According to Albert Einstein’s Special theory of relativity, time slows down as your speed increases. The faster you go, the slower time appears to pass. That would explain why the Covid-compressed 2020 MotoGP season has simultaneously felt like it was taking forever and is over in the blink of an eye. 14 races in 18 weeks was brutal on everyone involved, an intense schedule which had everyone working at light speed yet struggling to keep up. You would have to go back to the 1960s to find a season that was so short. But back then, they were fitting 8 races into 18 weeks, not nearly double that.
At least we had a fitting stage for the season finale. In a season with highs and lows, holding the last MotoGP round of 2020 at the roller-coaster which is the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve was fitting, a metaphor for the year made physical. But did that location give the winner, Miguel Oliveira, an advantage at what was effectively his home race? Was he, like Nicky Hayden at Laguna Seca in 2005, better able to unlock the secrets of the Portimão track because he had ridden here so often?
“I think there was some corruption, because the guy who gave me my trophy was wearing an Oliveira shirt and I just felt cut,” Jack Miller joked, after finishing second behind the Red Bull KTM Tech3 rider. “I was just looking at his suit and he has the circuit name on his personal sponsors there and I thought of that when I said corruption. He was laughing. Then he pointed out [race sponsor and Portuguese telecom giant] MEO on his helmet. The ducks are adding up, mate.”
Miller was joking, of course. But Oliveira’s win was beyond convincing. In these subscriber notes, we will take a deeper dive into how the win came about, whether he had an advantage in Portimão, whether it was a good day or a bad day for Yamaha, what went wrong with Suzuki, and much more.
First to Miguel Oliveira’s win. In retrospect, Oliveira’s win looks all but inevitable. The Portuguese rider finished every session bar FP2 and Sunday warm up in either first or second place, and started the race from pole. His pace in FP4 was outstanding. And it was his home Grand Prix, his first GP in Portugal since 2012, when MotoGP visited Estoril for the last time.
It was also at a track which Oliveira knows exceptionally well. The Portuguese rider trains regularly at the circuit on a Yamaha R1 (KTM do not make a production sports bike, so he is forced into an infidelity with a rival manufacturer). He has also raced there, competing in the 12 Hours of Portimão race in 2016. Did that give Oliveira an edge over the competition on Sunday?
That is easy to believe when you see the way he walked away from the competition at the start. Oliveira got away as soon as the lights went out, and was over six tenths clear by the end of the first lap. His lead had grown to 1.3 seconds by the end of lap two, and nearly 2 seconds a lap later. At no point did anyone get near to the Portuguese rider.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before
Shades of Nicky Hayden at Laguna Seca the first time MotoGP visited in 2005. Hayden and fellow American Colin Edwards finished that first US Grand Prix at Laguna in first and second, relegating Valentino Rossi to third in a year in which the Italian won 11 of the 17 races. The two Americans had called upon their intimate knowledge of the track from having raced there in the AMA and World Superbikes respectively.
That year, Hayden had been protective of his experience, not allowing others to follow him around and showing them the wrong lines when they managed to latch onto his tail in practice. His plan had been simple: get the holeshot, and run away at the front. A plan that Hayden had executed to perfection to take his first victory in 2005.
Did Miguel Oliveira enjoy the same kind of advantage 15 years later, at a track which bears a passing resemblance to Laguna Seca in its rises and falls? His rivals certainly didn’t think that was the case. Maverick Viñales pointed out that the two extended 70-minute sessions of free practice on Friday, and the test on production bikes in October gave everyone a good idea of how to be fast around the circuit. “We all rode a lot of laps,” the Monster Energy Yamaha rider told us, “I think it’s enough to understand the track.”
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