2020 – The Year Of The Satellite

Miguel Oliveira on the Tech3 KTM at Portimao 2020

The final podium of the Covid-19 compressed 2020 MotoGP season neatly encapsulated so many parts of this strange and fascinating year. On the top step stood Miguel Oliveira, his second victory in a breakthrough year for both him and KTM. Beside him stood Jack Miller, the Ducati rider taking his second podium in a row. And on the third step stood Franco Morbidelli, arguably the strongest rider of 2020, outperforming the 2020 Yamahas on a 2019 M1.

The podium was emblematic in another way, too. All three riders were racing for satellite teams: Oliveira for the Red Bull KTM Tech3 team, Miller for Pramac Ducati, and Morbidelli for the Petronas Yamaha SRT squad. Furthermore, Morbidelli's third place finish wrapped up second spot in the MotoGP team championship for Petronas Yamaha, behind the factory Suzuki Ecstar squad and ahead of the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team.

It was the first time since Qatar in 2004 that the podium had consisted solely of riders in satellite teams. The 2004 race was won by Sete Gibernau, who finished ahead of his Gresini Honda teammate Colin Edwards. Ruben Xaus was third across the line, nearly 24 seconds back, riding a D'Antin Ducati. Xaus finished ahead of the two factory Repsol Hondas, Alex Barros crossing the line 6 seconds before Nicky Hayden.

(Parenthetically, the Qatar 2004 race marked the high point of the feud between Valentino Rossi and Sete Gibernau, after Gibernau's Gresini team informed Race Direction that Rossi and Max Biaggi had been cleaning their grid spots on the sandy Losail International Circuit the evening after qualifying. After the race, Rossi vowed that Gibernau would never win another MotoGP race again. The curse worked: the Spaniard never finished better than second, retiring from MotoGP due to injury after the 2006 season, with only an abortive return for six races in 2009.)

Franco Morbidelli on the Petronas Yamaha at Aragon 2020

An all-satellite podium at Portimão reinforced just how strong satellite teams were in 2020. In 14 races, satellite riders finished on the podium 16 times, including 8 victories. That is a win rate for satellite teams of 57.1%, the highest rate in the MotoGP era (that is, starting in 2002 when four stroke machines started to replace the 500cc two strokes which had dominated the Grand Prix racing premier class since 1976).

The 2020 satellite podium rate of 38.1% has only been bettered twice before in the MotoGP era: in 2003, when satellite bikes took 43.8% of the available podium positions, and in 2004, when they took 56.3% of podiums, both from seasons of 16 races. In terms of raw numbers, too, only 2004 and 2003 were better for satellite teams, with satellite riders finishing on the podium 27 times in 2004, and 21 times in 2003. But in neither year did satellite riders take as many victories, 7 in 2004 and 6 in 2003 compared to 8 in 2020.

Before we put this into a wider historical perspective, we should really address the elephant in the room. One reason that there were so many podiums for satellite riders is because notorious podium hog Marc Márquez was absent all year. Through the 19 races of the 2019 season, Marc Márquez was on the podium in all but one race. Márquez finished either first or second everywhere except Austin, where he crashed out of the lead.

Marc Marquez at the Jerez MotoGP round in 2020

But even if we assume Márquez would have been able to repeat this incredible achievement in 2020, it would not have made that much difference to the number of podiums for satellite riders. If we gave Márquez a first or a second place for all 14 races, satellite riders only finished in third on three separate occasions this year – Johann Zarco at Brno, Jack Miller at Austria 1, and Franco Morbidelli at Portimão. So putting Marc Márquez on the podium in all of this year's races would still leave satellite riders with 13 podiums out of a possible total of 42, a podium rate of 31%. That is still the third highest podium rate for satellite riders in the MotoGP era, behind 2004 and 2003, though in raw numbers, it pushes 2020 down into fifth place, behind 2004 (27), 2003 (21), 2019 (15), and 2005 (14). All those season had far more races, however.

So how does 2020 compare to the rest of the MotoGP era? Here is an overview of podiums for satellite riders since the beginning of the MotoGP era in 2002:

Satellite podiums by year

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Seriously cool (and bloody impressive!) analysis here; thank you so much for taking the time to compile, sift, sort, sift again, look at sideways, rotate the page back, stretch it out a little, hold up to the light, toss around, and finally set in order.

This demands a second (probably a third if not fourth) reading.

Here's to a healthy and propserous 2021 to all.  And to Mr. Emmett et al at Motomatters, thank you.

Another one of 2020’s bizarre outcomes is the worst title defence ever, Nicky Hayden’s ill fated year on the newly released 800 is now elevated!

if you’d asked the bookies for odds on Marquez scoring nothing, a Suzuki taking the title, KTM winning multiple races and privateers taking more than 30% of the podiums, what an accumulator that would have been!😂😂😂

i guess that’s why they line up on Sunday!🤪

Happy new year & welcome back David. Thank you! at last something to read.

Other than old sf paperbacks with lurid cover art.

That save button has sunk to the bottom of the page, again, nevermind.

Great work.  Thank you.

I remember people saying that the very competetive Honda satelite bikes from 2004-2006 were part of Honda's strategy to beat Rossi, and it ended up working in 2006 with Melandri and Elias taking points off of Rossi at a bunch of rounds, most famously with Elias's victory at Estoril keeping Hayden within striking distance. 

Praise is deserved for Dorna staff back in 2014. That big (difficult and innovative) rulebook pivot has worked out great.

Finer note, Ducati had an initial benefit via electronics being based on theirs. But the new tires were a tricky adjustment. Then we see slumps for Honda and Yamaha. Big winner, KTM. Suzuki. Independent Teams. And FANS!


This is why I keep coming back for more from you. It's this finesse that makes the sport so enjoyable for me. I love that satellite teams can be competitive as it drives the standard of competition ever upward. This is great reading. Thank you