With many fans elated that the 2020 MotoGP is finally underway, Franco Morbidelli’s bike technician explains that it’s not just the fans who feel that way.
“I think everyone is relieved that the season has restarted as, at one point, it looked as though it would have been cancelled. We got a phone call to say the first event had been cancelled the night before we were due to fly to Qatar. Little did we know that this would result in nearly five months off” says Matt.
But the team can’t just pick up where they left off, and must adapt to a new normal. The organisers have new procedures in place, and the England-based technician explains they are “doing a fantastic job in keeping everyone safe.”
While the job in hand hasn’t changed, the way things are done are now slightly different. First and foremost, a dedicated MotoGP medical app is used by everyone in the paddock, all who took a COVID-19 PCR swab and antibody blood test five days before the race in Jerez.
“We had to add our test results onto the app, which is used as your entry and exit, in and out the paddock”, reveals Matt. “On arrival at the team hotel, we have to self-isolate. We wear masks as soon as we leave the hotel and then at the circuit entrance, our temperature is checked, QR codes are scanned and hands are sanitised.”
The Sepang Racing Team technician describes how every team has hand sanitising stations on entry to the pit box and race trucks, and no hospitality meals are delivered to the garage. Whenever a rider doesn’t have a face mask on, both during the sessions and on the grid, all team members wear a face shield as well as a mask.
“It feels a bit like pre-season testing because the place isn’t very busy. Teams can’t socialise with anyone outside their own, which is strange as the paddock is normally a very friendly, sociable place.”
Matt tells us the masks can make communication in the garage “a bit tricky”, since they’re used to lip reading due to track noise, with even the radio becoming harder to understand as everyone is talking through masks. Understanding their importance though, the team have turned to hand signals more and more to ensure their communication isn’t compromised.
While 13 races over 18 weekends may sound like a squeeze, Matt isn’t too phased by this and says logistics aren’t overly impacted with the compacted season, since many of the races are back to back at the same circuit. This means the team no longer need to pack away, load the trucks and drive to another circuit to set up again the following week.
And though in some areas of the MotoGP world, skeleton crews are running to ensure the safety protocols of each country are met, the Number 20 technician is used to having a smaller team.
“On the mechanical and technical side of our team, we have the same amount of people as normal. Being a satellite team, we don’t have as many crew members as some of the factory teams attending the races. There are no hospitality units in the paddock so this is where teams have potentially cut back on staff attending the event.”
“In the paddock, there is definitely a bit of anxiety and tension about getting ill and things closing down again, or getting stuck and not being able to get home.”
As well as the physical demands of the job, we assume it must be mentally exhausting living out of a suitcase and hard to wind down, but Matt explains that he’s used to it by now.
“To be honest, it doesn’t really bother me as I’ve done it for so long. But as soon as I get home, I always unpack and put the suitcase away until the night before the next event. We knew that once the season started again, it would be compressed with little time off to spend at home. With only five weeks off between now and the end of season, I like to make the most of seeing family and friends. I also have two-year-old twin daughters to keep me busy!”
Back in the paddock, consistency is key. With a compressed championship, Matt makes it clear that it’s vital to be consistent while, at the same time, try to avoid injury since there’s little time and opportunity for recovery in between races.
And while there might be less atmosphere without the fans in attendance, he says “the main thing for everyone is that we are back racing and hope the fans get to enjoy it from home. This break has made the riders more determined to go full throttle and give everything.”