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News Round Up: Miller Stays With Ducati, Silly Season Update, And Fans Back At Races Again

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.

While not quite a foregone conclusion, Miller's renewal did not come as a surprise. Despite a difficult start to 2021, the Australian bounced back to win in Spain and France. Those successes were more in line with expectations coming out of winter testing than the poor results from the two Qatar races, and then the crash in the early part of the Portimão race.

It was also Ducati exercising the option they had to keep Miller for 2022. Though he had only a one-year deal for 2021, the contract came with an option for next year. But the season would have to have gone spectacularly badly for Ducati not to decide to keep the Australian. Miller, for his part, was happy with a one-year deal, feeling it kept him sharp.

Miller will line up alongside Pecco Bagnaia again in 2022, the Italian already having a contract for next season with Ducati. Given that Bagnaia is second in the championship, just a single point behind Fabio Quartararo, and Miller is fourth, Ducati's gamble on swapping out veterans Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci for the much younger Miller and Bagnaia so far looks like being a success.

Silly season shaping up

With Miller locked in to Ducati, that means four factory teams are fully signed up for 2022. Ducati, Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha all have contracts for next year with their current riders, while Repsol Honda have signed Marc Márquez through 2024. The Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team have both Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira on options for next year, with both riders expected to continue in the factory squad in 2022.

Honda also have their LCR satellite squad signed up for 2022 as well, with both Alex Márquez and Takaaki Nakagami set to continue next year. Pramac Ducati have Jorge Martin signed for 2022, and an option on Johann Zarco for next season. With Zarco currently third in the championship, and with three podiums to his name, the Frenchman looks set to continue for next year. At Petronas, Franco Morbidelli has been promised factory equipment for 2022, although whether that will be Yamaha or Ducati is still unsettled.

Dovizioso takes another step towards a return

Aprilia have Aleix Espargaro signed for next year in their factory team, with Gresini set to become independent from the 2022 season. It is looking increasingly likely that Andrea Dovizioso will be Espargaro's teammate for next year, with Aprilia and Dovizioso extending their collaboration.

The move was not unexpected. Dovizioso had tested at Jerez, and then scheduled a second test at Mugello, but the two-day test was almost entirely rained off, the Italian getting only limited usable track time on the RS-GP. After the test, Aprilia announced that they had agreed to a deal which will see Dovizioso test for the Noale factory for the remainder of 2021.

The next test for the Italian will come on June 23rd and 24th, Dovizioso taking to the track at Misano with the test team. From there, more tests will be planned for Dovizioso to help with the development of the bike.

Dovizioso has made no secret of his desire to return to MotoGP in 2022. It is hard to see his year of testing on the RS-GP for Aprilia as anything other than a prelude to contract with the Italian factory for next season.

Who gets what?

The next big question to be answered is which teams will be using which bikes. Central to resolving this issue is the VR46 squad, which will take over the two slots held by Esponsorama (from whom they lease Luca Marini's seat for this year) from next year. They have long been on course to continue with Ducati, but revelations over the weekend of Le Mans gave a hint that Yamaha was still an option.

According to Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport, Yamaha had offered the VR46 team two factory M1s at roughly half the price Petronas were being offered. That, unsurprisingly, was met with displeasure by Petronas. Since then, however, the VR46 pendulum has swung back to Ducati, with an announcement believed to be imminent, despite the protestations of Ducati team boss Davide Tardozzi.

Retirement or return?

That would leave Petronas with Yamahas, the big question in the Petronas SRT team being whether Valentino Rossi will continue. That will depend on whether Rossi believes he can still be competitive or not, and fight for podiums and victories.

The signs so far have not been good. Rossi's first four races were poor, the nine-time world champion scoring just 4 points in as many races. The Italian made a step forward with the 2021 Yamaha M1 at the Jerez test, and improved his results at Le Mans, finishing eleventh.

Rossi is still hoping that the step made at Jerez will bear more fruit in the coming races, as MotoGP visits three of his favorite tracks – Mugello, Barcelona, and Assen – before the summer break. He has told Indonesian TV that he wants to wait until after the first half of the season before making a decision on continuing, so he can review the first nine races of the year. That would mean an announcement being made at the end of the summer break, possibly at the start of first race in Austria in early August.

Fans are back

The good news for MotoGP fans is that they will soon be allowed back into circuits again. Although Mugello and the Sachsenring are to be held behind closed doors, the races at Barcelona and Assen will see fans in attendance once again, albeit in limited numbers.

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya will see VIPs and team guests return to the paddock, as well as a number of fans. Ticket holders for the 2020 race will be able to swap their tickets for tickets for the race in 10 days time.

Such ticket swaps will not be possible at Assen. Instead, tickets purchased for the 2020 edition will be rolled over once again until 2022. There will be fans at the 2021 race, but limited to 11,500 Dutch fans, with loyal fans and regular ticket buyers being given early access. Fans will have to have a (free) rapid test to prove they do not have the coronavirus before gaining admission, and fans will only be allowed in designated grandstands, with each grandstand having its own 'bubble', including dedicated parking and access routes.

