Paddock Pass Podcast Episode 126: What We Are Looking Forward To In 2020

The Paddock Pass Podcast returns after a brief winter layoff for the holiday period, and we still find plenty to talk about. Steve English, Neil Morrison, and David Emmett all go through what we are most looking forward to in the 2020 season.

There is a lot to look forward to. Will the new chassis for KTM or the new bike at Aprilia mean a breakthrough for the factories? What happens at Yamaha? Can they find more horsepower? And how will they handle trying to fit Maverick Viñales, Valentino Rossi, and Fabio Quartararo into the factory team? Will Rossi retire, and who else will go with him? How will Scott Redding get on in WorldSBK? And will the brand new Honda Fireblade finally be competitive?

We also take a dive into the news. We talk about the situation with Andrea Iannone, what the Aprilia rider did wrong, and what Aprilia does next. And we take a quick look at how Michelin's new rear tire might affect the racing in 2020.

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Thank you David, Steve, and Neil!

Sepang test is almost here, and anticipation is simmering. Most looking fwd to a handful of things, and unfortunately anticipating a few key disappointments.

The Ducati is undergoing a big change in the bike, biggest since the 1st Gigi bike. It will turn better and gain corner speed, and not just a small increment. The bike is there, and may even end up considered the best bike on the grid (let us hope that it is also setting up consistently and with less trouble adapting at bogey tracks). Red riders? I see a contrast in which we continue to have doubts that they have the rider with them that will make the next step and challenge Marquez. Betting Zarco does the business on the 2019 bike and earns better support from Duc. Miller is on a good steady rise, deserves praise, and may take another step towards Dovi. Main thing at Ducati? The bike will corner much better, and this is an essential difficult transformation against the grain of their DNA.

A less personal, and more simply structural matter is there re riders at Ducati. Miller is just frankly on trajectory to go Factory. The lovely crescendo of Petrucci long passed and he looks done. Dovisioso? He made a clear open and vocal push mid season, Ducati needs to do more getting the bike carving. This is ok. The Red management on the other hand pushed back, we need more from a rider with THIS bike. Also ok. Two legitimate perspectives and efforts to get needs met. The bike? Doing it. Dovi? Do or die now friend. Or, elsewhere next season. Nothing personal. HUGE respect to intelligent and hardest working Dovi. And isn't it how it should be that riders have a life cycle, and Factory seats have a complimentary refreshment rate?

Notice perhaps that we all clearly know rider fit and style needs for the Yamaha/Suzuki and Honda/KTM. But the Ducati? The head scratching may be an indication of something important, that may be changing. The manner in which Miller makes it work will be articulated. Zarco may display this as he adjusts. But 2021 may be when this really gets clear. The bike is a more balanced and complete package. "That next step special" rider? Nature abhors a vacuum, the siren's call is being warmed up. We may soon know what sort of rider/riding style the Ducati needs. There are already "Ducati tracks." Honda AND Yamaha have left some room to be passed on the inside, and I think Ducati has just gotten a bike to do so. Literally and figuratively.

Juxtapose and contrast Yamaha with the Red project. They have Quartararo, whose potential can't be overrated. They have Vinales, who looks REALLY GOOD right now. They got their bike to reduce spin, electronics are back. It carves like a tuning fork should again. The riders liked the new bike first go, and - surprise surprise, the new engine isn't much more powerful. Will it be? I doubt it. One step, which will help, but three are needed to be in the game.

With the return of a standout chassis engineer, the very strong 2nd team running a 2020 bike with a top rider, AND the robust Test team we can expect great things from Yamaha. But what can that bring when wrapped around another anemic engine all year?

At Yamaha the Test team and "of the times" organizational restructure is of great interest. Jorge looks to be a go. Without engine development during the season, I am ready to be disappointed with the 2020 Blue championship run at Marc and his bronco.

