THE 2021 MotoGP championship has shaped the way this year’s 2020 title fight will be run and won, even before the first race this weekend.
As mercurial Marc Marquez wheelies into action to defend his eighth world title at the opening round of the revised 13-round series to be held at Jerez on Sunday, the elongated COVID-enforced off-season has asked plenty of questions about the superstars of the sport – including even the speedy Spaniards.
The season finally fires up at Jerez – after eight months without turning a wheel in competition – with a Spanish GP like no other.
Following the delayed start to the 72nd FIM World Road Racing World Championship due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The iconic GP circuit in the south of Spain will open MotoGP proceedings in Europe for the first time in almost 15 years and, while there won’t be 200,000 sweaty Spaniards in attendance, nor much pomp and ceremony, on-track action promises to be as eye-popping as ever – if the results of Wednesday’s one-day pre-season test in sweltering 57-degree track temperatures is any guide.
The Yamaha M1s of Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy factory team) and Fabio Quartararo (Petronas SRT) topped the time sheets, edging out reigning world champ Marquez (Repsol Honda) by only a few hundredths of a second.
Factory Suzuki gun Alex Rins was 0.4sec off the pace, in a top 15 separated by less than a second, followed closely by nine-times world champ Valentino Rossi in fifth.
Contrary to reports, the 40-year-old Italian idol is yet to sign with the satellite Petronas Yamaha team for 2021 – let alone the factory Yamaha team – but says he’s close.
“Yeah, the news that I signed the contract already is not true, is fake,” he says at Jerez. “But we are very close. I want to continue in 2021.
Sixth was Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro – the only other rider within half a second of Viñales’ pace, followed by Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), Aussie Jack Miller (Pramac Ducati), Joan Mir (Suzuki) and Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Ducati).
The Queenslander was not only fresh from signing for the factory Ducati team in 2021, but bristling with confidence after a number of winter season tests and an extended off-season including training at the Rockhampton MX track with fellow Red Bull-sponsored Aussie bike legend, Toby price.
In contrast, Moto2 champion Alex Marquez was well outside the top 15 and more than a second off the pace ahead of his first GP on the Honda RC213V, not long after being dumped from the factory Honda team in favour of 2013 Moto3 world champ Pol Espargaro.
So it looks as if a fierce pack of rivals are ready to challenge Marques Snr, the 27-year-old Honda hero.
As Rossi is seemingly headed for a non-factory bike for the first time in 2021, ballsy Brit Cal Crutchlow has been dumped from the factory-supported Honda line-up in 2021 and will put it all on the line to secure a future ride – most likely with the up-and-coming Aprilia outfit.
“My story in MotoGP is not finished,” Crutchlow says.
“I wasn’t surprised massively [at losing my LCR ride], I was more surprised at who they chose. That’s not being disrespectful, but the reality is if they chose somebody like [Andrea] Dovizioso, I think it would be a different scenario or a different feeling for me. But they chose a guy that has one podium in MotoGP in six years.”
On a positive, Aussie Jack Miller is set to graduate from his privateer Pramac Racing squad to the factory Ducati outfit in 2021 in place of the poor-performing Danilo Petrucci. However, it is only a one-year deal at the moment – with an option to extend into 2022 – which means the one-time MotoGP winner will be under intense scrutiny this season.
“I’m calm, but of course there is expectation as well,” Miller says, ahead of this weekend’s opening race.
“To be stepping into the factory team is an honour and everything like that, but the expectation was already there. We did five podiums last year, [and] I think this year it’s expected that I step up and make a number more and be higher up the championship.”
Who will line-up alongside Miller on the red racer in 2021 is yet to be confirmed as current team leader Andrea Dovizioso – Marquez’s main title combatant for the past two seasons – is in the midst of a fierce financial tussle to continue with Ducati.
His fitness also been clouded by a serious collarbone injury while training on a motocross bike a fortnight ago.
Even Marquez isn’t free of pressure in 2020, as he lines up ready to equal Valentino Rossi’s nine championships in 2020 while also recovering from pre-season shoulder surgery.
“I am happy today, and I can breathe,” he says after riding his Honda for the first time in months at this week’s pre-season test.
“My shoulder is good and the bike is better. I am happy.”
Marquez is joined at the factory Honda squad this year by his equally-talented younger brother Alex, who graduates to MotoGP, like his older sibling, with titles in both the Moto3 and Moto2 feeder classes.
The younger Marquez, however, only has one year to showcase his talent on the Repsol racer as he slides back to the LCR Honda in place of Crutchlow in 2021, with KTM’s Pol Espargaro moving to the HRC outfit.
Teams and Riders
|Repsol Honda Team
|Monster Energy Yamaha
|Team Suzuki Ecstar
|Red Bull KTM
|Aprilia Racing Team Gresini
|Petronas Yamaha SRT
|Reale Avintia Racing
|Red Bull KTM Tech 3
|Red Bull Ring
|Red Bull Ring
|San Marino GP