Bumps on the road

Though the return of fans is a positive sign for the future, there are still obstacles on the path for MotoGP in 2021. With the number of cases of the so-called Indian variant of Covid-19 on the rise in the UK, Germany and Austria are banning travel to their countries from the UK.

That will mean that UK-based staff will not be able to return home after Barcelona if they wish to attend the Sachsenring. That adds another complication for British passport holders, as since Brexit was completed, UK citizens are only allowed to stay in the EU for 90 days in any 180 day period. If they also have to arrive in the EU early to be allowed into Austria for the double header on August 8th and 15th, that will eat into a lot of their allotted time in Europe.

There are still a significant number of Brits in the MotoGP paddock. KTM employs a large number of British mechanics, and others are spread throughout various teams, including Frankie Carchedi, Joan Mir's crew chief. IRTA is a British-based organization comprised largely of British passport holders, and as IRTA are charged with running the paddock and fulfilling a number of vital roles in the running of the races – Technical Director Danny Aldridge is British, for example – this poses a serious problem for MotoGP.

No doubt they will find a workaround. Andorra was used as a base for Japanese staff forced to stay in Europe for the 2020 season, who faced similar restrictions as non-EU citizens. The tiny mountain state is not an EU member nation, despite using the Euro as currency, and having various trade and other agreements with the EU. But getting stamped out of the EU entering Andorra, then stamped out again once they leave could be an option for British passport holders to avoid returning to the UK between races.

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Troy Bayliss Suffers Neck Injury In Bicycle Accident

WorldSBK legend Troy Bayliss has fractured his neck in an accident on a bicycle. The Australian, always a keen cyclist, fractured his C4 vertebra when he crashed into another bicycle while out riding.

In a press release issued by Ducati, with whom Bayliss retains a close relationship, Bayliss announced he had suffered some nerve damage as well as fracturing the bone, that has left him with limited motion. The prognosis for recovery is good, according to Bayliss and his doctors, but that puts him out of action for a long time.

We wish Bayliss a full and speedy recovery.

The Ducati press release appears below:

Troy Bayliss confirms injuries after bicycle crash

Three-time World Superbike champion Troy Bayliss has confirmed that a bicycle crash last Friday, 14th May, has left him with a fractured C4 vertebra and corresponding spinal damage that will see the active 52-year-old Ducati legend on the sidelines for several months.

With Troy having no exact recollection of the incident, it appears that another bicycle was exiting between two parked cars and he has collided head first into it. Most of the impact was transferred through his head to his neck, and he lost consciousness. He was immediately treated and taken to hospital.

While the injuries are serious, Troy's condition is stable. He returned to his Gold Coast home yesterday to begin his recovery.

Troy Bayliss:

"I'm OK and I'm home, but the crash means I won't be riding a motorcycle until I regain full movement in my arms and hands. I really just wanted to let everyone know what's happened, that I'm OK and that I'll be back in leathers as soon as I can. It's been an intense weekend for me and my family, but luckily I'm OK and I will recover. My doctors have been really positive, but there's no firm indication of how long it will be until I can regain enough control to get back on a bike – maybe a few months, maybe longer; it just depends on how the recovery goes once the bones heal up."


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Sunday Warm Up Rescheduled At Le Mans MotoGP Round In Response To Cold Conditions

The cold conditions at Le Mans has forced Dorna to reschedule the morning warm up sessions for all three Grand Prix classes. The warm ups have all been pushed back 40 minutes, so that they start at 9am rather than 8:20am. Moto3 will be at 9am, Moto2 at 9:30am, and MotoGP at 10am.

The rescheduling of warm up has also forced a change to the MotoE race time. Instead of in the morning, the MotoE race will start at 3:30pm in the afternoon, after the MotoGP race has finished.

The new schedule appears below, all times local time (CEST):

09:00-09:20 Moto3™ Warm Up
09:30-09:50 Moto2™ Warm Up
10:00-10:20 MotoGP™ Warm Up
11:00 Moto3™ Race (22 laps)
12:20 Moto2™ Race (25 laps)
14:00 MotoGP™ Race (27 laps)
15:30 FIM Enel MotoE™ World Cup Race (8 laps)
16:25 Northern Talent Cup Race 2 (15 laps)

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2021 MotoGP Calendar Update: Finland Canceled, Extra Round In Austria Added

The Kymiring will have to wait. Today, the FIM announced that due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the complications posed by travel, the Finnish Grand Prix at the Kymiring has been canceled for 2021. But in compensation, the circuit in Finland is to get a five-year contract to host MotoGP for the years 2022 to 2026.

Travel to the Kymiring was always going to be difficult. The Finnish Grand Prix is treated like a European round of MotoGP, but the logistics of getting trucks from Assen to Finland is not simple. It involves either a very long ferry ride from Germany to Finland, on a route with limited capacity and which is often fully booked, or a very long road trip through Russia up to Finland, with all the customs complications that involves. Add in the extra complications added by Covid-19 - at the time of writing, there is a compulsory 14-day quarantine for travellers to Finland - and the race poses too much of a risk.

