With the 2019 MotoGP season predicted to trigger a year of changes in a frantic rider market, it is also likely to become a pivotal campaign for some the sport’s biggest names.

From veterans targeting elusive world titles to experienced riders facing a fork in their career paths, results will be vital in persuading team bosses or the riders themselves to stick or twist when it comes to future contracts and arrangements.

Valentino Rossi

The biggest of all is arguably the oldest member of the MotoGP grid in Valentino Rossi, with Marc Marquez assumingly set to stay at Repsol Honda, meaning the Italian’s next steps will create a major impact for many others.

The 41-year-old has already made it clear he wants to assess both Yamaha’s and his own competitiveness over the opening rounds of the 2020 MotoGP season before making a firm call on his future as he hunts that tenth world title which evaded his grasp in the last decade.

For starters Rossi will need to find almost instant improvements in results after failing to reach the podium in any of the last 16 races in 2019 while his win drought stretches back to the 2017 Assen round.

A trio of early rounds, Qatar, Argentina and the United States, have frequently been happy hunting grounds for Rossi with a combined total of 12 podiums across the three rounds since he returned to Yamaha in 2013 – including wins in 2015 at Losail and Termas de Rio Hondo.

A true measure of Rossi’s gains in 2019 will be better measured at tracks like Jerez, Le Mans and Mugello which before Yamaha’s recent dip in performance were considered strong tracks for the Italian rider equipped with the M1. The Thailand round’s move to the beginning of the year can also be added to this list with Rossi finishing in fourth place (2017) and eighth place (2018) respectively at the opening two editions of the race having been beaten by fellow Yamaha riders on both occasions.

With the run of races culminating at Rossi’s home round it takes him to the end of May when the calls about his future will become deafening.

Rossi has also hinted at the prospect of stepping back to the satellite Petronas Yamaha SRT squad, confident the team has equal machinery and potential to the factory effort, which would come as a surprise move but might ease headaches when piecing together Yamaha’s 2021 line-ups.

Danilo Petrucci

Danilo Petrucci probably had the most confusing 2019 of any rider on the MotoGP grid following his purple patch of results between Le Mans and Catalunya – a pair of podiums either side of a maiden premier class victory which triggered emotional scenes at Mugello – that led to his contract extension for 2020.

But after the summer break Petrucci’s performances nosedived as he failed to finish inside the top five at any race across the second half of the year. That slump saw the Italian tumble from a top-three contender in the championship to sixth place in the final standings as he finished 93 points behind Ducati team-mate Andrea Dovizioso.

If Petrucci repeats that trend this season he’s unlikely to keep hold of his factory Ducati place given the alternative options already open to the Bologna factory within its current ranks – not to mention the rider market possibilities with Ducati possessing the deepest pockets on the grid.

Petrucci was given a vote of confidence from sporting director Paulo Ciabatti, often considered the kiss of death in other sports, and the 29-year-old will know better than anyone how hard he’ll have to fight to keep his place at Ducati’s top table.

A friendly and mutually beneficial partnership with Dovizioso is likely to work in his favour, especially given the inharmonious situation Ducati experienced with Jorge Lorenzo alongside Dovizioso previously, but the Italian manufacturer will put results above all other considerations as it targets world titles.

Johann Zarco

Life moves fast in MotoGP as in the space of 18 months Johann Zarco went from the hottest property to almost out of a job. Tech3’s star on Yamaha machinery couldn’t adapt at KTM and despite an amicable early split, leading to Zarco gaining a stand-in opportunity at LCR Honda, the French rider’s future looked uncertain until he was handed a Ducati deal at the Avintia squad and at the expense of Karel Abraham.

Zarco’s quality racing a motorcycle remains unquestioned but there will be keen interest to see how he adjusts to the Ducati GP19, a year-old bike in 2020, given how tricky he found life on KTM’s RC16.

If he fails to find the sweet spot across the 2020 season and struggles again, his options elsewhere look limited while he’ll also become an unattractive prospect given his difficulties in switching MotoGP manufacturers. Bridges are unlikely to be crossed again for KTM and Ducati while options elsewhere could quickly dry up.

Sam Lowes

As a former MotoGP rider with Aprilia back in 2017, a return to the premier class remains to be seen but Sam Lowes’s immediate future will be locking down his place on the Moto2 grid as a title contender.

The British rider has secured a dream move to Marc VDS, multiple and defending world champions in Moto2, and with Alex Marquez gaining an 11th-hour promotion to MotoGP with Repsol Honda, Lowes has become de facto team leader with youngster Augusto Fernandez filling in for Marquez at the team.

Consequently, a title attack will be expected from the 29-year-old as he begins his sixth season in the intermediate class with the tools available to him to achieve it.

What will also play to Lowes’s favour is the need for fast British riders on the grid, a keen request from championship organisers Dorna, and with only Cal Crutchlow in MotoGP, Jake Dixon alongside Lowes in Moto2 and John McPhee in Moto3, British talent in the paddock remains in short supply.

But that won’t come as comfort to Lowes who will be aiming to fulfil his potential this season having notched up three wins, 11 podiums and eight pole positions across his career in Moto2.

 

Comments

Loading Comments...