MotoGP

2021 MotoGP: Who is confirmed and who is rumoured?

With the 2020 MotoGP World Championship season (finally) just a few weeks away, we cast our eye to what the 2021 MotoGP grid will look like...

We are now gearing up for the belated start of the 2020 MotoGP World Championship but while racing has been paused by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the rider market – or silly season – for 2021 is now getting into full swing.

To date, nine of the 22 expected seats on the 2021 MotoGP have been filled and it seems a number of others are just days or weeks away from being confirmed too, despite the lack of clandestine meetings taking place in team trucks as they would normally.

Strictly speaking, the MotoGP silly season is definitely later than usual for obvious reasons – this time last year nearly all seats were confirmed, even if the likes of Johann Zarco and Jorge Lorenzo kept things interesting right into the winter.

So where do the remaining pieces of the puzzle slot in… this is what next year’s grid is expected to look like.

Repsol Honda
Marc Marquez (Confirmed)
Pol Espargaro (Strongly rumoured)

The old adage ‘no smoke without fire’ certainly applies here. A flurry of reports all at once claiming Pol Espargaro is on his way to Repsol Honda weren’t a coincidence, and while official channels have been fairly quiet, they also haven’t denied he will be on his way from KTM next year.

While those reports do range from ‘talks’ to ‘done deal’, it appears Espargaro has answered the call of Repsol Honda, who have seemingly taken advantage of the contract cycle to put its faith in a more experienced rider than Alex Marquez.

Whether you (or indeed Marc Marquez) agree with the way Honda has seemingly treated the younger Marquez is up to you, but the fact is the factory Honda team perhaps doesn’t have time to wait for him to get up to full speed. Imagine if Marc was injured, would Alex be able to secure the results needed to keep Honda in the hunt for the all-important teams’ and constructors’ titles?

Of course, Marquez Snr is pinned down for an unprecedented four years as he looks to secure the record number of premier class title wins.

Yamaha Factory Team
Maverick Vinales (Confirmed)
Fabio Quartararo (Confirmed)

Confirmed right at the top of the year before coronavirus consumed the headlines, Yamaha moved to secure its future amid claims of Ducati sniffing around for its proteges. Valentino Rossi has of course been frozen out as a result, but few doubt Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo represent an exciting new approach for a Yamaha team that showed in the second-half of 2019 and in winter testing that it’s seemingly back on title-contending form.

Ducati Team
Jack Miller (Confirmed)
Andrea Dovizioso (Strongly rumoured)

Ducati may have cast the net far and wide for options over the winter – from Marquez to Quartararo – but it is instead sticking to what it knows by promoting Jack Miller for a well-deserved (if slightly unfair to Danilo Petrucci) factory seat next to probably Andrea Dovizioso.

Dovizioso may be stalling on signing a new deal amid speculation KTM is pushing even harder to get his signature in light of the Espargaro bombshell, but all signs suggest it is coming even if it might not occur until racing begins.

Suzuki Ecstar
Alex Rins (Confirmed)
Joan Mir (Confirmed)

With no satellite team to put pressure on its factory riders, Suzuki have unsurprisingly focused on continuity as they look to make the final step towards the front.

A touch of inconsistency – especially in qualifying – aside, Alex Rins was a standout performer in 2019 and one many expect will make a strong step in 2020 aboard what appears to be a much-improved GSX-RR.

Moreover, Joan Mir showed impressive gains as the year progressed, despite a painful mid-season injury, and is tipped to land his first podium this year at least.

KTM Factory Racing
Brad Binder (Expected)
Danilo Petrucci, Cal Crutchlow (Linked)

With Espargaro seemingly on his way to Honda (though KTM insists no formal decision has been made), the Austrian firm faces a headache over its 2021 line-up, which in turn is the hangover from Johann Zarco’s abrupt departure in 2019.

The Frenchman’s exit six months into a two-year deal forced KTM to put its faith in the future with three relatively inexperienced riders over its two teams thinking it still had Espargaro driving the young project forward. Without that it ideally needs to land a like-for-like experienced rider.

Exiled from Ducati, Petrucci has made himself available for KTM and would certainly fill the experience brief, while he would have something to prove and – unlike Espargaro or Zarco – is a race winner at MotoGP level. Similarly, Cal Crutchlow could also be attractive if he loses his place at LCR Honda (see below).

