Engines on in Qatar as we get ready for the first race of the 2021 season.
And what a season we look set to get! All 3 classes of the world stage in motorcycle racing boast talent like we’ve never seen. I know that every year we get articles stating the competitiveness of the grids, but 2021 truly is looking to be something special.
The following article is a rundown of all the track action we got on Friday 26th March, and as a disclaimer, I am no professional, nor can I claim any insider knowledge. I’m just a fan sharing my observations. So, on with the ‘show!’
The lightweight class are always fantastic entertainment value. 30 odd bikes, scrapping for every last inch of optimal racing line tarmac, tripping each other up and resulting in some frantic, terrifying, exhilarating races. Race winners in Moto3 are decided, partly from talent and skill, but mostly from lottery number randomness and a lot of luck. Even those who qualify at the back of the grid can end up on the podium!
This year is almost definitely going to produce more show-stopping races, but who will be the main protagonists? The top 5 contenders for last year’s championship all moved up into the intermediate class, leaving quite the vacuum at the top. So who will fill the shoes of the outgoing Moto3 champion, Albert Arenas?
I can only see the championship going down to either Jaume Masia or John McPhee. Both are riders who were ‘best of the rest’ that stayed in the lightweight category and they are both proven race winners, who have shown moments of exceptional brilliance and phenomenal speed. After seeing their performances in FP1 and FP2, I don’t think I’ll be changing my mind about that any time soon.
Jaume Masia particularly impressed, as he returns to a KTM chassis after a successful stint on the Leopard Honda machine, taking the chequered flag in P2 just +0.042 from the provisional pole time. Masia has a decent record, having taking 7 podiums, 3 of which were wins, and 2 pole positions during his 3 years in the lightweight championship. Masia is a genuine title hopeful from raw talent alone; however, his Achilles heel has been consistentcy. He’s shown an ability to carve his way through the Moto3 pack on numerous occasions, but if he can consistently qualify on the first two rows, I am certain he will menace the podium in every race.
John McPhee meanwhile is the oldest racer in the lightweight class. He showed consistent pace throughout the FP1 and FP2 sessions, ending the day 8th fastest, and +0.219 from provisional pole. McPhee has to perform this year, because if he can’t secure a Moto2 ride for 2022, he will no longer be part of the world championship, as you cannot be 27 at the start of a Moto3 season. McPhee has got an impressive record, with 3 race wins to his name, a further 11 podium finishes and 5 pole positions. However, much like Masia, his weakness is consistency, as he has a tendency to qualify poorly and thus get caught in other riders’ mistakes.
So, consistency is definitely the key for my championship favourites, but did any of the Moto3 field impress?
In a word: yes. With many of last year’s title contenders having moved up to Moto2, there’s a big opportunity this year for some of the field to take podiums and even wins. Going by FP1 and FP2 performances, I think a few riders have some real potential to net good results, even if I don’t ultimately see them as championship threats.
First up is Kaito Toba. 2019’s Qatar GP race winner has had a dismal run as of late, with more DNF’s than finishes, however he has moved (or rather been demoted) into the CIP Green Honda team, from the strict Honda Asia team, and the lessening of pressure seems to be doing him well, having run the best lap time of the first day. While this is undoubtedly more of a sign that this is a circuit he likes, I am hopeful that Toba can have a good year.
Secondly, Darryn Binder. ‘Divebomb’ Binder is always fantastic for entertainment value because of his purely aggressive riding style. He’s had a varied career thus far in Moto3, with poles, wins and podiums balanced out by some incredibly volatile ‘racing incidents’ and more than a few DNF’s. However, as he moves into the Petronas Honda team, alongside John McPhee, I do believe that the professional atmosphere of the team will smooth out some of those rough edges. Although divebombs are his signature move…
Moto 3 rookies
Finally, the rookies. A truly special crop of young riders have made their way onto the world stage this year and I think they’re all stars of the future. Izan Guevara, Pedro Acosta and Xavier Artigas have all excelled in their respective junior categories and I can see them all potentially getting a podium in their rookie year. Acosta was top of the times in FP1, Artigas has had a wildcard appearance in this class once before and managed to take a podium, and Guevara was top rookie during the testing, so keep an eye on those names – they’re ones you’re going to want to remember.
2021 Moto 2 Prediction
The intermediate class is truly a test of the best. The current ‘era’ for the Moto2 championship is the Triumph era, which means that all the bikes are fitted with exactly the same, Triumph 765cc engine, the only difference is chassis manufacturer… and rider skill.
With the Champion Enea Bastianini and Vice-Champion Luca Marini having moved up to MotoGP, as well as Jorge Martin, who is left to battle for the intermediate class crown?
Again, I can really only see 2 riders featuring in the title battle, and they are last year’s third and fourth place challengers: Sam Lowes and Marco Bezzechi.
Lowes and Bezzechi have seemingly got the edge on the rest of the field, with the two trading fastest laps throughout FP1 and FP2, with FP1 honours going to Bezzechi, but ultimately Lowes closing out the day as fastest overall. Both of them will want to right the wrongs of last year, where they so narrowly missed out on glory, and so I really can’t see anyone else being able to invite themselves into the title fight.
That’s not to say I haven’t been impressed.
