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The 10 BEST Rides of a memorable 2021 MotoGP season

The 2021 MotoGP World Championship season delivered eight different race winners and 15 riders on the podium... but what were the year's standout rides?

2021 MotoGP season


That was the season that was… and what a season the 2021 MotoGP World Championship turned out to be.

Fabio Quartararo became the first Frenchman to win the MotoGP World Championship, Yamaha landed its first title since 2015, Ducati was emboldened by its youthful rider line-up, Marc Marquez showed glimmers of his most devastating form and the Spaniards didn’t dominate - for the first time since 2011!

Indeed, if the 2020 MotoGP title was largely determined on the strength of consistency over blistering pace, the 2021 MotoGP season saw the cream rise to the top while still remaining unpredictable throughout.

It led to eight different race winners and 15 of the 22 full-time riders stepping on the podium in 2021.

But which were the standout performances of the year? Before someone points out this should be a list of race winners since they were the best on the day, firstly are you fun at parties? Secondly, yes there are a few race winning performances here to give them their due but there were some truly brilliant rides elsewhere in the field in 2021 and just because they didn’t take home the biggest trophy, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve credit. So there.

Aleix Espargaro - Aprilia Racing Aprilia RS-GP

11 - Aleix Espargaro lands the elusive Aprilia podium

3rd - British MotoGP, Silverstone

OK, we lied, this is a list of 11, but Top 11 doesn’t look great in a headline so we’re freestyling a bit. Anyway, this was the year Aprilia FINALLY brought its ‘A game’ to MotoGP with Aleix Espargaro emerging as such a consistent front runner that it’s actually surprising he didn’t end the year with more than one podium.

A bike that went through such a period of lacklustre competitiveness that even two steps of improvement a year wasn’t enough to bridge the gap to the upper echelons, in 2021 the Aprilia RS-GP was finally a solid package in Espargaro’s hands.

A fifth season on the Aprilia made the RS-GP an extension of the Spaniard’s being and while it wasn’t terribly reliable, it’s worth noting that Espargaro was top ten in every race he finished (all but five grands prix)

The zenith came at Silverstone though when Espargaro fought tooth, nail, blood, sweat and tears on the final lap to resist Jack Miller in an effort that shows what you can do against a Ducati when you just want it more… The result was Aprilia’s first MotoGP podium in 21 years.

Marc Marquez - Repsol Honda 2021 MotoGP

10. Marc Marquez keeps it upright in first race for a year

7th - Portuguese MotoGP, Portimao

We point out here that Marc Marquez’s first MotoGP race for 265 days was notable because he stayed upright, and we really mean that.

After three-quarters of a year undergoing surgeries, recovering, suffering complications and getting back to fitness, the fact Marquez wasn’t ready for the start of the 2021 season having sat out 2020 raised a few concerns.

Moreover, he chose a circuit he didn’t even know for his big comeback. And yet, he steadily, steadily built up the momentum, bringing home a seventh place finish. Perhaps not something to shout in the context of Marquez but he was the top Honda and thankfully for his creaking muscles and bones he didn’t crash… which is more than could be said for the events that followed.

In fact, that seventh place finish would be his best finish until he won in Germany some five rounds later.

Miguel Oliveira - KTM

9. Miguel Oliveira upsets the formbook in Spain

1st - Catalunya MotoGP, Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya

It was a strange old season for Miguel Oliveira. Having swept to a pair of surprise wins - achieved in wholly different ways - in 2020, the stage was set for him to show what he was capable of in 2021.

Instead, we end the year with more questions about the Portuguese rider, who lurched from being the fastest rider in the world to you forgetting he was even present. A bad start to the year that left him with fewer points than Valentino Rossi was invigorated by a heavily revised KTM RC16 coming on board for Mugello.

Cue a run of two second place finishes and a win in Catalunya. The victory, it must be said, was as impressive as his Tech 3 success in Austria and Portimao the previous year. On a day most expected Quartararo to waltz away into the sunset with the winners’ trophy, Oliveira was comfortably resisting him even before the Frenchman suffered a wardrobe malfunction.

Alas, quiet predictions of a run at the title were blunted by a heavy crash in Austria that damaged his shoulder and his confidence thereafter. A crucial 2022 awaits the Portuguese rider.

Marc Marquez - Repsol Honda

8. Marc Marquez is a Perfect 10 at the Sachsenring

1st - German MotoGP, Sachsenring

If Marc Marquez was ever going to prove whether he could indeed get back to his best then it was always going to happen at the Sachsenring. His extraordinary affinity with the German venue over the years is beyond comparison, but his injury coupled with the Honda’s less than stellar form meant doubts lingered.

