Assen, The Netherlands
Two riders named Fernandez topped the timesheets in the Moto2 class at Assen. The first session of practice saw Marc VDS rider Augusto finish ahead of Red Bull KTM Ajo rider Raul (no relation), the two men being the only riders to get into the 1'36 bracket.
Championship leader Remy Gardner ended FP1 in third, a quarter of a second behind his teammate Raul Fernandez, and a tenth of a second ahead of Jorge Navarro. Simone Corsi put the MV Agusta into fifth spot.
FP1 saw a complete turnaround for Maverick Viñales. After finishing dead last in the Sachsenring, the Monster Energy Yamaha rider set the fastest time of the first session of practice in Assen. It was not all sweetness and light, however, Viñales nearly losing the front of his Yamaha M1 at Madijk and shaking his head and fist vigorously.
Dennis Foggia snatched the fastest time from Darryn Binder in the first session of practice at Assen, the Leopard Racing rider diving under Binder's quickest time right at the end of the session. Andrea Migno took third, despite a heavy crash at the Ruskenhoek, while Romano Fenati ended the session as fourth quickest.
"This track is special." Alex Rins summed up what most of the MotoGP riders, and indeed, almost anyone who has raced a motorcycle, think of the Circuit van Drenthe, the official name of the TT Circuit, or as most fans around the world know it, Assen. "One of my favorite tracks," is how championship leader Fabio Quartararo described it.
Pecco Bagnaia loves it so much he has a tattoo of the circuit on his arm. "I really like the layout of this track," the Ducati Lenovo Team rider told us. He had good reason to like the layout, as Assen has been a happy hunting ground for him. "My first victory, the best weekend of my career in Moto2 here, when I was first in all the sessions and in the race," Bagnaia told. Reason enough to create an indelible reminder of the occasion on his own body.
Five races into the 2021 MotoGP season, and with the Covid-19 pandemic abating in some places while flaring up in others, there are the first signs of movement in motorcycle racing. Teams, factories, and riders are starting to open (and in some cases, complete) negotiations for this year and beyond, and races are slowly starting to open up to fans.
Although for a variety of reasons, the moves have not been covered in separate stories, here is a quick round up of the latest news and speculation from around the paddock.
Jack Miller stays on with Ducati
As with so many other areas of life, the secret to signing MotoGP contracts lies in the timing. As a rider, you want to put pen to paper at the exact point your market value is at its highest. Coming off back-to-back race victories at Jerez and Le Mans, in the dry and in the flag-to-flag French Grand Prix, Jack Miller has timed his contract extension to perfection. Today, Ducati announced they had signed Miller up for the 2022 MotoGP season, to race in the factory Ducati Lenovo Team.
The start of the 2021 WorldSBK season will have to wait for another two weeks. The Dutch round of WorldSBK, scheduled to take place at the TT Circuit Assen from 23-25th April, has been pushed back to 23-25th of July due to Covid-19 restrictions. The season will now start at Estoril, on the weekend of May 9th.
The postponement of the WorldSBK race to the end of July is a result of local restrictions put in place by the mayors of the largest municipalities in the Dutch province of Drenthe, where the TT Circuit Assen is located. The mayors have agreed to ban large-scale events until June 1st 2021, which rules out holding World Superbikes on the originally scheduled weekend.
The Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the MotoGP calendar. The second and third rounds of MotoGP, at Termas de Rio Hondo in Argentina on April 11th and at the Circuit Of The Americas on April 18th have been officially postponed. In their place, Qatar will host back-to-back races at the Losail International Circuit on March 28th and April 4th, and reserve circuit Autódromo do Algarve at Portimao will host a race on April 18th.
Though officially only postoponed, the Argentina and Austin rounds are almost certain to be canceled, a move which had long been expected. The logistical and cost challenges of organizing races in the Americas, added to the spread of Covid-19, especially in the Austin area, were always going to pose problems for the two races, and it had long been rumored they would be replaced.
The FIM today published the preliminary and provisional calendar for the WorldSBK championship for the 2021 season. Like all aspects of international events, it is very much a provisional affair, subject to local and regional restrictions on movement and events in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The biggest change to the season is the rescheduling of the Philip Island round of WorldSBK. Instead of being the opening race of the season, it is now due to take place in the second half of November, with a date still to confirmed. Travel to Australia is still nigh on impossible, but the hope is that restrictions will look very different by the end of 2021, as vaccines start to be rolled out.
MotoGP will continue into 2021, and scheduling difficulties continue to accompany it. Unlike 2020, however, Dorna and the FIM are prepared for it, however, and so today, we saw a provisional 2021 MotoGP calendar announced. It is a very conventional-looking schedule, with a giant caveat attached underneath: "All dates, events and the attendance of spectators are subject to the evolution of the pandemic and the approval of the corresponding Governments and authorities."
After two tests, at Sepang in mid February and Qatar in mid March, the 2021 season is scheduled to kick off at Qatar on March 28th. After Qatar, the series heads to the Americas, where MotoGP races in Argentina at Termas de Rio Hondo and at Austin. They then head back to Europe, for the usual round of spring races: Jerez, Le Mans, Mugello, Barcelona, Sachsenring, and Assen. They round it off with a trip to Finland, subject to the Kymiring being homologated on time.