All-time great Valentino Rossi is closing in on a new ride for 2021, while Andrea Dovizioso offered a positive fitness update as build-up to the delayed MotoGP season cranked up a gear ahead of Sunday's opener.

MotoGP's 2020 campaign has yet to start due to the coronavirus pandemic but a revised schedule begins in Spain this weekend.

Marc Marquez is once again the man to beat, though the likes of Fabio Quartararo and Maverick Vinales will hope to challenge the Spaniard's dominance.

Ahead of Sunday's action, these are the big newslines from the paddock.


ROSSI SET FOR PETRONAS 2021 RIDE?

The Doctor's future in MotoGP was up in the air after it was announced he would lose his factory Yamaha seat to Quartararo from 2021.

Initially, Rossi wanted to make a decision midway through the 2020 campaign, only for the global health crisis to deny him track time.

Rumours circulated that Rossi has agreed a two-year deal with the Petronas Yamaha squad last week and the man himself told DAZN and Sky Italia such a scenario is close to being completed.

"The news that I signed isn't true, but we're very close to agreeing a contract. I want to continue racing. It's 99 per cent certain that I'll race with the Petronas team in 2021," Rossi said.

"We're still to resolve some details, especially about my team and the people who'll work with me. We're talking about how we'll set up the team, there are a lot of pieces to put into place."


DOVI GOOD TO GO AFTER SHOULDER SURGERY

Dovizioso is a man with title aspirations but there were concerns when the Ducati rider broke his collarbone in a motorcross accident.

He underwent surgery just last month, yet the Italian insists he is feeling good ahead of the season opener.

"My physical condition is really good," Dovizioso said.

"In two weeks, we worked in a perfect way. The people around me did a perfect job. I moved the collarbone already one day after the surgery because I could adapt.

"I don't have any strange pain while riding. I was a bit curious, because MotoGP, the stiffness of the bike, the power we have, you never know until you are on the bike.

"But everything worked well. I'm struggling a bit more about the pain where the cut is, where the leather pushes in that point.

"But not the collarbone. So, pretty happy about that to have that confirmed."


CRUTCHLOW SURPRISED HONDA PLUMPED FOR POL

Cal Crutchlow is, as it stands, without a seat for 2021 as a result of a domino effect that left the Briton a little surprised.

Crutchlow's spot on the LCR Honda seat will be vacated for Alex Marquez, the brother of world champion Marc.

Alex Marquez will ride alongside his sibling on the Repsol Honda team in 2020 but will step aside for Pol Espargaro for next season.

"It didn't come as a surprise, because I knew a while ago and Honda knew that I had requested to speak to other teams," Crutchlow told the Race. 

"It worked both ways, and I wasn't massively surprised at the decision. I was more surprised at who they chose.

"That's not being disrespectful, but if they had chosen someone like Dovi it would be a different scenario or a different feeling for me than if they'd chosen a guy who has had one podium in seven years.

"Moving Alex is a bad situation for him to be moved out of the factory team straight away too."

Marc Marquez will begin his bid to win a fifth successive MotoGP title when the 2020 season belatedly begins at the Spanish Grand Prix this weekend.

The campaign had been set to start in Qatar in March but travel restrictions affecting passengers from Italy amid the coronavirus pandemic led to the race being cancelled and the season put on hold.

With another eight grands prix scratched from the initial schedule, just 13 races remain on a calendar that includes four double-headers.

The first of those comes at the Circuito de Jerez, with the opening race on Sunday starting at 14:00 local time (12:00 GMT), before the Red Bull Ring, Misano, Aragon and Valencia also host two races, while events in Thailand, Malaysia and Argentina remain in limbo.

 

LAST TIME OUT

Marquez wrapped up his fourth straight MotoGP title and sixth in seven years with success at the Valencia Grand Prix.

With Ducati duo Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Dovizioso crashing out of the finale, the Spaniard's victory ensured Honda topped the standings in the rider, team and constructor categories.

