By: Myanna Wedes

The 2021 MotoGP season is in full swing with testing completed at Qatar, vaccinations for Covid-19 taking place courtesy of the Qatar Government and round one imminent! The Qatar test has been very important for the riders, in particular those who have joined as rookies like Jorge Martin, Luca Marini and those who have moved teams including Jack Miller, Valentino Rossi, Pecco Bagnaia, Pol Espargaro, Fabio Quartararo, Alex Marquez and Johann Zarco just to name a few. The off-season did test a few riders with limited flight patterns, rocky weather and the pandemic still underway even with vaccination programmes taking place across the globe.

So who are the top riders to be watching in 2021 you ask? Well that depends upon how you view the testing program and changes to the sport both from a physical/mental perspective and new innovative tech with upgrades to the bodywork of certain machines including Ducati and Suzuki, whilst Honda may be worried with the high crash rate experienced at Qatar with Takaaki Nakagami, Pol Espargaro and Alex Marquez all hitting the tarmac though Marquez going a step further to suffer a small metatarsal fracture in his foot. Right now, we feel the ones who are going to step up to the plate are as follows:

1. Jack Miller.
2. Alex Rins.
3. Franco Morbidelli.
4. Fabio Quartararo.
5. Marc Marquez – subject to his injury update.
6. Joan Mir.
7. Maverick Vinales – subject to his mindset.
8. Valentino Rossi – dependent on his adaption to a new Yamaha team.

Last year was a rollercoaster ride with injuries, a very intense schedule and the pandemic unfolding. This year, similar elements remain though with a hunger to chase victory considering the success achieved by Team Suzuki Ecstar in 2020. It appears with positive signs that Marc Marquez may be back for the first round to race. We have to wait and see after a testing session in Barcelona took place. The decision to race will be one of “has there been enough time to heal” or “should we wait and then be ready for a second or third race with a chance to still win a Championship after injury”

Let’s turn to the outlines of progress as a result of the test with a brief rundown on select teams and their riders feelings in anticipation of the first race.


It is a very exciting debut this season with the Petronas Yamaha SRT riders, a double duo from Italy and funnily enough the master/apprentice partnered together. No doubt, the bike livery is one of the coolest on the grid especially with the Rossi colour scheme. We are definitely excited to see Rossi and Morbidelli race against one another and see how they work together as a team unit to chase down fellow rivals Quartararo and Vinales even though they are under the same Yamaha manufacturer umbrella. Rossi tested over four days different chassis options, a new cowling whilst Morbidelli worked to reacquaint himself with a machine he has been on for just over three years. Morbidelli is certainly ready to conquer the missed opportunities experienced in 2020 as he came so close to a World Championship.

PETRONAS Yamaha SRT (Franco Morbidelli)

Franco Morbidelli:

“I feel like this test was really good for us; we’ve been able to try a lot of things and we’ve been quite quick as well, which is good. I’m happy with the work we’ve done and feel ready for the first race weekend. It’s a pity we couldn’t complete a long run to have more data today. Of course, there are always things that can be improved or updated, but we’re in a good place. It’s difficult to say what will happen in FP1 at the Qatar GP, because this track can become quite windy and dusty, like we saw today. We have tried many settings so that we can be ready to react according to the track conditions that we face. The aim will of course be to fight for the top positions, but we will need to see where everyone is at the first GP.”

PETRONAS Yamaha SRT (Valentino Rossi)

Valentino Rossi:

“Today was a shame because we still had some evaluations outstanding. In particular I wanted to do a race simulation, but the conditions prevented this with a lot of wind and sand. Fortunately the forecast predicted this so we were able to do the important things yesterday. After the four days of running, the balance is good and I was quite strong yesterday. There are a lot of riders on different bikes that are strong, but we’re definitely in the pack with them and our race pace looks to be good. We improved day by day, there is a really good atmosphere in the team, and I feel like we are ready for the start of the season.”

