Iker Lecuona

The 2022 MotoGP Silly Season Primer: Who Is Likely To Move Where Next Year?

It is the second week of January, and there as yet no substantial rumors of MotoGP rider contracts being signed. Compared to recent years, that is a bit of a late start to Silly Season, given that all but a handful of riders have their contracts up for renewal at the end of 2022.

In past years, January has been a hive of activity. In 2020, there were rumors over the new year period that Maverick Viñales was being courted by Ducati, with Yamaha forced to make an early announcement to keep the Spaniard in the Monster Energy factory team (and we all know how that turned out). A couple of weeks later, rumors followed that Ducati had signed Jorge Martin, and at the end of January, we learned that Fabio Quartararo had been signed to the factory Yamaha squad, displacing Valentino Rossi.

Two years earlier had seen a similar story, with Yamaha signing both Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi up in January, in time for the team launch. And to think, Valentino Rossi bemoaned Casey Stoner's move to Repsol Honda for the 2011 season as a decision taken early, when the deal was sealed after the Jerez round of MotoGP in early May, 2010.

By those standards, the current lack of movement on the contract front almost qualifies as tardiness. Riders are not jumping on contracts early, and factories are not pushing hard to sign riders before they get poached by someone else.

A different environment

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Algarve MotoGP Saturday Round Up – The Best Bike On The Grid, A Front Row Debut, And KTM Losing Lecuona

We like to talk about how the modern era of MotoGP is so diverse. Of how on any given Sunday, you are never quite sure who you are going to see on the podium. Sure, there have been two riders who have stood head and shoulders above the rest in the championship. But races have played out in myriad unexpected ways. A lot of things can happen. And surprisingly often, they do.

Yet Saturdays are surprisingly monotonous, at least in terms of qualifying. So far this year, two riders have taken 11 of the 17 poles handed out so far, with Fabio Quartararo taking 5 and Pecco Bagnaia now on 6. If it isn't one of the two men who fought for the 2021 MotoGP crown, it was either another Ducati, or in one case, another Yamaha. Jorge Martin has amassed 3 poles to his name, while Johann Zarco and Maverick Viñales have one each in 2021, on a Ducati and Yamaha respectively.

(Ironic, that Viñales should take pole on the weekend he informed Yamaha he would be leaving at the end of the year. Even more ironic that Viñales didn't even make it that far, getting himself fired after the first round in Austria.)

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Emilia-Romagna MotoGP Saturday Round Up: First vs Fifteenth, Getting Heat Into Tires, And Yellow Flag Rules

It has been (and probably will be) a very odd weekend. Normally, grand prix weekends have a narrative, a story that builds like a novel, or a compositional structure that grows and swells like a symphony or an opera. Each part leads to the next: test parts and setup in FP1, work on tires in FP2, chase a spot in Q2 in FP3, work on race pace and tire wear in FP4, go for grid positions during qualifying, all building toward the dramatic crescendo of the race. Race weekends tell a story, and like all good stories, they have an internal narrative logic.

Not Misano 2. This feels more like a series of one-act plays, with the same characters but a different storyline every day. Friday was mostly soaking wet, with riders looking at wet tires. Saturday was wet in the morning, and a drying track in the afternoon. Sunday will be dry, probably sunny, but very cold. Each day feels unconnected to the next.

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Aragon MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Real Marc Marquez, Perfect Pecco, The Mahindra Mob, And Fabio Saves His Bacon

In the week before the Aragon MotoGP round, I confidently predicted that Marc Marquez would win his second race of the season. The race proved me wrong: Pecco Bagnaia took a stunning victory at the Spanish track, Ducati's first since Casey Stoner in 2010. But the race also showed that the confidence I had in Marc Marquez was justified.

For 15 laps, Marquez sat patiently behind Bagnaia, as the pair set a pace which no one else could follow. Then, the Repsol Honda rider started to inch closer to the Italian, nipping at the heels of the Ducati, putting Bagnaia under more and more pressure. And with three laps to go, he unleashed an all out attack, diving under Bagnaia at Turn 5, Turn 1, Turn 15. Bagnaia countered perfectly each time, finally clinching the win when the Spaniard ran wide in a last, desperate attempt to get past at Turn 12.

Pecco Bagnaia won the Grand Prix of Aragon. But Marc Marquez didn't lose it. He was simply beaten by the better rider on the day.

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Silverstone MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Unfazed Fabio, Trouble With Tires, Close Races, Aprilia Joy, And Marquez' Madness

The question MotoGP fans and followers were asking themselves over the summer break was how much of his 34-point championship lead Fabio Quartararo would be able to hang on to after Ducati ruled two races in Austria and Suzuki hoovered up the points at Silverstone. The best the Monster Energy Yamaha rider could hope for was to claw back a few points at the British Grand Prix, and then hope to manage the points gap to the end of the season. The question in everyone's mind was how much of Quartararo's lead would remain, and whether his lead would even be in double figures.

It hasn't turned out that way. Quartararo finished third and seventh in the two races at the Red Bull Ring, and managed to extend his lead to 47 points by the time MotoGP left Austria. At Silverstone, the Frenchman dominated, adding another victory and stretching his lead to 65 points. With six races left in the 2021 MotoGP season (probably, Covid-19 permitting), the championship is Quartararo's to lose.

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2021 MotoGP Preview: How History Conspired To Create The Closest Grid Ever

Can the 2021 MotoGP season match the weirdness and wildness of 2020? The circumstances are different, but the path which led to Qatar 2021 has laid the groundwork for another fascinating year.

2021 sees two trends colliding to create (we hope) a perfect storm. There is the long-term strategy set out after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, with support and backing from the many bright minds in Dorna and IRTA. After Kawasaki officially withdrew at the end of 2008, and Honda came within a couple of board meetings of pulling out of MotoGP, Dorna threw their weight behind the teams.

With the grid dwindling (Suzuki pulled out at the end of 2011, after being down to a single rider), the MotoGP class was switched back to a maximum engine capacity of 1000cc, and four cylinders, while the CRT class was introduced as a second tier inside the premier class. Payments to teams were gradually increased, and over time, Dorna, with the backing of the teams, pushed through restrictions on electronics, introducing a spec ECU and then spec software to run it, and a price cap on satellite machines.

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