Fortunately, the unusual anti-clockwise direction suits Marquez’s uneven shoulder condition (it’s no coincidence his other best results were at Aragon and COTA) and the Honda stayed upright long enough to romp to a win that while familiar-looking, ranks as one of his very best.

Jorge Martin - Pramac Ducati, start

7. Jorge Martin makes his mark in Qatar

3rd - Losail MotoGP, Losail International Circuit

Jorge Martin is rated very highly in the upper echelons of MotoGP - which explains why he blagged his way onto a factory-spec Ducati for his rookie season - but it’s fair to say to the average MotoGP fan the Spaniard’s route to the premier class, while impressive, made you question why he was chosen over, say, Enea Bastianini.

However, we don’t get the benefit of data and once on the Ducati GP21, Martin proved why he absolutely deserves to be in the top flight. Though he still has a worrying tendency to DNF - something that is apparent during other seasons - at full flow Martin was one of the best in 2021.

Indeed, while a Ducati performing well in Qatar (and Austria, see below) is par for the course, the Spaniard had no business putting it on pole position in only his second outing. 

He wasn’t far off winning in Losail either, resisting Johann Zarco right up until the final moments, though of course they were both relieved of a chance at victory by the rampant late charge of Fabio Quartararo. 

While many assumed a fluke that sometimes comes in the early days of a season, Martin would go on to pop it on pole another three times in 2021, one of which…

Jorge Martin - Pramac Racing Ducati

6. Jorge Martin breaks his and Pramac Ducati’s duck in fine style 

1st - Styria MotoGP, Red Bull Ring

…brought him his spectacular maiden win in Austria (or rather, the Styrian MotoGP). 

Like we say, a Ducati performing well in Austria isn’t unusual, the top speed and sheer grunt to scale those hills between the last corner and turn three playing right into Ducati’s comfort zone.

And yet, there were five other Ducatis on the grid that weekend and only Martin was able to stream away from the field from pole position to do something the likes of Jack Miller, Pecco Bagnaia and countless more had failed to do in almost 20 years… give Pramac Racing its long (LONG) awaited first win.

Pecco Bagnaia - Ducati MotoGP 2021

5. Perfect Pecco in Portugal

1st - Algarve MotoGP, Portimao

You may not entirely remember Pecco Bagnaia’s win during the second of the year’s races in Portimao but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t very noteworthy.

In fact, Bagnaia’s performance was as ordinary as it was flawless. He took pole position, led from start to finish, won by 2.4secs and scored the fastest lap… bish bash bosh.

However, it was the only occasion in 2021 that a rider scored the full set of pole, fastest lap and victory, all without having to use the Ducati’s power advantage to slipstream anyone on the way. 

You can’t say fairer than that.

Fabio Quartararo - Yamaha MotoGP 2021.jpg

4. A champion’s ride from a champion-in-waiting

1st - Italian MotoGP, Mugello

We’ll get this one out of the way first. This is - controversially - the only entry from Fabio Quartararo in this Top 10 (+1). Quelle surprise!

And even we admit it’s perhaps a little bit harsh. But allow me to explain… each of his five wins are examples of a master at work, one that defies the Yamaha’s troubles when it gets bogged down in traffic and proves the Frenchman is immensely difficult to beat when he has nothing but clear track in front. 

In fact, his romps in Qatar, Assen, Silverstone and Portimao deserve to be here for quality, if not for their excitement. We even considered his ride up the order on his ‘VDay’ in Misano, but ruled it out because he lost the podium on the final lap.

However! His win in the Italian MotoGP at Mugello was something very special. Of all the tracks on the MotoGP calendar, Mugello is the one that best suits Quartararo but perhaps least suits the Yamaha M1.

A personal battle of man and machine, plus 21 other men and machines, Quartararo knew he had to get out front and really nail everything from Turn 1 to Turn 15 to stand a chance of being winning (translated: not being left choking on his rival’s dust down the long home straight).

He might have had a harder time had Bagnaia not thrown it into the kitty litter on Lap 2, but once in front Quartararo was away like a scolded cat, destroying the opposition, emphasising his deft skills and doing something no-one had done in the previous three years by winning in Ducati’s backyard.

Pecco Bagnaia, Marc Marquez

3. Bagnaia plays Marquez’s game and wins to bag first MotoGP win

1st - Aragon MotoGP, Motorland Aragon

Pecco Bagnaia’s maiden MotoGP win may have been a long time coming in the context of his burgeoning title aspirations but when he did break his duck, he skinned and feathered it too.

There was something almost depressingly familiar about the Aragon MotoGP. Bagnaia, still without a win with some questions about how he handles pressure hanging over his hand, and a wily fox in Marc Marquez, shadowing him.

