The VROOM Blog, 2021 Season Review – The end of an era, and the rise of a new Champion
Now that the dust has settled on another great year of MotoGP, I thought I would take a look back on the 2021 season. It’s a season that has given us the highest of highs as we celebrated new race winners and 3 brand new world champions.
Unfortunately, 2021 was also a season that has reminded us of the dangers of our beloved sport and given us the lowest of the lows, with the deaths of 3 young riders marring what has otherwise been a very enjoyable season.
After the 2020 season was a condensed one with many back-to-back races at the same circuits to accommodate the various challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, 2021 was a move towards a more normal season. We still missed rounds in Thailand, Australia, Malaysia and Japan, and we did visit some circuits more than once, but we saw returns to Qatar, Mugello, Sachsenring, Assen, Silverstone and COTA.
The 2021 season began back in March with a double header under the lights in Qatar, and the riders in the first press conference of the season were asked for their predictions of who would win the Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP championships this year. The riders present (Rossi, Pol Espargaro, Aleix Espargaro, Quartararo, Mir and Miller) gave a range of answers, with many predicting Joan Mir would retain his crown, but it was Jack Miller who got two out of three correct! He picked two Ajo riders – Pedro Acosta and Remy Gardner – who of course went on to win their respective championships. Miller did say that he had spoken with Aki Ajo (who is Jack’s personal manager) and he believed that Acosta would be strong this season, but I bet he wasn’t expecting some of the performances he put in!
Joan Mir spoke very frankly about his job this season – sure it was “a dream to achieve the championship” but this was a new season and everyone would be starting again from zero, and he would do all he could to retain the title.
On track, it didn’t take long to record the first MotoGP crasher of 2021, with Johann Zarco crashing within the first 5 minutes of FP1. Qualifying saw Joan Mir and Taka Nakagami having to make their way through Q1 in order to secure a place in Q2, but it was Pecco Bagnaia who scorched to his first premier class pole position with a new al-time lap record. He was joined on the front row by Fabio Quartararo and Maverick Viñales, with Valentino Rossi just behind in 4th.
Before any racing got underway, the paddock gathered together in pitlane to honour the late Fausto Gresini following his death in January. The bikes of Aleix Espargaro, Nicolo Bulega and Gabriel Rodrigo were displayed outside the Gresini garage as the paddock observed a minute of silence followed by a round of applause. Gresini Moto2 rider Fabio Di Giannantonio went on to finish on the podium in a fitting tribute to the late Italian.
As the MotoGP race got underway, Pecco Bagnaia made the most of his pole position and led into the first corner, while brilliant starts from fellow Ducati riders Miller, Zarco and Martin made it a Ducati lock out of the top 4 positions. Danilo Petrucci’s first outing on the KTM ended in the gravel at turn 1 – hardly the start he would have wanted for his career at KTM.
While Pecco may have led the race for the first 14 laps, it was Maverick Viñales who went on to win the first race of the season, having overtaken Pecco on lap 15 and not looked back. Top Gun was joined on the podium by Zarco and Bagnaia, with Mir in 4th ahead of Quartararo, Rins and Aleix Espargaro. The top ten was rounded out by Pol Espargaro, Miller and Bastianini.
Maverick’s win was the 9th of his MotoGP career, and he would certainly have been looking forward to a strong season on board the Yamaha. Another Yamaha rider though was not so happy with his race result – Franky Morbidelli finished outside of the points in 18th, and he was unusually outspoken after the race saying that there had been a problem with the bike on the grid and that he hoped that Yamaha would take the issues seriously and work to resolve them even though he felt he wasn’t high on the Yamaha priority list. Strong words from the man who finished second in the world last year and yet still finds himself on a two-year-old bike!
We didn’t have long to wait for the second round, as the Doha GP followed hot on the heels of the opening round. Franky Morbidelli was asked about the comments he had made the week before, and whether the issues had been resolved and he doubled down. Franky explained that he knows he is “just a satellite rider” and that Yamaha has 3 factory riders to look after before him, but he also knows what side his bread is buttered and so he thanked Yamaha for their support.
Friday’s FP1 and FP2 sessions proved crucial in terms of progression to Q2 as a mini sand storm blew sand all over the track basically making FP3 a write off – Miller, Zarco, Marini and Martin didn’t even venture out on track such were the conditions.
Qualifying was dramatic – there was a rookie on pole, and Valentino Rossi scored his worst ever qualifying result in 25 years of GP racing with 21st on the grid. Jorge Martin became the 7th different rider to take pole in the last 7 races, and with team mate Zarco in 2nd place they became the first pair to record a Ducati 1-2 in qualifying since the Aragon GP in 2018 when Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso took 1st and 2nd on the grid.
As the racing got underway for the second successive Sunday in Losail, it was once again a Ducati that led into turn 1, although this week it was the turn of Jorge Martin. Team mate Zarco was close behind in 2nd, but it was Miguel Oliveira who had made the best start and was somehow 3rd into turn 1 from 12th on the grid!
As the race progressed, Fabio Quartararo was making his way forward – he was 4th by lap 15 and in 2nd by lap 18. He set his sights on race leader Jorge Martin, and passed him for the lead before taking off and making sure that the race win was his. Fabio was joined on the podium by Johann Zarco and Jorge Martin.
Jorge Martin became only the 3rd rookie to score a MotoGP podium on a Ducati. The other two were Troy Bayliss and Rueben Xaus in 2003 and 2004 respectively.
The race was a record breaking one too. Miguel Oliveira finished in 15th place, just 8.928 seconds behind winner Quartararo, which is the closest top 15 of all time in a full-length premier class race. Quartararo and Zarco also secured the first ever French 1-2 finish in the premier class – and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the pair of them belt out La Marseillaise together on the podium! Fabio even stated “singing the French anthem with Zarco today was the best moment I ever had.”