After announcing his retirement in the build-up to the race, three-time MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo – Marquez's team-mate – finished 13th. However, he returned to Yamaha for a testing role and is expected to take part in the Catalan Grand Prix as a wildcard entry.

 

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN SPAIN

Marquez has dominated the sport in recent years and will be looking to kick off his hopes of emulating Valentino Rossi, Mick Doohan and Giacomo Agostini by topping the standings for a fifth straight year with success.

His brother and Alex Marquez won the Moto2 title last season and will make his MotoGP debut with Repsol Honda this weekend.

However, he will be replaced in 2021 by Red Bull KTM rider Pol Espargaro, who will be keen to make an impact after his switch was announced earlier this week.

After impressing last year and being name Rookie of the Year, Fabio Quartararo – who will replace Rossi at Monster Energy Yamaha next year – has been given a factory-spec Yamaha for 2020 and will be out to end Marc Marquez's stranglehold over the series.

Quartararo and his future team-mate Maverick Vinales were quicker than the reigning champion during testing in Jerez on Wednesday.

Andrea Dovizioso, another title hopeful, was passed fit for the race despite undergoing collarbone surgery last month, while Rossi and Cal Crutchlow will be keen to perform well with their futures uncertain.

 

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

Rossi to end barren run? – No rider has won the Spanish Grand Prix more times than Rossi (7) but is facing the possibility of failing to get a podium in this race for the fourth straight year, which would be his worst run at the track.

Double digits – Spanish riders have won nine of the previous 12 Spanish Grands Prix in MotoGP, with Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez claiming three apiece.

Marquez out for more home success – In the 2019 season, Marc Marquez won all four races in Spain for the first time in his career.

Dovi hat-trick? – Dovizioso has won the opening MotoGP race in each of the past two seasons, but he has never had a podium in the premier class in Jerez.

Ducati drought – Since Loris Capirossi's Spanish Grand Prix success in 2006, no Ducati rider has won the race.

Repsol Honda have confirmed the signing of Pol Espargaro, who will become the team-mate for Marc Marquez in the 2021 and 2022 seasons.

Espargaro, 29, will leave Red Bull KTM Factory Racing to partner six-time premier class champion Marquez from next year.

The signing means Marquez's brother, Alex, has had his exit from the factory team confirmed before completing a single race for them.

He will still race alongside the defending MotoGP champion for Repsol Honda in 2020 and has renewed his deal with the manufacturer for an additional two seasons.

But after this campaign he will drop down to satellite team LCR Honda, replacing Cal Crutchlow.

"Honda Racing Corporation are pleased to announce the signing of Pol Espargaro," read a statement.

"The former Moto2 World Champion will join the Repsol Honda Team on a two-year contract. He will join eight-time world champion Marc Marquez aboard the Honda RC213V.

"Espargaro is one of the most experienced riders on the grid, having raced in the world championship since 2006 and with 104 premier class grands prix contested."

A separate update added: "Honda Racing Corporation are proud to announce the renewal of Alex Marquez, extending his current agreement until the end of 2022, and would like to extend their thanks to Cal Crutchlow for his diligent and tireless work since joining HRC in 2015."

Another confirmed deal saw Franco Morbidelli sign a new two-year contract with Petronas Yamaha.

A busy offseason has also seen Jack Miller promoted to the factory Ducati team from next season, replacing Danilo Petrucci, who will move to Red Bull KTM Tech3.

The 2020 campaign, which has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, starts this week with the Spanish Grand Prix.

Andrea Dovizioso will be fit for the first race of the delayed MotoGP season despite undergoing surgery on his collarbone on Sunday, Ducati have confirmed.

The Italian sustained the injury during a motocross race in Faenza and had a plate fixed to the bone to try to improve his recovery time.

MotoGP's 2020 season will get under way in Jerez on July 19 and Ducati are confident he will be ready to race.

