I was recently asked to list riders that could win races in the upcoming MotoGP season and soon found myself rhyming off more than half of the grid. Yes, Ducati appears to be in the best shape at the moment. But it doesn’t take a massive stretch of the imagination when making a case for 14 of the grid’s 24 names to at least challenge for the occasional victory this year.
It’s been this way in MotoGP for some time. And considering Marc Marquez’s recent struggles with injury and Valentino Rossi’s retirement, it’s tempting to wonder whether that dominance enjoyed first by those two names can ever be repeated. After all, Joan Mir won the 2020 title with a single race win. Fabio Quartararo did so last year courtesy of five victories – not exactly numbers to trouble Rossi during his peak (11 wins in each of his best three years in 2001, 2002 and 2005) or Marquez at his most dominant (13 wins in 2014).
Along with the emergence of a new MotoGP generation that includes Quartararo, Mir and current favourite for the 2022 crown, Francesco Bagnaia, another feature has stood out in recent MotoGP history: the closeness and unpredictability of it all. If you want tight racing, MotoGP is currently the place to get your motorsport fix: if we measure the gap from 1st to 15th at the chequered flag, the top 10 closest finishes in 72 years of premier class history have all come in the past four and a half seasons. And if it is surprises you are after, look no further: eight or more riders won races in three of the past six seasons, a feat that only happened once prior to 2016.
For this, series organiser Dorna must take credit. Its insistence that all bikes run the same electronics hardware and software from the beginning of 2016. Now Ducati and Suzuki are roughly in-line with Honda and Yamaha, which carved up and shared each and every one of the 89 grand prix wins between 2011-15. KTM has won five races in the past two years and even whipping-boy Aprilia got in on the act last year, with Aleix Espargaro scoring the factory’s first MotoGP podium in the four-stroke era at Silverstone.
Race winner Fabio Quartararo, Yamaha Factory Racing, second place Alex Rins, Team Suzuki MotoGP, third place Aleix Espargaro, Aprilia Racing Team Gresini
Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images
Thanks to the relative technical parity created by the rules, there are no longer any weak bikes on the grid. A total of 15 different names climbed the podium steps in both 2020 and 2021, variety not witnessed since the mid-70s. At last season’s British GP, all six current manufacturers were represented in the top six, a first since 1972. And looking ahead to the 2022 season, there is good reason to believe that all six manufacturers will at the very least challenge for a race win in the 21 races ahead.
So, is it now impossible for any given rider to dominate as competition is so close?
Well, a good deal of the recent variety among winners can be traced to one major factor: a series of career threatening injuries for top dog Marquez. Considering his form at the start of the delayed 2020 season, and that breathless recovery ride at the Spanish Grand Prix, could anyone really say with confidence that we would have had such an open title race had he not broken his upper right arm in that very race? The past two years have been slightly reminiscent of 1999 and 2000, when MotoGP was caught between the end of Mick Doohan’s era and the beginning of Rossi’s.
As to whether we will see the likes of a Rossi or Marquez again, it’s worth pondering the history of grand prix racing. Each decade has tended to produce a once-in-a-generation talent. Or even two. Geoff Duke and John Surtees were the men of the ’50s, Mike Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini of the ’60s. Kenny Roberts Snr was the man of the ’70s while Freddie Spencer and Eddie Lawson made the ’80s their own. Doohan destroyed everyone in the mid-’90s before Rossi did the same through most of the 2000s.
Yes, competition has been closer than ever in the past six seasons. But look at 2018 and ’19, and it’s clear an exceptional talent can still stamp their mark on proceedings and keep their opponents at arm’s length. See Marquez’s incredible haul of 12 wins in 2019 for evidence of that.
And while there appears little to choose between the talent and work ethic of the new generation that has lit up the class over the past two years – Quartararo, Bagnaia and Mir – perhaps we already witnessed the next big thing work wonders in Moto2 and Moto3, the feeder categories for the premier class, in 2021.
Take Raul Fernandez for instance. The Spaniard was something of a late bloomer, winning just twice in three years of Moto3 competition. But an exceptional rookie year in Moto2 in 2021, which saw him take eight wins and lose out on the championship by just four points, suggested he is destined for the very top in years to come. We’ll see just how good he is once he makes his MotoGP debut for Tech 3 KTM in March.
Raul Fernandez, KTM Tech3
Photo by: MotoGP
If we’re making comparisons to Rossi and Marquez, look no further than the cocksure teenager that wrapped up last year’s Moto3 World Championship. And did so at his first attempt. Yes, Pedro Acosta may just be 17 years old. But he has the confidence and assuredness you’d expect from the second youngest grand prix champion in history. Anyone that observed his staggering performance at last year’s Doha GP, when he won his first world championship race despite starting from pitlane, could see the similarities to Rossi and Marquez in their early years. Expect to see him in MotoGP in the coming years.
History suggests the best in class will always find ways to outrun their rivals. But such is the level of competition, even a rider of Marquez’s ability now struggles to dominate MotoGP in 2022 as he once did. And looking at young talent coming through – namely Fernandez and Acosta – to join the current cream of the crop and it’s hard to envision one name dominating affairs in years to come.
To get your MotoGP fix, and the chance to spot the next big thing in the Moto2 and 3 support categories, you can secure your seat at all of this season’s world championship fixtures thanks to Motorsporttickets.com. Visit motorsporttickets.com/en/motogp to see all of this year’s ticket packages.
Photo by: Dorna