It’s a tactic we’ve seen before from the Spaniard. He knows when he is quick and since he styles himself as more of a Rossi showman than a Stoner tearaway, you sensed he was toying with with a less experienced Bagnaia waiting to pounce, like a cat with a live mouse in its mouth.

Lo and behold, the attack came on the penultimate lap. And yet Bagnaia responded. More waves of attack came from Marquez, who was getting more and more ragged with each attempt under the realisation his possible showboating-turned-strike wasn’t quite having the desired effect.

Far from being oblivious to Marquez, Bagnaia knew exactly what to expect when the Spaniard’s so often tried and tested efforts came. Five times Marquez scythed past, but either he was too loose on the exit or Bagnaia coolly undercut him again.

Marquez conceded defeat, Bagnaia claimed the spoils for the first of four brilliant wins by the end of the year. For more reasons than one, this was the race Bagnaia came of age and everyone realised he was championship winning material.

Brad Binder - Red Bull KTM Factory

2. Forget his balls, Brad Binder is entirely made of steel

1st - Austrian MotoGP, Red Bull Ring

Much like his KTM team-mate Oliveira, there were times in 2021 when you often forgot Brad Binder was on the grid. This can be traced in part to a fairly atrocious qualifying record that saw him within the last five on the grid on seven occasions.

With that in mind, it’s actually rather remarkable that a rider who started a MotoGP race inside the top six just two times in 2021 went on to finish sixth overall. Consistency of finishing and scoring in all but one race helped his cause, but the final result did rather flatter to deceive.

That said… after blowing the world away with a remarkable win in only his third MotoGP start in 2020, Binder did it again in 2021 in Austria - albeit in very different circumstances.

When rain began falling with five laps of the race remaining, the lottery balls were scattered on the floor. Having already clawed back ground on the leading five just as things went from dicey to roulette, five dived for the pit-lane for treaded rubber - but Binder stayed out.

What followed was a remarkable example of deft bike control as Binder dodged the white lines, stayed as upright as possible (a task made all the more difficult by the Red Bull Ring’s banked downhill curves) and played a delicate tune on the throttle.

Rivals who had pitted prayed he’d fall (unharmed) and there were occasions when he nearly did as the back of the RC16 stepped out, spinning up to find nothing to grab traction on. 

Fortunately for him the Red Bull Ring is also a short circuit, so while those four laps probably felt like they could be measured by a calendar - his final lap was some 26secs slower than his fastest - he didn’t put a foot wrong in conditions that could have and did catch out the best (Marquez crashed soon after pitting for wet tyres).

While he would have been overtaken had the race lasted one corner more, his seven second gap was the largest winning margin of the year by far.

Enea Bastianini

1. Enea Bastianini defies the laws of probability and physics… twice

3rd (twice) - San Marino MotoGP, Emilia Romagna MotoGP

While you might baulk at the best ride of the season being awarded to a rider that finished third in said race(s), the reason Enea Bastianini is our winner here is because he did it twice at the same circuit…

Actually, there are several reasons why Bastianini’s performance deserves the credit it is getting here. First and foremost, he is a rookie and we’ve lauded Jorge Martin for this already. Secondly, he is riding a Ducati GP19, which is two years older than pretty much anything else on the grid. Thirdly, and no disrespect to Avintia Racing itself, he is competing for the team with by far the lowest budget on the grid to the extent it’s basically a Moto2 team.

Moreover, he produced these rides to the podium in a very remarkable way from a lowly grid position - 12th and 18th respectively. These starting positions weren’t unusual, Bastianini’s single-lap prowess leaving a lot to be desired.

However, especially in the second-half of the year when he hit his stride, there were few races where Bastianini wasn’t the fastest thing on the track come the chequered flag.

Even in Aragon, COTA and Valencia he made up great ground in the closing stages, but it was in his own backyard of Misano where he carried exceptional confidence from the mid-to-low pack and scythed through the field.

In the first Misano race he was lapping faster than winner Bagnaia for much of the second-half, making you wonder what would have been if Bastianini - who was only 4.7secs down on the win - had started higher than 12th.

In the second Misano race he should have qualified better had it not rained, but in a dry race he was even faster, tracking Quartararo’s similarly lauded charge up the order before then snatching third on the final lap. It wasn’t noted much at the time but that swap of position had a huge impact on Ducati winning the manufacturers’ title in the wake of Bagnaia and Miller crashing out.

Unfortunately for him, the lack of room at the Ducati Inn has stunted what would have been a deserved factory-spec ride for 2022 and he could suffer from Gresini Racing’s newly independent growing pains… 

That said, we’ve seen what the Ducati GP21 can evidently do, which means in Bastianini’s hands few would be surprised if he wins in Misano from pole position next year.