It wasn’t only among riders that the icons were elbowed aside. It happened to the leading factories too. Suzuki’s renaissance was achieved in unspectacular fashion. The smallest of Japan’s big three left the histrionics to the others, relying on careful development to what is, in context, relatively conservative engineering. While Ducati pioneered in-flight ride-height adjusters and flamboyant aerodynamic aids and the others scrambled to keep up, Suzuki by comparison kept it simple. Its most important achievement was to develop an engine that was just powerful enough without being hard to handle, mounted in a chassis that was remarkably easy on tyres. Unspectacular, but effective. Rival riders spoke about “the Suzuki zone”, late in races, when Mir and team-mate Alex Rins were able to pick their way forward while they were struggling to cope with worsening wheelspin and fading rear grip.
Hondas efforts were undermined by the loss of their leading rider, plus injuries to the experienced Crutchlow. Class rookie Álex Marquez, the younger brother, made a good fist of improving, but was just a beginner; while second satellite-team rider Taka Nakagami improved hugely, but was starting from a modest base.
Yamaha were somehow architects of their own downfall, quite apart from an apparently inadvertent breach of the rules (to do with replacing faulty valves in sealed engines) that cost them points. Their 2020 bike was fast but puzzlingly inconsistent, and suffered terribly from rear grip at low-adhesion circuits. Oddly Yamahas occupied more podiums and winners circles than any other make, but it was with different riders almost every time; while Rossi had a dire year with only one podium. He was furthermore the only COVID-19 victim in the top echelon, missing two races. The top Yamaha rider was junior satellite teamster Franco Morbidelli, who was second in the championship. And he was riding last year’s bike.
Ducati’s fall-out with Dovizioso was costly. Trouble adapting to a grippier new rear Michelin was his biggest beef. It was only bad luck that dented Australian satellite-team rider Jack Miller’s chances – of four no-scores only one was his mistake, and the oddest of all was when another rider’s visor tear-off got sucked into his airbox. Miller, at 25, is another of the young pups.
Marquez should be back next year, and we will see what the new guys have learned while he was away.
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.