Following the back-to-back rounds in Qatar, the MotoGP paddock headed to Europe for only their second ever race in Portimão. This weekend saw the much-anticipated return of Marc Marquez, and there were many questions surrounding his return, and even more predictions as to how this weekend – and the rest of the season – would go for him.
In between the Doha GP and this one, Dovizioso had been testing for Aprilia and of course this drove the rumour mill into overdrive – would we see Dovi back in MotoGP action this season? As it turned out, yes – just not on the Aprilia – but we’ll get to that later…
There were fitness tests for Jack Miller and Iker Lecuona at the beginning of the weekend as both had had arm-pump surgery in the two-week break. Both were passed fit to ride.
All eyes were understandably on Marc Marquez for a lot of the weekend, and he finished FP1 in a solid 3rd place and with a big smile on his face.
FP3 saw a massive crash for Jorge Martin. The rookie – fresh from his maiden pole and podium in Qatar – was knocked unconscious in a huge crash. The red flag was brought out and thankfully it was soon confirmed that Martin was conscious and on his way to the circuit medical centre. Martin was later transferred to Faro Hospital before heading to Barcelona to undergo surgery on arm and ankle injuries.
Marc Marquez wasted no time in getting back into playing mind games with his competitors, and in Q1 he followed Joan Mir in order to set a fast enough time to reach Q2 on his return to action. There was drama still to come in Q2, as Pecco Bagnaia looked to have secured pole with a new lap record only to have his lap cancelled as he passed a yellow flag on his fast lap. Pecco said that he didn’t see the flag, and he was supported in this by other riders, but rules are rules and safety must come first, even if that means you start from 11th instead of 1st.
Pecco’s lost lap meant that it would be Fabio Quartararo who would start from pole – could he secure back-to-back wins? Yes, he could! Fabio took the win 4 seconds ahead of Pecco and Mir, with Franky Morbidelli just behind in 4th place. Marc Marquez crossed the line in 7th place – not bad for someone who had been out for 9 months with a serious injury!
Fabio’s win meant that Yamaha had won the first 3 races of the season – a feat not achieved since 2010 when Rossi’s Qatar win was followed by wins for Jorge Lorenzo in Jerez and Le Mans.
Next up was Jerez, and we headed there with Fabio Quartararo leading the championship for the first time this year. We saw the return to the paddock of Tito Rabat, who was filling in at Pramac Ducati for the injured Jorge Martin, and Stefan Bradl who was back for an HRC wildcard ride.
The Jerez round saw confirmation from Valentino Rossi that he would have a team on the MotoGP grid for 2022 – the team will take the place of the Esponsorama team – but there was no information regarding which manufacturer VR46 would team up with.
On track, there was pit box drama for Franky Morbidelli who was informed just before FP4 that his best lap time had been cancelled and that he would have to face Q1 – having been expecting to head straight to Q2, the team didn’t have a tyre ready. In spite of this, Franky was able to make it through Q1 and into Q2, and he was joined by Brad Binder.
Q2 was topped by Fabio Quartararo, and he was to be joined on the front row by Franky Morbidelli and Jack Miller. The race was one that saw crashes for several riders, including two for Brad Binder, and was not an enjoyable race for championship leader Fabio Quartararo. Having started from pole, Fabio found himself dropping down the order from mid-race onwards, and it was revealed after the race that he had been struck by the dreaded arm-pump.
Fabio skipped the post-race test and headed straight home for surgery, which was successful and would allow a return to action at the next round – his home race at Le Mans.
It was Jack Miller though who was the star of Jerez, taking his 2nd MotoGP win and his first with Ducati. The whole paddock seemed to be happy for Jack, and he was greeted and cheered by several teams as he made his way back down pit lane. It had been 82 races since his last win at Assen in 2016, and only 3 riders have waited longer to win again – Andrea Dovizioso waited 130 races, Alex Barros waited 94 races, and Phil Read had 90 races between wins!
Team mate Bagnaia finished in 2nd place and took over the lead of the championship, while Franky Morbidelli completed the podium in 3rd place.
Le Mans was next, and as usual the French GP delivered a memorable weekend with the first flag-to-flag race since Brno 2017. By my count, there were 12 riders on the grid who had never competed in a flag-to-flag race! FP3 saw a strange incident in pit lane for Franky Morbidelli who appeared to fall over as he was practicing jumping from bike to bike – it turned out that he had injured his knee in training and he had landed funny during the bike change.
Fabio Quartararo claimed another pole position, this time ahead of team mate Maverick Viñales to secure Yamaha’s first 1-2 start since Mugello 2017 when Maverick and Rossi qualified 1-2 on the grid. The race itself started on a dry track, but the dark clouds were looming and as Maverick Viñales was leading on lap 3, the rain flags started to be shown around the circuit.
Jack Miller took the lead a lap later and the white flags were waved, meaning that riders were now able to change their bikes. Jack and Fabio had a cracking battle for the lead and just as Fabio took hold of the lead of the race, the heavens opened and he was forced to pit for a bike change.
Pit lane was chaotic during the bike changes, and race leader Quartararo pulled into the wrong slot! He pulled in front of Maverick’s team and had to run around them to find his own bike! Pitting early though was clearly the right choice as poor Joan Mir didn’t make it round to the pit lane to change bikes before his slick tyres were no good in the rain and he crashed out of the race.
Marc Marquez – the master of the quick bike change – was first back out of pit lane on his second bike and found himself leading a MotoGP race for the first time since his return! Could he hold on and take the win? No, he crashed out of the lead! He did remount, but it was now Fabio Quartararo who was leading ahead of Jack Miller – who found himself having to complete a double long lap penalty for speeding in pit lane. They were all so stretched out at this point that Miller was able to complete the penalty laps without losing his 2nd place – he got his head down and caught and passed Fabio just as the Frenchman was handed a long lap penalty for his incorrect bike swap.
Jack Miller wheelied across the line to celebrate his second win on the bounce, and was joined on the podium by Zarco and Quartararo, who retook the lead of the championship by 1 point.
