Having discussed the team's historic first MotoGP victory, part two of an exclusive interview with Red Bull KTM Tech3 boss Herve Poncharal covers other aspects of the season so far – including the unpredictable track action, Marc Marquez's injury, 'closed-door' races and whether back-to-back events could continue in 2021…

Crash.net:

The opening five rounds have certainly been unpredictable, with three of the four race winners having never won before this year. But do you think things will settle down and maybe the guys with more experience will start to get the upper hand?

Herve Poncharal:

Clearly, the fact that 'The Boss' – which is Marc – has not been here has helped the situation to be a lot more open.

Before the start of the year if you had said, 'Marc is not going to be there' a lot of guys would have predicted, 'Okay, then this is the year for Dovi'. Because he's been runner-up three times, he's the most experienced and the Ducati is a great bike. So Dovizioso would have been the hot favourite.

But I have always been supporting young riders. For me the future has always been 'bet on youth' and you can see with Brad, with Fabio, with Miguel. You don't need many years in MotoGP; if you are fast, you are fast.

A lot of times I've heard, 'give him more time, there is too much pressure, he's got to learn, he's young'. Yeah, that kind of guy is still going to be okay. But if you want to be a potential world champion in MotoGP, you don't need 3-4 seasons to be fast.

For me, young guys like Fabio Quartararo, Joan Mir, Brad Binder, Miguel Oliveira and Jack Miller - who has a few more seasons - are all ready to win during the rest of this year. They are not really suffering against the more experienced guys like Dovi, Cal and Petrucci.

Crash.net:

How about Vinales?

Herve Poncharal:

I don't know what happened with Maverick, because Maverick is a very fast rider. I'm surprised. It's a kind of mystery because he's definitely one of the top riders in our championship and for me it's difficult to understand.

I'm not working with him so I cannot comment but for sure it's a strange situation at the moment. But we still have many races left and maybe Maverick's going to be a double winner in Misano.

Crash.net:

Do you think the guys that perhaps expected to be fighting for the title with Marc out, such as Dovi and Vinales, are perhaps feeling more pressure?

Herve Poncharal:

I would say maybe in Dovi's mind or Maverick's mind, because they were fighting with Marquez in the years before, when they saw Marc was injured at Jerez maybe they thought 'it's going to be an interesting year for me'. Whereas for all the young guys, their target was probably not to win the championship this year.

Crash.net:

Because of that, maybe the young guys have a different mindset and are just going for it at each race?

Herve Poncharal:

I don’t think they have any pressure. They can just go out, try their best, have fun, learn as much as they can - but now they can also see that by behaving in that way and pushing as they are, they can win races.

And the championship is so open that even Miguel - with 2 DNFs, not his fault, out of 5 races - is ninth but only 27 points from the lead. It's crazy that the top nine guys, on paper, have a real chance to win the championship.

Also, inside this top nine you have KTM, Suzuki, Honda, Yamaha, Ducati. This is beautiful and fantastic for the championship, to not only have a lot of riders that can win but also almost every manufacturer involved can win.

In some other motorsports it's not that open.

Crash.net:

We've mentioned Marc, if he was a Tech3 rider would you advise him to get 100% fit and maybe focus on coming back next year, or is it still important for him to come back this season?

Herve Poncharal:

It's a difficult question! I believe now, and I think this is the way Marc sees the situation and also HRC; they don't want to see Marc coming back until he's fully fit. Fully ready to win.

Because when Mick Doohan came back in 1992 at Brazil he could hardly walk, but he could still win the championship so you could understand why he would try. Even if you know you are not physically in a position to ride well.

But today, what would be the point of Marc coming back unless he's fully fit and recovered? I don’t think Marc is coming back to get the 11 points for a fifth position! He doesn't have anything to prove, so if Marc comes back, he will want to come back as the top Marc Marquez that we know, fully fit and fully ready to fight for victories.

The title is gone but I'm sure he will try to come back in 2020, because even if you are Marc Marquez and you have won so many races and so many championships, I think it's good before the winter break to have at least a couple of races where you can regain confidence to confirm 'I'm still fast'. Because there are a lot of things that happen in a rider's mind.

I'm pretty sure he will come back before the end of the year, but he has no reason to hurry himself. We know that Marc is still 'The Boss' and has nothing to prove.

I wish him a complete recovery because he's somebody I have a lot of respect for. He's our icon. So take your time Marc and come back when you are ready to show what you can do.

It will be interesting because clearly other riders have improved, especially the young ones. Some of them have now won races and their bikes have improved a lot also.

But Marc is still the benchmark. So we will see the situation when he comes back.

Crash.net:

Speaking of 2021, Danilo Petrucci must be feeling even happier with his decision to join KTM and Tech3. When he signed the contract, the RC16 had a best dry result of sixth, now it's had two wins and three podiums.

Herve Poncharal:

For sure, but even though there hadn't been any races in 2020 when he signed, from what Pit Beirer told me, when Danilo visited KTM and spoke to Pit and Mike Leitner, it was very clear that he was 100% willing to sign and already believed in KTM's potential and development.

So I'm sure he's happy with his decision, but at the moment he's a Ducati rider, racing in the 2020 championship, and I would like him to be getting better results - fighting for podiums, fighting for first Ducati - and to enjoy himself.

I'm not talking too much to him at the moment because we are both very busy and I don’t want to disturb him, but I don’t think 2020 so far has been a season where he has enjoyed himself a lot. But I don't know any more than that.

