Typically, September is the time championships are winding down. A few races are left. We have a clear idea who is in the championship hunt, who is out of it, and we are turning an eye to the next year.
This autumn, that is further from the truth is nearly every championship, and MotoGP is no different. There are still seven races remaining in the 2020 MotoGP season and with seven rounds in the books there is no clear runaway with this championship. In fact, it is one of the most open championships in reason memory.
We have had six different winners from seven races. Customer bikes have won over half the races. We have had four first-time winners this season. Only four factory riders currently occupy spots in the top ten of the championship.
There are a lot of places we could start this midseason review, but we will start with the man who hasn't been there and whose absence significantly affects this year's champion.
Is Marc Márquez out of it?
The eight-time world champion Márquez suffered a broken right arm in the season opener at Jerez and he has not started another race this season.
Márquez tried to return to competition, but after practicing for the second round at Jerez, the injury forced him to withdraw. A further comeback was delayed when the titanium plate in his arm broke while he attempted to open a window. This additional operation at the end of August pushed any return back two months, meaning a late-October return at the earliest. However, this is Marc Márquez we are talking about.
He isn't going to be ready for Barcelona this upcoming weekend, but what about Le Mans for October 11? That would be a little earlier than originally thought, but not impossible.
With Márquez out, the championship is up for grabs with Andrea Dovizioso currently on top of the mountain with 84 points, one ahead of Fabio Quartararo and Maverick Viñales and four ahead of Joan Mir in fourth.
No rider has lit this season on fire with six different winners from seven races.
At best, Márquez could be back for six races with 125 points left on the table. A sweep is asking a lot but let says he does it and picks up 125 out of 125 points, all Dovizioso would need is 42 points from the final seven races to claim the championship. Missing Barcelona means the top four are spotted another handful of points should they all stay on their bikes.
Márquez is out of it, but he could make it interesting if he returns for France. Even if he is not back for Le Mans, we could get three or four stellar performances to remind us of his greatness. If Márquez does return, he will likely be competing at the front of the field and stealing points from championship-contenders. Even though he will not be going for the title himself, he surely could factor in deciding this year's champion.
Who is the title favorite with seven races to go?
Well, as stated above it is a four-horse race, but nobody looks spectacular.
Dovizioso won the Austrian Grand Prix, but his only other podium finish was third in the Jerez season opener. Quartararo swept the Jerez races, but his fourth-place finish in the second Misano race last week was his first top five finish since his victory in round two. It would have been a podium finish for Quartararo had he not been handed a three-second penalty for exceeding track limits.
Viñales picked up his first victory of the season at Misano last week and he had finished runner-up to Quartararo in the first two races, but had finishes of 14th, tenth, a retirement and sixth in-between. Mir has not won this season, but he has three podium finishes in his last four starts and he has finished in the top five in every race outside of his retirements in the first Jerez race and Brno.
There is no favorite. We are halfway through the season and it is still too early to pick out a rider and yet it feels like we should have an idea of who will come out on top. That isn't the case this season. Everyone has been streaky and in two races, these four could be completely flipped and just as close together.
Who else will win a race this year?
There have been six different winners in the last six races and there are probably two or three other riders that could pick up a victory this season.
First, you have Mir, who has been on the cusp of victory a few times only to fall short. That would not be a surprise.
Second, Jack Miller and Pol Espargaró are both kicking themselves for letting the Styrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring slip from their grasps and into Miguel Oliveira's pocket. Either of those riders are an option and Espargaró had great shots at victory also slip away from him at Brno and the Austrian Grand Prix.
Third, Francesco Bagnaia had two strong outings at Misano, only to be second to Franco Morbidelli in the first race and to fall while leading in the second race.
Fourth, this season has already seen both Petronas SRT Yamaha riders, a factory KTM rider and a Tech3 KTM rider win races this season. We have had four first-time winners this season between Quartararo, Morbidelli, Oliveira and Brad Binder. The door is open to anybody breaking through.
I think Mir can get a victory, but he will have to be flawless that day. If Márquez returns for at least three or four races he will get a victory and if Espargaró can keep his head straight and repeats his speed at Brno and Red Bull Ring, he could absolutely get a victory. Maybe Miller can get one but Dovizioso and Quartararo will likely each get at least one more victory this year. They have to if they want to be champion.
Can anyone else enter the title fight?
Four points cover the top four but there is a 16-point gulf between Mir in fourth and Morbidelli and Miller tied for fifth. Takaaki Nakagami is a further point back in seventh and then you have Oliveira a further 21 points back of Mir in eighth.