Following on from Le Mans, the MotoGP paddock returned to Mugello for the first time since Danilo Petrucci’s stunning win back in 2019, and while the racing may have been entertaining, it was hard to enjoy any of Sunday’s action following the accident that had occurred in Moto3 on Saturday.
Jason Dupasquier was involved in a multi-rider accident in Q2 and succumbed to his injuries on Sunday morning. The news was announced just as the Moto2 riders were lining up on the grid, and then the paddock gathered on the grid before the MotoGP race to pay tribute to the young Swiss rider.
There were tributes up and down the paddock to Jason, with many riders choosing to carry his number 50 with them on their bikes. MotoGP race winner Fabio Quartararo – who had a ‘Ja50n’ sticker on the top of his helmet – carried a Swiss flag onto the podium as he and fellow podium finishers Miguel Oliveira and Joan Mir paid tribute to Dupasquier.
After a devastating weekend in Mugello, it was time for the Catalan GP and it was revealed that Brad Binder had signed a deal with KTM to remain with the factory team until 2024, meaning that by the end of the contract he will have been with KTM for 10 years. Brad worked his way through the KTM GP Academy structure having progressed to Moto3 from the Red Bull Rookies, before making his way through Moto2 into MotoGP. KTM also announced that Moto2 championship leader Remy Gardner would step up to MotoGP with them next season – he would be taking one of the seats at Tech3.
It was a big week for contract news with Pramac Ducati also announcing that they will retain the services of both Johann Zarco and Jorge Martin for 2022. Martin returned from injury this weekend too.
Missing from action in Catalunya was Alex Rins who crashed his push bike into a Dorna vehicle while riding around the circuit on the Thursday and broke his wrist. Coming on the back of 4 DNFs, this wasn’t ideal for Rins – especially when it became known that the reason for the collision was that he was texting.
Fabio Quartararo qualified on pole position for the 5th consecutive race – becoming the first Yamaha rider to do so since Jorge Lorenzo in 2010 – and it was Miguel Oliveira won the race from Johann Zarco and Jack Miller, but this was a race that would be remembered for one thing – Fabio Quartararo’s open leathers. Miguel Oliveira was leading the race from Fabio, and it looked like something had flown off of Fabio’s bike. It turned out that it was actually Fabio’s chest protector – replays showed the Frenchman throwing it away, and that his leathers were wide open. I was certain he would be black flagged – for his own safety surely – but I was wrong, and thoroughly disappointed with race direction.
Fabio was handed a 3 second penalty for having taken a short cut, and then FOUR HOURS after the race had ended, he was given a further 3 second penalty for riding without his suit fastened meaning that although he crossed the line in 3rd, he was classified in 6th.
It’s been a few months now since that race, and I am still not over the fact that Fabio wasn’t black flagged. It’s not that I wanted to see him lose out on points, or that I was bothered that his open leathers broke a rule – its that I wanted him to be safe. I cannot comprehend how race direction watched him race around for 3 and a half laps with his bare chest (Fabio doesn’t wear a top under his leathers) on display – it simply doesn’t bear thinking about what injuries he might have suffered had he crashed. Thankfully, he didn’t and all was fine, but surely rider safety should be the ultimate priority of those in race direction?
The paddock had a weekend off before heading to Germany – another race that was missed in 2020. As you might imagine, a great deal of the focus heading into that weekend was on Marc Marquez – the ‘King of the Ring’ was undefeated at the Sachsenring for 10 years, converting pole positions to wins from 2010 right up to 2019 as he progressed from the 125cc class to Moto2 and then MotoGP. Could he keep hold of his crown?
Opinion was split – he wasn’t yet fully race fit, and he had crashed out of the last 3 races, but many believed he could do it – the left-handed nature of the circuit would surely make it easier than other tracks on his arm. I thought he might be able to score a podium, but I wasn’t sure a win was on the cards.
In the meantime, Gresini announced that for 2022 and 2023 they would be using Ducati machinery, and that their riders would be Enea Bastianini and Fabio Di Giannantonio – I don’t envy their press officer! It will be nice to see the pair reunited – they raced together at Gresini in Moto3 in 2016.
Alpinestars had made adjustments to all of their MotoGP suits following the incident with Fabio’s suit being open last time out. While they maintained that there didn’t appear to have been any malfunction or issue with Fabio’s suit, they worked to make the Velcro tab that secures the top of the zip bigger having used it as an opportunity to continue the development of their suits.
After a power cut to some of the garages delayed the start of qualifying, there were two impressive pole streaks on the line – Fabio Quartararo had been on pole for the last 5 races, and as mentioned earlier, Marc Marquez had secured pole for his last 10 German GPs. As it was, neither would increase their streaks thanks to Johann Zarco! Zarco would be joined on the front row of the grid by Fabio Quartararo and Aleix Espargaro. Espargaro’s front row is the first for Aprilia since Jeremy McWilliams was on pole at the Australian GP back in 2000.
I’ve never claimed to be Marc’s biggest fan, but I do respect his talent, and even those who claim to dislike him had to have been impressed with his race in Germany. He took the lead early on, and after a little challenge from Aleix Espargaro, he didn’t look back, eventually winning by 1.8 seconds over Miguel Oliveira and Fabio Quartararo.
Marc’s celebrations on his return to parc ferme were a joy to watch, and it was lovely to see his fellow competitors so happy for him too. He was visibly emotional as he declared this win as “one of the most important and hardest moments” of his career.
Following on from Marc’s 11th successive victory at the Sachsenring, the next round was at Assen – another circuit returning following an absence in 2020. In the final round before the summer break, we were treated to the glorious sight of MotoGP bikes roaring around the Assen circuit, but most of the drama this weekend was off track.
Franky Morbidelli missed this weekend as he required surgery following the aggravation of a knee injury during training – he had successful surgery and would be looking at around an 8-week recovery period. For this round, he was replaced by American World Superbike rider Garrett Gerloff. Gerloff gave a decent show of himself last season when he sat in for Valentino Rossi as he awaited PCR test results, but he didn’t get to race as Rossi returned in time for FP3 that weekend.
