2020 Spanish GP (MotoGP) – Preview

The return of grand prix motorcycle racing! The return of another global sporting competition! The return of MotoGP!

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the world, with many events of social significance and importance either cancelled or postponed as a result, and many, many people around the world losing their lives as a result of COVID-19!

However, MotoGP returns this weekend, becoming the second global sporting competition, after Formula One, to return to action, with the first of what at this stage is a 13-round season (although it could possibly extend to 16 rounds) taking place at the Circuito de Jerez-Ángel Nieto to start the 2020 MotoGP World Championship at the 2020 Spanish Grand Prix, and can anybody beat Marc Márquez?

On Wednesday, Márquez looked strong for the Repsol Honda Team, topping the time-sheets in the morning test sesssion, before finishing third in the afternoon test session, proving to everyone that the defending world champion is fully fit after the shoulder surgery he had during the off-season, and that his team have fixed the aerodynamic issues surrounding the bike!

In my mind, Márquez is still the man to beat, and after finishing first or second in 18 of the 19 races in 2019, the legendary Spaniard will be looking to become the MotoGP World Champion for the seventh time in 2020, and win his ninth world championship across all classes, which would equal the record of Valentino Rossi across both departments in terms of premier class world championships, and world championships across all classes overall!

So, who can challenge Márquez, and deny him of this milestone?

Álex Rins put his hand up on Wednesday as a potential contender for Team Suzuki Ecstar, and although he didn’t set the fastest time in either test session, he finished a strong second and fourth in both the morning and afternoon sessions respectively. Rins will looking to improve on finishing fourth in the 2019 championship, and finish at worst inside the Top Three in the shortened 2020 world championship.

Fabio Quartararo has taken off from where he finished 2019, showing plenty of speed in finishing fifth and second in testing for Petronas Yamaha SRT, and will be aiming not only to improve on his fifth-place finish in the 2019 world championship, but also to claim his first MotoGP victory before moving to Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP in 2021.

And, the other genuine championship contender in my view is Maverick Viñales for Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP. The Spaniard claimed two race victories and a further five podiums in 2019, and although he only finished 13th in the morning test session, he was the fastest in the afternoon test session, and was consistently the fastest in original pre-season testing before the COVID-19 hiatus. The question is whether he can be consistently on the pace of Márquez, something which he struggled to do in 2019, but was the only rider in 2019 to be able to win without Márquez challenging him on the final lap (when Márquez was still in the race), so if he can be consistently on the pace with Márquez, then possibly Viñales is the man to end his reign!

And, while there could be surprises and upsets throughout the field, the four championship contenders, and therefore regular challengers, for race wins in 2020 in my view are Marc Márquez, Álex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, and Maverick Viñales!

So, who is going to win the opening race of 2020?

In my mind, Marc Márquez is the man to beat this weekend for the Repsol Honda Team, and while I think Fabio Quartararo for Petronas Yamaha SRT, and Maverick Viñales for Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP could be slightly quicker over one lap, although I don’t think there is much between those three over one lap on their current machinery, I think Márquez will start the shortened 2020 MotoGP World Championship in the best way possible, with Quartararo and Viñales completing the podium, and Rins in a close fourth for Team Suzuki Ecstar.

2020 Styrian Grand Prix – Preview

What a return! What a dramatic race! Only 13 cars were classified as finishers, with just 11 cars crossed the finishing line at the end in a race of great attrition, with all nine cars that didn’t cross the finish line retiring due to mechanical issues, and with a number of others right on the edge of their reliability limits.

Despite this, the racing was first class, Valtteri Bottas winning the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix from pole position in what was one of the best performances of his career so far, leading all 71 Laps of the race, while Lewis Hamilton after receiving a three-place grid penalty for going too fast under yellow flags in qualifying, moved up from fifth to second by Lap 11 following the retirement of  Max Verstappen due to electronic issues with his Red Bull Racing-Honda, pressured his teammate Bottas throughout the race while both Mercedes were battling gearbox issues, which were compounded to a degree by three safety car periods, the first on Lap 25 when Kevin Magnussen retired at Turn Two with brake issues for Haas-Ferrari, the second on Lap 50 when George Russell had to retire with a loss of fuel pressure in his Williams-Mercedes, and on Lap 54, the lap the second safety car period ended when Kimi Räikkönen of Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari lost his right-front wheel.

This was before Hamilton clashed with Verstappen’s teammate Alexander Albon on Lap 61 after Albon attempted to pass Hamilton around the outside of Turn Four, ending Albon’s hopes of a first podium in Formula One (although he retired (classified 13th) from the race on Lap 67 due to electronic issues), and Hamilton, who finished second on the track, received a five-second time penalty as a result.