"The surgery went well, and I want to thank all the medical team that did the operation so quickly. I don't feel much pain, and that makes me very optimistic," said Dovizioso in a statement published on Monday.

"I came home this morning, and during the afternoon, I will plan my rehabilitation. I am confident that in these weeks I will be able to recover and that I will be in full shape in time for the first 2020 GP in Jerez."

Ducati sports director Paolo Ciabatti said: "Although we know that motocross is an activity that presents several risks, we had still allowed Andrea to participate in this regional race, because he had explained to us that he needed to rediscover those stimuli and sensations that only a real competition can give.

"On the other hand, motocross is also the discipline with which many of the MotoGP riders train regularly. So, in the end, we must be relieved that the injury did not have serious consequences and that Andrea will be able to [race] at the start of the 2020 championship in Jerez."

MotoGP has confirmed its revised 2020 calendar, outlining plans for a minimum of 13 races before the end of the year beginning on July 19.

The MotoGP season never managed to begin before the coronavirus pandemic brought sport to a grinding halt across the world, with the opening race in Qatar called off due to restrictions on flights from Italy.

Although organisers suggested early on that a late-July resumption was a target, a further seven events had to be cancelled and three more were postponed.

But racing will resume on July 19, with the Circuito de Jerez hosting consecutive Grands Prix – first for the Spanish GP, followed by the Andalusian.

The season will continue on August 9 in Brno, Czech Republic, before then moving to Austria for two races, San Marino for another couple, Barcelona and then Le Mans.

The final four scheduled events will all take place in Spain, with Aragon and Valencia getting two apiece across October and November.

Another four races outside of Europe could also be added between November 22 and December 13, with rounds in the United States, Argentina, Thailand and Malaysia all set aside.

A decision on those will be confirmed before July 31.

One of MotoGP's most famous races, the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello, has been cancelled for 2020.

Originally postponed from its May 31 date, the event has now been scrapped due to the coronavirus crisis.

It is the first time the Italian Grand Prix has not been held since it became a permanent fixture on the MotoGP calendar in 1991.

Organisers announced the decision on Wednesday, as the season continues to be heavily impacted by complications involving COVID-19.

The statement read: "The FIM, IRTA and Dorna Sports regret to announce the cancellation of the Gran Premio d'Italia Oakley. 

"Previously postponed, the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and resulting calendar changes now sadly oblige the cancellation of the event."

The 2020 campaign is yet to get under way and, as things stand, the first scheduled race is in the Czech Republic on August 9.

"It is with a heavy heart that we announce the cancellation of Mugello," said Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of MotoGP organisers Dorna Sports.

"Sadly, we were not able to find a solution to the logistical and operational issues resulting from the pandemic and rearranged calendar to enable us to visit the venue this season. 

"I would like to thank the fans for the understanding and patience they have shown as we wait for the situation to improve."

Paolo Poli, CEO of Mugello Circuit said the decision had been made "despite the communal effort made to find a practical solution".

He added: "The impossibility of staging an event that is open to spectators, as well as the difficulties that have arisen from this exceptional situation, have not allowed us to find a new date.

"I would like to thank all of our fans who have supported and encouraged us during these months, and invite them back to Mugello in 2021."

Earlier this month, the Japanese Grand Prix was cancelled just a few days after the British and Australian Grands Prix were removed from the 2020 calendar.

Aleix Espargaro has signed a two-year contract extension with Aprilia Racing, keeping him with the team through the 2022 season.

Espargaro joined the Italian manufacturer in 2017 when he lost his seat at Suzuki.

He finished 14th in the riders' standings in 2019, his best performance in three seasons with Aprilia, with the campaign featuring a seventh-place finish at the Aragon Grand Prix.

"I am happy about this confirmation," Espargaro, 30, said after confirming his renewal with a post on social media.

"The human aspect is extremely important for me, and in four seasons, Aprilia has become my second family.

"With this contract, which is certainly the most important of my career, they demonstrated that I am at the centre of this project.