Talking of Rossi, he announced at Assen that his VR46 team would run Ducatis for the next 3 seasons.
Qualifying was drama filled, with people like Pecco Bagnaia, Jorge Martin, Johann Zarco and Marc Marquez all having to face the gauntlet of Q1. Marc crashed during the session and ended up recording his worst ever MotoGP qualifying result – he would be 20th on the grid. Q2 saw Maverick Viñales – who finished outside of the points in Germany – secure pole position with a new all-time lap record, ahead of Quartararo and Bagnaia.
I said that most of the drama that weekend was off track, and it all started on Saturday night with a tweet from Ricard Jové – Maverick’s former manager – stating that Maverick was set to break his contract with Yamaha and sign with Aprilia. Sunday morning saw polite refusals from Lin Jarvis (Yamaha) and Massimo Rivola (Aprilia) when Simon Crafar asked for interviews, while Yamaha’s Massimo Meregalli did speak to Suzi Perry and Neil Hodgson but declined to comment about the rumour.
Back on track, Fabio led the race early on and had a bit of a battle with Pecco before he was able to pull a bit of a gap at the front. Fabio held on to take his 4th win of the season ahead of team mate Viñales and Joan Mir. Marc Marquez recovered from his 20th place start to finish in 7th place.
Maverick was obviously asked about the Aprilia rumours in post race interviews and he told Natalie Quirk “this is not true, for sure.” Well, sure enough on Monday morning Yamaha released a statement saying that they would part ways with Maverick at the end of the season – a year before the end of his contract – by mutual consent, but at Maverick’s request.
Cue the rumour mill being cranked back up! There were all kinds of names being thrown around for the surprise free seat in the factory Yamaha team for 2022, but the one I wanted it to go to was Franky Morbidelli – I’d have to wait a few rounds and endure possibly the biggest mid-season game of musical chairs we’ve ever seen to find out if I was getting my wish though!
So, after all of that drama, Fabio Quartararo headed into the five-week summer break with a lead of 34 points over Johann Zarco – would he be able to keep hold of his lead?
Five weeks seemed like ages, but finally the summer break was over and we were back racing. The second half of the season kicked off with a double header at the Red Bull Ring, and the Styrian GP began with the paddock coming together to pay tribute to Hugo Millán. 14-year-old Hugo was having the most successful season of his career and was sitting second in the championship, having notched up two pole positions and four podiums already this season, before he lost his life following an accident in the European Talent Cup race at Aragon.
The paddock gathered in pit lane on Thursday afternoon for a minute of silence, and much like with Jason Dupasquier, there were tributes from many in the paddock for young Hugo, with Marcos Ramirez donning a replica of Hugo’s helmet design as the Aspar bikes carried his number 44. In Moto3, Pedro Acosta carried a tribute on his leathers as he won his 5th race of the season.
Also on Thursday, it was announced that before the usual pre-race press conference, there would be an ‘exceptional press conference’ for Valentino Rossi. Speculation was that he would announce his retirement, but there were also those who thought he might announce himself as a rider for his own team for 2022. Surely not? That team is meant for Academy riders, not the boss!
The Doctor took to the stage and did indeed announce that this would be his last season as a MotoGP rider. He explained that although it was a difficult decision, he felt the time was right. While it was news that many expected to come, it was still a bombshell of sorts – Valentino Rossi is an icon of MotoGP, and he is widely credited with having played a massive role in making the sport as popular as it now is. I’ll come back to that later…
This weekend we also heard that Raul Fernandez would be joining his Moto2 team mate Remy Gardner in the Tech3 MotoGP squad next year. While the news might not have been all that surprising, the timing of it certainly was – especially for current Tech3 riders Iker Lecuona and Danilo Petrucci who were out on track at the time! Iker was apparently in tears in his garage as he had it confirmed that he would be out of a job for next season, and team boss Herve Poncharal was not happy with the timing of the announcement, telling Michael Laverty that “it’s a bit of a shock, the timing is a bit strange, let me tell you.” Poncharal also said that he had hoped to be able to sit down with his current riders and explain the situation to them before the news was announced.
It was widely believed that the news was rushed out in a bid to stop other manufacturers (Yamaha, we’re looking at you!) trying to lure the young Spaniard away from the Austrian manufacturer.
Anyway, out on track Jorge Martin scored the second pole position of his rookie season, with Bagnaia and Quartararo joining him on the front row. As the race got underway, Pecco was able to take the race lead and was still leading as the red flag came out on lap 3.
Dani Pedrosa (remember him?) was back for a one-off wild card appearance this weekend and had crashed. While Dani was able to run off the track, his bike remained stranded and was struck by Lorenzo Savadori whose Aprilia promptly burst into flames. Savadori suffered a broken ankle in the crash, and it looked like we might be in for quite a wait as they cleared the track, but I was very impressed with how quickly they managed to get everything back up and running – there was only 35 minutes between the red flag coming out and pit lane opening for the restart.
There was restart drama for Viñales who stalled his bike on the grid and therefore had to start the race from pit lane. Jorge Martin made the most of his pole position on the second time of asking, and rode the perfect race to take his first premier class win in only his 6th race! Joan Mir and Fabio Quartararo were 2nd and 3rd, with Brad Binder finishing a stunning 4th having not been higher than 15th all weekend!
Jorge’s maiden victory was also the first victory for the Pramac team, and the first ever satellite Ducati win – not bad for a rookie…
A week later, we were still at the Red Bull Ring for the Austrian GP, and it was a belter! Maverick Viñales was absent this weekend having been suspended by Yamaha due to “the unexplained irregular operation of the motorcycle by the rider” during the Styrian GP. Very long story short, it seemed that Maverick had been abusing the rev limiter on the last few laps of the race, which he finished in the pit lane – and the on-board footage supported this. It looked like he was trying to destroy the engine of the Yamaha, which could not only have left him short of engines for the rest of the season, but could potentially have put himself and others in danger had the engine spewed oil onto the track.