This gave the opportunity for Charles Leclerc in a Ferrari that was no where near the quickest cars on merit during the weekend to pounce and grab a surprise second-place, while Lando Norris snatched his first podium in Formula One for McLaren-Renault by setting the fastest lap of the race on the final lap, beating Hamilton to third (after Hamilton’s time penalty) by 0.198 seconds!

That was just a small snapshot of the return of Formula One, which remains at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria this weekend for the first-ever running of the Styrian Grand Prix, Round Two of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship.

Bottas (25 points) leads the championship for Mercedes by seven points over Ferrari’s Leclerc (18 points) after the opening round of 2020. Ferrari, despite finishing second through the efforts of Leclerc, were never in the hunt for the race victory. Leclerc just managed to scrape into the third period (Top 10) of qualifying on Saturday, while his teammate Sebastian Vettel (one point), who finished the opening race of 2020 in 10th after spinning and almost colliding with McLaren-Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr., who incidentally will be replacing Vettel at Ferrari in 2021, on Lap 32 as the race resumed after the first safety car, just missed out on getting into the third period of qualifying.

Right now, Ferrari have the fifth-fastest car on paper, which is worse than expected, and are now going to bring updates to their car for the Styrian Grand Prix, instead of waiting for the following weekend at the Hungarian Grand Prix as they had originally intended. If the updates don’t work for Ferrari, then Leclerc’s second-place finish at the Austrian Grand Prix could well become a distant memory for the Prancing Horse.

Norris (16 points) is third in the standings for McLaren-Renault after becoming third-youngest driver in Formula One history to score a podium finish, while Hamilton (12 points) is fourth for Mercedes after his clash with Albon at Turn Four, which is the second time they have touched each other in the last three races after coming together last year in Brazil.

In my view, while the stewards were probably right to give Hamilton a five-second time penalty, I felt it was very close to a racing incident just because of the high degree of difficulty of making a pass around the outside of someone at Turn Four at the Red Bull Ring, especially around the outside of a six-time world champion.

If it had been Albon’s teammate Verstappen in that position rather than Albon, I think Verstappen would have made a successful pass around the outside of Hamilton due to the extra level of speed Verstappen has, thus the extra level of respect that Hamilton would have had for Verstappen due to his extra level of speed, and this extra level of respect is not the type of respect that you can earn over time!

It is the type of respect that you either born with, or not born with (relative to the opposition), and if Albon is going to be successful in his Formula One career, he is likely going to have to be done through greater hard work and grit, rather than going down the route of doing it via audaciousness and natural speed!

Carlos Sainz Jr. (10 points) is fifth in the world championship for McLaren-Renault, Sergio Pérez (eight points) is sixth for Racing Point-BWT Mercedes after receiving a five-second time penalty for speeding in the pit-lane, although that wouldn’t have moved him up any further, while Pierre Gasly (six points) for AlphaTauri-Honda, Esteban Ocon (four points) for Renault, Antonio Giovinazzi (two points) for Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari, and Vettel (one point) for Ferrari complete the points-scoring finishers, while Nicholas Latifi missed out on a points-scoring finish for Williams-Mercedes on his Formula One debut.

As for the other drivers who didn’t finish the race (that I haven’t mentioned), Daniel Ricciardo retired on Lap 17 for Renault due to overheating and cooling issues with his car, Lance Stroll was a casualty for Racing Point-BWT Mercedes three laps later with an engine issue, while Romain Grosjean (brakes) and Daniil Kvyat (suspension) retired on Lap 49 and Lap 69 for Haas-Ferrari and AlphaTauri-Honda respectively, with Kvyat classified in 12th.

As far as the Constructors’ Championship is concerned, Mercedes (37 points) lead by 11 points over McLaren-Renault (26 points), with Ferrari (19 points) a further seven points adrift, while Racing Point-BWT Mercedes (eight points), AlphaTauri-Honda (six points), Renault (four points), Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari (two points) all claimed points in a car-breaking grand prix, with Williams-Mercedes (zero points), Red Bull Racing-Honda (zero points), and Haas-Ferrari (zero points) yet to get off the mark.

So, who will win the inaugural Styrian Grand Prix?

If the conditions are cooler this weekend, particularly for race day, then you would expect a more predictable race, especially in terms of reliability, and likewise a more predictable final result. If Mercedes are reliable, they should finish first and second, and if that is the case, I tip Lewis Hamilton to bounce back to his very best this weekend!

However, if rain or car reliability (through failures or grid penalties) affects the weekend, then all bets will be off once again, but regardless of what happens, it should be another great race!

2020 Austrian Grand Prix – Preview

Friday the 13th! Friday March 13, 2020! A day we will never forget! A day where the world of sport, and the world itself changed … forever!

On the night of Thursday March 12, the night before what should have been the start of the race weekend of what should have been the opening round of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship, of what should have been the 2020 Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne, an employee from the McLaren F1 Team tested positive for COVID-19, and from there, the world changed quickly, leading to Friday the 13th, and the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix!