To replace the race lost in Finland, an extra round will be added at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. The race is to be held on August 8th, with the race being given the title of the Styria Grand Prix, after the province the Spielberg circuit is in. The calendar change creates the largest summer break in recent history, with a period of five weeks between the race in Assen and the resumption of hostilities at the Red Bull Ring.

The provisional calendar is shown below.

Date Grand prix Circuit
28 March Qatar* Losail International Circuit
4 April Qatar* Losail International Circuit
18 April Portugal Algarve International Circuit
02 May Spain Circuito de Jerez – Ángel Nieto
16 May France Le Mans
30 May Italy Autodromo del Mugello
06 June Catalunya Barcelona - Catalunya
20 June Netherlands TT Circuit Assen
27 June Germany Sachsenring
8 August Styria Red Bull Ring-Spielberg
15 August Austria Red Bull Ring-Spielberg
29 August Great Britain Silverstone
12 September Aragón MotorLand Aragón
19 September San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli
03 October Japan Twin Ring Motegi
10 October Thailand Chang International Circuit
24 October Australia Philip Island
31 October Malaysia Sepang International Circuit
14 November Comunitat Valenciana Comunitat Valenciana-Ricardo Tormo


Postponed Grands Prix to be rescheduled subject to the pandemic:
Grand prix Circuit
República Argentina Termas de Río Hondo
Americas Circuit of the Americas
Reserve Grand Prix Venues:
Indonesia** Mandalika International Street Circuit

* Evening Race
** Subject to Homologation

There will be a maximum of 20 events in the 2021 season. 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.

Michelin® Grand Prix of Styria added to the calendar, 2021 Grand Prix of Finland cancelled

The FIM, IRTA and Dorna Sports announce the cancellation of the 2021 Grand Prix of Finland. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, as well as resulting travel complications to Finland, have obliged the cancellation of the event.

However, Dorna Sports is happy to announce an extended five-year agreement with the Grand Prix of Finland, assuring the stunning new KymiRing a place on the calendar until at least 2026.

In addition, the FIM, IRTA and Dorna Sports are thrilled to announce the Michelin® Grand Prix of Styria will be added to the 2021 calendar. The event will take place at the Red Bull Ring from the 6th to the 8th of August, the weekend preceding the Austrian Grand Prix.

The Styrian Grand Prix was first celebrated in 2020, with a history-making premier class race cementing its place in the history books alongside the Austrian Grand Prix.

In more good news for fans, in agreement with local authorities and whilst adhering to all required health protocols, both the Styrian and Austrian Grands Prix expect to welcome a limited number of spectators back through the doors this season to enjoy the best of MotoGP™️ at one of the most beautiful tracks in the world: the Red Bull Ring.


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Tech3 Signs Up With KTM For 5 More Years In MotoGP

The satellite bike situation for the coming five-year contract period in MotoGP is starting to crystallize. Today, KTM and Tech3 announced that the French team would be staying inside the stable of the Austrian factory for the entire five years of the MotoGP period, from 2022 to 2026.

That Tech3 would stay with KTM was hardly a surprise: the French team won their first ever premier class race last season with Miguel Oliveira, and the team is an important part of KTM's talent structure, which brings riders through all the way from the Red Bull Rookies to MotoGP. But the fact that it is a five-year deal is unusual, satellite team contracts in MotoGP are usually only for two to three years.

With Tech3 signed up for 2022, that means that KTM will be on the grid with four bikes for 2022. Of the remaining satellite squads, Pramac is certain to remain with Ducati, playing a similar role to Tech3 at KTM, and the LCR squad will almost certainly continue with Honda. Petronas is also almost certain to stick with Yamaha for 2022 and beyond as well.

That leaves the Gresini and VR46 teams. Aprilia is keen to supply a satellite squad, for which Gresini is the most likely candidate, having so much experience with the Italian factory. VR46, meanwhile, is likely to take over the Ducatis from the departing Esponsorama squad. But there is a possibility that Gresini could take Ducatis as well, with Ducati supplying a total of eight bikes in MotoGP. "It's something we have done before," Ducati Corse sporting director Paolo Ciabatti told Italian media. Decisions are likely to be made in the next four to six weeks, with VR46 hoping to make a decision as early as the next race at Le Mans.

The press release from KTM appears below:

KTM extend beneficial MotoGP™ partnership with Tech3 KTM Factory Racing until 2026

There will be four full-factory KTM RC16s on the MotoGP grid for the next five seasons after KTM renewed their association with the Tech3 KTM Factory Racing team and one of the most successful satellite squads in Grand Prix.

Tech3 turned ‘orange’ for 2019 where they helped promising rookie Miguel Oliveira impress with several top ten results. The team and the Portuguese star were able to graduate to the role of Grand Prix winners in 2020 when Oliveira triumphed in Austria and Portugal: bringing Tech3 their first garlands in the premier class.

