We may have to wait a little longer than we’d like for the 2021 MotoGP World Championship season to kick off following the cancellation of traditional pre-season testing in Malaysia, but that simply whets our apetite more in the wake of a classic 2020 campaign.
With so many race victors and podium winners, there weren’t many - or really ‘any’ - obvious weak links in the 2020 MotoGP field, but that’s not to say there aren’t riders heading into 2021 with something a little more to prove than their peers.
So here are 5 riders that will be working particularly hard to ensure they complete 2021 stronger than they perhaps start it…
MotoGP’s perennial enigma, if it was frustrating watching Maverick Vinales at times in 2020 (and 2019 and 2018…) then you could tell the weight of almost inexplicably inconsistent form felt heavy on Maverick Vinales’ shoulders too.
Vinales’ wildly varying form wasn’t just consigned to different race weekends; it would occur day-to-day with superb qualifying efforts followed by anonymous race performances. Three pole positions meant he was second only to Fabio Quartararo in terms of qualifying results but one top six result in the final half of the year spoke volumes.
Much will depend on the improvements Yamaha bring to the table, but while Vinales should always be a title contender, you’d hesitate putting money on him.
Moreover,.with Quartararo now joining him in blue for 2021, he now has a bigger job on his hands this year to keep his #1 status in the team.
Pecco Bagnaia comes into the 2021 MotoGP season with a huge opportunity after being promoted to the factory Ducati squad alongside Jack Miller, but still with a lot to prove in what will be his third season in the top flight.
The 2018 Moto2 champion may not have been Ducati’s first choice per se for a factory seat but a fresh, young line-up might be just what the doctor - or Gigi Dall’Igna - ordered when it comes to taking the team to the next level.
However, Bagnaia needs a good year after allowing his flashes of fine form at Misano disappear into either anonymous showings or, worse, DNFs. While his starring role at Misano, during which he should have won a race, was well timed to effectively assure him of the factory seat, five DNFs in the final eight races matched a disappointing formbook from 2019 when he was considered quick but error-prone.
With a revitalised Johann Zarco and young Jorge Martin also waiting in the wings, Bagnaia cannot afford to get it wrong for a third campaign.
Valentino Rossi heads into 2021 perhaps with more to prove for himself than for anyone else as he ponders whether this will be the final year of his glittering and lengthy career. Many think his mind is already made up but a strong start to the year could convince Rossi to consider taking up the loose option on 2022 if he can make his new ‘underdog’ role at Petronas SRT Yamaha work for him.
Even if this is the ‘farewell tour’ then Rossi stands to have a lot of fun in 2021 with fresh motivation to get one over Maverick Vinales, Fabio Quartararo and - if health and form allow it - maybe even Marc Marquez.
Plus he gets to do it alongside the most successful of his proteges in Franco Morbidelli in what will surely be the most harmonised team atmosphere in the paddock. In short, don’t expect any walls to be erected there any time soon.
Aleix Espargaro says he cried when he first tested the latest generation Aprilia RS-GP around this time last year… but a few months on those tears had most certainly dried as he continued to trundle around in the mid-field on a bike that is still just an arm’s length from the best.
With Aprilia’s form being exposed further by KTM’s step up in performance, the winter freeze on regulations means it will be difficult for Espargaro to make obvious in-roads but as one of the hardest working riders on the grid, one feels that by now he is the only person capable of wrestling the RS-GP into loftier positions.
In just two races Alex Marquez transformed his reputation to be seen as more than simply ‘Marc’s brother’ but it is this year he’ll need to demonstrate against factors that could either work against him or really elevate his career.
Demoted from Repsol to LCR to make way for Pol Espargaro, while Marquez won’t be on a worse bike per se, he has slipped down the Honda hierarchy even before you consider he has gone from a de facto lead rider to become team-mate of actual 2020 team leader Takaaki Nakagami.
While his showings at Le Mans and Aragon were mightily impressive, Alex is still playing some catch up overall and will need to prove he can be quick everywhere, especially in qualifying.
Moreover, we will presumably see Marc back on the grid in 2020 which could motivate him just as much as cast him into the shadows a touch.
That said, if he does come out fighting against all of these factors then Marquez will assure his place on the MotoGP grid for years to come.
Naturally, every rider will have something to prove in 2021, from top to bottom.
- Joan Mir will attempt to demonstrate his title win wasn’t a fluke and that he can make the Suzuki work over a single lap to qualify better
- Fabio Quartararo will look to become a more rounded rider having taken over Valentino Rossi’s seat having suffered most from Yamaha’s declining form over the second half of the 2020 season
- Danilo Petrucci’s results faded at Ducati and he comes into a KTM squad on the up, giving him the chance to prove doubters wrong
- Brad Binder showed he can win in MotoGP but now must prove he can make the step to consistent front runner as he attempts to stamp his mark on team leader status at KTM against the ascending Miguel Oliveira