I am not going to say it is impossible for someone like Morbidelli or Miller to go on a run, win four of the final seven races, finish on the podium in the other three and steal the championship, but I will say that is unlikely. I think the gap is too great for either of those two or anyone else outside the top four to be a contender heading into November.
I think this year's MotoGP champion is currently one of the riders in the top four.
Anything to say on Valentino Rossi?
Rossi has been good, as he sits ninth in the championship on 58 points, 26 points off Dovizioso.
His only podium finish was a third in the second Jerez race and he lost his 200th premier class podium in the closing laps of the first Misano race.
Rossi is fourth of the four Yamaha riders, but he is 41 years old and he is still ninth in the championship. There hasn't been a race this season where he has looked like a potential race winner though. He has had a bunch of solid rides, including a few from the back of the field, but I think ninth fits perfectly for how he has been this season.
Can Rossi win a race?
The Yamaha is good enough with four victories this season, but the only time Rossi has been the top Yamaha finisher was in the two races at the Red Bull Ring, a fifth and a ninth, arguably the toughest weekends for Yamaha. He was running third in the first Misano race and lost it in the closing laps. I don't see him running away with a victory. It would have to come from a close battle between the top three or four riders and him making the correct moves and coming out on top at the checkered flag.
Who is going to be the top KTM rider?
The Austrian manufacture is having a breakout season after Brad Binder picked up KTM's first premier class victory at Brno and Miguel Oliveira slipped through in the final corner to get a sensational victory in the Styrian Grand Prix, which was a 1-3 finish for KTM with Pol Espargaró in third.
KTM has shown incredible pace, but it has the occasional off-race.
Oliveira is the top KTM rider on 59 points with Espragaró two points back, Binder four points back and Iker Lecuona miles back on 15 points. Best in class will be between the Portuguese, the Spaniard and the South African.
Oliveira and Binder might have the victories but Espargaró has shown more consistent pace throughout the season. The only problem is Espargaró had contact with Johann Zarco take him out at Brno. He was leading when the red flag came out during the Austrian Grand Prix for Morbidelli and Zarco's horrendous accident and lost his wits, showing visible frustration. When the race restarted, he lost ground immediately and he and Oliveira came together, taking both riders out.
Espargaró went from first to third on the final lap of the Styrian Grand Prix, but I will not peg that too much on him. Sometimes you are on the losing end of those battles and it glosses over what otherwise was a terrific race. He was elevated to third last week at Misano after Quartararo's penalty.
If Espargaró can keep his head straight, he can get at least one victory and he will be the top KTM rider. If he can't do that, then it is Oliveira's as Binder has not been able to put up as consistent results.
Is Honda doomed without Marc Márquez?
A little bit.
All credit to Takaaki Nakagama because the LCR Honda rider is seventh in the championship on 63 points and the only other rider to score points in every race this season is Dovizioso.
The Honda is a difficult bike to ride and it fits Marc Márquez's style more than anyone else's. Márquez won the championship last year but the next best Honda rider was Cal Crutchlow in ninth and Crutchlow's three podium finishes were the only other podium results for Honda that Márquez was not responsible for.
Nakagama's fourth in the second Jerez race is Honda's best finish this season. Álex Márquez is slowly getting a handle on the bike but has not shown to be factor yet. Crutchlow has been beat up this season and hurt himself after slipping in the paddock at Barcelona. There is a reason Stefan Bradl is a test rider and not a full-time rider.
Honda is a little doomed. Nakagama has been a revelation this year, but he is not quite up to speed to run for victories. I don't see Álex getting there this year, but perhaps he could be equal to Nakagama before this year is out.
If Honda hopes to be on the podium this year, let alone the top step, it has to get Marc Márquez back for a few rounds.
What are the storylines to focus on for the remainder of this season?
Andrea Dovizioso currently leads the world championship and does not have a ride for 2021. He announced his departure from the team in-between races from Austria. Jack Miller will move up to the factory outfit, as Danilo Petrucci will head to Tech3 KTM next year.
The problem for Dovizioso is all the factory rides are gone. Honda will reshuffle its lineup with Álex Márquez moving to LCR so Pol Espargaró can join the factory team. Quartararo is replacing Rossi at the factory Yamaha team alongside Viñales. KTM is all set with Binder and Oliveira in the factory team and Petrucci and Lecouna at Tech3.
Unless Dovizioso wants to join Aleix Espargaró at Aprilia, his options are a demotion to one of the two customer Ducati teams or he replaces Quartararo at Petronas SRT Yamaha, though that spot is likely going to be Rossi's. I guess the second LCR Honda ride is open but after seeing what Nakagama has done this season I would think Honda will retain him.