Maverick wasn’t replaced for this round, and his garage was empty despite his presence at the track.
Back on track, Jorge Martin – on the back of his maiden victory – scorched to pole position ahead of Quartararo and Bagnaia. With the race declared dry, action got underway but they hadn’t even completed a lap before the white flags were brought out for the second time this season, signalling that they could change their bikes if necessary.
The race in all honesty wasn’t the most exciting, until around lap 20 (of 28) when rain started falling again as Marc Marquez challenged Pecco Bagnaia for the lead of the race. At the end of lap 23 Miller and Rins opted to change bikes while the leaders remained out on slicks, but lap times were dropping and things were looking sketchy! 2 laps later, Marc was leading and Fabio and Joan raised their arms to signal to their teams that they would be coming in for a bike change, and at the end of the lap 5 of the leading 6 riders pulled into the pits to change bikes.
Only one of the leading group remained on track – Brad Binder. Surely, he would have to pit soon? With two laps to go, Binder was leading from Aleix Espargaro and Valentino Rossi – could we possibly see The Doctor score that illusive 200th podium? No, but we dared to dream!
The race was wild, and as Binder somehow held on at the front, those on wets were beginning to get up to speed and make their way past those who remained on slicks. Binder ran out onto the green as he made his way around the last corner for the final time, but with a lead of 15 seconds, I don’t think he’d have been too worried about the time penalty for touching the green! Pecco Bagnaia had a stunner of a last lap to finish in 2nd place ahead of Jorge Martin.
Joan Mir was 4th, ahead of Luca Marini and Iker Lecuona who both recorded their best results to date.
I’m still not entirely sure how Brad managed to pull that one off, but what a cracking ride that was from the South African!
In a shock to absolutely no-one, it was confirmed that Maverick Viñales would be an Aprilia rider for 2022 on the Monday morning after the Austrian GP.
MotoGP returned the UK for the British GP – another race that was missing in 2020 – after a weekend off, and there was more Viñales / Yamaha news. Yamaha released Maverick from his contact with immediate effect – leaving him free to ride for Aprilia for the rest of the season should he want to.
This of course left a factory seat free for the rest of the season, and for Silverstone at least, Cal Crutchlow would fill it. Cal had been riding in Austria for the Petronas team in place of the recovering Franky Morbidelli, and was promoted to the factory team for his home GP. Jake Dixon was promoted from Moto2 to race on Franky’s bike for the weekend.
Lin Jarvis also granted my wish at Silverstone – I’m sure it wasn’t just me! – and confirmed that upon his return to action, Franky Morbidelli will be riding alongside Fabio Quartararo in the factory team! He said that the plan was to promote him for next season once it became clear that Maverick would be leaving, but they would take advantage of the remaining rounds to get Franky up to speed for 2022. Awesome.
Jarvis also confirmed that Andrea Dovizioso would take Franky’s place in the Petronas team for the rest of the season (from Misano onwards), and that he would stay for 2022.
Pol Espargaro claimed his first pole position for Honda, and he made a decent start to the race, leading Fabio and Pecco into the first corner. His lead didn’t last for long though, and it was Fabio Quartararo who took the win from Alex Rins. In 3rd place though, was Aleix Espargaro who scored Aprilia’s first ever podium in the MotoGP era, and only his 2nd podium in the premier class.
With Fabio winning on board his Yamaha from Rins (Suzuki), Espargaro (Aprilia), Miller (Ducati), Pol Espargaro (Honda) and Binder (KTM), there was history made at the British GP as this was the first time that there had been six different manufacturers in the top six of a premier class race since the Yugoslavian GP way back in 1972!
Next up was Aragon, and Maverick Viñales was in the headlines again – having completed a two-day test with Aprilia, it was announced that he would be riding alongside Espargaro for the remainder of the season, with Lorenzo Savadori being relegated back to his previous testing role. Much like Yamaha and Franky (once he returns from injury), this is a solid move from Aprilia as it gives Maverick extra time to get up to speed before the 2022 season.
With Franky still recovering, Crutchlow and Dixon remain on board Yamahas for the Aragon round.
Pecco Bagnaia set a new all-time lap record to claim Ducati’s 50th premier class pole position, and was joined on the front row by Jack Miller and Fabio Quartararo. Pecco grabbed the holeshot on Sunday afternoon, but he was closely followed by Marc Marquez, Jack Miller, Aleix Espargaro and Joan Mir. Championship leader Quartararo dropped to 6th off the line.
Pecco and Marc built up a decent lead over the others and then they treated us to a spectacular final few laps, exchanging positions back and forth, but Pecco held his nerve and took his maiden premier class win. Marc finished in 2nd place, and Joan Mir rounded out the podium.
Bagnaia’s win saw him become only the 6th rider to win in MotoGP having also won in both Moto2 and Moto3 – the others on the list are Alex Rins, Maverick Viñales, Brad Binder, Miguel Oliveira and Jorge Martin.
Despite finishing in 8th, Fabio held on to his championship lead as Pecco jumped back up to 2nd place ahead of Mir.
Misano was next, and Pecco would certainly be looking to score another win having crashed out of the lead here last season. This weekend saw the return of Franky Morbidelli, and he celebrated his promotion to the factory team and his home GP with a special edition ‘proud to be blue’ helmet. Though he wasn’t yet 100% fit, he and the team said that they were looking forward to adapting to working together.
There was big British MotoGP news in Misano as it was announced that Michael Laverty would be expanding his MLav Academy into the Moto3 paddock with the VisionTrack Honda team from 2022 onwards. The Academy already runs riders in the British Mini-Bike championship and has fielded some riders in the British Talent Cup, and the aim of the new team will be to bring British rookies into the MotoGP paddock – an opportunity that is often very hard to come by.
