Just when you think an already unpredictable 2020 MotoGP World Championship was just starting to balance out, Mother Nature throws a curveball and skittles all of those predictions away again.
Danilo Petrucci’s win in the French MotoGP – held in tricky wet conditions at Le Mans – makes him the seventh different winner in nine races and yet again serves to make this year’s title battle even harder to call with five races to go.
First and foremost, no-one is ever really a “loser” when it comes to days like this when riders really earn their salaries, but while some earned their water wings too, which riders were drowned out in the chilly French foray?
2020 French MotoGP – The Winners & Losers
What a performance from Danilo Petrucci… and, more to the point, where exactly did that come from?
We’re big fans of Danilo and his maiden win at Mugello at 2019 will certainly never be forgotten. However, many had almost forgotten the man himself coming to France, with Petrucci struggling on the Ducati GP20 in a continuation of the lacklustre form he slipped into after that Italian victory.
However, Petrucci has always performed well in the wet so when the heavens opened, he was likely to be more happy than most. Nonetheless, it’s not just the win itself that earns Danilo our plaudits here, it’s also because he set this up from Friday where he pounded around getting a feel in the wet, before translating that to an excellent run to the front row in the dry on Saturday.
Easily his best qualifying performance of the year, it put him in an excellent position to capitalise on Sunday and he didn’t waste the opportunity.
Confidently leading from the front early on, when Andrea Dovizioso worked his way past, it was Petrucci’s emphatic response that earned him both the lead and ultimately the win. In short, this is a Danilo Petrucci we haven’t seen in a while, which he credits to a much needed breakthrough in Spain two weeks ago.
His second career MotoGP win, it will serve as a reminder to Ducati of what it is letting go next year, but certainly also raise a smile at Tech 3 KTM, who land his services for 2021.
It’s been a trying maiden MotoGP season for Marquez, who has not only had to get his head around a clearly tricky Honda package – which seems to be the equivalent of selecting ‘expert’ difficulty level on a computer game you’ve never played before – but he’s had to it with the spotlight trained firmly on him in his brother’s absence.
With Marc soon returning, Alex has done a brilliant job of reminding us that talent runs in the family with a genuinely exceptional performance.
Showing a deft ability in the wet and confidence in the way he picked off rivals that should know better, Marquez’s consistency in evolving conditions bettered anyone else out there.
It also rather shamed his similarly inexperienced rivals who went backwards and it’s no exaggeration to suggest a couple of extra laps – or a higher starting position – would have seen him take a victory that somehow would have been even more of a shock than Brad Binder’s or Miguel Oliveira’s.
Takaaki Nakagami may not be an obvious ‘winner’ here given he didn’t exactly set the world alight in France, while he is now in the minority as one of only 7 riders not to have stood on the podium after Marquez and Petrucci swelled the number of 2020 rostrum visitors to 15!
So why include him here?
Well, his seventh place finish in Le Mans was a decent result. It’s also a ninth consecutive top ten finish – no podiums, but no DNFs either, making him the only rider to come even close to demonstrating metronomic consistency.
As a result, it has prompted a rather remarkable set of circumstances in that he is now up to fifth in the overall standings, despite the fact he has only finished higher than that once in a race this year.
He isn’t even that far off the top either, at an ‘in striking range’ 36 points from leader Fabio Quartararo.
We wouldn’t necessarily suggest Nakagami – on a 2019 Honda don’t forget – is a title contender but when riders say it is important to keep scoring, he is an excellent example of all those points that have gone begging for the likes of Quartararo, Joan Mir and more this year.
He won’t necessarily feel like a winner from ninth place, but it was a mature showing from Fabio Quartararo in circumstances that could have easily betrayed his inexperience at this level.
Starting on pole and as an odds-on favourite, Quartararo didn’t even have the chance to reflect on the impact of the rain before he was wheeled off the grid and brought back on to get underway. While he wasn’t the only rider not to have started a wet MotoGP race before this one, he definitely had the most to lose.
So while he wasn’t so quick, he wasn’t reckless either, avoiding getting in a fluster as rivals picked him off lap by lap and not dwelling on what could have been had the rain stayed away.
So a frustrating day, but a measure of the complete rider Quartararo is becoming to not only protect his title hopes, but – remarkably – even extend his lead a little more from 8 to 10 points.
Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales
It’s difficult to call anyone a ‘loser’ per se when conditions are so tough, but there were riders that perhaps could have made the most of their opportunities based on prior experience.
Indeed, no-one on the MotoGP grid has more experience than Valentino Rossi but for the second race in succession he was down and out, putting paid to any remaining glimmer of a glorious eighth premier class title.
In fairness, what happened to Rossi at the start of the French MotoGP has happened to everyone else at some stage in their careers – coming into the first proper braking zone in untried conditions, losing the rear, popping off and watching the rest of the field escape as you calculate what just happened.
No-one has turned more wet MotoGP laps than Rossi and while he may have been a good shout had he continued, it’s another unsatisfactory end to a weekend in a year of highs and lows.
Similarly, Maverick Vinales – given his experience – should have been punching further up the order, but after getting a bad start and being knocked wide by his falling team-mate, his pace was no better than rookies Quartararo and Mir around him.
It feels like we’ve had Vinales under the ‘loser’ camp a few times this year… and yet he is still only 19 points off the top.
We didn’t want this to be the case but Cal Crutchlow – after such a return to form this weekend – can only look back at this race as a missed opportunity.
While being British generally earns you a wet weather specialist title regardless of whether it’s true, Crutchlow does have good form in dicey conditions as shown by his maiden victory at Brno in 2016.
Fourth on the grid in the dry – the first time we have seen Crutchlow anywhere near in the front in an injury-ridden season – he was circulating solidly with the likes of Marquez and Oliveira when he took a tumble at the notoriously treacherous Turn 4.
So while Crutchlow was left picking himself up off the floor, Marquez would go onto the podium… let’s just say it’s a result he really needed in season that has lurched from one issue to the next already
From the highs of Catalunya to the lows of France, it was a weekend to forget for Suzuki as the – in fairness, very few – flaws in its otherwise tight Suzuki GSX-RR were exposed somewhat.
While the bike’s increasingly famous late race performance is a measure of its excellent tyre preservation, the flip side of this is the slower manner it can get heat into its tyres which hampers it in qualifying and at the start of races generally.
However, the cold conditions at Le Mans – the product of MotoGP racing unusually late into the year in Europe – left Suzuki very much on the back foot with Mir and Rins well down in qualifying. Rins almost restored some honour with some excellent wet weather riding in clear air, only to look a little loose in direct combat before throwing away a podium with a crash – the second time he has done that this year after Austria.
Mir is still in the title hunt after bringing it home safely, but given the final five rounds will all be raced in Europe and the winter warmers are being brought out of the cupboard, the weather – not the racing – could be the difference between winning and losing for Suzuki in this title fight.