"On a technical level, the growth in recent months convinced me, with the arrival of many reinforcements and the debut of the 2020 RS-GP."

With the 2020 season yet to begin due to the coronavirus pandemic, Espargaro added: "I feel like we need to finish the job we started over the winter.

"I can't wait to take this project where it deserves to be."

His younger brother, Pol, rides for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, but has been linked with a move to Repsol Honda where he would partner world champion Marc Marquez in 2021.

The MotoGP Grand Prix of Japan has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic and no races will be staged outside of Europe before mid-November.

Twin Ring Motegi was due to stage the event from October 16-18, but it was announced on Monday that it will not go ahead.

It will be the first time in 21 years that there is no premier-class racing at the iconic track.

The cancellation was confirmed just a few days after the British and Australian Grands Prix were removed from the 2020 calendar.

As organisers continue to work on a schedule for a season that has not been able to get under way, Dorna Sports chief executive Carmelo Ezpeleta revealed that all rounds will be in Europe until November at the earliest.

He said: "It is with great sadness that we announce the cancellation of the Grand Prix of Japan at the very unique Motegi circuit, meaning we will not have a Japanese Grand Prix on the calendar for the first time since 1986.

"The MotoGP family is working very hard to be able to re-start the racing season and hold as many events as possible, and in the safest way possible.

"For this reason, the FIM and Dorna, in consultation with IRTA [International Road Racing Teams Association] and MSMA [Motorcycle Sport Manufacturers Association], have decided that, until mid-November, MotoGP will remain in Europe to do as many European MotoGP events as we are able to.

"Therefore, overseas events, if at all possible, should be scheduled after mid-November – which would be too late in the year for the Grand Prix of Japan to be held.

"For this reason it has been decided, in consultation with Mobilityland [the circuit's operating group], that the Grand Prix of Japan cannot be held in 2020. I very much thank Mobilityland for the support given to MotoGP. 

Jorge Lorenzo may have announced his MotoGP retirement but the Spaniard was back celebrating a race win on Sunday.

The three-time world champion made the most of his wildcard entry for the virtual British Grand Prix, overcoming a difficult start to dazzle around the Silverstone circuit.

Lorenzo - who now works as a test rider for Monster Energy Yamaha - moved past Tito Rabat in the closing stages to seal glory, with Fabio Quartararo completing the podium.

His last victory on a real track for the team came in Valencia in 2016. He moved on to Ducati the following year, spending two seasons with them before finishing his career at Repsol Honda.

So, could Lorenzo be getting the taste for competition again?

The 32-year-old had already accepted a wildcard entry to this year's Catalan Grand Prix, originally scheduled for June, while he also told Catalunya Radio that he would expect to have plenty of offers should he choose to make a comeback.

"In the event that I wanted to compete again, I don't think I'd be short of offers, but at the moment that is not the case," he said.

However, Lorenzo also added during the interview that his retirement was final, having made the announcement late in 2019 "with the idea of leaving forever".

Silverstone will not be hosting a race during a 2020 MotoGP season that is still yet to begin due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Australian Grand Prix will also be missing from a rearranged calendar that is set to include a double-header at Jerez during July.

 

The revamped 2020 MotoGP season will not include trips to Australia and Britain after both races were cancelled on Friday.

Organisers Dorna Sports released a statement confirming the British Grand Prix, scheduled for Silverstone on August 30, will not take place as planned due to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement means there will be no MotoGP visit to the British Isles for the first time in the Championship's history.

Phillip Island was also due to host the Australian Grand Prix on October 25, but that too has now been removed from the list of venues for this year.

"We're saddened to have to announce the cancellation of these iconic events after finding no way through the logistical and operational issues resulting from the pandemic and rearranged calendar," Carmelo Ezpeleta - CEO of Dorna Sports - said.

"Silverstone and Phillip Island are always two of the most thrilling race weekends of the season, with both tracks never failing in their promise to deliver some of the closest racing in our championship.

