Pol Espargaro

2021 MotoGP Preview: How History Conspired To Create The Closest Grid Ever

Can the 2021 MotoGP season match the weirdness and wildness of 2020? The circumstances are different, but the path which led to Qatar 2021 has laid the groundwork for another fascinating year.

2021 sees two trends colliding to create (we hope) a perfect storm. There is the long-term strategy set out after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, with support and backing from the many bright minds in Dorna and IRTA. After Kawasaki officially withdrew at the end of 2008, and Honda came within a couple of board meetings of pulling out of MotoGP, Dorna threw their weight behind the teams.

With the grid dwindling (Suzuki pulled out at the end of 2011, after being down to a single rider), the MotoGP class was switched back to a maximum engine capacity of 1000cc, and four cylinders, while the CRT class was introduced as a second tier inside the premier class. Payments to teams were gradually increased, and over time, Dorna, with the backing of the teams, pushed through restrictions on electronics, introducing a spec ECU and then spec software to run it, and a price cap on satellite machines.

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Qatar 2 MotoGP Test Wednesday Round Up: The Meaninglessness Of Broken Records, Progress On Frames, And Pol Comes Good On The Honda

Records were smashed on Wednesday, and it didn't mean a thing, other than that MotoGP riders can be pretty quick on a motorbike. But that we already knew.

First, Fabio Quartararo took over a tenth off the outright circuit record set by Marc Márquez during FP2 at the 2019 MotoGP round, the Monster Energy Yamaha rider posting a 1'53.263 to Márquez' 1'53.380. Then, on his last lap of the day, Jack Miller powered his Ducati to a lap of 1'53.183, just shy of two tenths faster than Márquez' best lap.

Earlier in the day, Johann Zarco had broken Marc Márquez' top speed record, being clocked through the speed trap at the end of the straight at 352.9 km/h, 0.9 km/h better than the Repsol Honda during the 2019 race.

Does this mean that Jack Miller will beat Fabio Quartararo after the Frenchman starts from pole, by exploiting the speed of his Ducati GP21 down the front straight? I mean, it could happen. It's definitely one of the many possible ways the season opener plays out when MotoGP 2021 gets underway on March 28th. But what happened on Wednesday, 10th March is not a reliable indication of anything.

It's only testing

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Qatar 1 MotoGP Test Subscriber Notes: Where The Six MotoGP Factories Stand After Two Days Of Testing

Far from being a day of rest, on Sunday, the real work of testing began at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar. After a day to wrap their collective heads around the mind-bending speeds which riding a MotoGP bike involves, the riders got down to the work of sifting through the collection of parts the factories have brought in their quest for victory. And in racing, victory only comes through speed.

Questions were raised, and some were answered, though only partially in most cases. That doesn't matter as much as it might at a normal test, of course, because the riders and teams will only be heading back to their hotels for two days, to relax a little, to recover (for the riders), or to dive as deeply as possible into the data to try to learn as many lessons as possible ahead of the next test, which starts on Wednesday.

So what did we learn? A quick run through MotoGP's six manufacturers.

Yamaha

The big question for Yamaha was whether the 2021 chassis was the step forward that the riders had been hoping for. The 2021 chassis is not so much a step forward as half a step back a compromise between last year's frame and the 2019 chassis which Franco Morbidelli used to such good effect in 2020.

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Qatar 1 MotoGP Test Saturday Round Up: Getting Back Up To Speed, A Fast Aprilia, Ducati's Aero, And Rossi's Motherly Advice

This is not a normal era, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the pandemic touches things in unexpected ways. Sure, we knew that MotoGP testing had been restructured because of Covid-19, the Sepang test being dropped and an extra test in Qatar being added in its place.

But like all things in life, it is not quite as simple as it looks at first glance. Because the two Qatar tests are scheduled so closely together, the teams are not treating them as two separate tests. As far as the teams, and especially the factories, are concerned, there is not a two-day test and a three-day test. Instead, there is one five-day test with a two-day break in the middle.

Viewing the next week as a single test means drawing up a totally different testing plan. Instead of cramming a race simulation run into the first two-day test, then another in the second three-day test, the teams are working methodically towards arriving at a race setup ready for next Thursday or Friday, when they can do a proper long run in readiness for the first race of the 2021 MotoGP season on March 28th.

The long test

All that means that the first day of testing was, not exactly relaxed, but a little more focused and methodical. There was no rushing to complete a program; instead the riders had time to get back up to speed after three months off a MotoGP bike, and the teams spent their time working out a base setup to use as a benchmark for measuring progress.

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MotoGP Paddock Packs Catalunya Circuit For World's Fastest Track Day

Nearly 41% of the MotoGP grid hit the track at the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo near Barcelona on Wednesday, as the riders gathered together for what would essentially become the world's fastest track day. Nine MotoGP riders were joined by a handful of stars from Moto2, Moto3, and the WorldSBK paddock to get some track time, all on production machines.

The MotoGP stars on track included the Espargaro brothers, Pol and Aleix, both LCR Honda riders Alex Marquez and Takaaki Nakagami, Ecstar Suzuki riders Joan Mir and Alex Rins, factory Yamaha rider Fabio Quartararo, and the Ducatis of Jack Miller and Johann Zarco. Bikes used included the Ducati Panigale V4S, Yamaha YZF-R1, Suzuki GSX-R1000, Aprilia RSV4, the Honda RC213V-S, and a Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade ridden by Repsol Honda rider Pol Espargaro. On track in other classes were Ana Carrasco, Remy Gardner, Raul Fernandez, Tito Rabat, Albert Arenas, and Jaume Masia.

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News Round Up: Launch Season Coming, 2022 Contracts, Rossi Interview, Honda Updates

Around this time in a normal year, we would be back from the launch of a couple of the MotoGP manufacturers, and looking forward to a couple more as we prepared to travel to Sepang for the first test of the year. But this is not a normal year, of course. Nor was last year, for that matter.

So instead of packing my bags in preparation of the test at Sepang – originally scheduled for the 19th-21st of February – I, like the rest of the media, are checking our microphones and internet connections to get ready to do the MotoGP launch season from home. And not just the launch season: in all probability, the media won't be allowed to physically attend a MotoGP race for the first half of the 2021 season at the very least. But at least we will have a 2021 MotoGP season.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Will Espargaró be able to ride the Honda?

Pol Espargaró joins Repsol Honda from KTM, where he was the strongest rider on the factory’s V4. Does that mean he will be fast on the RC213V V4? And what do HRC need to do to make the bike better?

You won’t find many MotoGP riders that prefer a fire-breathing V4 to an easy-going inline-four, but Pol Espargaró is one of them.

Espargaró contested his first three seasons in MotoGP with Yamaha, but he didn’t enjoy the YZR-M1 and failed to score a single podium on the bike. In 2017 he joined KTM’s all-new MotoGP project and last year he was KTM’s top points scorer on the RC16, with five podiums

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