The 2021 season marks exactly twenty years since the team first entered the premier class of the FIM Grand Prix World Championship. Tech3 was founded in 1990 and enjoyed title success in the old 250cc category before making the jump. They have had representation through the Grand Prix divisions but didn’t scale the heights of MotoGP until Oliveira’s breakthrough achievement last summer.

Pit Beirer, KTM Motorsports Director: “We are very proud to make this announcement of a new five-year deal with Tech3. It is a very important strategic move for us as part of our long-term strategy in the sport. We already agreed our participation with Dorna for another five years and it was vital to have that foundation and stability in MotoGP by renewing our agreement with Tech3. For the last few years we have been building-up our structure and now it provides an incredible path from Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup, Moto3, Moto2 and then four valuable places in the premier class where we want to succeed. With Hervé and the Tech3 crew we have the ideal partner and we see the whole operation as part of ‘one team’. It’s more than a pleasure to say we’ll be able to attack the next five years together.”

Hervé Poncharal, Team Principal, Tech3 KTM Factory Racing: “I feel very proud, very privileged and very honored to announce our renewed partnership with KTM. I think we will be the first independent team to announce a five years agreement with a manufacturer in MotoGP history. This is quite an achievement and it also highlights how strong our relationship is and how well the first three years of our partnership have been working. I believe the best is yet to come. We share the same values, the same target, which is to never give up and be ready to race. So now that this deal is done, signed, confirmed, let’s work even harder on the 2021 season and of course let’s think how to be best prepared for 2022. I really believe this organization has all the ingredients to be winning and it’s just up to us to put all the pieces together to make it work and chase victory at every single round.”


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2021 WorldSBK Calendar Updated Again - Phillip Island Dropped, Czech Round In Most Added

The 2021 WorldSBK calendar has been updated once again in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. After delaying the Australian round provisionally until the end of the season, the Phillip Island event has now been postponed until 2022. And a race in the Czech Republic, in Most, has been added in the middle of the calendar.

The Australian round has always been the most precarious date on the calendar. Australia continues to impose very strict rules on entry into the country, with restrictions making inbound and outbound travel almost impossible. Rather than wait out the uncertainty of whether a race might take place in 2021, Dorna and the organizers decided to move the race back a few months to its previous place as the opening round of the 2022 season.

To fill the gap left by Phillip Island, the Czech circuit in Most, in the northwest of Czechia. The Autodrom Most, which lies roughly halfway between the Czech capital Prague and the Sachsenring, in Hohenstein-Ernstthal, Germany, has not hosted WorldSBK before, and is taking the opportunity to expand its presence on the global racing scene. It is a popular destination for track days and has hosted various high profile car racing events, including the ALMS and European NASCAR series.

Most has signed a five-year deal to host a round of WorldSBK. The World Superbike championship will be racing at the Czech circuit through the 2025 season. The date chosen, in early August, slots nicely into the spot in the calendar which was previously occupied by the MotoGP championship in Brno, which has chosen not to resurface the track, thereby forfeiting the right to host MotoGP.

Below is the revised 2021 WorldSBK calendar, and below that the press release announcing the calendar changes:

21 - 23 May Spain MotorLand Aragón X X X
28 - 30 May Portugal Circuito Estoril X X X
11 - 13 June Italy Misano World Circuit “Marco Simoncelli” X X X
2 - 4 July United Kingdom Donington Park X    
23 - 25 July The Netherlands TT Circuit Assen X X X
6 - 8 August Czech Republic Autodrom Most X X X
20 – 22 August Spain Circuito de Navarra X X  
3 - 5 September France Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours X X X
17 - 19 September Spain Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya Xs X X
24 - 26 September Spain Circuito de Jerez - Ángel Nieto X X X
1 - 3 October Portugal Autódromo Internacional do Algarve X X X
15 – 17 October Argentina Circuito San Juan Villicum X X  
12 – 14 November Indonesia Mandalika International Street Circuit*** X X  

*All dates, events and the attendance of spectators are subject to the evolution of the global pandemic and the approval of the corresponding governments and authorities.

*** (STH) Subject to homologation

The Autodrom Most will make its debut on the WorldSBK Calendar in 2021 after signing a five-year agreement, while the Australian Round is set to return in 2022.

The FIM, the Autodrom Most and Dorna WSBK Organization (DWO) are delighted to announce a new agreement that will see the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship race in Czech Republic from 2021. The five-year agreement means the Czech Round will be included in the WorldSBK Calendar until 2025 with the announcement made at a presentation in Prague on Thursday 29th of April.

The Autodrom Most will host the Czech Round for the first time as it joins the WorldSBK calendar with the Czech circuit hosting the sixth Round of the 2021 season from the 6th to the 8th of August. All three classes as well as the Yamaha R3 bLU cRU European Cup will compete at the Autodrom Most, which includes two Czech riders in WorldSSP300 with Petr Svoboda and Oliver König as well as the Jakub Smrz-run Accolade Smrz Racing team.

