MotoGP faces its toughest season ever in 2020

MotoGP

Last year’s MotoGP season counted 19 races over 37 weekends – the new 2020 calendar starts with 13 races over 18 weekends. How will riders and teams cope?

2019 Catalunya MotoGP race

All go at Catalunya last June – Barcelona’s 2020 race is scheduled for September

Honda

Much excitement last Friday at the publication of the long-awaited and heavily rewritten 2020 MotoGP calendar.

Racing starts at Jerez on July 19! Fourteen rounds, maybe more! Yay, let’s rejoice and go racing!

Yay, yay and thrice yay! It’s not long since some people were predicting that the Covid-19 pandemic would prevent any MotoGP action this year, so everyone – riders, teams and fans – should be delighted that MotoGP 2020 is finally go.

But while we rejoice, we should also take a look at the drastically revised calendar and what it means to the men and women that make the racing happen. Because the logistical, physical, mental and mechanical challenges of MotoGP 2020 will be on a different level to anything experienced before.

The championship now comprises a minimum of 13 races over just 18 weekends, with the possibility of three further rounds, to be run in Asia and the Americas in late November and early December. These will be announced next month and could take the championship to 16 races over 22 weekends.

Anyone who gets even slightly injured can most likely count themselves out of the championship.

To emphasise the enormity of the task facing riders and teams, the 2019 MotoGP season comprised 19 races over 37 weekends. And to further add to the stresses and strains, all teams will run skeleton crews to squeeze inside health protocols formulated by different countries and regions.

These four or five months of racing will be incredibly tough for everyone involved, which will add another dimension to the drama for those watching from the comfort of their sofas. How will riders and teams cope?

Most obviously, riders will need to approach the racing with a different mindset. Anyone who gets even slightly injured can most likely count themselves out of the championship. And they will have to take special care not to contract the virus.

Life will be at least as demanding for mechanics and other back-up staff. Not only will they have to work harder than ever, with reduced manpower, they will also be living out of a suitcase for four or five months, with little or no opportunity to take a break and recharge their batteries.

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There will be some upsides. Instead of getting from one race to another by plane, some paddock people will travel by camper van or motorhome, no doubt moving around in convoys, just as riders did decades ago. The paddock’s sense of community will be reinforced by the travails of the virus, as has been the case in other walks of life.

Logistics will also be complicated by the density of the calendar and by freight supply lines affected by the pandemic. That’s why the factories are already working hard to stockpile spare parts, especially crash parts and bodywork, because there will be little time to manufacture and transport once the racing begins.

There is no doubt that the gruelling Covid-19 calendar will make the 2020 season a feat of endurance like no other.

It’s no surprise that some paddock people are apprehensive about what lies ahead, but you’d struggle to find anyone who would prefer a summer without racing.

Everyone wants to go racing and most of the teams need to go racing, because Dorna can’t afford to subsidise them forever. Teams derive their income from performing in front of TV cameras – if they can’t do that they’ll most likely go bust.

Suzuki pit garage

Will Suzuki, Yamaha and Honda engineers be allowed into Europe?

Oxley

“This season will very be hard, but we don’t know how hard, because nobody has ever tried it,” one factory engineer told me. “But this will be the biggest problem compared to other problems.”

What are the other problems that riders and teams face? Those based in countries outside Europe still aren’t sure they will be able to enter Spain in time to quarantine for two weeks before Jerez, because many travel restrictions are still in place.

The biggest concern is for those travelling from Japan, because staff from Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and other Japanese companies make up a significant and vital part of the paddock and pit lane.

However much you love MotoGP you would struggle to convince anyone that it’s a critical industry or business.

Currently the Japanese government strongly recommends people don’t travel to Europe and elsewhere, which makes it difficult for big companies to request staff to get on a plane. However, many Japanese MotoGP staff are already trying to convince their management to let them go to Europe.

There is a chance that the Japanese government will drop its Covid-19 advice from Level 3 to Level 2 at the start of July, just in time for Jerez, where testing starts on July 15.

Those travelling from Australia – Jack Miller, several of Valentino Rossi’s crew and others – face more serious obstacles. At the moment the Australian government fully prohibits anyone from leaving the country for work unless “it’s essential for the conduct of critical industries and business”.

And however much you love MotoGP you would struggle to convince anyone that it’s a critical industry or business.

Similar barriers face people travelling from other countries outside Europe.

And what happens if these people can’t get to Jerez in time? Will the racing go ahead without them? Or will the affected factories demand that the season is delayed once again?

Assuming that those with non-European passports can travel to Europe they will still face problems with their work visas, due to the revised calendar which requires them to stay in Europe for longer than usual. The Schengen Agreement restricts people from Japan and other countries outside Europe to a maximum stay of 90 days in the Schengen area.

Of course, although the European sector of the 2020 calendar is out, the pandemic most certainly isn’t. Last week Beijing reported its first cases of Covid-19 in almost two months, causing the authorities to reimpose lockdown in some areas.

MotoGP will remain on tenterhooks at most events until the starting lights go out on Sunday afternoon, because the racing will be entirely dependent on the local health situation at every venue.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s not as bright as we’d like it to be.

 

Revised 2020 MotoGP calendar

Date

Race

Circuit

19 July Spanish GP Jerez
26 July Andalucían GP Jerez
9 August Czech Republic GP Brno
16 August Austrian GP Red Bull Ring
23 August Styrian GP Red Bull Ring
13 September San Marino GP Misano
20 September Emilia Romagna GP Misano
27 September Catalunya GP Barcelona
11 October French GP Le Mans
18 October Aragón GP Aragón
25 October Teruel GP Aragón
8 November European GP Valencia
15 November Comunitat Valenciana GP Valencia
TBC American GP Circuit of the Americas
TBC Argentinian GP Rio Hondo
TBC Thai GP Chang
TBC Malaysian GP Sepang

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