Re Valentino, it is telling that awareness can already be on what emerges of his post-riding work with Yamaha. Young rider support, financial security, guidance for the organization with riders' needs in mind. Hoping for a last win. And, at the same time, will Quarty or Vinales answer the call from Ducati? It will be considered to be sure.

Honda? What can be said? They have the Marc. The bike is likely to settle a bit with better manners. Expecting a small one, but it could sit still re that and still be untouchable. Marc's shoulder should be fine, and he has surpassed his excessively "risky rolls of the injury dice" era. What else to say? Little.

KTM is going to keep improving along this trajectory. Suzuki should be nervous. And emulating? Sequential tenths become increasingly out of reach, yes, but isn't the momentum evident? The bike, and riders. Pol is there, Binder has arrived. Both have goodness of fit for KTM/Honda. Binder starts slow on new bikes, but drives out well, sure and steady improvement will come. He is steeped in making an unruly inferior bike do better than it should. He is an OUTSTANDING rider, maybe an Alien exiting orbit in an airplane?

Suzuki? Rins is still growing, and the bike has shown it is a race winner. Q improves. But my expectation is that the meager resources and void surrounding any 2nd team or big primary sponsor is vast. I think their next blossom is to remain latent for now.

Interesting mention of Mir/Rins being alike a Quartararo/Vinales dynamic in which one rider may jump ship. Mir is coming. Oliveira could. Miller as we said. Binder. Quartararo of course. Vinales already has and is on song loud and clear. 2020 is a year where the 1st rider can't rest on their laurels (Honda excepted, if we can even say MM93 ever does anything besides full out).

There have been 5 bikes to talk about on the grid last year. 2020 has 6. Aprilia brings a revolution. Piaggio brought a bigger war chest. Aleix is doing the Espargaro thing. 2nd rider will be shite, but after teething (reliability problems early 2020 are quite likely) we get to compare AE41's 2020 and 2019 position. It will be impressive mid season. They will attract a good 2nd rider, given how flush we are with rider options. Betcha he is Italian. Last blurb re Iannone. If he can't compete, why not Suzuki or Aprilia do an oddly cheap 1yr re-hire to their Test team? )Let him do all the damn steroids and calendar shoots he wants, just run our bike at the limit and shake out parts before our riders get them). Sincerely, he may have something to offer and this is a good fit now. Guintoli isn't all that motivated. Smith hasn't been on as fast a pace, and may be racing anyway.

An oddly early and complex Silly Season will be a centerpoint for us. It will be quite unique.

Conditions for race weekends will continue to be less predictable. If that combines with less practice time, we have an exciting and wobbly season on tap.

P.S. Neil, while your position may be good in the wind tunnel, you may chip teeth on the brakes with the microphone so close again mate.

Addendum: we also get to see the new track at a tire test in June. The KymiRing has slow twisty bits and a huge 1.2km straight. Or, as others might call it, another Marquez/Honda track. Nice to be in that part of the world, but my preference would be for a different layout. We'll see.

Re the rookies, Alex Marquez at Repsol Honda has said "I want Rookie Of The Year." Since Brad Binder and Iker Lecuona are on KTM's, this is a bit underwhelming isn't it? Strange to have a direct to Factory rookie, and how very different it is to have this A.Marquez/Binder dichotemy. I like you Alex, but I want Binder to beat you in Orange.

Re rookies, so interesting how uninteresting Bagnaia's year unfolded. Sharp contrast with Quartararo eh? We all expected more. At this late stage without significant improvement I suspect that he has his eye on a different manufacturer for next season. I hope they have an eye on him, and he gets on with a big bike that is more accessible. Or, the Ducati has just come a big step towards him in rideability for conventional styles, and he makes that move at the 11th hour. Few riders can afford to "Rabat" in the class for long these days, many good and promising riders want seats, and a "refresh" button for riders has Red brass finger hovering over it. Could go either way. I think he is going elsewhere.

Great PPP