Ducati Lenovo Team:

The arrival of Australian rider Jack Miller to the factory leading Ducati team brings excitement to our faces! It is going to be a thrill to watch him work under the same factory brand that Casey Stoner achieved glory with and still stands as a hero within the brand today. The test at Qatar for Miller was sensational and a clear view of what he can bring to the race circuit in 2021. Miller even managed to improve the current track record which was held by Marc Marquez since 2019 and by 197 thousandths which showcases the maturity improvements in his riding ability on board a premium machine. The selection process for which direction the team goes in for this year is vital at this point of testing and Ducati feel as though they have made a very good step forward with thanks to their riders. A new fairing was tested with both riders showcasing a strong mental attitude towards the new bike. These are two vital ingredients working for the red beast with plenty of rivals looking to chase them down on the straights. In the combined standings Miller is at the top amongst the best, so Australian fans be ready for a season to enjoy and one where the riders will be pushed to their limits with tyre selections, race pace and remaining fit throughout the MotoGP Bubble.

Ducati Corse Press (Jack Miller)

Jack Miller:

“I’m delighted with these two test sessions in Qatar. The team has done an outstanding job during these five days, and now I feel ready to face the first two Grands Prix of the year at this track. Yesterday’s race simulation went well, and we were also able to get positive feedback from the different tests we did on the bike. My feeling with the front end is excellent, and it allows me to get the most out of the track. Our speed isn’t bad either. I’m excited and can’t wait to get back to racing”.

Ducati Corse Press (Pecco Bagnaia)

Pecco Bagnaia:

“I’m sure that in these days we did a great job. Right from the start, I had a good feeling with the bike, and I feel I’m ready for our first Grand Prix of the season. Unfortunately, the heat and the strong wind, and the sand on the circuit, didn’t allow us to take to the track today, but fortunately, we could finish our programme yesterday. Now we have to be concentrated on the race weekend. In yesterday’s simulation, I had a good pace, and I feel I can still improve my time attack: it will be important to do so to get the start from the first two rows of the grid for the race”.

The sister team Pramac Racing has an experienced rider on board and a newbie, that certainly felt the ferocity of a MotoGP bike with the speed and of course the handling of a Ducati. Zarco wanted the full time Ducati role and has succeeded in achieving this, although he will need to bring home the results early as Pramac usually have a younger squad by trade. Martin is talented and will need time, so it will be interesting to see him transition whilst Luca Marini and fellow Italian Enea Bastianini, works on the Avintia Ducati as rookies. The horizons look bright for both riders, though the class of MotoGP 2021 super competitive!

Pramac Racing Team:

Pramac Racing MotoGP (Johann Zarco)

Johann Zarco:

“We were planning to do a long run at the end of the day to gather more information about how the bike might behave in race conditions but there was more work to do than expected. It was a very exciting day, I did 71 laps, we worked on many aspects to improve the feeling and control even more. I am sure that if we continue to work like this we will be able to take great satisfaction.”

Jorge Martin:

“Today we tried the time attack and a long run for the first time, I am very satisfied, both for the time I managed to set and for the way we are working. It was a very productive day that helped me to understand a lot of things, and above all I can see that we are taking big steps forward day after day and this helps me to have more and more confidence.”

Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team (Maverick Vinales)

Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP:

The expectations for this duo to perform are extremely high! With Quartararo replacing Rossi and Vinales a seasoned Yamaha rider, it is now or never for these two young guns. With that said, we know from past experiences that Vinales is a rider whose mentality needs to be in form and Quartararo’s emotions in check. As the Qatar testing unfolded, we watched and saw glimpses of positive energy from both sides of the garage, which was nice to see after a very tormenting 2020 season. Quartararo will be focusing energy on his adaptation to the new machine, tyre wear and confidence whilst Vinales looks to set up a good rhythm, understanding the feeling of the tyre with a full tank of fuel, behaviour of the bike and starting strong from lights out.

Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team (Maverick Vinales)

Maverick Vinales:

“After this test my feelings are very positive. We are calm. We understand the situation, we know which direction we need to follow, and we have been working very hard on being as fast as we can, especially at the beginning of the race. The behaviour of the bike is nice, it’s handling well. This is important with a full fuel tank. Right now, we are on a good level. We got done what I wanted to accomplish during this test. I feel ready for the start of the season.”

Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team (Fabio Quartararo)

Fabio Quartararo:

“Honestly, despite not being able to really ride today, I’m feeling optimistic. I finished the test in a good way. I’m really satisfied with my pace and I feel ready for the race. Of course, the conditions might be different then, but I feel happy so far. I wanted to ride today, just to go over some details. There was nothing important to try, but I wanted to do a race simulation. Still, I’m happy with the job we have done so far, because we did everything that we needed to do.”

CormacGP & LCR Honda IDEMITSU MotoGP (Takaaki Nakagami) 

LCR Honda:

When it comes to the bikes for 2021, it will be very important to understand how the chassis, set ups and tyres work for each different manufacturer. We noticed in testing that Nakagami struggled at times with front end tyre confidence and this certainly pushed him to find ways to improve when testing schedules are so tight as a result of travel restrictions. The qualifying lap is an area where the Japanese rider will need to step up and really learn as it is a weakness that he must overcome in order to start further up the field. It will be the stepping stone he requires in order to fight for the front positions. With the younger Marquez, his main area to improve in is the time attack sessions. His ability to conduct a full race simulation is positive, though fast laps and consistency are going to be a challenge since changing from a Repsol Honda to an LCR Honda.

Team Suzuki Ecstar (Team)

Team Suzuki Ecstar:

When you jump further over to the grid, we noticed Team Suzuki Ecstar taking a very different approach with their team and riders staying longer in Qatar than others who left and are returning. The team has decided to remain in Qatar for a five week period which is certainly challenging on an emotional scale with lack of contact and support from their families, friends and loved ones. The dedication to the job is incredible from the reigning World Champions.

Team Suzuki Ecstar (Joan Mir)

Joan Mir:

“I decided to remain in Qatar as an act of responsibility, in regard to the risk of infection while travelling, for both ourselves and others. I want to protect myself and my loved ones, but also my team who is making efforts to start the season in the best way. I would not feel at ease being at home with my friends and family knowing that my crew and the whole team is in Qatar with limitations and sacrifice. And besides, we are lucky because we are staying in a very nice hotel and being treated very well.”

The Qatar ‘bubble system’ states that the team is not allowed to exit the hotel for anything except going to the circuit. Dining and activities must be done in special designated areas of the hotel where the public does not have access, so that team members are at the lowest risk of contracting the virus.

So when you put this all into perspective, it is a credit to the sport for making the events happen and allowing the teams to race whilst spectators enjoy live action from the comfort of their homes, on the go via smartphone devices or certain locations televising the race. Mir will be feeling the pressure of having to back up his title with the departure of Davide Brivio to Formula One and a reshuffle within the team to charge for success again this year. The team tested numerous parts brought with them from Japan, comparing options and making decisions on their 2021 package. The feelings with the bike need to be like glue for the riders, therefore we are intrigued and watching closely to see how the Suzuki machine performs this season with targets on their back as current World Champions.

Joan Mir:

“It was a shame we couldn’t ride today because we still had some things to try and we were saving some tyres to use on this final day. I would have liked to work a bit more but it simply wasn’t possible due to the sand storm. Despite losing track time today, it has been a great test and I’m really happy. There are still some areas to improve, but even if we’re not the strongest that we can be, we are strong. We’ll work in the next couple of weeks and come out ready for the first race.”

Team Suzuki Ecstar (Alex Rins)

Alex Rins:

“The test was quite good, we tried many things and I’m super happy with all the hard work the team has done. They brought a lot of pieces and items to Qatar and it was really helpful to compare everything, we found what worked well and what wasn’t so good. I feel really prepared for the race in a few weeks and I’m excited to jump on the bike.”

Repsol Honda:

The Honda team are eagerly waiting the return of Marc Marquez whilst working closely to enable Pol Espargaro to transition from a KTM to a Honda in the most efficient time manner possible. The Spanish rider does have a reputation for adapting to various machines, performing and enjoying the bike he rides. Some may doubt his ability, others are sure he will do fine and then others will sit on the fence waiting to see how it plays out especially if Marquez is back for round one or two. Espargaro feels as though the Honda suits his natural riding style which is a major bonus for his mindset in such a dramatic change leaving KTM.

CormacGP & Respol Honda MotoGP Team (Pol Espargaro)

Pol Espargaro:

“Anyway, with just four days of testing we have done very well. I feel quite prepared for the first race and to do this in such a short time against riders who have been on their bikes a long time, it’s a release. I have adapted to the Honda well; I want to thank all the Repsol Honda Team for their work over these days. The team has been great, and we have made the most of the testing time we are given. Now we see what the season will bring.”

After 8 months away from the race track, Marquez used a mini-bike close to his home in Cervera and then completed a day of riding at the Montmelo circuit on the RC213V-S to understand his physical condition. A decision will be made and we are eager to find out if he will be running to the start line for the first event in Qatar. In comparison, it is KTM that looks worried about their race pace and condition as the test was not so kind to the Austrian manufacturer. As a result of the 2020 success, KTM have lost their concessions which means their focus will be on electronics and further refinement of the motor that has been frozen for development in 2021 as per the Championship guidelines. It was Dani Pedrosa putting in the mileage to ensure the Qatar test saw many parts and tech tested including their aerodynamics and upgrades to the WP Suspension systems. Optimism is a nice thing to have although results will speak loudly.

KTM Images-Polarity Photo (Miguel Oliveira)

Miguel Oliveira:

“I have to say that I’m honestly very happy to work with such a professional group of people. There was a transition for me from Tech3 to Red Bull KTM Factory Racing and there were more people filling more roles and that makes you feel appreciated as a rider. I put in maximum effort to do a good job and test all the things we needed and get good laps. I would have liked to have gone a bit faster by using the last day but, overall, I am very optimistic and hopeful for the racing weekends ahead. Let’s go racing.”

KTM Images-Polarity Photo (Brad Binder)

Brad Binder:

“It was quite a tricky test for us. It started well but then I had a couple of small crashes and that interfered with our plan quite a bit. By the fourth day I was feeling a lot more comfortable again and riding bike like I want. It would have been nice to have had one more day but we’ll come back here in a week or so with a couple of things still to try and, from which, I’m sure we’ll up-our-game once more.”

KTM Images-Polarity Photo (Danilo Petrucci)

Danilo Petrucci:

“I’m pleased with the progress throughout our four days here at the Losail International Circuit. Unfortunately, we couldn’t use this final day. Anyway, we have some clear ideas about what we need. I’m also very happy about the work with the team and the environment. Of course, we still need to improve, because our goal is to fight at the top. For the race weekend, we will start from zero, so I’m optimistic to begin this new adventure.”

Iker Lecuona:

“Overall, I learned a lot during these four days of testing. I improved a lot, although my lap time is not the best yet. Today I wanted to try to do a long run and a time attack, which was unfortunately impossible due to the weather. For sure, there’s a lot of work left for us. During the Grand Prix weekend, we need to check several things but I feel that we can improve already on Friday in order to be closer to the top ten during the first race.”

As we watch the riders prepare, there is also some exciting news that Andrea Dovizioso will be together with Aprilia Racing as a test rider for a particular number of days in Jerez.

Andrea Dovizioso:

“I was pleased by Aprilia’s interest and when we spoke about the possibility of doing this test, I gladly accepted the invitation to be able to ride a MotoGP bike again and to stay in form, giving the engineers my feedback. I wish to thank Aprilia Racing for this opportunity.”

This is will just be a trial period with no formal future commitments locked in. We are super excited to witness the unfolding of the 2021 season with the night race in Qatar, a very nice way to start the season!

About The Author

Myanna has an incredible grasp and knowledge of the sport in detail and continues to secure lead stories every week. She is in constant contact with team and rider media management. She is an admitted lawyer with two degrees and is currently writing a biography on Alan Jones MBE 1980 F1 World Champion. She is a fond lover of two wheel motorsport, predominantly MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3.