Located near Prague, the Autodrom Most was opened in 1983 and was then the first permanent motor racing complex in what was then known as Czechoslovakia. The circuit has already hosted many motorsport events including national motorcycle championships and will be a new, exciting addition to WorldSBK in 2021; while the Championship venue fits within the circuit's commitment to be part of the sports, social and cultural life of the region. The event will also be broadcast live on Czech channel Nova Sport, following a five-year agreement with DWO.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the FIM, the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit and DWO have agreed there will be no 2021 edition of the Australian Round. We will now work for a return to the iconic venue in 2022 in the most successful way as the first event of the 2022 Championship.

Josef Zajíček, Autodrom Most Chief Executive Officer: “This is a milestone and a unique event during Autodrom’s history of almost 40 years. We are becoming organisers of World Championship races for the first time. This fact places demanding technical and organisational requirements on us. Nevertheless, we are happy to take up this challenge. Our objective is to open our complex to the general public, which is why we have to offer the best-quality events possible to our racing fans; the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship indisputably belongs to such events. We will make sure that the riders, teams, partners, sponsors as well as spectators may be absolutely satisfied with us and look forward to the next edition of this fantastic display of powerful machines and brave riders.”

Jan Šťovíček, Czech Republic Autoclub’s president: “Speaking for the Autoclub of the Czech Republic, the nation’s authority for motorcycle sports, I’m delighted to see Czech fans at a Czech track enjoying world-class motorcycle road racing, and I’m equally glad that I could contribute to this event. Naturally it’s a win for the promoter of the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship too: acquiring a new route with an attractive profile and an experienced organising team is not easy at the moment.”

David Bennett, Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, General Manager: “Phillip Island has hosted more World Superbike events than any other circuit in the world. We agree that now is the time to focus our efforts on the Official Test and season opening Round in 2022. The decision not to run a round in 2021 will not adversely impact the continuation of the event. The event is secured for the Phillip Island Circuit until 2027.”

Gregorio Lavilla, WorldSBK Executive Director: “We are thrilled to welcome the Autodrom Most to our calendar for the next five seasons. Today’s announcement that WorldSBK is set to return to the Czech Republic for the first time since 2018 reflects the continuing popularity of the Championship among the Czech fans. With Czech teams and riders within the paddock, this is a great opportunity to showcase the Czech Republic on a world stage and I trust the Autodrom Most will be hosting exciting events in the future. Regarding Australia, all parties involved decided that analysing the latest changes in all major motorsport events and with the current uncertainty related to the pandemic, the best solution was to move the event to our usual start-of- the-season date in 2022. We look forward to returning there next year with the Australian Round a key event of the Championship.”

With the 2021 season set to begin in less than a month, the FIM and Dorna WSBK Organization are constantly working with Government Officials and Circuits in order to continue putting everyone’s safety first. Any further updates to the 2021 WorldSBK calendar will be communicated accordingly.


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VR46 Team Announces Saudi Backing For MotoGP Project - Sportwashing Or Business As Usual?

There is good news and bad news for MotoGP. The good news is that the VR46 team will, as expected, make the full-time leap to the premier class for 2022, replacing the departing Esponsorama team. The VR46 team has signed a five-year deal with Dorna to compete in MotoGP during the next contract period, from 2022-2026.

Which bikes the VR46 team will use is still to be determined. The choice appears to be between Ducati and Aprilia, with a decision to be made in the next month or so. Given that VR46 are already fielding Luca Marini in MotoGP via a collaboration agreement with the Esponsorama squad, alongside Enea Bastianini, the most logical step would be for the team to continue working with Ducati.

In the end, the decision will come down to the level of support available. Alberto Tebaldi, head of VR46 and a long-time friend and confidant of Valentino Rossi, told Matteo Aglio of that having factory support mattered. The Aprilia was looking like a competitive machine, Tebaldi said, but the difference which factory support made could be the difference between success and failure. "I think that today, with the gaps that exist, this is fundamental. If you don't have support at the level of the official teams in MotoGP, it becomes difficult. You lose those 4 or 5 tenths, and you're screwed."

While it is undoubtedly good news that a team with the experience and talent of the VR46 outfit, and backed by the biggest name in motorcycle racing (and one of the biggest in global sport), the bad news is the source of the sponsorship. The title sponsor of the team is Aramco, the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia.

Aramco is the highest valued company in the world (a title it competes for with US tech giants Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon), and a key part of the economy of Saudi Arabia, managing the vast majority of Saudi oil and gas production, which makes up 42% of the country's GDP.

Aramco is also a key part of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 project, backed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aimed at transforming the country and reducing its reliance on the oil and gas industry. The country is trying to sell shares of up to 5% of the company to fund the Vision 2030 transformation programs, and to soften resistance to the program as the economy shifts away from a guaranteed income for Saudi citizens toward an economy based more on private industry.

Part of that shift has involved huge societal changes: relaxation of the incredibly strict practices imposed under the form of Wahhabi Islam which is the official religion of Saudi Arabia, allowing entertainment, loosening rules on the mixing of the sexes, and weakening the role the religious police play in the Kingdom. Vision 2030 has seen the building of a whole host of entertainment complexes as part of a vast construction program.

