Who will win the 2020 MotoGP title: Ducati or Yamaha? Or Suzuki?

MotoGP

Six tracks remain in MotoGP 2020, so which will work best for the front-running Ducatis and Yamahas? And don’t forget Suzuki!

Fabio Quartararo fighting during the 2020 MotoGP San Marino Grand Prix at Misano

Quartararo fighting at Misano and about to lose the championship lead

Petronas SRT

The battle for the 2020 MotoGP world championship reaches half-distance at Misano next Sunday.

So far it’s been the strangest of championships in the strangest of years: five different winners from six races, four first-time winners, only one rider in the top eight that’s finished every race and only 19 points between leader Andrea Dovizioso and seventh-placed Franco Morbidelli. After the first six races of last year there were 73 points between first and seventh!

The last time there were so many different winners in the first six races was in 2000, another interregnum season when no one was really in charge, because Mick Doohan had gone and Valentino Rossi had yet to become a dominant force.

This blog has already discussed some of the reasons for the topsy-turvy results and there’s no reason to believe the action will get any less chaotic at the final eight races.

The riders are close, the bikes are close and there’s a new rear tyre that some teams are struggling to understand, so no one seems able to get into the kind of groove that allows them to score consistent top results.

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Currently Dovizioso and Fabio Quartararo are the men on top, with only six points between them. Factory Ducati rider Dovizioso took the series lead for the first time on Sunday when Quartararo crashed his Yamaha, which puts him just six points ahead of Pramac Ducati’s Jack Miller.

The last eight races take place at six tracks: Misano, Barcelona, Le Mans, Aragon, Valencia and Portimāo (recently renamed the International Algarve Circuit).

Ducati’s Desmosedici and Yamaha’s YZR-M1 are very different motorcycles, so the way they match or fail to match each of those circuits could be fundamental to the outcome of the 2020 title.

Ducati team manager Davide Tardozzi is feeling confident about the next five races but is worried about the last three outings – the Valencia double-header and Portimāo.

“In this strange season every weekend is completely different. You have to completely change the way you ride”

“Barcelona won’t be so bad for us – it will depend a lot on the grip the track has when we go there, but I don’t think it’s a bad circuit for us,” said the former World Superbike race winner at Misano. “I think we will have very good possibilities at the next two tracks – Aragon and Le Mans – because our Desmosedici usually works well there. But the last two tracks… I consider Valencia and probably Portimāo to be the worst ones for us.”

His championship leader isn’t so sure. By this stage last year Dovizioso had scored one victory, three further podiums and hadn’t finished lower than fourth. Compare that to his 2020 record so far: third at Jerez, sixth at Jerez, 11th at Brno, first at Red Bull Ring, fifth at Red Bull Ring and seventh at Misano.

Dovizioso blames his lack of speed and consistency on one component: Michelin’s 2020 rear slick, which works so well with the Yamaha and Suzuki inline-fours and usually with the KTM V4.

The points situation backs him up. This year he has scored 76 points from the first six races while last year he scored 103 from the first five.

“It’s very bad, because at every track the situation changes a lot,” said the Italian, runner-up to Marc Márquez in 2017, 2018 and 2019. “At every track the way you have to ride the bike is completely different – the grip changes, so the way the bike reacts changes, so you have to change the way you ride again.

“In this strange season every weekend is completely different, so it’s difficult to make improvements. Every weekend you arrive at the track with some ideas from the last race, then the grip is completely different, so you have to completely change the way you ride and the way you set up the bike, so it’s a big confusion.”

Andrea Dovizioso leading during the 2020 MotoGP Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring

Dovizioso on his way to winning the Austrian GP, ahead of Miller and Mir

Ducati

Tardozzi, who loses Dovizioso at the end of this season, wants his current number-one rider to adapt better to changing grip conditions, which has always been a Márquez strong point.

“Dovi has a very special way to go fast,” said Tardozzi. “But it would be better if he could adapt more.”

This is one reason why Miller’s talent is so attractive to Ducati. Like the factory’s only MotoGP champ Casey Stoner, Miller seems able to adapt himself to each situation. And he is a fighter on the bike, so his riding style is less refined than Dovizioso’s.

“Adaptability – especially in this championship – is really important,” said the Aussie at Misano.

Sunday’s San Marino GP was a low point for Quartararo, who crashed out of the championship lead. The 21-year-Frenchman scored 50 points at the first two races and has added just 20 at the four races since: no grip at Brno, no speed at Red Bull Ring and rider error at Misano

That mistake was a perfect storm of too much pressure and too little experience. He got out-dragged by Miller’s “rocket launcher” (Quartararo’s words) at the start, tangled with the Aussie and then got stuck behind Maverick Viñales. That increased his front tyre temperature and pressure, so when he did get past he upped his pace and lost the front.