“On behalf of Dorna, I would like to once again extend my thanks to the fans for their understanding and patience as we wait for the situation to improve.

"We look forward to returning to Silverstone and Phillip Island next year for more incredible battles."

Dorna Sports had previously stated their hopes for a 16-race season, including plans for a double-header at Jerez in Spain during July.

The scheduled opener in Qatar was the first to be cancelled this year due to the health pandemic, followed by races in the Netherlands, Finland and Germany.

Jack Miller has joined the Ducati factory team for the 2021 MotoGP season.

After claiming five podiums for Ducati's satellite team Pramac last year and finishing eighth in the riders' standings, Miller has been promoted on a one-year contract that could be extended into 2022.

The 25-year-old will become the third Australian to race in the famous red of Ducati, following in the footsteps of Troy Bayliss and two-time MotoGP champion Casey Stoner.

"First of all I want to thank warmly Paolo Campinoti, Francesco Guidotti and all the Pramac Racing Team for the great support I have received from them in the two-and-a-half years spent together," said Miller in a statement.

"It is an honour for me to be able to continue my MotoGP career with the Borgo Panigale manufacturer and I would like to thank all the Ducati management … for having trusted me and given me this incredible opportunity.

"I look forward to starting riding again this year, and I am ready to fully commit to the responsibility of being an official Ducati rider in 2021."

Ducati Motor Holding chief executive Claudio Domenicali added: "Since he arrived in the Pramac Racing Team, Jack has grown steadily, proving himself one of the fastest and most talented riders in the championship.

"So we are happy that he has agreed to ride the official Desmosedici GP bike of the Ducati team next year.

"We are convinced that Jack has all the right skills to fight continuously for the positions that matter, in every race, starting already this season with the Desmosedici GP20 of the Pramac Racing Team, and taking a further step forward next year thanks to the support of the Ducati Team."

Current Ducati team-mates Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci will likely spend the 2020 season battling it out to retain a place alongside Miller for next year.

Ducati are "very close" to making a decision on whether to bring Jack Miller into the factory team for the 2021 MotoGP season.

The Italian manufacturer ultimately retained Danilo Petrucci as the team-mate for lead rider Andrea Dovizioso this year, after much speculation during the previous campaign.

Pramac Racing boss Francesco Guidotti suggested this week he thought a promotion for Australian Miller, who earned five podiums on a satellite bike in 2019, was close.

And Ducati team manager Davide Tardozzi did not dispel the rumours as he confirmed talks were already under way.

"We are very close to taking a decision regarding Jack, but nothing is done yet," Tardozzi said to BT Sport.

"We are discussing internally about that, we are discussing even with Jack, but no decisions at all are taken.

"We are thinking about Jack in the factory team and it is obvious we have to manage the situation because the riders who will join the factory team will be two of the five riders already under contract with Ducati so far.

"Two of the five will be there and Jack did something very good in the end of the season, so we are thinking that he could be a possibility."

Miller finished eighth in the riders' standings in 2019, just 11 points behind Petrucci in sixth, with racing in 2020 yet to get under way amid the coronavirus crisis.

The 25-year-old has a MotoGP race win to his name, having triumphed at the 2016 Dutch TT in Assen.

Andrea Iannone's lawyer is confident the Aprilia rider will discover if his appeal against an 18-month MotoGP ban has been successful before the season starts.

Iannone was last month hit with a heavy sanction after testing positive for a banned substance in 2019.

The Italian was provisionally suspended in December after returning an adverse finding of a non-specified substance, later confirmed to be an illegal anabolic agent, in a urine sample taken at last year's Malaysian Grand Prix.

Iannone has taken the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, with the FIM ruling having recognised the 30-year-old appeared to have eaten contaminated meat.

Antonio De Rensis, Iannone's lawyer, is optimistic the rider will be fully acquitted and expects a verdict to be reached within two months.

