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MotoGP 2021 Will Be Another Wide-Open Year … Until a Healthy Marc Marquez Shows Up

Sunday’s podium included, left to right, Pecco Bagnaia, Maverick Viñales and Johann Zarco

After the completion of pre-season testing and the first race, MD has to weigh in with its opinion of the state of the MotoGP championship. In short, this looks like another wide-open year with several potential race winners and no clear favorite for the championship.

Maverick Viñales (Yamaha) is in love with Cal Crutchlow. He said as much last weekend, as Yamaha has desperately been waiting for a fast test rider who can provide useful feedback on the M1 … Viñales says that Cal Crutchlow has already solved several problems on his bike, and that his riding style is very similar to Crutchlow’s. In the race last Sunday, Viñales said his corner speed was unbelievable, and his trust in the front tire complete. If this were the end of the story Viñales could well be on his way to the championship. Of course, with Yamaha this is never the end of the story (it seems).

Two identical factory M1’s are ridden by Fabio Quartararo and Valentino Rossi (although Rossi rides for the satellite Petronas team this year, he has a full factory bike). Both of those bikes suffered a tire grip issue from the mid-way point of the race on Sunday, an issue similar to the one suffered by Yamaha at various times last year. Quartararo and Rossi ended up finishing the race in 5th and 12th place positions, respectively. Meanwhile, the most successful Yamaha rider last year, Franco Morbidelli, on an older version of the M1, had a disastrous race in Qatar with a mysterious issue affecting the damping of his rear shock. The bottom line is that Yamaha, despite winning the opening race, still seems to be hit-or-miss when it comes to bike set-up and race-long performance.

Over at Ducati, which had a massive top-speed advantage on the long Qatar straight, there were also grip issues hampering some of its riders, particularly Jack Miller who faded from the lead pack to finishing in 9th position. The other two factory Ducati’s under Pecco Bagnaia and Johann Zarco faired much better while finishing on the podium behind Viñales but, arguably, failed to live up to expectations (i.e., finish in front of all the Yamahas). Nevertheless, these three Ducati riders should be competitive at most of the tracks this year, and one of them may find a way to win this weekend during the second half of the Qatar doubleheader. The Ducatis seem to turn well in addition to having all that horsepower.

The Suzuki duo, including defending champ Joan Mir and Alex Rins, finished 4th and 6th on Sunday while displaying the same characteristic they exploited last year, which is the ability to move towards the front near the end of the race. Rins reportedly burned up his rear tire coming through the pack after a poor start, and Mir nearly had second place wrapped up before the Ducatis of Zarco and Bagnaia won the drag race with him between the final corner and the checkered flag. MD thinks both of these Suzuki riders will win races this year.

Although KTM seemed somewhat clueless during testing and qualifying for Sunday’s race, we suspect they may do better next weekend. Brad Binder finished 14th Sunday, one place behind his teammate Miguel Olivera, while the other KTMs faired even worse (Danilo Petrucci crashed out). Binder said the flowing nature of the Qatar track does not favor KTM, which is set up to work very well with hard braking zones. We suspect, however, that KTM could do much better next weekend. We will see.

Honda is an interesting subject at this point. New factory rider Pol Espargaro finished in 8th position last Sunday, less that 6 seconds behind the winner. Not a bad showing for his first race on the Repsol machine. Nevertheless in interviews, Pol sounds like he may be putting too much pressure on himself. He openly admits that his goal is to win the championship this year … a very tall order, indeed. He could surprise us, but we don’t expect him to do any better at Qatar next weekend. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if one of the LCR Honda riders beat him next weekend, even though both Alex Marquez and Takaaki Nakagami suffered DNF’s on Sunday. Nakagami, in particular, looks like he is developing a good rhythm on the Honda, and he was very fast at times near the end of last year.

That brings us to the dramatically improved Aprilia being ridden by Aleix Espargaro. After some very impressive test results, Aleix delivered a 7th place finish on Sunday, just 5.9 seconds behind Viñales. In the process, he finished just in front of his brother Pol on the factory Honda. Apparently impressed by the performance of the new Aprilia, former Ducati star Andrea Dovizioso has agreed to test the bike in a few weeks, just before Round 3. With the other Aprilia rider, Lorenzo Savadori, still struggling (he finished in last place last Sunday — roughly 23 seconds behind the rider in front of him) will Aprilia sign Dovizioso to replace him this year? We wouldn’t be surprised if it happened.

