Valencia welcomed the premier class back, this time with a dry albeit overcast circuit, encouraging the premiers class to find quick improvements on last weekend’s times. Pol Espargaro and Franco Morbidelli traded top spot for the early part of FP1, but then Takaaki Nakagami took over halfway through proceedings and ended the morning one tenth ahead of his rivals. Morbidelli kept second position, while colleague Maverick Vinales made a late jump on fresh rubber into the top three, demoting the younger Espargaro to fourth.
After a short break to catch our breath, bikes were back on track in Valencia and lightweight class riders were right back on the pace, Tony Arbolino improving the lap record that stood since 2017 late in FP1. The Italian ended the morning session less than a tenth of a second faster than Deniz Oncu, who started his day in the gravel at turn 6 and finished it in second position. Romano Fenati was another of the late leaders but got pushed back to third, one and a half tenths off top spot.
It is Groundhog day one last time. The last of the back-to-back races at the same tracks beckons, the riders returning to the scene of last week's triumphs and tragedies. Will we see a repeat of last week? Will there be another Suzuki Ecstar 1-2? Will the KTMs be at the front again? Will Ducati have another worrying weekend? Does Yamaha face disaster again?
The weekend certainly kicked off with a repeat performance of Valentino Rossi's Covid-19 saga. Last Thursday, news started to leak that Valentino Rossi had failed a Covid-19 test, and would not be able to travel to Valencia for the European round of MotoGP. In the end, he had two positive tests 24 hours apart and missed only the Friday sessions, taking to the track on Saturday morning for FP3. That gave American rider Garrett Gerloff his time in the sun, or rather, the rain, the spray, and the sun, the weather wreaking havoc last weekend.
Valentino Rossi had a narrow escape this week, after initially failing another Covid-19 test. The Italian produced two more negative tests, and has been cleared to race at the Valencia round of MotoGP.
The Italian had flown back to Italy on Sunday night, and on Tuesday had a PCR test. That test came back positive with a very low viral load, a result which can occur with people who have had Covid-19 and have had symptoms. Rossi's doctors recommended he do two more tests, and after the first test came back negative, he flew to Valencia to wait for the results of the second test taking 24 hours later. When that test came back negative, he was cleared to race.
MotoGP may have moved definitively toward one contender taking the crown. But a three-way title fight in Moto2 became four thanks to a surprise crash for leader Sam Lowes. And Any feeling 2020 was inching decisively in favour of Moto3 challenger Albert Arenas took just two laps to come apart. Here are a number of the big stories from the junior classes at the European Grand Prix.
Arenas loses his cool
Perhaps with the passing of time the Moto3 contest will be remembered for Raul Fernandez’s long-awaited first grand prix win. But it was Albert Arenas’ all-action showing that really caught the eye. Unfortunate in the extreme to get hit from behind when avoiding Celestino Vietti’s stricken KTM, the championship leader was forced into the pits with a snapped footrest bracket.
That should have been the end of his morning. But Arenas wasn’t finished. “I went into the garage pissed off, but the team tried to calm me,” he said. The team succeeded in mending the machine, but failed to defuse the rider. Rejoining in 30th place and three laps down, the Spaniard let the leading men by when shown the blue flags. But then came the madness. The 23-year old inexplicably started passing the riders in the fight for the second, including a ludicrous lunge on title rival Ai Ogura at the final turn – enough for Race Direction to show him the black flag.
How do racers like Joan Mir cope with pressure? Some chill out, others work themselves into a frenzy
I don’t know about you but I get pre-race butterflies whenever a MotoGP season draws towards its climax. I know it’s ridiculous, because I’m sat comfortably where no harm can come to me, but I’m nervous for what might happen, for what might go wrong.
Perhaps it’s some kind of nervy leftover from racing all those decades ago. For those that haven’t raced it’s probably difficult to imagine what racers feel like on Sunday mornings. There’s so much adrenaline pumping around your body that you sometimes feel sick and faint, so you’re just dying for the race to start, so you can stop feeling so rank.
Different riders have different ways of dealing with those feelings, but I can’t even begin to imagine how MotoGP riders cope with the stress and pressure of battling for the championship. That’s another level altogether.
For most of the 2020 Grand Prix season, nobody has wanted to win a championship. Every time someone has taken a lead at one race, they have found ever more creative ways to throw it away at the next. Fabio Quartararo got off to a lightning start, winning the first two races of the season. Then he let his lead slip away, Andrea Dovizioso making inroads into the Petronas Yamaha rider's advantage.
Behind the leaders, Maverick Viñales made a strong charge, then faded away, then came back again with a win at Misano 2. Jack Miller started off strong, had a DNF, then a run of good results and another DNF and has been up and down (literally, in a couple of cases) ever since. Takaaki Nakagami closed in relentlessly by finishing inside the top ten every race, until he crashed out of the lead at Aragon 2.
It was hard to see who was in the driving seat of the championship. Quartararo took back the lead at Barcelona, but hasn't finished any better than eighth since then. Dovizioso has slowly slipped further out of reach, while Maverick Viñales has barely stayed in touch with the top of the championship. Franco Morbidelli has won two races to close the gap, but had some poor finishes and a DNF as well.
Throwing it away
MotoGP standings after the European round at Valencia:
Results and summary of the MotoGP race in Valencia: