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The New “Aliens” of MotoGP – The Young Riders Separating Themselves From the Pack

While Marc Marquez continues his recovery from a serious injury, Fabio Quartararo is the best rider in MotoGP.

Every rider who makes it to the MotoGP level is exceptional. MotoGP is the pinnacle of the sport of motorcycle roadracing. Nevertheless, certain riders separate themselves and achieve status above the others.

More than a decade ago, the term “aliens” was used to describe the MotoGP elite. At one point, you could expect that a race win would come from one of four riders, including Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa. New riders arrive, and older riders leave. Most notably the “Marc Marquez era” saw a young Spanish rider at Repsol Honda dominate the premier class that reminded one of the Mick Doohan era.

With an injury to Marquez early last year, several younger riders developed stardom of their own. No one dominated last year, however. Joan Mir (Suzuki) became World champion simply by maintaining a level of consistency that others couldn’t. This doesn’t mean that riders did not emerge with special talents that warrant consideration as future “aliens” of the MotoGP class.

In our opinion, absent career-altering injury, the following riders will develop as new “aliens” of MotoGP. These include Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha), Francesco “Pecco” Bagnaia (Ducati), Miguel Oliveira (KTM), Brad Binder (KTM) and Franco Morbidelli (Yamaha).

Quartararo is an easy pick. Even as a rookie, he was hounding a healthy Marc Marquez, who sometimes marveled at Quartararo’s corner speed. After a lackluster 2020, Quartararo is leading the 2021 championship series by 34 points after nine rounds. He has four wins and six podiums at this point, and he just seems to be getting faster and more consistent. His single lap speed has earned many pole position starts, and his race rhythm is frequently well beyond the reach of his competitors. Quartararo is currently 22 years old.

The KTM riders on our list, Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder are emerging along with the emergence of the KTM as a competitive bike in MotoGP. Oliveira is in his third season in MotoGP. When he entered the category in 2019, his best finish was eighth on a bike that was still developing as a contender. Last year, Oliveira won two races for KTM, including the final race at his home track in Portugal where he dominated. Binder was a rookie last year, but he still took a race win for KTM (KTM’s first). He is the first MotoGP rookie to win a MotoGP victory since Marc Marquez. Binder has been less consistent than his teammate Oliveira this year, but a pattern has emerged. Binder seems to develop speed at a track gradually from Friday to Sunday. Frequently starting from a poor position on the grid, he charges through the pack for an impressive finish … sometimes developing a rhythm later in a race that is faster than the leader. Binder is currently 25 years old, while Oliveira is 26.

Pecco Bagnaia is a special talent on a motorcycle that was expected to make a big splash as a rookie in MotoGP in 2019. His results in 2019 were not particularly impressive, however, and in 2020 he earned a second place podium finish and appeared on his way to victory in one race before an unfortunate crash. This year, Pecco has earned three podium finishes and a single pole position. Watching him ride, one gets the feeling he is close to putting all the pieces together and becoming a dominant force. Bagnaia is 24 years old.

Franco Morbidelli moved to the MotoGP category in 2018 and rode well enough to earn Rookie of the Year. In 2019, Morbidelli joined the Petronas Yamaha team and rode well but suffered in the shadow of his rookie teammate Fabio Quartararo. Last year, Morbidelli won three races and finished second in the championship, easily outclassing all of the other Yamaha riders despite the fact Morbidelli was on an older version of the M1. Still on that old bike, Morbidelli has struggled this year and recorded a single podium before suffering a knee injury. Morbidelli has a mental calm and maturity that adds to his skill on the bike. He is 26 years old, and should finally get the factory race bike he deserves next year.

Other riders that have impressed us with their potential include World champion Mir, who appears to be getting better and is only 23 years old, and a trio of Ducati riders, including Jack Miller, Johann Zarco and Jorge Martin. Zarco is in second place in the World Championship this year, but at 30 years of age he has yet to win a MotoGP race. Nevertheless, with two Moto2 World Championships and four podiums this year, Zarco is arguably the best Ducati rider at the moment. Miller spectacularly made the move from Moto3 to MotoGP in 2015, and has recently shown great speed on his way to three podiums this year, including two wins. Crashes and inconsistency make him a long-shot for the title this year, however, and after six full years in the MotoGP category, in our opinion, he lacks the spectacular potential of some of the newer riders.

One of those new riders is Jorge Martin (Ducati), a 23-year-old rookie and former Moto3 champion. Martin’s poise and speed this year, including his pole position and podium finish at Qatar, portend something special in his future. Unfortunately, a serious crash and resulting injuries caused him to miss several races this year, and he is now working himself back into form.

So MD sees Quatararo, Bagnaia, Oliveira, Binder and Morbidelli occupying the category of “aliens” in the MotoGP series in years to come, along with the obvious current resident of that category, Marc Marquez. What do you think?

34 Comments

  1. motorhead says:

    We need younger readers here. The term “Aliens” is a perfectly usable name for riding freaks who have capabilities far beyond the 99.999% of bikers, and if aliens resonates with kids, and in fact if any published motorcycle item resonates with kids, we need to repeat it. Quick survey: how old are the readers to this website? If we are all over 50, our opinions won’t matter. We need to hear from the kids! I’m 62.

  2. Dave says:

    I think the alien moniker needs to be shelved for a while. Unless Marquez or someone else goes on a 5+ consecutive race win streak things are too even right now. Fabio has been amazing lately but think back a few months when he imploded and flushed the championship down the toilet. That doesn’t happen to an “alien”. Marquez is the only rider in recent times to be worthy of the “alien” designation.

    • joe b says:

      I think Pedro Acosta, from moto 3 might be one of those, who seems to have the special sauce, of whatever it takes, to be one of those. We will see. I too think MM93 is one of those special riders, while so many others hate him. Fabio is one too, I cant imagine the pressure. Of course never to leave out Rossi.

  3. 5229 says:

    Alien..in the MotoGP era currently there has only been a rare few. Meaning those riders who have won multiple world MotoGP championships. They are: Rossi,Stoner,Lorenzo and Marquez. These guys are amazing. Now for the young guns right now we shall see won’t we?

  4. dt-175 says:

    what has me questioning from which world FaQue hails is how did he shrug off an arm pump that took him from first on lap 15 to 13th ten laps later, to showing ZERO negative effects from the affliction/remedy only one month later?

    • VLJ says:

      No great mystery there. He had arm-pump surgery immediately following that incident, during the time off between race weekends. It’s the second time he’s had that surgery, and while it certainly helped, there were ominous signs this past weekend that it might be cropping up again.

  5. VLJ says:

    Pedro Acosta. Barring injury, he will be one.

  6. Martin says:

    I enjoyed the enthusiasm of the article, but I think the word “aliens” needs to be kept in the holster, and only drawn when it’s use is necessary.

    • Burtg says:

      Yup. Aliens is a term reserved for guys who have multiple championships in MotoGP under their belt and continue to podium every race. That list is very short right now: Marc, an injured and recovering alien.
      Nobody else has those credentials.

  7. Stuki Moi says:

    I don’t feel there’s enough distance between any of these guys and anyone else, to affix the “Alien” label only to them.

    By any sane metric, the whole field are a bunch of aliens.

    But barring that, Rossi the Marquez have been the only two who meaningfully moved the game forward. Among he rest, some are no doubt “better” than the others. But not different enough to start wondering about which planet they hail from. With 46 and 93, one could at times start to wonder.

  8. Mick says:

    I was curious, so I looked it up. Miller is 26.

    IMO Doohan was the only road race alien. All the rest of the aliens ride observed trials. That’s where aliens like to hang out.

    Remember that Yamaha made a robot that was almost as fast as Rossi, who was the “alien” of that time. It’ll be a while yet before a robot can do pro level observed trials.

    Then there’s the current crop of GP bikes, which are themselves robots with some meat puppet doing the aiming. That’s what’s has the field so tight now days. In observed trials the aliens still get to do all the work. That’s why they like to hang out there. They can even ride a two stroke there if they want. Aliens don’t come all the way to earth to ride around on robot bikes with obsolete engine technology.

    • TimC says:

      I expect it will be awhile before a robot can be “almost as fast as Rossi” in actual race conditions and dealing with all the variables/other riders etc in a real race.

      This is possibly one of the dumbest comments I’ve ever read. No disrespect to trials riders as that is indeed a unique art.

      And yet again with the 4-stroke/2-stroke nonsense, dang did you fall on your head or what?

      • Mick says:

        Nonsense? The only thing that makes sense about racing a four stroke is a rule book that says you get a huge displacement advantage.

        It has been nearly twenty years now after these rule changes in GP and motocross and what single positive thing has it done for racing as a whole? How is AMA road racing doing? World Superbike? How many young racers have been costed out of anything with four stroke rules. You have twenty years to look back on. It ain’t pretty.

        What makes a YZ250 so expensive if it isn’t paying the R&D for the darn four strokes? Lord knows it isn’t getting any.

        Whatever. That idiot Mick just won’t drink the Kool-aid.

        • Dave says:

          Still on this, I see.
          1st, displacement is just the measurement of a static space inside of a machine. Add pressurization or change the stroke count and it’s out the window. 500cc firing every stroke would be the same as 1000cc firing every other stroke, were it not for all of a 2T’s inherent disadvantages.

          Despite all of the 4T bike’s disadvantages (weight, much greater gyroscopic mass, longer wheelbase), the 2T bikes were vanquished from race #1. It took a little longer in me but the writing was on the wall and there was no 2-stroke premix in the ink.

          Are KTM’s 2T bikes significantly less expensive than their 4t’s? Was there ever a cheaper path in road racing than Ninja 250’s, sv650’s and 600cc super sports? The Yamaha TZR250 debuted in 1986 for $6k. In England these old bikes are trading for $15-30k today. A Honda Hurricane 600 was over $2k less new and a Yamaha R6 will eat any of them alive for 1/3rd the price.

          The good ol’ days are never as good as we remember.

    • Kevin says:

      Mick, I always look forward to comments from you with a certain “train wreck” fascination. Your complete disregard for logic and facts is truly impressive. Time after time you treat us with your total disdain for 4-stroke motorcycles and modern riders not to mention your antiquated notions concerning life today. If Randy Mamola was still giving rides to spectators at MotoGP races, I would gladly cough up a considerable sum of money to let you be his passenger. Then I would film your reaction when you got off the bike and send it to Dirck so it could be posted on this website.
      FQ looks eerily similar to Lorenzo in current form. His incredible lap time consistency in practice and races remind me much of Jorge. Add that to his lack of crashing this year and you have a recipe for a championship. IMHO, he is the only alien on the track right now – of course if Marquez continues his return in the same fashion I expect we will return to normal service.

    • Motoman says:

      Gotta hand it to you Mick. The meat puppet part made me laugh my ass off while at the same time thinking what a dick. And all in one sentence!

  9. Jeremy says:

    Honestly, I think Marc Marquez and Fabio Quartararo are the only current aliens, and Marc needs to get back to 100% to reclaim that moniker.

    Bagnaia is coming I think. The Ducati genuinely doesn’t suit him in my opinion, but he is managing to come to the bike, which is what the great ones ultimately do. I think he is going to figure it out.

    I truly think Zarco is a factory ride away from being one of the guys to beat. He was a Moto2 phenomenon and looked every bit as impressive at Tech 3 as Quartararo did. A bad move to KTM sent his career (and the attention of the other factories) in a wrong direction, but I think someone is going to court him for a factory seat during the next musical chair season. He knows how to dig deep when it matters. The Ducati doesn’t suit him much either, but he makes it work. I think he would be scary fast on a Yamaha or Suzuki.

    Martin was impressive, and there is true potential there for alienhood with a little more experience on the tires.

    Mir needs to figure out the qualifying lap. During the race, he is fast and has to make a large number of risky overtakes on the brakes. If he can’t get on the first two rows every time and be in the top five after the apex of turn 1, he will have trouble ever again challenging for the title. To be fair, Suzuki didn’t make as big a step this year as everyone else on the grid and are the only bike that doesn’t have the rear squat device, so some of this is in them, too. I suspect Mir and Rins are running the Suzuki at the bike’s potential. They may need a little more to become more.

    Oliveira and Binder… Both amazing racers in Moto2 and Moto3. They’ve also done amazing things at KTM. However, I don’t think the KTM is a proper alien spaceship yet. KTM will need to make a bigger step, or those guys will need to ride for someone else before we can say for sure whether they have alien potential. I suspect they do, but they need better equipment to shine. Binder was a favorite of mine in Moto2 and Moto3 because of how insanely good his riding was. I want to be able to look forward to that in the premier class, too.

    Morbidelli needs a current spec bike. Hard to tell his potential running a bike that wasn’t terribly competitive even in the year it was introduced.

  10. randy says:

    I used to marvel at a picture like this. The skill and the guts. But after idolizing the skill for years, something has occurred to me that hasn’t occurred to anyone else (I guess). That this riding technique needs to be banned in racing. At what point does the rider become “a third wheel”. Now that contact with the ground is possible, how far will this progress? Think about it.

    • Jeremy says:

      It’s actually not that hard. That’s exactly what I always looked like as I beelined for the gravel.

    • Motoman says:

      “That this riding technique needs to be banned in racing.”

      Seriously? (obviously don’t agree with you)

    • Hot Dog says:

      OK, everyone ride a bike like Mary Poppens…think about it.

    • mickey says:

      Kenny Roberts started “3 pointing” with his knee in 197843 years ago. Tire technology now allows them to get an elbow down as well.

      • Dave says:

        It isn’t necessarily the lean angle, it’s the body position (tucked low, shoulders offset to the inside, with everything else). If you look at previous generations of riders (butt to the inside, knee down, torso almost bolt upright) compared to today’s, they couldn’t be cornering in a much more different body position unless they were sitting on the bike backwards.

        As for the banning comment, they’re not putting body parts in contact with the ground intentionally (zoom in on the pic, very little is touching the ground). The grip is on the tires, not the crash suit. They aren’t a 3rd wheel but they are and always have been significant ballast. If you can move 25%+ of the vehicle’s weight around, you do that to your advantage.

    • Motoman says:

      I got it! We could put training wheels on the bikes so they can’t lean so far….

    • TimC says:

      Dang, giving “1-track 2-stroke” Mick a run for his money today

    • kris says:

      Randy- man, get real!
      Why do you think Fabio has the fastest (or close to) corner speed?

  11. fred says:

    IMHO, “Alien” is a lot more special than “might win one race a year”. A gambler who places Win, Place, or Show bets on Aliens will seldom go home broke. Aliens win races, take podiums, dominate practice sessions, win poles, and set fastest race laps. They win Championships.
    Marc has won the moniker. Fabio deserves it as well. In spike of his troubles in the 2nd half of last year, it is reasonable to think he will continue to do well at all tracks this year.

    The rest of the list, not at all.
    Pecco – I like him. 3 podiums, a pole, and a fastest lap. Nice, but not Alien-level.
    Olivera – personally odd, but a decent rider. 3 podiums, 1 fastest lap. Unimpressive in the rest of the races.
    Brad – flash in the pan. Not even a podium in 9 races this year.
    Morbidelli – overrated. 5 podiums, 2 poles, and 1 fastest lap last year’s 14 races. One podium this year. Meh.
    MD’s also-ran aliens actually look a lot better than most of those.
    Zarco – Independent, straight shooter. 4 podiums (all 2nd’s), 2 fastest laps, and a pole. That’s close to Alien territory for 9 races. Not to mention 2 World Championships in M2. Like Dovisioso in the later Ducati years, he may remain in the “almost an Alien” category.
    Miller – Foul mouthed, but a great sportsman. 3 podiums, including 2 wins. M3 Champion. Talented, but apparently not an Alien.
    Martin – Too soon to tell. Like Lorenzo, he showed brilliance, then splatted himself. 1 podium and a pole in 2 races before the injury. The second half of the season should give us an idea whether he will earn the title of Alien. IMHO, he is the most likely to join Marc and Fabio in the Alien group.
    Not mentioned by MD are Maverick and Mir. Maverick for being Alien quick, but only on occasion. Mir for being Alien consistent, but down a few positions.

    There might be more coming up through the ranks, but for now, only Marc and Fabio deserve the name.
    Zarco and Martin could join the ranks by the end of the year.

    Betting Win, Place, or Show on the others is just going to lose you money. On a true Alien, a rational gambler could confidently bet WPS without knowing either the track or the weather. Understanding that, it’s pretty easy to recognize who fits the bill.

    • mickey says:

      the article does call them “future aliens” not “current” aliens

      • fred says:

        Understood. IMHO, Fabio is a “current alien”. Martin, and possibly Zarco, are “future aliens”. Zarco less likely, because the “alien” gene tend to express itself earlier.

        I don’t consider the rest to be likely to ever be aliens.

  12. mickey says:

    I think you’re right

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