Another race, another different winner, the San Marino MotoGP at Misano lives up to the sheer unpredictability of what is becoming an enthralling and fascinating 2020 MotoGP World Championship season.

But who comes away from the first of two Misano races as the big winners - and the big losers...

 

 

Winners

Franco Morbidelli comes of age

Franco Morbidelli’s victory in Misano couldn’t have come at a poignant moment… and not just because his maiden success was achieved on home soil, pretty much in the backyard of his great mentor - or as he calls him ‘big uncle’ - Valentino Rossi.

Last year saw team-mate Fabio Quartararo stamp his mark on the MotoGP conscience with a stellar ride against Marc Marquez, one that kick-started a run of form that made Morbidelli - at the time on higher-spec machinery - barely mentioned in the same breath as Petronas SRT Yamaha thereafter.

The man himself admitted he got a ‘butt-kicking’ from the Frenchman in 2019, but this year in Misano, while his team-mate was playing in the gravel, Morbidelli was reeling off a lights-to-flag victory.

While the Italian looked a little irked to be referred to as an underdog versus Quartararo and Maverick Vinales in the post-race press conference, it’s clear this victory is a monkey off the back for him, one that has perhaps come later than he may have anticipated.

Smart, well-spoken and polite, Morbidelli is one of MotoGP’s nice guys… now to find out if this is the start of something special from him.#

Valentino Rossi’s mentees mentor him...

A journalist summed it up rather nicely when asking a question during the post-race press conference when he pointed out the best Italian talent appears to be making it through the VR46 Academy right now… and he isn’t wrong.

In many ways the pupils officially became the masters in Misano, with Morbidelli shrugging off Rossi and Bagnaia planting a beautiful pass on his teacher to get second. Only Joan Mir’s precocious last lap denied the ‘sensei’ from joining them on what would have been a very poignant podium.

In fact, it was a superb day all round for the VR46 crew with Luca Marini and Marco Bezzecchi scoring a 1-2 in Moto2 on the Sky Racing Italia bikes… if only Rossi could have held on for the last few corners around his beloved home track?

Point is, Rossi’s legacy looks to be in good hands for when he does eventually retire, with Morbidelli and Bagnaia worthy advocates of the platform he has created in not only spotting talent, but nurturing and developing them. 

For years MotoGP has looked to Spain for youthful proteges - in fact, you need to go back to 2008 for the last time we went this long without a Spaniard winning a race - but thanks to Rossi, Italy is now a hotbed of options too. 

It’s not easy at all to create a development programme, even less so when it’s largely from your own pocket, but it shows Rossi’s influence will continue long beyond his racing years. 

The Changing of the Guard

Morbidelli’s victory makes him the fourth different first-time MotoGP race winner this season, a frankly remarkable stat for a series that rarely has more than four different race winners’ total in a year… and we’re only six races in!

More than that though, Pecco Bagnaia’s podium is his first at the start of only his second season, while Joan Mir - fresh from his maiden rostrum in Austria - finds himself inching not only towards a wholly unexpected title fight but also team leader status over highly-rated Suzuki counterpart Alex Rins too.

Then of course you have Fabio Quartararo still leading the Yamaha challenge and while it wasn’t the best of weekends for KTM, Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira remain in the mix as race winners. Even Takaaki Nakagami is comfortably the best placed Honda rider. 

In short, Misano was further indication that we are witnessing not just a changing of the guard, but a sea change of it across several teams. 

Losers

Fabio Quartararo shine dims

While we’re tempted to give Fabio Quartararo the benefit of the doubt most of the time based on his relative inexperience - like in Austria where he didn’t have a competitive package - in Misano he and many would have expected more.

In terms of raw pace he was arguably quickest of all this weekend, but at crucial moments he showed cracks that could be explained by a lack of prior examples to fall back upon. 

Indeed, it is easy to forget Quartararo wasn’t a title contender in Moto2 or Moto3, so with the pressure ramping up, he lacks the lynx like composure of 2019 when he could race freely without consequence.

How can we tell? After his first crash he carried on for a few more laps, but was holding his head in his hands as he entered the pit lane… when he resumed moments later he crashed again, his head evidently elsewhere. 

It will now be a measure of his champion credentials for him to dust himself off, put this weekend to the back of his mind and complete the job he started next weekend. If he does, then Quartararo is very much a title contender.

Maverick Vinales fades… again

Remember when Valentino Rossi was referred to as the ultimate Sunday rider, in that he’d qualify down the order then put in a stonking race day performance and still claim the spoils? Well, his current team-mate Maverick Vinales is becoming known as the opposite.

Coming into the race Vinales should have been a hot favourite based on not only his strong qualifying pace but his race sim stints in practice too. And yet, based on other races when Vinales has qualified well and faded, it was hard to put your money on him… and again so it proved.

The choice of a hard tyre - the only rider to do so - certainly raised eyebrows and the error of his ways was revealed when he slipped as low as eighth at one stage. The fact Vinales set his fastest lap of the race in the final few laps speaks volumes.

If points were given on Saturday, Vinales would be a champion but they aren’t and he won’t be champion if he cannot get his head around completing the job on Sundays
 

 

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