We don’t see any of these riders dominating the championship this year. We could be wrong, of course, but if a healthy, race-ready Marc Marquez shows up for Round 3 and contests the remainder of the 20 races this year, we suspect he will take another title.

32 Comments

  1. bmbktmracer says:

    It’s a deep field made up of several former champions. Seems normal that there will be many different winners. No one mentioned Zarco’s fine ride. Morbidelli will most likely be on point this weekend. Miller will have a better setup. Good times coming our way.

  2. Mick says:

    “Until a Healthy Marc Marquez Shows Up”

    I have my doubts.

    1: He’s had a year off and a tough recovery. That can change people.

    2: He has a penchant for unsportsmanlike conduct that the officials haven’t seen for a while and might not like when they see it again. He my struggle with penalties.

    • mickey says:

      Rossi got bumped off line Sunday by someone coming past him that wanted the line, and made contact to do it.

    • mickey says:

      It was Brad Binder who cut under and bumped Rossi knocking him from 12th to 16th

      the announcers thought it might be looked at by race direction, but I doubt anything came of it.

      • mickey says:

        Read an article today where Rossi called out Binder for the bump Sunday and said some riders have no respect in MotoGp these days.

        Binder said it was close but no contact, therefore a clean pass

  3. Hot Dog says:

    VLJ’s correct:
    Mav’s gonna choke.

    Me thinks-
    Fabio’s a head case.
    Rossi’s selling t-shirts,
    Franko’s the one.
    Jack’s a polished turd.
    MM’s wound tight.
    Bag’s a good purchase.
    JZo’s nutts and good.
    Dovi’s missed.

  4. VLJ says:

    I doubt that any of us expect Maverick to be a consistent frontrunner once the MotoGP calendar moves away from night races at flowing tracks lacking any stop-and-go corners.

    Give it time. Maverick will soon be back to his inexplicable disappearing-act self.

    Otherwise, Yamaha should not still be down 15+ kph on the competition. They’ve had years to address this problem, which, at times, is acutely embarrassing. Premature tire wear that causes them to struggle in warm weather? Think that might have to do with the fact that the Yamaha riders have to abuse their tires in the corners all race long simply to have a shot against the faster bikes that are better able to conserve their tires’ edge-grip?

    They also need a competitive holeshot device. There is no reason that every other bike on the grid has a properly functioning, dual-wheel setup while Yamaha soldiers on with a single-wheel version that is capable of packing it in right from the start and ruining their top rider’s entire race. Watching their riders routinely get swamped off the line is inexcusable. You cannot have multiple built-in deficits like these (lack of top speed, lack of grunt off the corners, lack of acceleration off the line) and expect consistent top results. It’s just not going to happen.

    Bottom line, as the second largest factory in the series, you can’t always be well behind the curve regarding every new advancement in technology. You can’t keep making your riders work from behind the eight ball.

    • Dirck Edge says:

      Couple of points. Qatar is far from an ideal Yamaha track, particularly with its long front straight. Additionally, some riders feel the Yamaha M1 accelerates out of corners better than the Ducatis through the first 3 or 4 gears. I think we will see quite a few Yamaha wins this year, just like last year. Of course, those wins will be spread over Vinales, Quartararo and Morbidelli.

      • VLJ says:

        Dirck, Qatar is primarily considered a Ducati track, for the obvious reason. Nonetheless, its flowing nature and lack of point-and-shoot corners makes it a good track for Yamahas. Witness the qualifying results, which saw nothing but Yamahas and Ducatis occupying the top spots. It’s a horrible track for KTM, because that bike favors lots of hard braking zones and strong acceleration on exits.

        As always, though, the Yamahas suffer in Qatar at the very start of the race, and through tire-wear attrition. The Tuning Fork riders simply have a much smaller margin for error. They have no chance of leading into the first corner, so right off the bat they’re working from a deficit. To make up the initial gap and to stay with the faster bikes once everyone has more open track they have to push harder, longer, which is usually a recipe for dropping like a stone late in the race.

    • mickey says:

      Dirck..I noticed you didn’t mention Rossi even though he is on a bike identical to Maverick and Quatararo, and maybe better than Morbidelli’s

      • Dirck Edge says:

        Rossi could prove me wrong, but I wouldn’t expect a win from him this year. I think the youngsters are on top now, and that is hard to reverse.

        • richard says:

          Rossi is still passionate about the sport..hell quit when hes had enough..he certainly isnt riding for cash like the young bucks

      • mickey says:

        again I agree. I think Rossi is just a money grab for Rossi (merchandise and sponsor money) and Dorna (fans watching or attending if Covid clears up) at this point…. not that there is anything wrong with that.

        • Dave says:

          Rossi qualified 4th and raced well before having similar issues to others in the race. While he’s not likely to win a championship, neither are all but a few who will race through this generation. He’s still very competitive and certainly worthy of his seat, money or not.

          • mickey says:

            I guess it depends on what you consider “very competitive”. He’s won 7 races in the 11 years preceding 2021. That’s about 200 races on factory Yamaha’s and factory Ducati’s.

            No doubt he was a dominate racer for many years, but that is no longer the case.

            As long as he wants to race and can get a ride and sponsors he should absolutley do so, but his move from the factory squad to a satellite team proves Yamaha no longer considers him very competitive, and thinks their bikes and future would be better servec with younger, more competitive riders

          • Dave says:

            There’s no doubt that he’s not the dominant force he was but since he returned to the Yamaha he’s finished top-5 most seasons, with three years in 2nd overall. Wins are exceedingly rare in this sport and unless you’re Marquez or Lorenzo (in his prime), 7 wins in 10 years is very competitive, far more so than most guys in the sport.

    • fred says:

      One of the manifestations of hubris is thinking that you are so brilliant that every clear-thinking person will agree with you.
      I don’t expect Maverick to fade away. Perhaps others also disagree with you.

      All of the manufacturers and riders have their strengths and weaknesses, their fans and their detractors. Whether they race to win, to learn, or sell product, they make their decisions based on their goals and their resources.

      Each year we get to see how well things work out. It’s a flawed system, but seems to work adequately. Whether you or I approve or not.

      • mickey says:

        its an opinion fred, just like yours that Mav wont fade away.

        VLJ does have history on his side though. for the last several seasons Mav has dominated pre season testing and done well for a race or two, and then starts working his way back. Just like Quatararo who seemed unbeatable after Jerez last year only to drop from site for the rest of the season.

        you are right though, this year may be different, and thats why they line up and race on Sumday, and we tune in to watch.

        • fred says:

          Opinion – “Maverick will fade away.”
          Hubris – “Everybody agrees with me the Maverick will fade away.”
          There’s a big difference.

          • VLJ says:

            There is also a big difference between “Everybody agrees with me,” which is you intentionally misquoting me, and “I doubt that any of us expect,” which is what I actually wrote.

            The only hubris here is your attempt to put words into my mouth, and assuming no one would call you on it.

          • mickey says:

            Maybe I missed it but I have read both of VLJs posts I just don’t see where he said

            “Everybody agrees with me the Maverick will fade away.”

            he did say

            “I doubt that any of us expect Maverick to be a consistent frontrunner once the MotoGP calendar moves away from night races at flowing tracks lacking any stop-and-go corners.”

            which looks like an opinion to me.

          • Hot Dog says:

            Man oh man, you guys are hissing and squealing like a bunch of alley cats in a fight.

  5. Jeremy says:

    I agree with Mickey that Qatar is a unique track. It is one of the few that Aprilia makes a decent showing at, and the Ducatis and Yamahas run well there. Those things came to pass, so no big surprises or insights to take to the bank. One can’t really use results from Qatar as a Magic 8-ball.

    The most interesting thing about the race to me was Viñales’s movement through the pack. That’s not very typical off him, so perhaps they really have something there that gives him more confidence to go fast even when he can’t hit perfect lines. We’ll see once we’re back in Europe.

    • John A. Kuzmenko says:

      Qatar is run at night without the sun beating down on the track and warming it.
      That alone can make or break how well or not well the bike feels to a rider.
      I’d like to see Vinales do well all season long and give performances like he did on Sunday, but I’ll be curious to see what happens when back to racing in the daytime.