That is where the VR46 project comes in. The deal between VR46 and Aramco has been signed through Tanal Entertainment Sport and Media, who are heavily involved in the KSA New Cities project. Part of that project is the creation of a new racing circuit in Saudi Arabia.

The tie-up came through contacts between Alberto Tebaldi and Marco Bernadini, an Italian architect who is working closely with Saudi Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al Saud, which started with discussions about a VR46 theme park, similar to the Ferrari theme park in Abu Dhabi, and then went far beyond to become a sporting collaboration including the Aramco title sponsorship. "It is a true collaboration, and fills us with pride, because we have been working on it for a long time," Tebaldi told

The collaboration is part of a wider move on the part of Saudi Arabia. The Vision 2030 project has included tempting various major sporting events to the kingdom, including hosting the Dakar Rally in 2020 and 2021, after the South American countries funding it since its move out of Africa refused to pay for the event. Saudi Arabia has also signed a deal with F1 to host a race at a street circuit near Jeddah later this year.

This is because the Vision 2030 project contains a huge element of what is referred to as sportwashing, the use of high-profile sports events to gloss over Saudi Arabia's appalling record on human rights, and many other fronts. The use of popular, major events, and extremely popular figures is meant to distract from the dark side of Saudi Arabia, and boost its image globally.

The problems of Saudi Arabia are widely documented. Women are subject to so-called guardianship, whereby they are not viewed as having any independent existence outside of their male relatives. Sexual harassment and abuse is widespread, and the guardianship system makes it difficult to escape that abuse, as a surge in pseudonymous social media posts revealed last year.

Migrant workers are subject to the Kafala system, also in use in Qatar, whereby they are at the mercy of their employers who obtained their visa for them, and results in many cases in something closely resembling indentured servitude. During the Covid-19 pandemic, migrant workers were locked in detention camps in squalid conditions with little access to food or water, with many dying as a result.

Political dissent is absolutely forbidden, as is any religious worship outside of the Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam. Those criticizing the Saudi regime for their approach to human rights are frequently imprisoned, such as Loujain al-Hathloul, who campaigned for the right of women to drive, and spent two and a half years in a maximum security prison as a result.

The Saudi regime also has a habit of executing its critics, either via dubious pseudo-judicial processes or via outright extrajudicial murder, as was the case with Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based Saudi journalist who was killed and dismembered with a bone saw in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

While Saudi Arabia is using the popularity and profile of Valentino Rossi to whitewash their own image, the risk for Rossi is that his own image and legacy will be tarnished by association with the Saudi regime.

Of course, this collaboration between the VR46 team and Saudi Arabia is hardly the first time motorcycle racing has been involved in ethically dubious projects. Though the long association with tobacco sponsorship largely ended when sports sponsorship was finally banned in 2006, tobacco giant Philip Morris still provide a large part of Ducati's budget. Ducati are also being sponsored by Lenovo this year, and though the computer maker is nominally a privately held company, it holds very close ties to the Chinese government, and its products have been banned for use by intelligence agencies in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Tobacco has largely been replaced by energy drinks as a source of sponsorship, though the ethics of that industry are not much better. Energy drinks have been linked to diabetes, obesity, and similar diseases due to their very high sugar content, and the purchase price bears almost no relation to the cost of production.

MotoGP holds a race in Qatar, which uses a similar Kafala visa sponsorship system to Saudi Arabia. They race in Thailand, where strict lèse-majesté laws ban all criticism of the Thai royal family. There are plans to race in Indonesia at the Mandalika International Circuit in a tourist resort which has been criticized by the UN for seizing land from local farmers and fishermen without offering compensation and evicting them from their land.

And yet the link with Saudi Arabia feels somehow worse. The human rights record of Saudi Arabia is far worse than any of the other countries MotoGP is involved in. And the role of Aramco as title sponsor seems to be a far more blatant attempt at sportswashing the regime than any commercial interest from the involvement.

It seems unlikely that Valentino Rossi will escape the tie up with his reputation unscathed. In the past, Rossi made a point of resisting tobacco sponsorship, and yet VR46 has no qualms over links to a regime which practices the death penalty on an almost industrial scale. A figure of Rossi's stature – the most important and significant figure in motorcycle racing of all time, and almost single-handedly responsible for the explosion in the popularity of the sport in the 21st Century – should not struggle to find partners willing to pay for the privilege of being linked with his name. Which makes it all the more curious that the VR46 team would make a conscious choice to agree to be the face of the regime which would appear to be the antithesis of almost everything he stands for.

The press release announcing the deal appears below:


Tanal Entertainment Sport & Media, the holding company of HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al Saud, is pleased to announce an important strategic agreement with VR46 Team, Valentino Rossi's company, for the near future of MotoGP.

In 2022 the VR46 Team will debut in the MotoGP class together with Tanal Entertainment Sport & Media with Saudi Aramco, as the new Main Sponsor for the period 2022-2026: the new ARAMCO Racing Team VR46 will heat the track supported by other important sponsors of the world scene.

Saudi Aramco, the company already heavily involved in motorsport including in F1, will therefore enter the 2022 MotoGP World Championship through the VR46 Team.

A wide-ranging partnership between Tanal Entertainment Sport & Media and VR46 Team which aim to communicate the major projects within the program, developed following the previous sponsorship agreement for the 2021 sports season, with their partners.

Shared strategies and vision, synthesis of a mutual sharing objectives, led to the extension of this partnership by signing this important five-year agreement: an extensive joint-venture between Tanal Entertainment Sport & Media and VR46 Team which also presents the activation and management of communication.

In addition to the traditional commercial promotion through the activity of the VR46 Team, a communication strategy will be aimed at promoting the programs related to the impressive Saudi Vision 2030 project.

Based on the Vision 2030, Tanal Entertainment Sport & Media will present the new scenarios of future life that will be created in Saudi Arabia, starting with sports and entertainment infrastructures for the general public, up to involving large urban projects in the name of sustainability keeping in mind the green vocation that characterizes the KSA New Cities brand.

KSA New Cities is the brand that promotes Saudi Arabia' majestic new cities projects wich include NEOM and Najima The Fantastic City. Project developed with the support of the Korean KMHG team and the creative contribution of Italian and Saudi architects. New cities that will involve sport at the forefront with different forms of entertainment such as the creation of racing track for young drivers and new competitions.

A communication dedicated to the various projects also in support of international industrial programs in the world of motosport, motorcycling and motoring, developed by His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al Saud with MAIC Technologies.

Sponsor of VR46 Team and Team Bardahl VR46 Riders Academy MAIC Technologies role, is to develop and increment the production of road vehicles in Saudi Arabia. Also MAIC Technologies will produce the first prototype of a four-wheel drive off-road motorcycle with hybrid, thermal and electric propulsion, Joint by several partners from automotive Industry.

The joint-venture with VR46 Team confirms its intentions to take the sporting project to the MotoGP class from 2022, maintaining its presence in the Moto2 class. VR46 Team once again demonstrate its commitment and ability in promoting new talents showing its ambitious horizon.

The brand Aramco as the team main sponsor, will accompany us in the sporting future new scenarios with ‘our’ shared ambitions and projects for years to come!

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2021 WorldSBK Calendar Updated - Estoril To Be Second Race Of The Season

After the previous revision to the 2021 WorldSBK calendar, where the Estoril round was postponed, Dorna, the FIM and the Circuito Estoril have found a new date for the Portuguese round of the World Superbike Championship. The Estoril round is to be held the week after the opening round at Aragon, from May 28th to May 30th.

The season will start at the Motorland Aragon circuit near Alcañiz on May 21st, before heading to Estoril. The tail end of the season is still to be settled, with the controversial Mandalika circuit in Indonesia set for November, and a date for the Australian round to be announced for the end of the year.

The revised calendar appears below:

2021 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship
provisional calendar update

The Circuito Estoril will host the second Round of the 2021 season with WorldSBK and WorldSSP classes taking to the Portuguese venue.

The FIM and Dorna WSBK Organization (DWO) are thrilled to announce that the Circuito Estoril will host WorldSBK and WorldSSP classes for the second Round of the 2021 season from the 28th to the 30th of May. The 2021 season will start with a double header for the fifth time in MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship history as the Estoril Round goes back-to-back with the Aragon Round. The Circuito Estoril hosted the 2020 Championship-deciding season finale, with the 2021 event also set to be full of action.

With the 2021 season set to begin in just over a month, the FIM and Dorna WSBK Organization are constantly working with Government Officials and Circuits in order to continue putting everyone’s safety first and to ensure the original scheduled programme for all three classes is accomplished.

Any further updates to the 2021 WorldSBK calendar will be communicated accordingly.

21 - 23 May Spain MotorLand Aragón X X X
28 - 30 May Portugal Circuito Estoril X X X
11 - 13 June Italy Misano World Circuit “Marco Simoncelli” X X X
2 - 4 July United Kingdom Donington Park X    
23 - 25 July The Netherlands TT Circuit Assen X X X
20 – 22 August Spain Circuito de Navarra X X  
3 - 5 September France Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours X X X
17 - 19 September Spain Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya X X X
24 - 26 September Spain Circuito de Jerez - Ángel Nieto X X X
1 - 3 October Portugal Autódromo Internacional do Algarve X X X
15 – 17 October Argentina Circuito San Juan Villicum X X  
12 – 14 November Indonesia Mandalika International Street Circuit*** X X  
TBA**** Australia Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit** X X  

*All dates, events and the attendance of spectators are subject to the evolution of the global pandemic and the approval of the corresponding governments and authorities.

** (STC) Subject to contract / *** (STH) Subject to homologation /**** (TBA) Venue/event/date to be announced


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LED Panels To Be Used At All Remaining MotoGP Races In 2021

MotoGP is to get a head start on the implementation of LED flag panels for the remainder of the 2021 MotoGP season. The panels, which will be made compulsory by both the FIM and FIA from 2022, are to be transported from track to track by LED panel manufacturer EM Motorsport, and used for each race.