"The ruling clarified the contamination following meat intake, there is a point on page 15 [of the judgement] that, in our opinion, should determine the conclusion of the process with an acquittal," De Rensis told SkySport.it.

"Because the judges, I quote, 'also take note of the statements in the documents submitted by the rider regarding the high-class hotels where the rider ate meals and where contaminated food is not expected to be found.

"It follows that the rider's diet depended on the food available in the hotels and he did not have many other choices for meals''

"You must tell me, in the face of these words by the judges, how you can give a person an 18-month suspension? They say that he did what he had to do, he had no other chance to eat.

"If Andrea had eaten in a small shop on the street, or had taken food from unknown people, then one could have doubts but the moment the athlete eats in the restaurant of a high-class hotel, I think he did everything he had to do.

"Nonetheless, he got an 18-month disqualification."

He added: "The CAS will have to evaluate whether an athlete has done everything he should, as is also written in the sentence. I believe that Andrea Iannone deserves to be completely acquitted.

"We will file the appeal by May 15, but certainly before, at that point the federation has 20 days to reply to our arguments. 

"I am confident that a decision can be reached in two months. In short, we trust that when presumably the world championship will start, Andrea will already have had the final sentence."

MotoGP organisers are hoping between 12 and 16 rounds will be possible in a season that has not started due to the coronavirus pandemic, with proposals to get under way with back-to-back races in Spain on July 19 and 26.

MotoGP organisers Dorna Sports are hopeful of seeing a calendar of up to 16 races in the 2020 season after plans for a Spanish double-header were confirmed.

It has been proposed to the Spanish government that the Jerez circuit could host two races in July as the sport attempts to get back on track amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Twenty grands prix were initially scheduled for 2020, yet Dorna Sports chief executive Carmelo Ezpeleta has previously spoken of targeting just 10 races due to the global crisis.

Ezpeleta was slightly more optimistic speaking after news of the Jerez proposal, however, promising a clearer picture in a month's time.

Asked if 16 events could still go ahead, with four already cancelled, he told Cambia el Mapa: "If there can be some outside of Europe, yes. We are preparing for between 12 and 16 races.

"The procedure that we have had to do with Spain, we have to do with the other countries.

"At the beginning of June, I believe it will be possible to have a complete calendar of the races in Europe and, in theory, what could happen outside of Europe."

Ezpeleta explained the procedure MotoGP will use in Spain, with riders to be tested for COVID-19 before arriving in the country.

"We're working in accordance with the current conditions to be able to do it in the near future," he said.

"I hope that from now to July the measures don't get any worse but get better.

"The plan right now, as it stands, is that those outside of Europe would have to come to Europe at least 14 days before the grand prix and stay in Europe.

"Then, all the teams, including the Europeans, will have to do a test before leaving their countries, no later than four days before they arrive at the first grand prix, which will be in Spain.

"At that point, they will come with their certified test that says four days ago they were without coronavirus and, then when they arrive at the circuit, we will do another test.

"After that, each day we'll have a team with [hospital group] Quiron who will ensure that people are showing no symptoms and we will take everybody's temperature.

"Then there will be a protocol put in place should something happen and how we'll deal with it."

MotoGP has announced it will submit plans to stage two grands prix in Spain in July.

Races in Germany, Netherlands and Finland were cancelled last week due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Organisers remain hopeful of a season comprising at least 10 races, which could start in July and end in November.

To that end, the regional government of Andalusia, the city council of Jerez de la Frontera and Dorna Sports have agreed to submit a proposal to the Spanish government that would see two events held at the Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto.

The races would be held on the weekends of July 19 and July 26, before a planned World Superbike Championship round at the same circuit on August 2.

"Once authorisation from the Spanish government has been given, the three events will be proposed to the FIM for inclusion on their respective calendars. The first MotoGP event would be the Grand Prix of Spain, becoming the season opener for the MotoGP class, and the second would be the Grand Prix of Andalusia," MotoGP said in a statement.

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