The 2021 MotoGP season is at an end. And so is the grand prix racing career of Valentino Rossi, the Italian inducted as a MotoGP Legend the same night. Legend is overused as a word to describe racers, but not in this case. Rossi changed the sport, both directly, by his success and the force of his personality, and indirectly, by forcing Dorna to act for fear of what would become of the sport once Rossi left. The technical rule changes they enacted in the wake of Rossi's switch to Ducati and the Global Financial Crisis have created a thrilling spectacle where any number of bikes or riders could win a race. So though Rossi's departure leaves a gaping hole, the sport itself is in excellent shape.
A thrilling spectacle is not what was served up at Valencia, but then again, it never is at the track. Valencia is too tight for MotoGP machines, and there are too few opportunities to overtake. Though it has some spectacular corners – the everlasting left of Turn 13, as it rises up and over the hill and down on to the tight final turn is one of the best stretches of track on the calendar – the way they are stitched together is not conducive hard-fought close contests. Once you lose touch, it is hard to make up ground again.
The real spectacle came at the end of the race, with the combined farewells of Valentino Rossi – obviously and rightly the largest party – Danilo Petrucci, Iker Lecuona (off to WorldSBK with HRC, unless Marc Marquez can't return from injury at the start of 2022, in which case, who knows?) and Swiss Moto2 veteran Tom Lüthi. Without the specter of the Valencia tests hanging over their heads – the winter MotoGP test will take place on Thursday and Friday at Jerez instead – there was a proper party atmosphere. Those who had hair were enthusiastically letting it down, those who didn't have hair were wishing they did.
The race may not have been spectacular, but it was instructive. A new era has dawned, and not just because the Valentino Rossi era is ending with his departure. For the first time in history, Ducati took a clean sweep of the podium spots, after locking out the front row of the MotoGP grid for the second time in history, and the second time in three races. The Ducati is now unquestionably the best bike on the grid, and capable of winning even at a track like Valencia, where previously, the Desmosedici has struggled to be competitive.
That and much more deserves to be examined in some depth. So in these notes:
- The superiority of the Ducati, and how it came about
- How newer is not necessarily better
- Why riders matter as much as bikes
- Honda's horrendous weekend
- Rossi's final fling
- Danilo Petrucci's giant heart
We have to start with just how good the Ducatis are this year. That was a subject which sorely vexed Joan Mir, the only rider to be anywhere near the Ducatis at Valencia. (With the exception of his Suzuki Ecstar teammate Alex Rins, but Rins ruined his race by crashing out while chasing the leaders, going into Turn 6 a fraction too wide and losing the front.) Since Suzuki brought the second version of their ride-height device, both Mir and Rins have found it much easier to push for a fast lap, qualifying in much better shape. Mir's pace in FP4 was outstanding, the Spaniard looking capable of fighting for a podium position, or even the win. He went into Sunday's race full of optimism.
That optimism faded quickly once the race was underway. "I'm really disappointed. I didn't expect these feelings on the race. I thought that this time could be our day, we worked very well during all the practice, but realistically I was there during the race but there was nothing to do. I was struggling a lot with the front, a lot. Our grip was not fantastic, and I didn't have any advantage to fight with them. So it's frustrating, because it's not the position I want to be, fighting for podiums, I want more. It's a difficult situation for me again."
He had been fast in morning warm up, but that pace had not translated into the race once he found himself surrounded by Ducatis. "This morning in the warm up, I was able to be a lot faster, but I was alone. The thing is that behind them I lost all the options. I tried to put myself in first position at the beginning, but then Pecco overtook me and I was preparing an overtake to Martin in one moment, but when another Ducati overtook, I realized that probably the race was finished at that moment."
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