by Piersalvo Patané
If you had told Joan Mir that after round 3 - almost 50 points down on a dazzling Quartararo with two zeros and a modest 5th place to his name - he would be leading the championship with a considerable advantage over the next man with three races to go, he almost certainly would never have believed it.
Mir is currently the number one favourite to win the world title that has been missing in Suzuki’s trophy cabinet for exactly twenty years, when a consistent and fast Kenny Roberts Jr. managed to beat rookie and future champion Valentino Rossi.
Consistent and fast we said … they really seem to be Mir's characteristics.
This analysis retraces all the races run to date, with particular attention on the tendency of the top 4 riders in the world championship to achieve good performances in qualifying at the expense of a discontinuous performance in the race and vice versa.
Qualifying Performance: what a struggle for Mir!
Analysing performance on a flying lap in qualifying, it emerges that Mir is in clear difficulty compared to the Yamaha riders, especially Quartararo and Vinales. The reason, as already explained in a previous article, is to be attributed to the strength and weakness of the Suzuki, namely that of being particularly kind to the tyres. On the other hand, this does not allow the bike (and the rider) to make the most of the extra grip that the new tyre guarantees. While Quartararo and Vinales start from 3rd place on average, Mir is always starting from the 3rd row, with everything that follows.
Race Performance: Mir, a race animal! Quartararo and Vinales prawns!
Starting from behind does not seem to worry Mir much, because in the race he produces spectacular comebacks, often finishing one step away from victory (but we'll come back to this later). The graph below shows us the difference between average race pace and fastest lap in qualifying. All the results are averaged over the 11 races held so far. It is clear that Mir is more of a race rider, as the difference between his pace and his qualifying lap (just over a second and a half) is less than that shown by the Yamaha men (even two and a half seconds for Quartararo and Vinales).
Starting from behind, Mir is therefore ‘forced’ to produce noteworthy comebacks, as can be seen from the graph below: Suzuki’s Spanish rider, in the races in which he reached the finish line, gains an average of over 5 positions on his starting place. The two future teammates Quartararo and Vinales lose about 4 positions compared to qualifying: for Quartararo 18th place in the disastrous Aragon 1 GP weighs heavily, otherwise his delta would be lower than that of Vinales (-3 positions). More ‘moderate’ is Morbidelli, who slightly improves his starting position in the races where he reaches the finish.
Races completed in the points: Vinales present, Morbidelli unlucky!
To score points, first of all, you have to get to the finish line… and above all to finish in the top 15. Quartararo incredibly missed out on this at Aragon 1 due to his well-known tyre pressure problems, when the Frenchman crossed the finish line in 18th position.
His other zero in the championship dates back to Misano 1 due to a crash. As for Mir, as we mentioned in the introduction, the start of the championship was disastrous, with 2 zeros in the first three races. Since then, however, the Spaniard has always arrived at the finish line in the top 5, with only an 11th place at Le Mans a bit out of tune. Vinales, his Austrian dive aside, has always reached the finish line (and in the points) while the unlucky Morbidelli has had 3 zeros, 2 of which through no fault of his own: At Jerez for engine failure, in Austria 1 for the frightening accident with Zarco. His only mistake was on the greasy asphalt of Le Mans, when he found himself making up ground, after being involved in Rossi's crash. Ultimately, of the 25 points that separate him from the top, at least fifteen are to be attributed to external causes.
Why hasn't Mir won a race yet? Joan, damn those first 5 laps!
The leitmotiv of the last few weeks is the following: will Mir be able to win a race by the end of the year? And then… what a world championship will it be (or would it be), if he were not to win even a race?
Will he end up like Emilio Alzamora who is still remembered only for that bothersome achievement?
In reality Mir would have virtually won a race in Austria if it hadn't been for the red flag… but unfortunately, the races are won at the chequered flag. Having said that, if Mir has not yet won a race, the reason is to be found, once again, in qualifying.
Starting from the 3rd row certainly complicates the job, in a MotoGP championship where the gaps are minimal and recovering from the back is always difficult as well as risky. Well, if we took away the first 5 laps of some races where he went really close to winning, what would happen?
We can see the answer in the table below, where we have selected the races of Misano 1-2 (3rd and 2nd place) and Barcelona (2nd place), considering the race from the 5th lap onwards. Laps where the Spaniard is often involved in passing moves that disturb his pace.
At Misano 1 Mir would have arrived in the sprint finish with Morbidelli, while both at Misano 2 and Barcelona he would have won by beating Vinales and Quartararo respectively! Especially at Misano 2, by a decent gap.
Conclusions: Mir, world title trending, Quartararo in free fall after Barcelona!
To conclude, except for the first 3 races where everything seemed to go badly for Mir (11 points vs 59 for Quartararo), the Spaniard seems to have the most consistent and concrete package of this 2020 season, with an average points score that has propelled him to the top of the standings after Le Mans.
In fact, if we exclude the first 3 races, his average points score stands at almost 16 (15.75). He hasn’t reached the high notes of Quartararo (3 wins) or Vinales (1 Misano victory even if it probably came about after Bagnaia's crash) but he is certainly the #1 favourite for this strange 2020 world championship, unless the "spectre" of his first victory does not trigger strange mechanisms that lead him to errors but it does not seem that the Spaniard is particularly suffering from this shortcoming.
Finally, regarding Morbidelli, despite his two splendid victories, three zeroes weigh heavily on his season. In any case, taking into account all the aspects dealt with so far, the world championship will most likely be played out on the roller coaster of Portimao.
Data source: www.motogp.com