  6. paul says:

    i say this as an mm fan since his first motogp season. i’ve rooted for noone else since mm started in motogp.
    some think it’s in mm’s nature to simply return to the his same winning ‘style’ from before the crash of 2020 (which caused him a lot of pain and suffering and sat him out for the season)
    i won’t believe it until i see it.
    mm will return physically fit and likely mentally fit but not likely mentally the same. not ready and willing to push/exceed every limit at all times.
    i have serious doubts that all of the little wiggles, brief losses of traction, speed wobbles, near misses, and near fall offs, here and there are not going to immediately and instinctively effect him (cause an involuntary reflex action to correct the situation and therefore slowing down).
    i’d wager mm does not want to suffer another broken anything and this will cause a change in his riding.
    i would be surprised if mm ever pushes the limits as he always did in the past.
    i would be surprised if mm wins another title or even strings a few races wins together.
    it also does not bode well for mm that he has raised the bar and others have responded well with confidence.

    • Marcus says:

      I’ve been saying the same since mm showed up shortly after the crash only having to park it after a couple of laps. Maybe he had no intention of racing. Maybe he just made a showing for his sponsors and his fans but I don’t think at the time he figured he’d be sidelined for the entire season.
      He doesn’t want to ruin his career or break anymore bones with dicey heroics and the other riders have a taste of what victory is like.
      So when and if he comes back for the third round he’ll either dominate or he won’t but either way he’ll have changed.
      Even a 90% mm is a force to be reckoned with.

      • mickey says:

        These guys are wired differently. They are self programmed not to think about the risks when they are on the track. After Marquez runs a couple free practices and qualifying, he will be back to his aggressive self. He knows no other way.

        Remember Doohan coming back from almost losing his leg, and Rossi racing with his compound leg fracture, and Lorenzo finishing 5th 2 or 3 days after breaking his collarbone, and Pedrosa who also raced with a broken collarbone.

        If they can get on their bikes, they are going to race full out regardless of injury or pain …. or future consequences. It’s what they do.

        https://motorsport.radio/motogp-bikes-injuries-and-superhumans/

        • Curt says:

          “It’s what they do.”

          Absolutely correct, it’s exactly what they do. Until they can’t, or won’t. By and large, no, scratch that, without exception, there’s an age, or number of injuries, or something else, which changes them. The average age of retirement at the top levels of motorcycling, dirt or paved, is…what? I don’t know but it’s nowhere near 40.

          And so we wait to see if MM has reached that age, or time. I wouldn’t bet on it – he seems hard-wired for this abandon more strongly than most…

        • Anonymous says:

          they are wired different.
          well, i will say motivated differently.
          i do remember Mick’s leg issue and lorenzo’s collarbone. i do also believe the possibility (likelihood) that mm could have/will enlist the help of a psychologist to help with any mental issues that will impede or hinder his usual winning style.

          i also remember things that are not the in control of such superstar athletes from most sports…they raise the bar…garner fabulous success as superstars and then eventually the pack catches up and rises to the new standard set.
          i remember Rossi, Lorenzo, and many more racers no longer winning races and championships while still competing. i remember Rossi is still competing but mostly for fun.
          mm has cemented his status a legend. i assume mm is very well off financially. i imagine mm no longer entirely enjoys having to place his life in critical danger every weekend for further financial gains and/or to appease fans/employer.
          the pack has caught up to mm’s level even if only enough to make it very difficult and much more dangerous for mm to be just as successful as before. it seems the pack always catches up.
          i doubt mm is not considering and reconsidering his current employment motivations vs his future.

      • richard says:

        yup hes good..none can argue..i dont think he will come back unless he knows he can win..thats his mentality..why he pushes the limit… he aint no Barry “no fear” Sheene ..he may be a little scared to get injured again..who knows..only he does !

  7. Rhinestone Kawboy says:

    I have a suggestion here: I think one of the top factories should hire me to race their bike. At 66 years old, I’d have the rest of the field laughing so hard, they would all fall off their bikes, and I could cruise to the win! Where do I sign? 🙂 😀

  8. mickey says:

    Fair assessment of the situation Dirck. Like last year no one seems like they are going to dominate, which makes for good racing. Going to be a lot of different riders on the podium this year.

    Qatar is an anomaly as far as race tracks go. Thing might drastically change when they get to Europe… and when #93 shows back up.