Laverty will be fielding Scott Ogden and Josh Whatley for 2022 – both of whom have raced in the CEV Repsol Moto3 Junior World Championship. Ogden has a race win under his belt in the class and finished 6th overall, while Whatley rounded out the season in 19th place. Obviously, it’s going to take time for Michael and the team to get everything up and running to a good level, but I’m looking forward to following the journey.
One of the highlights of any Italian GP is Valentino Rossi unveiling his helmet design, and this year he went with an evolution of the Viagra helmet he wore last year – a big pink bow to announce the impending birth of a daughter!
Pecco Bagnaia took another new all-time lap record to record another pole position from Jack Miller and Fabio Quartararo. Pecco also got another solid start to the race, and was able to take his second win in a row, with Fabio coming across the line in 2nd place ahead of rookie Enea Bastianini who had had a cracking race to score his first podium in the premier class.
Johann Zarco headed back to France before the next race in order to have arm-pump surgery, but was fit and ready to re-join the action as the paddock reconvened in Texas – another happy hunting ground for a certain Marc Marquez…
For the 3rd time in 5 months, the MotoGP paddock gathered together on the grid to pay tribute following the loss of a teenage racer. This time the minute of silence was in honour of Dean Berta Viñales. The 15-year-old cousin of Maverick lost his life following a multi-rider accident during the Supersport 300 race at the World Superbike round at Jerez. Dean had been on a good run of form having claimed 4th and 6th place finishes in recent races in what was his rookie season in the championship.
Maverick understandably sat out the Texas weekend, opting to remain at home with his family, and he was supported by Aprilia in doing so.
I think it was Jack Miller who best summed up the current situation regarding the tragedies in the smaller classes when he said that he was “sick and tired of going to minutes of silence for kids who are just so, so young. It’s not on, and it needs to change.”
He’s not wrong – something needed to change, and I said at the time that I didn’t know what the solution was but that having up to 40 young, relatively inexperienced riders on the grid wasn’t helping. There were changes announced later in the year that would see reduced grid numbers and higher age limits, which is a start, but I just don’t know if that’s enough. I really hope it is though, or that more changes are made.
There was a safety commission meeting on Friday evening, and it was busier than usual as riders complained about the state of the track – with some riders going so far as to say they wouldn’t return next season unless parts of the track were resurfaced to remove the bumps.
All eyes were on Marc Marquez ahead of qualifying – could he take an 8th successive COTA pole? Pecco thought not, and took it for himself! Marc would be on the front row though, having qualified in 3rd place behind Fabio Quartararo.
On Sunday, Marc Marquez meant business – he scorched into the lead off the line and he didn’t look back! He had such a lead by the end of the race that he was able to celebrate his 7th COTA win with a wheelie across the line ahead of Fabio and Pecco.
The paddock had a two week break before heading back to Misano, where Fabio Quartararo would have his first chance to seal the championship. Heading into the weekend, Fabio had a lead of 52 points on Pecco, and if he could leave Misano with a lead of 51 points or more, the title would be his…
It was confirmed at Misano after much speculation that the rider who would sit alongside Andrea Dovizioso next season would be Darryn Binder. I have complained a lot this season about the possibility of Darryn moving straight up to MotoGP, so I wont bang on too much, but I fail to see how people think this is a good idea. For me, he needs to spend some time in Moto2 – and he needs to calm down, he makes moves in Moto3 that he will absolutely not get away with in MotoGP and he’s a frequent flier in the stewards’ office as a result.
I’m sure he’s a nice guy, and there is no doubting he has talent, but I just don’t get it. I know it was a contractual clause that has seen the move happen, but it still doesn’t make sense. I will of course, be very happy to be proved wrong next year if he cleans up his act and rides well.
The second weekend in Misano was a busy one – there were tributes paid to Fausto Gresini and Marco Simoncelli, and Valentino Rossi and Danilo Petrucci were racing at home for the final time. In light of their final home races, Rossi and Petrucci both revealed one-off helmets – Rossi’s was a tribute to his fans, while Petrucci’s had a birthday cake design to celebrate his 31st birthday on race day.
Qualifying proved to be dramatic this weekend, with both championship contenders having to go through Q1 – Fabio so far was the only rider to have made it straight through to Q2 at every round this season, and for the first time in his MotoGP career, he wouldn’t feature in Q2 at all, and would start from 15th place! Not ideal for his first attempt at taking the title.
Pecco meanwhile, made it through to Q2 and took pole position on the first ever all Ducati front row ahead of Jack Miller and Luca Marini.
While I’m sure Valentino Rossi will have been disappointed to be starting his final home race from the back of the grid, I bet he loved the tribute that his VR46 team riders unveiled on race day. Moto2 riders Marco Bezzecchi and Celestino Vietti, along with Luca Marini raced on bikes that were perhaps the brightest yellow I have ever seen with a simple black tribute written on the side for their mentor – GRAZIE VALE!
As the race got underway, Pecco led Oliveira, Miller and Marquez into the first corner. Joan Mir wiped Danilo Petrucci out of the race early on, and while many a rider would have been upset at being taken out of their final home race on their birthday, Danilo simply gave Joan a hug and moved on. I’m really going to miss him.
Fabio Quartararo was making his way gradually through the pack, and with 5 laps remaining he was up to 5th place. Pecco though was still leading and if things stayed as they were, the championship fight would roll over to the next race. But then, the unthinkable happened, Pecco lost the front and crashed out of the race meaning that whatever happened now, Fabio would be world champion.
As delighted as I was for Fabio, I was gutted for Pecco – that’s not how anyone wanted the championship to be decided. In the end, it was Marc Marquez who won for the second race in a row, and he was joined on the podium by team mate Pol Espargaro and Enea Bastianini who pinched 3rd place from the new champion on the final lap.
There was so much going on after the flag that it was hard to know where to look! Marc and Pol were celebrating Repsol Honda’s first 1-2 finish since 2017, Valentino was being mobbed by his Academy riders before he launched his helmet into the crowd, and Fabio was celebrating becoming the first ever French MotoGP World Champion at 22 years of age. There was joy everywhere – except of course in the Ducati garage, but that didn’t stop Pecco Bagnaia, Jack Miller and the whole of the Ducati team from heading out into pit lane to welcome back the new Champion.
I don’t think there is anyone who would have had a bad word to say about Pecco had he elected to wait in his garage, but being the gentleman that he is, he stood tall in pit lane and gave Fabio a big hug and congratulated him on his championship. Have I mentioned that I love this current crop of decent young men racing in MotoGP?! Yeah, rivalries are fun, but I do love good sportsmanship too.
Fabio and his team took advantage of there not being a race the following weekend as they celebrated his win late into the night – quite right too!
The championship may have been decided, but there were still two rounds remaining and next up was a return to Portimão. On the back of two race wins, Marc Marquez would be sitting this round out following a crash in training that resulted in a ‘mild concussion’.
Pecco bounced back from his championship defeat with another pole position and another new all-time lap record. Miller was in 2nd place, while Joan Mir scored his first front row in qualifying since he moved up to MotoGP – he has started from the front row previously following a penalty for Zarco, but this was the first time he had qualified on the front row.
Before MotoGP got underway on Sunday – the Moto3 championship was decided, but not without controversy. I was going to say that I bet you couldn’t guess who caused the controversy, but there are that many ‘wrecking ball’ riders in Moto3 this season that you could probably guess wrong! Pedro Acosta had a healthy points lead over Dennis Foggia heading into the race, but Dennis led for much of the race as Pedro made his way through the pack.
Pedro got to the front and was leading the race when Darryn Binder wiped Dennis out of the race, and out of title contention. Granted Pedro was in the lead of the race at the time (and a race win regardless of where Dennis finished would have secured the title), but you just don’t know if Dennis would have been able to get back in front of him and take the title race to the final round.
Dennis was furious with Darryn, and when Darryn made his way to the Leopard garage to apologise straight after the race he was met with hostility. I don’t blame the team – that wasn’t the time to try and apologise, he should have let the dust settle a little.
Anyway, rookie Pedro Acosta was now the Moto3 World Champion, and what a season he had had – he notched up 6 wins including one from a pit lane start! A worthy champion indeed.
Back to MotoGP, and things were not looking quite so rosy for the new champion as he crashed out of the race to record his first DNF of the season, having been the only rider to have scored points in every race so far this year! Pecco meanwhile went on to record another win and to secure the Constructors World Championship for Ducati.
Suddenly, it was time for the final round of the season and the paddock headed to Valencia where inevitably most of the focus would be on Valentino Rossi as he raced for the final time in MotoGP after 26 seasons.
There were tributes to Valentino everywhere you looked – he was presented with a display of each of his championship winning bikes, from his 125 Aprilia to the Yamaha on board which he won his 9th and final championship in 2009. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him react to each machine as he pulled the cover off, and then sit on the bike and make engine noises – it was like watching a kid at Christmas.
Valentino’s weekend continued well, and he qualified straight through to Q2 for his final race, and would start from 10th on the grid, one place ahead of protégé Franky Morbidelli. Jorge Martin took the final pole position of the season ahead of Pecco Bagnaia and Jack Miller, while champion Quartararo would start from 8th.
The warm up sessions on Sunday morning revealed the fantastic tribute that the 9 VR46 Academy riders had chosen to pay to The Doctor on his last race weekend – they were each wearing their favourite helmet design from his 26 years in the MotoGP paddock.
There were some great choices from the riders, with Pecco Bagnaia going for Valentino’s 2004 championship winning celebration helmet, Franky Morbidelli – of course – selected the “peace and love” one from 1999 while Luca Marini chose his big brother’s “5 continents” design from 2008. In Moto2, Celestino Vietti wore Valentino’s 2005 winter test design, while Marco Bezzecchi and Stefano Manzi chose sun and moon designs from 2003 and 1996. In Moto3 we saw Andrea Migno wearing a 2001 replica, Alberto Surra donned the 2020 sun and moon design, and Niccolo Antonelli had chosen the 2005 Laguna Seca design.
I loved it – it was incredibly thoughtful, but also quite subtle and Valentino was said to have really liked it.
Before the spectacle of the last MotoGP race of the season, there was still the matter of the Moto2 title to be decided. Team mates Remy Gardner and Raul Fernandez were both still in the running, but it would be hard for Raul to beat Remy – even if Raul won the race, Remy could take the title as long as he didn’t finish below 13th place.
Raul did all he could – he won the race, but Remy held on for 10th and his first World Championship. As Raul broke Marc Marquez’ record of 7 wins in his rookie season in Moto2, Remy and his father Wayne became only the second father-son pairing to win World Championships after Kenny Roberts and Kenny Roberts Jr.
Thomas Lüthi was another rider who would be retiring at the end of the season and the 2005 125cc World Champion rounded out his impressive career with a 12th place – possibly not the result he’d have wanted but I did like that his final race result was the same as his race number…
As the MotoGP riders lined up on the grid the atmosphere was electric and emotional. Danilo Petrucci was in tears on the grid, having been moved by kind tributes from his team and those around him.
Jorge Martin took an early lead ahead of Miller, Mir and Bagnaia, but it was Bagnaia who would take the final win of the season. He crossed the line ahead of Jorge Martin and Jack Miller, with Joan Mir and Fabio Quartararo in 4th and 5th.
With Pecco, Jorge and Jack all on the podium, this was the first time ever that Ducati had locked out a premier class podium, and 2nd place was enough to see Jorge Martin secure the Rookie of the Year title. Pecco dedicated his 4th win of the season to Valentino Rossi for all that he has done for him and his fellow Academy riders – I said it at the time, but I think it was very fitting that it was an Academy rider that won that race.
Valentino finished his final race in 10th place, and the scenes at the end of the race were incredible – I have never seen anything like it, and I honestly don’t know if we ever will. Every rider that finished the race stopped on the cool down lap and waited for Valentino – once he arrived, they all applauded him and he made his way round them for hugs.
Fabio Quartararo and Aleix Espargaro completed their cool down laps carrying yellow 46 flags, and Suzuki – a manufacturer that Rossi never even raced for – greeted The Doctor on his return to pit lane with a banner thanking him.
For much of the second half of this season, a great deal of the focus has been on Valentino Rossi – every round was his final race in each country, in front of those fans, and so naturally he was talked about a lot. And really after all he has given to the sport, I don’t think there are many who would grudge him such love and attention.
Valentino Rossi began his GP career at the age of 17 in 1996, and was a world champion by 18 in 1997 on board a 125cc Aprilia, and is the only rider to have won GP races on 7 different motorcycles – 125cc and 250cc Aprilias, 500cc and 900cc Hondas, and 990cc, 800cc and 1000cc Yamahas. He is also the only rider to have won World Championships in four classes – 125, 250, 500 and MotoGP.
Talking of championships, after his first in 1997, he won his second in 1999 – still with Aprilia but this time on a 250cc machine. He moved to the premier class in 2000, and secured his first premier class title the following year with Honda. With a very impressive 11 wins from 16 races, Rossi ran away with the title that year – his closest rival Max Biaggi was a massive 106 points behind him by the end of the season!
2002 was another high scorer for the Italian – winning the championship by 140 points. In 2003 he collected another title with Honda before making a switch to Yamaha. The switch to Yamaha proved a successful one, and in 2004 Valentino became only the second rider to win back-to-back premier class titles on different makes of bike – Eddie Lawson had been the first to do it, with Yamaha in 1988 and Honda in 1989.
He won again with Yamaha in 2005, but his 5-year streak of championships was broken by Nicky Hayden in 2006. The championship had been close in the final rounds, and Nicky had been leading Valentino on points heading into the penultimate round but was wiped out by team mate Dani Pedrosa while Valentino went on to finish 2nd and take over the championship lead before the finale at Valencia.
All eyes were on the championship battle, and most expected Valentino to make it 6 in a row, but this is MotoGP and there were twists still to come! Nicky was battling at the front with the Ducatis of Bayliss and Capirossi while Valentino was making his way forward further back when he crashed. He was able to remount and finish the race, but he didn’t score enough points to keep the title out of Nicky’s hands.
Valentino shook it off though and was back on top two years later – taking the title in 2008 and 2009. Despite coming close on another couple of occasions, 2009 would be Valentino’s final championship win – it’s hard to believe that it has been a whole 12 years since he last won a title!
In 2011 he made the switch to Ducati, but after a difficult two seasons, he returned to Yamaha where he has remained for the last 7 seasons.
For those who are newer to MotoGP and haven’t really looked into the history of the sport, it may seem difficult to understand what all of the fuss about Rossi’s retirement is – especially if you look at his results over the last couple of seasons, but for many fans (and those within the sport), Valentino Rossi is widely accepted as the GOAT – the Greatest of All Time.
Valentino Rossi changed the face of MotoGP, and was largely responsible for bringing the sport ‘to the masses’ with his stunning performances and his exuberant celebrations. He is a household name – most people I know who don’t follow the sport would struggle to name a rider, but his would be the name they uttered if they managed any!
He said himself at his final press conference that the most positive thing in his career is that “a lot, a lot, a lot of people start to follow MotoGP (to) follow my career from the beginning, and the sport became bigger, became more famous in Italy, but all around the world. It’s good to understand that during my career I became something different, something like an icon, and this is a great, great pleasure. Also, for a rider it is always more important what has happened on the track, the result and everything, but I think this is the best thing of my career.”
I love that he knows what he has done for the sport, and that while he is aware of it and talks about it, he remains humble. It’s not just what he has done for the sport in the past either, it is the future that he is working to build – his VR46 Riders Academy has been a great success, and continues to go from strength to strength.
The Academy was set up in the wake of the loss of Marco Simoncelli – Valentino says that “Marco is the first rider of the Academy” because Marco had come to him and asked if they could train together. They did, and they became great friends, with Valentino saying that Marco’s death wasn’t just hard from a sporting perspective, but from a daily one as they had trained together almost every day.
Valentino set up the Academy with a view to helping Italian riders to “arrive at the top level” – Valentino’s 2009 championship win was the last to date for an Italian – and he says that while speed is important, they also look for riders with good attitudes.
Valentino explained that they “try to help the Academy guys grow up as a rider, but also as an athlete and a man”, and for me, I think that’s where he is absolutely on the right track with what he is doing. Yes, it’s important that they are fast and skilled riders, but a good attitude is essential too. They also spend time learning English where necessary, and learning about culture. It’s not all about the racing, as important as that is! And just look at the current crop of Academy riders – they are talented riders, and they are gentlemen, particularly Pecco and Franky.
I don’t think it will be too long before we see one of Rossi’s protégés taking the premier class title – Pecco was 2nd to Fabio this year, and only got stronger as the season progressed, while Franky was 2nd to Joan Mir last year and has a factory bike for next season.
So, while we have witnessed the end of an era – I’m of an age where I don’t know MotoGP without Valentino – I don’t think it’s something we need to be worried about in terms of racing and excitement. His legacy will live on for years to come, and not only through his Academy riders, but through most of the riders on the grid – you’d be hard pressed to find one of them that doesn’t have a photo of their younger self with their idol Valentino in his prime!
Next season is looking good already – Fabio will be looking to defend his crown, Joan will want it back too, and Pecco and Franky will be vying to become the first VR46 Academy premier class champion! There will some fast rookies alongside established names and a total of 24 riders on the grid, and I can’t wait for it to start!
There may have been a time when we might have worried about MotoGP without Rossi, but I think we’ll be just fine.