Crash.net:

As one of those allowed at the 'Closed Door' races held under the special Covid protocol, what has it been like on the inside?

Herve Poncharal:

So, we have to remember a few things. When we spoke before the season, we were not sure we would have a single race in 2020. So to have had five races already, plus all the ones to come is already exceptional and, as we've just been discussing, the races themselves have been incredibly exciting.

We were all a bit, I don't want to say scared, but concerned and curious to see what the paddock would be like with the very strict protocol at Jerez. The first 2-3 days were a bit strange at Jerez because we had to go through all the tests, keep the social distancing, be careful all the time, stay in your area. But like everything you just get used to it.

In Jerez the incredible heat was also a big problem. But I have to say that the three August races - Czech, Austria, Austria - were pretty easy to deal with. The organisation, the controls, the security and also the teams already had experience of the protocol and so everything was much smoother. We made big progress.

It's working really well now to be honest and we've got used to wearing a mask every day, being scanned and having temperature checks, eating with distance between us etc.

Because at the end of the day these are all details. The main thing is we want to race. We want to do what we love.

For sure it won't last forever. And it can’t last forever. We need the media to be there, we need the public to be there and we need the sponsors to be there. Because this is the economic model that works.

We can't 'afford' to have five years like this. But as a transition year we did incredibly well.

I think if you look at a football match with a completely empty stadium, with 22 guys running after a ball - which is not very noisy! – you can feel even through the TV that this is sad and strange. You miss the crowd and the excitement.

Of course, in MotoGP we also miss the crowd, the flags, the horns, the cheering. But when we follow the races at the track, looking at the TV pictures like everyone at home, because we are 100% involved in what has been an intense and very open season, you forget about everything else.

Also I have to say that we will always need media on site because there are things that cannot be done over a video call. But still the way the TV guys are working, the way we are doing our debriefs and press conferences via zoom and having so many journalists behind their screens asking questions - it's not ideal, but the Covid situation makes the world not ideal.

We would like to come to the old format as soon as we can. But so far we've managed to give the right feedback to the fans, the right information to the media and the media could still work.

We've tried to take the best decisions to make things as good as possible. You as the media have to have your say on that, but I think you have access to the teams and the riders, you are still part of the show and can still write for your website or your paper. Maybe not as you would do on site, but you can still do your job.

Crash.net:

Written media are certainly in a more fortunate position than photographers, who cannot do their work remotely.

Herve Poncharal:

We have to understand that if we don’t have that protocol, as strict as it is, we might have no more races. I was watching the Tour de France and everyone is really scared, same for Formula One.

So we don't do it because we like it, we do it because this is the only way to have our championship at the moment.

Crash.net:

And the next step towards normality will be happening at Misano, with some fans being allowed at the track for the first time this season.

Herve Poncharal:

They are going to have I think a maximum of 10,000 fans a day. It's already sold out. They will have a special protocol of course. They won't be able to have access to the paddock. They will in a few grandstands that are linked securely and directly with the car parking. It's going to be interesting. I'm sure it'll still be enjoyable to be there.

I think Le Mans is also planning to have something similar and we heard, it's not confirmed, that Portugal would like to have maybe 50,000. But for sure Misano, Le Mans and Portimao will have some spectators.

We have to study and see how the virus situation is improving. We have to work with local authorities and take the best decision in whatever situation we find ourselves in.

Crash.net:

September is normally when we get the first draft of next year's calendar. Obviously, this not a normal year and there's a lot still to be discussed, but do you think it's possible that back-to-back races could continue at some tracks in 2021, in place of missing events? Or is the intention is to go back to a normal calendar format?

Herve Poncharal:

It's impossible to answer at this stage because we don't have the cards in our hands to decide. For sure the ideal scenario would be to go back to a normal calendar with 20 races as was planned for 2020.

Unfortunately, it looks very difficult to imagine. But we need to wait because we want to have as many races as we can in as many countries as possible. And we would like to have the media, the fans, the hospitality back with us.

But this [Covid] is something which is difficult to control. Everybody thought in July the virus was going to leave us alone and now it's coming back in many places. How is it going to be during the winter, nobody knows. Is a vaccine going to come? Nobody can say when.

So to produce a calendar now would be crazy. It would be easy to publish a replica of the planned 2020 calendar, but what would that mean if by November we cancelled half of them?

So I believe we should still try to wait a bit because there are too many unknowns at the moment that are out of our control.

What I can answer is that the back-to-backs at the same circuit were completely new to Formula One and MotoGP. Honestly, for me it's worked very well. It's been very exciting because we have had completely different races. The second race has not at all been a copy of the first.

For sure if you are very fast at race one you won't be last at race two. But we've learned a lot. I mean, I hope it's interesting for the public and the media, but technically there are many things you can do to understand your bike better and for the factories to develop the bike.

Because when you've done the first Friday, Saturday, Sunday race weekend and you're pretty close to having a good set-up, then you are willing to try something different and take a bit more risk in FP1 or FP2 of the second race weekend if the weather is stable.

So the back-to-backs at the same circuit are really interesting for us technically. Most of the technicians and riders I've talked to liked it, even though before the championship started there were many negative guys. So that has changed.

I know economically speaking it makes no sense to it, but if the sanitary situation is forcing us, we would be happy to do it again next year. We will see what the situation brings.

 

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