The panels are already being used in some tracks. They have been present at the Le Mans circuit for a couple of years, where the MotoGP riders got their first taste of them, and Assen fitted LED panels as part of their upgrades to the circuit at the end of the 2019 season.

The riders have been pushing for this to happen for some time, Aleix Espargaro explained at Portimão. "This was one thing that the riders had requested to Dorna. In Le Mans, because of the 24 Hours, we had banners from two or three years ago, and sincerely, it helps in some places in Le Mans. So after the Le Mans race two years ago, we asked Dorna to try to have it everywhere, so they did a great job."

Having LED flag panels will help, but the responsibility will still ultimately lie with rider, Espargaro said. "There are some riders who say it will change their life, and I don't agree. If you don't want to see a yellow flag and you want to keep pushing for your own interest and doing the fast lap, you can put LED panels, you can put a yellow flag in the middle of the corner, you will not close the throttle. But obviously, in some places where you have a big runoff area because it is a very fast corner, the LED panels can help."

The press release from Dorna appears below:

Digital Flag Panels to be used from Portuguese GP
Dorna to install high-tech digital Flag Panels at all MotoGP™ circuits in 2021
Thursday, 15 April 2021

Dorna Sports are delighted to announce an agreement with EM Motorsport to supply the FIM MotoGP™ World Championship with 22 digital, high-tech flag panels for use at each Grand Prix event. From 2022, it will be mandatory for circuits that host MotoGP™ to install T1 or T2 panels following a joint directive from the FIM and FIA to increase the visibility of and information regarding track conditions for all competitors in order to increase their safety during any incident, regardless of the discipline. The introduction of the panels for the rest of the 2021 MotoGP™ season, before they are mandatory, will enable both the riders and each host circuit to become accustomed to the technology before the new regulations come in.

The 22 new high-tech flag panels, which will travel with the MotoGP™ paddock throughout the remainder of 2021, will make their debut at the Grande Premio 888 de Portugal. Homologated Digital Flag Panels provide excellent visibility at high speeds in all weather conditions, making it easier for the riders to know the status of the circuit during sessions and increasing safety significantly. Particularly, EM Motorsport has vigorously tested its Flag Panels to ensure that whatever the weather or lighting conditions, they can be seen clearly utilising a brightness of 64,000 candela per square meter. They have been the first to be homologated by the FIM and FIA.

MotoGP™ will use a combination of T1 and T2 panels, with the T1s being used at long run off areas and fast straights and the T2s covering the rest of the circuit. T1 panels are EM Motorsport’s flagship product, with T2 panels evolving from those to offer the high-end technology to the entirety of the motorsport market. T1 and T2 differ in dimensions and performance in order to adapt to different Championship and circuit needs.

The Flag Panels will be fully integrated into MotoGP™’s current Race Control system, meaning the panels will be controlled first and foremost by Race Control, enabling them to change the status of the entire circuit instantly. Each panel has a console that will be operated by a trackside marshal for localised yellow flags and sector incidents. Marshals will be given full training on how to use the new panels before each event. The positions of the panels around the track will be determined by the FIM MotoGP™ Safety Officer, ensuring that they are placed in the natural eyeline of the riders throughout the lap.


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Private MotoGP Test In Jerez: Andrea Dovizioso To Get First Ride On Aprilia RS-GP

Monday sees the start of three days of activity at the Jerez ciruit, as first the MotoE teams, and then MotoGP test teams get to work at the Andalusian circuit. Alongside the full MotoE grid - it is an official MotoE test - the test teams of Aprilia, Honda, KTM, and Yamaha will be present at the track.

Though the MotoE test is an official event, a one-day official test or the electric motorcycle class, and will consequently have live timing available via the website, the MotoGP part of the test is a private test, and will therefore run without coverage, and without transponders. The MotoGP test teams will be at Jerez from Monday through Wednesday, sharing the track on the first day with the MotoE teams (and making use of the dead track time while the Energica machines are recharging between sessions), before having the track to themselves for the final two days of the test.

Though there will be no official coverage of the test, media interest in the test is high. For alongside KTM's Dani Pedrosa, Honda rider Stefan Bradl (now demoted to test rider again with the return to competition of Marc Marquez), Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow, and Lorenzo Savadori, Andrea Dovizioso will be making his debut aboard the Aprilia RS-GP. The ex-Ducati veteran will be getting his first taste of what from the Qatar test and races looks like being a competitive bike.

The test is the first of two which Dovizioso is scheduled to have with Aprilia. The Italian is also due to try the RS-GP at Mugello in May, and despite protestations to the contrary by both sides, the test is widely seen as a way for the two sides to assess one another. Aprilia gets a look at how Dovizioso works, and Dovizioso gets to see exactly how competitive the RS-GP really is.

The rider who won't be at Jerez, at least not on a MotoGP bike, is Marc Marquez. There had been rumors that the Spaniard could ride at Jerez, but the MotoGP rules make it clear that private testing is only allowed at a two-day private test already planned for later in the year. If Marquez were to attend, he could ride the Honda RC213V-S street bike, of course. But so far, it looks like Marquez is saving himself for his MotoGP return at Portimao on Friday.


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