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“I was scared Franco and Valentino would go away,” he said. “I wanted to catch them too fast, I was too excited. There were 19 laps to go but I was riding like it was the last lap. I had the pace, I just need to be more relaxed on the bike.”

Petronas Yamaha team manager Wilco Zeelenberg has noticed the change in Quartararo this year. Last season the former Moto2 winner was the rookie with nothing to lose. This year he’s still a raw, young talent, but he’s got everything to lose.

“These boys grow up and suddenly they understand they have the chance to win the world title,” said Zeelenberg. “The mentality of enjoying racing, enjoying life and playing around is completely different from trying to win the world championship. You have to be very motivated and very determined in what you do, what you say, everything, so it’s a big change for a young guy.”

Zeelenberg only has one concern when he analyses the Yamaha’s chances at the last eight races.

“We know we have the speed to win at Misano. Then Barcelona and Le Mans shouldn’t be a problem for us – the past tells us we are good at those tracks, so I don’t see us losing places or our championship chance there.

“But Aragon is a different story – I don’t see us beating Ducati there, so that’s somewhere that we could lose points. But it all depends on how much grip we have and the tyres that Michelin bring. We know we don’t have the speed for the long straight, but if they bring a tyre that doesn’t really suit our bike, like they did in Austria, then we will have double trouble and we could easily lose many points because there are so many good bikes and tyres now

“I really believed Dovizioso would win both races in Austria, but he finished fifth in the second race, so I think he made a bigger error than we did.” [Zeelenberg is referring to Ducati’s error at the Styrian GP, when they used a too-low rear-tyre pressure.)

In November MotoGP stays in Spain for two races at Valencia and the Portimāo season finale on November 22.

Joan Mir cornering on his Suzuki

Mir has scored more points than anyone at the last three races

Suzuki

Both tracks are similar in character – their layouts are dominated by a long series of interlinked low-to-medium speed corners and end with super-fast straights. The biggest difference is that Valencia is mostly flat, while Portimāo is an undulating roller coaster.

Last year at Valencia Quartararo chased home Márquez, beating Miller and Dovizioso into third and fourth. In theory Yamaha should have the upper hand at both tracks, because the speed they can carry through the serpentine sections should allow them to make a big enough gap to hold their position on the long start/finish straights.

Zeelenberg is quietly confident about the final tracks but knows that the late-autumn weather could play a big part in deciding the title.

“Fabio likes Valencia and the track shouldn’t be a big problem. When you have a track that flows, where you can keep the momentum, it’s good for the Yamaha. True, Valencia has got quite a long straight, but if you exit well onto the straight then it’s not always easy to be overtaken.

“But what will the weather be like? It could be cold, it could be wet, and we can’t say we have the best bike for the rain because Ducati has better grip in the wet. So it is far from done!

Joan Mir has yet to win a race but he scored more points than anyone at the last three rounds

“The big thing at Portimāo will be keeping the front wheel on the ground and the amount of power we can use. The good thing is that our controllability and throttle connection are good for twisty tracks.”

Ducati and Yamaha riders may hold the top three positions in the world championship, but neither Dovizioso, Quartararo or Miller have scored the most points at the last three races.

The only man who has got anything like a consistent rhythm going so far is Suzuki’s Joan Mir. He has yet to win a race but he scored more points than anyone at the last three rounds, with a second, a fourth and a third. Despite crashes at Jerez and Brno he now stands just four points behind Miller.

Suzuki’s 2020 GSX-RR is the latest refinement of the machine that was already MotoGP’s best-turning bike when it arrived in 2015. The GSX-RR is still the best-handling, easiest-riding bike and it works superbly with Michelin’s 2020 rear tyre. Finally it has just about enough power to go with the V4s, as Mir proved in Austria.

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“We always we say that the most important thing is the overall balance of the bike,” said Suzuki technical manager Ken Kawauchi. “Only focusing on power is not ideal, only focusing on turning is not ideal. Most important is that this year we extended our ability in all areas. It’s very difficult to overtake a V4 with horsepower, but now we have a little more power, without losing controllability, and we have the same turning performance with more braking stability, so we can compensate.”

Mir can now brake later – to win back time lost to the V4s on the straights – and still make the corner. His last-lap Misano attack on Rossi also proved that the Suzuki still turns superbly and looks after its tyres well.

The 23-year-old is as aggressive as ever but has worked hard to improve his pace over race distance. The important thing is that he knows exactly how to use the Suzuki’s advantages to negate its disadvantages.

“When you are fighting against a faster bike it’s very difficult,” said Mir at Misano. “What I do is open my line a lot more into corners so I can carry a lot more speed through the corners. You must not go into the corner with the same speed as the other bike because then everything stops and when the other guy opens the throttle you lose two tenths, which is very difficult to recover.”

Suzuki world champions for the first time since Kenny Roberts Jr in 2000? Why not?