Mom serious consideration as Team Manager. Seen in that light, MM's sneeze was a very slight one. So go ahead and list any other rider option and all that HRC would gain from that long as you then add "but failed Job 1" at the end of the list.

So, can the Kid Dance? - We shall see, won't we? 2X World Champion, 12 wins, 38 podiums, 15 poles and 17 fastest laps in two classes. There are far worse resumes on the grid. But in MotoGP what you have been is never a 100% reliable indicator of who you will become. Joan Mir won exactly fuck-all in his single Moto2 season, but I cheered his elevation to MotoGP, as I did FQ20's. As I said at the time, there are some riders you can spot in a race even when the view is too distant to clearly identify the team or the bike's number. Joan and Fabio were two members of that very small club. Others who I was certain would do better...didn't. Because riding on the back of a tiger is not at all like riding on the back of a camel, even a very nasty and ill-tempered one (which of course means any camel). Alex will either sort things out and prosper, or he will not and wind up doing something else, with my only care being that he stays healthy. Alex was never a spellbinding prodigy, and he lacks his brother's affinity (and talent) for pulling the wings off of flies. But he does have the admirable (if too often overlooked) habit of getting better every year. Meanwhile, there is everything to be said for striking while the iron's hot, and very little to recommend letting it go cold. All of the uncertainties of Alex's future on an HRC factory bike are equally applicable to a satellite ride...or even another year in Moto2. Los Hermanos Marquez saw the opportunity and seized it, and becasue they did Alex is in with a shout. Having this opportunity (suddenly) present itself...and then not acting on it...would have been folly. If we indulge the illusion of fairness when hot irons are readily at hand, we miss our chance to use them.   

Does you Badger Bite? - Why yes, quite a lot really, and with vicious intent...which is why everyone calls him "Bitey". Stay well clear of him Kid. Go play with the new one, Rocky the Friendly Badger, instead. "Does that one bite?". Kid, they all bite.

The 2020 RC213V should be significantly (but not radically) revised from the 2019 model with respect to CG height, front to rear weight distribution, and chassis compliance. And no, this is not to make it more friendly. The changes are to allow the 2020 version, with MM in the saddle, to exploit the characteristics of the Michelin MotoGP tires even better than the 2019 version (wait, is the 2020 version now the current one?). Because those are MM's requirements (and therefore Honda's design goals). But to accomplish this it will also have better front-end feel. Not because that is what Honda set out to do, but rather as a nice side benefit that came from their actual design targets. Additionally the Michelins will also be further improved in 2020 and reportedly not as tender, which will help a lot. But the RC213V will always be a badger, the only question being which kind?...the sort that doesn't mind murdering its pilot, or the kind that agressively tries to?

Never miss an Opportunity to miss an Opportunity - Which would appear to be the Zarco family motto. Sorry, but as much as I enjoy watching Johann ride (and I most decidedly do), six podiums and no wins in three years of MotoGP does not make you the second coming of Mike Hailwood. His recent Honda audition was 13th, DNF, DNF. Not entirely his fault? Fine, you can find that neatly filed under nobody cares. Too harsh? Bollocks. Compared to how Racing Orginizations and Team Mangers view these results, I could pass for Fuzzy Snuggleduck. The Avintia fiasco was just the latest, but perhaps the most telling of Zarco's adventures. All Johann had to say was that he was honored to even be considered, but he would be weighing all his options before making a decision. But instead he decided the correct course of action was to insult the entire Avintia Squad...and everyone else in the paddock who works their ass off every week just to roll a bike onto the grid fueled with high hopes and few resources...or remember when they once did (which is pretty much all of the racing community). But scolding Zarco for crapping on Avintia may not be entirely fair. Because in the same breath he also managed to crap on KTM again for good measure (by comparison to Avintia).

And for all that he may still wind up on a GP19 at Avintia in 2020, with additional resources being provided by Ducati and DORNA footing most of the bill. All because Carmelo and the promoter of an annual French Hooligan Festival at Le Mans think that would be just swell. I still think he would be better off back in Moto2 with Marc VDS if only because the Beer Barron, Marc van der Straten, does not speak French. So as long as someone can keep Zarco from ever expressing himself in Dutch, then everything he says can be intepreted (and then conveyed) to the Beer Barron as "Johann says he is delighted, Sir, and appreciative of the oppurtunity". If so, perhaps they can all make a fist of it for the Moto2 Crown next year. Because there is no doubting Zarco's skill on a's just that over the last year a lot of his shine has dulled for me (and probably for most of the MotoGP Travelling Circus).  Cheers.

PS - And Alex promptly bins it at turn ten on his first go in testing. We told him they bite. Cheers

Jeez.. you really have to?

Once I got out my flowery-prose-to-English translator I discovered I agreed with everything you said!

For us mere mortals it is beyond understanding how JZ could screw up the opportunity for a motogp ride. Even Avintia! 

Can make light of it now as there appears no serious injuries were incurred, but did that KTM enjoy knocking Zarco for six? Perfect irony methinks.

I feel AM73 will struggle as despite his impressive resume he does not appear to have 'it'.

Once I saw that he came out unscathed, my thought was it was the premier class' way of saying "don't let the KTM hit you on the way out"... oops! ;)

I thought of how Johann used to do backflips off the podium after a win. And yet last Sunday the bike he quit surfed across the gravel trap like a heat seeking missle and backflipped him in what may turn out to be his last race in the top class. The insult added to this injury is that his ex-teammate is going well on an improved chassis in the post race test.

(How did we all miss that?!)
Zarco is in a handful and a half of best riders, wish he could be on a Suzuki 2nd Team, w Bagnaia maybe. Anyhoo, dreams on the back of eyelids. Good on ya.