Remy Gardner, who took his first ever victory in the Moto2 class at the final race of the season last year, has finally gotten a good ride, having been promoted into Jorge Martin’s vacant seat in the Red Bull KTM Ajo team. Gardner has been ‘best of the rest’ from Bezzechi and Lowes, and I imagine he will be a firm podium and even victory challenger.
I have to highly rate both Petronas riders as well, Xavi Vierge and Jake Dixon have been showing serious promise during testing, not to mention they’re both overdue a podium result. Vierge has taken a few pole positions in his time, but no podiums, and poor Jake Dixon crashed out while leading his first race in Le Mans last year, breaking the heart of many a British fan. With both on form I think they can break that podium duck, and hopefully it will be sooner rather than later.
Finally the rookies. I am very fond of every rookie who was elevated into Moto2 at the end of last year, and I can definitely envision Celestino Vietti and fan favourite Tony Arbolino in particular being future MotoGP stars. However, of all of them, there is one who I am eyeing up to take the Rookie of the Year title, and that is Raul Fernandez. Fernandez impressed in his 2 years in Moto3, taking multiple pole positions and even 2 race wins. He struggled in the lightweight class due to his naturally bulky stature, but this will only be a boon in the intermediate class, and I really think he’s got what it takes.
Moto GP 2021 the battle anybody could win
The premier class, the cream of the crop, the best in the world. I cannot remember a year where I have been more excited for MotoGP races. I have loved this sport for over a decade, and I truly don’t think I’ve ever seen such a talented grid before. Yes, of course I remember Stoner, Rossi in his prime, Simoncelli, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Dovi and Marc Marquez. But this year, I genuinely believe every single factory and every single rider is capable of winning a race, and that’s fascinating.
Last year was unprecedented. Suzuki winning the championship for the first time in 20 years, a satellite team taking the most wins of the season, 7 different race winners, of which 5 were first time winners. Truly it was mind-bogging. But this year, we go into the season knowing just how strong the whole field can be. Trying to pick the eventual world champion out of that… no way.
The Qatar track is of course the only one that any MotoGP rider has tested their machinery on ahead of the 2021 season, due to the Covid-19 restrictions, and unfortunately it’s a bit of a misleading one in terms of judging overall season performance.
So, speaking solely for the first race, who is looking sharp?
Well, unsurprisingly it’s Ducati. The Losail International Circuit has a massive long straight as you come onto the start/finish sector, and with the crazy high top speed of the Desmosedici, which broke through the MotoGP speed record twice on Friday, it truly isn’t a surprise that the top two at the end of the day was the factory duo of Jack Miller and Francesco ‘Pecco’ Bagnaia. Miller’s table topping time as only +0.007 from the all-time lap record; and considering that was unofficially bested during the test, it is assumed that Qualifying is going to be similarly blistering.
Surprisingly though, was the man in third, Fabio Quartararo on the factory Yamaha bike. It’s almost a recurring joke in MotoGP of just how much slower the Yamaha is compared to the other manufacturers. On the long straight in Losail, the M1 loses a good tenth of a second to the Desmosedici, however, Quartararo is nothing if not an impressive qualifier, and he somehow wrestled his bike to third in the standings. Of course, all of the Yamaha riders managed to secure themselves a place in the fastest 10, which provisionally qualifies them for the first 4 rows of the grid, but if they want to have any chance on Sunday, they will need to lock out the front row and make an excellent start, else they risk being swallowed by the sheer grunt of the Ducati’s power.
Current champions Suzuki suffered a bit of mixed fortunes, with Alex Rins managing an impressive 5th fastest time, the only other manufacturer of the top 5 to not be a Ducati, but world champion Joan Mir was left outside of the top 10. The Suzuki has proven itself to be the most successful bike on the grid in terms of racing. It keeps its tyres better than any other bike, it can corner almost better than a Yamaha, and they aren’t lacking for top speed any more either. However, their one weakness is a struggle to qualify well, with brand new tyres a thorn in the side of their attempts to score a good starting grid position. So while, the GSX-RR will probably be one of the strongest bikes throughout the race, will they be able to get near to the leaders at the start of the race?
Finally, I have to mention the Aprilia’s efforts, because they have genuinely been the biggest surprise on the opening day. Aprilia have never been a serious podium threat in their time in the top class. In memory they’ve rarely been a threat to the top 10.
Therefore, to see Aleix Espargaro wrestle the RS-GP into being 8th fastest overall is an incredible achievement. They have massively changed the bike, having been the only manufacturer allowed to make drastic changes due to their concessionary status, and it would seem that the changes are working. Thus far it appears that Aprilia have been ‘copying’ many a technique from the Ducati squad, so Losail being a Ducati friendly track could be a big part of Aprilia’s surprisingly good form. However, it is an excellent precursor to the season, and if all 6 manufacturers really are up to scratch, this could well be the most exciting season we’ve ever seen.
I would love to be able to give a prediction for the season, but it honestly seems futile. I truly doubt whether even the riders themselves have a good idea as to who could be the biggest threat, but I’ll tell you one thing: this is going to be a season like no other.
The first races of the season kick off on Sunday, and it’s going to be epic, but up next is qualifying. Who will take the first pole positions of the season?
This article was written by the fantastic Rebekah Lee, our resident Motorsport nut and MA Creative writing graduate. She’s been fascinated by all things motorsports since childhood – follow her on Twitter at @bekahjlee