Petronas SRT would not be a bad choice if it somehow falls to Dovizioso. It does have the most victories through seven races this season. It does feel like Dovizioso played himself into a corner. He almost held out too long and was too old for another manufacture to take a shot at and he is ready to move on from Ducati.
There is also the chance Dovizioso retires. He is 34 years old. This is his 13th season in the premier class. If he doesn't want to return to Ducati, then it really isn't worth taking a step back to run eighth or ninth for most of a season with perhaps one or two podium finishes falling his way. He has a chance to retire a champion and maybe that is the door he chooses to open come the end of November.
How will these final seven races play out?
Unlike Formula One, there are not many surprises in the final portion of the MotoGP schedule.
Bracelona, Le Mans, Aragón and Valencia were all on the original schedule. Aragón and Valencia will now be doubleheaders. The only new addition is Portimão, which will host the season finale on November 22. This will be MotoGP's first trip to Portimão and MotoGP's first round in Portugal since 2012.
We can actually forecast how these remaining races should play out.
Before Marc Márquez won at Barcelona last year, Ducati had won the previous two races at the track and Yamaha won the two Barcelona races before that. Ducati has had a rider on the podium at Barcelona the last three years and Dovizioso won in 2017, but he has only one other podium finish at the track, a third in 2012. Quartararo was runner-up last year to Márquez and Barcelona was the site of his only Moto2 victory. Viñales' best MotoGP finish at Barcelona is fourth. Suzuki had two of its bikes in the top six last year.
Honda and Yamaha have split the last 12 races at Le Mans, with Yamaha holding the advantage seven to five. Chris Vermeulen won at Le Mans in 2007 with Suzuki. Ducati has never won the French Grand Prix, let alone won at Le Mans. Ducati did take second, third and fourth last year with Dovizioso, Petrucci and Miller behind Márquez, and Petrucci and Miller were second and fourth respectively in 2018. Viñales won this race in 2017 but has finished seventh and retired the last two years. Viñales was third in 2016 with Suzuki and Aleix Espargaró was sixth that year, but outside of 2016, Suzuki has not finished better than ninth at Le Mans.
Márquez has fourth consecutive victories at Aragón and Honda has seven victories, ahead of Yamaha's two and Ducati's one. Dovizioso has been runner-up the last two years and Ducati has had a bike on the podium the last three years at Aragón. Yamaha has not been on the podium in either of the last three years at Aragón. Suzuki did pick up a third and a fourth with Andrea Iannone and Álex Rins at Aragón in 2018.
Four different riders have won the last four Valencia races with Honda taking two of those victories with Márquez and Dani Pedrosa. Dovizioso won a shortened 2018 race ahead of Rins on the Suzuki and Pol Esparagaró on the KTM. Quartararo was runner-up to Márquez last year after winning pole position. Viñales' best finish at Valencia was fifth in 2016.
Márquez sure tips the scales and history does not paint one clear favorite over the final seven races. Ducati should be happy Le Mans is not a doubleheader and Aragón is. Viñales has historically struggled at Barcelona, Aragón and Valencia and those tracks host five of the final seven races. Quartararo was second at Barcelona and Valencia last year and was on pole position in both races, fifth at Aragón and eighth at Le Mans. Mir's best finish at the remaining tracks was sixth at Barcelona, but like Quartararo, this is only his sophomore season.
Adding to the difficulty of predicting the final seven races is the first seven races were held at four tracks. Jerez, Red Bull Ring and Misano all held doubleheaders. There is not much variety to go off of. KTM was strong at Red Bull Ring and won Brno but was less competitive at Jerez and had one good Misano race and one mediocre Misano race. Yamaha swept the Jerez and Misano races but struggled at Red Bull Ring and Morbidelli picked up a second-place finish at Brno. The factory Ducatis were off at Brno and Misano, but the customer Ducatis got podium finishes at those tracks.
It sounds crazy but Suzuki might be the most consistent of the top four manufactures, but it is only fourth best because Suzuki's high is not as high but its low is not as low. It is a perfectly centered bike. Suzuki has had a top five finisher in six of seven races. Yamaha is the only other bike that can say that.
I would say the deck is stacked in Dovizioso's favor. Experience is on his side; past success is on his side and he has scored in every race this season. While Quartararo won the first two races and should put up a mighty challenge, his results have been too inconsistent to suggest he can win the title. He will have to raise his game over the final seven races. These are not Viñales' best tracks and his results have been streaky in 2020. Like Quartararo, Viñales has to find another level over these final seven races. Mir is too much of an unknown.
If you are as puzzled as I am about all this, don't worry, in two months, this will all be straightened out.