In the other seat, Brad Binder was already bumped up from Tech 3 to the factory team in KTM’s reshuffle and is well regarded but could be pressured by Miguel Oliveira, who wasn’t delighted to have been overlooked for promotion when Zarco left.

Aprilia Racing
Aleix Espargaro (Confirmed)
Danilo Petrucci (Linked), Andrea Dovizioso (Pending)

Following a winter of uncertainty over both its new bike and Andrea Iannone’s drugs ban, Aprilia managed to get some certainty with the signing of Aleix Espargaro for another two years.

The other side of the garage looks less clear cut. Aprilia seems determined to wait on whether Iannone will be available to it for 2021, but not only would he need to win his appeal but he’d need to get his ban removed or reduced significantly for him to take up a spot in the team.

Strictly speaking, Iannone is out of contract for next year and Aprilia risks leaving it too long to get its contingency pick of Petrucci if he is being courted by KTM. Moreover, Iannone’s appeal could go completely the other way and see him banned for longer.

If that’s the case and they don’t land Petrucci, expect Aprilia to dip into the pool of talented young Italians coming up through the ranks in Moto2.

Petronas SRT Yamaha
Valentino Rossi (Strongly rumoured)
Franco Morbidelli (Expected)

Though Valentino Rossi has been careful not to formally say he will race on into 2021, it seems plans are well underway for him to move to Petronas SRT Yamaha. A factory bike in all but livery, the deal is expected to be announced before racing gets underway.

On the other side of the garage, Petronas SRT Yamaha boss Razlan Razali says it remains his plan to hold onto Franco Morbidelli, though with the Italian being shuffled down the Yamaha pecking order by Quartararo and with Rossi coming into the team, he may be compelled to scout his options.

If he does – with Aprilia or even KTM looking potentially attractive – Razali has repeatedly mentioned its Moto2 rider Xavi Vierge would be its pick for promotion.

LCR Honda
Alex Marquez (strongly rumoured)
Cal Crutchlow, Takaaki Nakagami (Unclear)

With Alex Marquez seemingly on the verge of being shuffled out of the factory team in favour of being placed at LCR Honda, the pressure shifts onto Cal Crutchlow and Takaaki Nakagami for 2021.

Of the two, many would expect to see Nakagami retained due to his strong backing from Honda bosses who want a Japanese rider on its books and comes with its own separate backing to the extent that the Idemitsu set up is almost a team within the LCR team.

That appears to spell bad news for Crutchlow, who had seemingly been cruising towards retiring before more recently claiming he wants to continue. Factory berths at KTM and Aprilia could provide a lucrative lifeline, or Crutchlow may go back to his original plan to take up the quiet life.

Pramac Ducati
Pecco Bagnaia (Expected)
Jorge Martin (Expected)

While all the focus has been on the factory Ducati team line-up, the Pramac Racing team is still unconfirmed for next year.

All signals point towards Pecco Bagnaia being retained, but after the Italian failed to shine on his debut in 2019 it’s likely the team will wait until the start of the season to measure him against Johann Zarco on the Avintia machine before making a final decision.

Meanwhile, Jorge Martin stands to be the only Moto2 candidate to be promoted for 2021 as Ducati looks to beat KTM in an apparent bidding war for the services of the Spaniard.

Tech 3 KTM
Miguel Oliveira (Expected)
Iker Lecuona (Pending)

The future of Miguel Oliveira and Iker Lecuona will depend on more than just their own performances after Tech 3 in its first season with KTM didn’t quite get the same parity as the factory outfit in terms of machinery.

Oliveira, however, is a long-time KTM rider and is well regarded in the Austrian fold to the extent he could be in line for a move to the factory team to replace the outgoing Espargaro. Lecuona will have 2020 to impress having been drafted in last minute as Zarco’s effective replacement.

Should KTM succeed in getting its man in Martin though, he could well be slotted into the Tech 3 team, while Tetsuta Nagashima – who won the opening round in Qatar for the KTM-backed Ajo team – could find himself in line for a promotion if he can maintain his early form.

Avintia Ducati
Tito Rabat (Confirmed)
Johann Zarco (Expected)

The only rider out of sync with his rivals’ contract cycle, Tito Rabat will remain with Avintia Ducati next year though as Karel Abraham’s abrupt exit over the winter showed, the man himself admits deals don’t always pan out as planned.

Even so, the well-backed Spaniard would presumably be joined by Zarco provided he isn’t snapped up by Pramac Ducati for 2021.
 

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