LCR Honda boss Lucio Cecchinello says Takaaki Nakagami’s primary target for the 2021 MotoGP World Championship will be to ‘better handle pressure’ after his emergence as a front runner in 2020 was blunted by costly errors towards the end of the year.

One of the more unexpected success stories of 2020, Nakagami emerged as Honda’s leading contender in the absence of the injured Marc Marquez, regularly proving more competitive than both his experienced LCR Honda team-mate Cal Crutchlow and Alex Marquez on the works RC213V.

His third season in MotoGP, Nakagami’s status was elevated further by the fact he would once again campaign a year-old Honda, albeit the one Marc Marquez took to a dominant 2019 title win.

2020 MotoGP Winners & Losers (Part.1)

2020 MotoGP Winners & Losers | Part 1 |

A campaign he would forge, initially at least, on the strength of consistency, a run of ten consecutive top ten finishes at one stage kept him inside the overall top five deep into the season, despite his best result being only a fourth place finish in Austria.

It was a step forward that Cecchinello was pleasantly surprised by, saying Nakagami exceeded his expectations considering his dated machinery and the relative struggles of his team-mates.

"I did expect an improvement from Taka this year because he had already shown in the previous season very good potential,” Cecchinello said. “Especially considering that in 2019 he was riding the 2018 bike, and it was not as competitive as the 2019 model. We clearly see that on the data and also around the track. 
“There were some key points to work on this year, and I did expect an improvement but no such a significant one, as displayed in the second part of the season when he showed to be one of the strongest MotoGP riders." 

Mirroring Marquez

Key to Nakagami’s upturn was his decision to revert to the settings used by Marquez a year earlier, the 28-year old going to the extent of changing his riding style to imitate that of the six-time MotoGP world champion. It is a dedication that impressed Cecchinello considering it’s a process that riders have often been reluctant to revert to.

"Taka improved in a couple of important aspects. At first, he understood that there is a new riding technique to be applied if you want to be fast on a MotoGP bike specially with the Honda. Basically, to start to incline the bike earlier while going into the corner and this allows the rider to use a bigger tire contact patch and therefore being more performing in the deceleration phase. 

“Another important step he made was increasing the maximum lean angle which allowed him to turn tighter and gain time.”

Missed opportunities

However, Nakagami’s 2020 MotoGP season would end on a sour note when his unblemished scoring record was ruined at Aragon (Teruel), a race he’d spectacularly qualified on pole position for - becoming the first Japanese to do so since Makoto Tamada in 2003 - only to crash just a few corners into the race.

Another fall while chasing down the leaders in Valencia also blotted his copybook and meant Nakagami concluded 2020 without the elusive podium result he has been striving for.

With Nakagami being upgraded to an on-spec Honda for 2021 alongside new team-mate Alex Marquez, Cecchinello says handling the pressure will be a key aspect of the improvements he needs to make next year.
“Regarding the improvements we have to make for next year, looking back on the missed opportunities of the 2020 season, I believe he needs to better manage the pressure. 

“He has already understood this and mentioned it in a couple of interviews. I am confident, this will come with time, with more experience."