The FIM today released the provisional entry lists for all three grand prix classes, which featured very few surprises. The biggest changes were among the riders who were forced to change numbers. Fabio Di Giannantonio switched from 21 (taken by Franco Morbidelli) to 49, while Marco Bezzecchi kept 72, Darryn Binder kept 40, and Raul Fernandez stuck with 25, the number abandoned by Maverick Viñales at the end of the 2018 season.
The most noteworthy, if not surprising, change came with the VR46 team. In previous lists of teams accepted to MotoGP and Moto2, the VR46 Racing Team were still using the name Aramco VR46, after the Saudi Arabian oil company. That deal has proved to be chimerical, and the team is now listed as VR46 Racing Team.
Provisional MotoGP line up for 2022:
Of necessity, the past two MotoGP seasons have seen races repeatedly run on the same race track. 2020 was a succession of back-to-back races at the same track: Jerez 1 and 2, Austria 1 and 2, Misano 1 and 2, Aragon 1 and 2, Valencia 1 and 2. With a better grip on the Covid-19 pandemic, 2021 was much better: the first 15 races have been at 13 different tracks. So far we have only had Qatar 1 and 2 and Austria 1 and 2.
The next three rounds will see MotoGP visit just one new circuit. We have the Gran Premio Nolan del Made in Italy e dell'Emilia-Romagna, or Misano 2, the Grande Prémio do Algarve, or Portimão 2, and then Valencia. But where Misano 2 and Portimão 2 differ from, say, Qatar 2 and Austria 2, is that they are not being held the week after. Misano 2 is happening five weeks after Misano 1, and with a race in Austin having taken place. Portimão 2 is even more distant, with nearly seven months and 13 races between the two rounds in Portugal.
So the Misano 2 of 2021 will be very different to the Misano 2 of 2020. Last year, the weather was pretty much identical between the two races at the Italian round. This year, air temperature at Misano 2 could be as much as 11°C lower than it was when we raced here five weeks ago. That could have a massive impact on track temperatures too; the asphalt might be 20°C rather than 29°C.
A change is as good as a rest
Sunday was a busy day for motorcycle racing fans. WorldSBK from Portimão, MXGP in Teutschenthal, Germany, BSB from Donington Park, and probably some more that went unnoticed in the hectic schedule. There was a lot of racing to take in, even for the most ardent and completist fan.
The action in Europe was thrilling, WorldSBK turning into the most exciting and tensest racing on the planet right at this moment, and then the racing world turned its attention to the United States of America, where the Grand Prix paddock had set up shop at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas.
The racing in Austin was a good deal less scintillating. With the exception of the terror and drama of Moto3 – more on that later – both the Moto2 and MotoGP races were, frankly, dull, decided in the first few corners. Not that there wasn't anything of interest that happened: in Moto3 and Moto2, the championship gaps closed, in Moto2 significantly after Remy Gardner crashed out, his first mistake of the season, while in MotoGP, Marc Marquez returned to winning ways while Fabio Quartararo put one hand on the title.
But the process by which we reached this point was not exciting, in any shape or form. The field was quickly strung out – even in Moto3, at least by its own standards – and the battles for position were few and far between. After the shocking crash in Moto3, the dullness of the Moto2 and MotoGP races was rather welcome.
It is crunch time in the championships of all three Grand Prix classes. In Moto3, Moto2, and MotoGP, the leader went into Misano with a comfortable lead: 46 points for Pedro Acosta over Sergio Garcia, 39 points for Remy Gardner over Raul Fernandez, and 53 points for Fabio Quartararo over Pecco Bagnaia. Enough of a lead not to have to win at all costs, but not so much that they could afford to throw away points.
If anything, that's more stressful than having a much smaller lead. With a gap of just a few points or so, your only option is to put your head down and try to win as many races as possible. You have to take risks if you have any hope of winning the championship; the choice is out of your hands. With a comfortable gap, you have to start thinking about how much to risk, and when and how many points you can afford to give away. You can't relax and ride freely, because you are still a long way from actually wrapping up the title. But you can't just ease off and ride for points, because if you lose a couple of places you can suddenly find your rivals have slashed large chunks out of your championship lead, making your job even harder.
Earlier this week I wrote an article setting out why I think that Marc Márquez is the favorite to win at the Sachsenring. What the riders told the media on Thursday at the Sachsenring merely cemented the Repsol Honda rider's status as front runner. Despite his entirely mediocre results since his return to racing, Márquez was identified as at least a potential podium candidate by just about anyone you asked.
Should this be a surprise? Not when you consider that, as veteran US journalist Dennis Noyes pointed out to me, Marc Márquez has quite the record at anticlockwise circuits, tracks with more left handers than rights. How good? He wins nearly 7 out of every 10 races he starts at a track which mainly turns left. That makes his win rate at clockwise circuits – a measly 3 out of 10 – look somewhat threadbare. And as I wrote earlier this week, he is a perfect 7 from 7 at the Sachsenring.
The former world champion was bullish on his chances. "Honestly speaking, maybe this weekend will be the weekend that I feel better with the shoulder and with the arm," he told us. "I think and I hope there will be no limitation in this circuit, because we have left corners and only three right corners, which is where I have the limitation and where I feel worse. So we can say that this will be the first weekend without physical limitations."
Today, the Gresini Racing Team announced that their immediate future lies with Ducati. The Italian team, now run by Nadia Padovani, the widow of team's founder Fausto Gresini, will lease Ducati Desmosedici machines from the Bologna factory for the 2022 and 2023 MotoGP seasons.
The link with Ducati had been widely trailed, the Gresini team wavering between remaining with Aprilia as a satellite squad or switch to Ducati. The projected rider pairing may have had an influence on that decision: that Fabio Di Giannantonio would be moving up to MotoGP with Gresini for 2022 was a given, part of his deal for Moto2. But Enea Bastianini's switch from the Esponsorama squad, set to leave MotoGP at the end of 2021, to Gresini was not a foregone conclusion. Bastianini's ties to Ducati may well have weighed in the balance.