Some drivers, allegedly, left Melbourne (and Australia) before the official announcement of the cancellation of the race weekend, and from there, the ripple effect was unprecedented!

After the announcement from Formula One, Cricket Australia made an announcement that the one day international at the Sydney Cricket Ground between Australia and New Zealand later on Friday the 13th would be played behind closed doors, and then within days, international borders across the world began to close, sporting competitions around the world started to shut down, Tokyo 2020 postponed until 2021, and many events cancelled for the first time since the Second World War, and sadly, the suffering being experienced by people around the world was unimaginable and still is in many parts around the world!

It came like the biggest tsunami we have never seen before, and has caused, and is still causing, so much damage on so many fronts, so many lives lost, so many livelihoods lost, and the tunnel at some points within the last three to four months, generically speaking, was darker than the night sky!

However, the light began to return! Football in Europe, led by the Bundesliga in Germany, and football in Asia, led by the K-League in South Korea, started the return of sport as a beacon of hope, quickly followed by the National Rugby League (NRL) and the Australian Football League (AFL) in Australia in particular as optimism grew, and now the return of sporting competition on the global stage!

The 20 best drivers, the 10 best teams return in the fastest cars on planet earth, fighting the good fight, a great battle, and all the challenges the world has faced in 2020, and leading the return of global sporting competition!

The new start of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship, the first time the world championship has started in Europe since 1966! It is the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria!

Going all the way back to pre-season testing back in February, which seems a lifetime ago, it appeared as though Lewis Hamilton, who is looking to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world championships, and Mercedes are still very much the driver and team combination to beat with the bullet-proof reliability that has come to define their dominance of the sport since 2014.

The 2020 Mercedes looked to be about seven tenths of a second quicker than anything else seen in pre-season testing, and if that is the case, that should Hamilton the perfect platform to drive towards a seventh world championship, as well as surpassing other records held by Schumacher in Formula One, including most race victories (Schumacher: 91, Hamilton: 84), and most podium finishes (Schumacher: 155, Hamilton: 151). It would also give Hamilton, who has 88 pole positions, the best possible platform to launch towards becoming the first driver to claim 100 pole positions, if not by the end of 2020, certainly at some point during 2021, with all of this dependent on how many races take place in 2020.

In regards to who I think will challenge Mercedes in 2020, I think that Red Bull Racing-Honda is the best position to give Mercedes a huge fight, but if they are seven tenths off the pace as they were in pre-season testing, then it is going to be difficult for Max Verstappen to challenge for a first world championship, and become youngest-ever world champion in Formula One, and for Alexander Albon to challenge for podiums and race victories on a consistent basis.

As for Ferrari, it looked like that they were about 1.3 seconds away from Mercedes after pre-season testing, and closer to the midfield than they are to Red Bull Racing-Honda, with Team Principal Mattia Binotto admitting that Ferrari have had to redesign their car, and that updates won’t be ready until the 2020 Hungarian Grand Prix, which will be the third race of 2020, after the Austrian Grand Prix, and the Styrian Grand Prix!

If this is the case, then that is a very disappointing result, not only for Ferrari supporters, but also for Charles Leclerc, who is looking to build on his impressive first season with Ferrari with a season full of podiums, race victories, and a world championship challenge, and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who is looking to rebound back to his best after a disappointing season by his standards in 2019, in which he had one race victory and a further eight podiums, although he only finished 24 points behind Leclerc in the championship.

As far as the midfield is concerned, Racing Point-BWT Mercedes with a Mercedes-inspired car from a technical point of view is leading the charge with Sergio Pérez and Lance Stroll, about 1.6 seconds behind Mercedes, followed by McLaren-Renault (+1.8 seconds) with Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lando Norris, AlphaTauri-Honda (+1.9 seconds), formerly known as Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda, with Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat, Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari (+2.1 seconds) with 2007 world champion Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi, and Renault (+2.2 seconds) with Daniel Ricciardo and the returning Esteban Ocon.

And, behind the midfield and completing the grid for 2020 will be Haas-Ferrari (+2.7 seconds) with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, and Williams-Mercedes (+2.8 seconds) with George Russell and 2019 Formula Two Championship runner-up Nicholas Latifi.

So, who is going to win the opening race of 2020?

Since Formula One returned to the Red Bull Ring, formerly known as the A1-Ring, back in 2014, the Austrian Grand Prix has been dominated by Mercedes (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017) and Red Bull (2018, 2019), with Max Verstappen winning in each of the last two seasons.

However, given the circumstances surrounding the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix, the return of Formula One, and the race taking place behind closed doors, the historical form guide almost goes out the window, and this weekend might see someone secure a surprise podium, or even a shock win, but as far as my prediction is concerned, I am going to tip the driver and car combination that I felt was the quickest in pre-season testing to win at the Red Bull Ring this weekend, and that is Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes!