In The Paddock Column

Michael Scott | January 20, 2021

Cycle News In The Paddock


High Hopes, Guarded Expectations

The troubles of 2020 have been kicked out of the back door; the troubles of 2021 welcomed in the front. Will the coming year be payback for the privations of the last?

So everyone hopes, in a climate of uncertainty and discord. Meanwhile, MotoGP is preparing for, at the very least, a difficult start to the new season.

Already, the first round of scheduled testing at Sepang in late February has been canceled after a state of emergency was declared in Malaysia in response to a Covid surge. Two extra days and another for “shake-down” have been added to the March Qatar tests. Dare one say this is more in hope than experience.

FIM EWC 8 Hours of Sepang Preview
The preseason test of the 2021 MotoGP season that was scheduled for February 19-21 at Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia is canceled. The Qatar Test is remains on the schedule, set to take place at Losail International Circuit March 10-12.

Last November’s very provisional calendar repeated the record 20 races proposed last year. But at this stage the proposed kickoff at the end of March is looking shaky, while one would be wise to hold off booking flights for the early April long-hauls to the USA and Argentina.

The “to be decided” mid-summer round 11 meant for Brno has since fallen through—promoters unable to finance the complete resurfacing required. Goodbye Czech Republic GP.

July’s new Finnish round is subject to homologation of the Kymiring; likewise, one of the three reserve circuits—Indonesia’s Mandalika street circuit (something of a misnomer), still under construction. Another, Russia’s Igora Drive is an unknown quantity, but the third—Portugal’s Algarve International Circuit—would be warmly welcomed after a brilliant first GP there closed 2020.

Well, to be fair, series rights-holders Dorna did emphasize at the time that the calendar was most definitely provisional.

The 2020 privations were not as bad as they might have been, thanks to some fancy footwork, several repeated races on consecutive weekends, and the capacity and willingness of Dorna (amongst others) to take a financial body blow. The original worldwide 20-round premier-class calendar shrank back to 14, all in Europe, but there was a worthwhile championship ultimately lacking only in one aspect—spectators. The TV show made up for it.

MotoGP was not the only motorsport to show resilience and adaptability in 2020, but it was a leader, and there should be enough remaining buoyancy to keep the boat afloat for at least the first half of the year. So there remains the prospect of a resumption of the close racing and championship of last year.

Shortened season notwithstanding, 2020 equaled a record nine different race winners, the title in the balance until the penultimate race.

Can the coming season be as close?

Probably. The answer depends largely on Marc Marquez.

There’s no doubt the Repsol Honda rider’s absence last year enlivened the prospects of every other rider and contributed to a feast of close racing.

But there are doubts for this year, triggered by the length of his absence and fueled by an absence of clear information through a series of mumbled postponements. It was only after the final race that the extent of his medical problems was revealed—a third surgery (an eight-hour marathon with a third titanium plate and a bone graft) to try to get his snapped right humerus to unite.

The notorious non-union humerus fracture is a troublesome injury, and while one expected the level of medical intervention available to Marc to yield better results, not so far. Six weeks after that third surgery he was still taking antibiotics to control the infection that has caused the delay.

Qatar’s opener is scheduled for four months after his third surgery. He may be close to full strength by then, but after missing a full season, he will surely be race-rusty.

He faces a fully refreshed gang of younger riders. At 28 for the first race, Marc is hardly ancient. Rossi, after all, will be 42. But only five others are older than Honda’s prospective returnee, and none by much.

By contrast, new champion Joan Mir will be but 23 and a well-rounded package on his Suzuki; and last year’s failed favorite Fabio Quartararo just 21. The Frenchman made mistakes in 2020, but still won three races, equaling his Yamaha satellite teammate Franco Morbidelli, and exceeded by nobody.

Morbidelli (26) is among the older challengers for 2021, the same age as Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales, KTM’s two-race winner Miguel Oliveira and new Ducati team leader Jack Miller. Alex Rins (Suzuki) will be 25, rising Italian Ducati rider Pecco Bagnaia 24.

Age is only incidental, in the end. Talent and determination are what count. And having a motorcycle with a wide enough range of expression to allow you to exploit them. Though with development frozen since the start of last season, there won’t be too much change there. Which is good, for some of them.

Spectators or not, truncated calendar or not, the prospects for 2021 are alluring. CN


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Michael Scott | MotoGP Editor Scott has been covering MotoGP since long before it was MotoGP. Remember two-strokes? Scott does. He’s also a best-selling author of biographies on the lives of legendary racers such as Wayne Rainey and Barry Sheene.