5 Riders who REALLY need a good 2020 MotoGP season

As we gear up for the start of the 2020 MotoGP World Championship season, we identify 5 riders who REALLY need to take a step forward this year

Valentino Rossi - Yamaha MotoGP

It feels like a long time since MotoGP last fired up for the final round of the 2019 season in Valencia but for some riders the break probably couldn’t come soon enough as they looked to put a disappointing season behind them and refocus for 2020.

Of course, every rider on the 22-strong grid heads into the new season with renewed hope and expectations, but for a particular handful there is arguably greater pressure riding on them than most… not least because contract renewal is only around the corner and there will always be someone after your seat.

Here are 5 riders that know only too well that they NEED to perform in 2020 to secure their futures for 2021.

Valentino Rossi

Naturally, Valentino Rossi is not strictly at risk of losing his seat for the 2021 MotoGP World Championship, but this will be possibly the most pivotal season yet for his future.

Indeed, though the debate on Rossi’s future has raged for years, the arrival of Fabio Quartararo and the apparent return to form for Maverick Vinales seems to have changed the context of discussions and planning for a life without The Doctor now seems to have some strategy to it.

The opening rounds will ultimately be crucial for Rossi. He’s demanding a more competitive M1 with greater top speed (as is Vinales) but early indications from testing suggest that hasn’t been satisfied.

Even so, a competitive start to the year – at least relative to both Quartararo and Vinales – will go a long way to helping Rossi decide whether he signs on the dotted line, if he retires or if he makes the sidestep into the satellite Petronas SRT set up.

Franco Morbidelli

Speaking of which, Petronas SRT Yamaha will be expecting more from Franco Morbidelli in 2020 after being roundly outperformed by Quartararo and proving comfortably the slowest of the M1 entries in 2019.

Frustratingly from Morbidelli’s perspective, the 2019 season was actually a vast step forward over his rookie campaign in 2018 when he was hampered by the uncompetitive Marc VDS Honda package. Indeed, he qualified on the front row on four occasions in 2019 and started 11 grands prix within the top six.

However, that success on a Saturday often betrayed him come Sunday as he slipped back in the races to finish lower. Arguably the same fate befell Quartararo, who managed six poles but didn’t covert them into a single race win, but Morbidelli’s Sunday sink was more noticeable.

So, while Morbidelli didn’t have a bad 2019 per se, he is definitely the Yamaha rider most under threat for his seat. However, given the buzz around Quartararo, even a relatively minor step forward could be enough for the Italian get things back on track.

Danilo Petrucci

When Danilo Petrucci swept to an iconic maiden MotoGP win in front of his and Ducati’s adoring ‘tifosi’ in June, it seemed unthinkable he’d be fighting for his factory ride only a few months later.

Drafted in to replace the Honda-bound Jorge Lorenzo for 2019, though Petrucci’s promotion to the works team for just a single year clearly pitched him against stablemate Jack Miller (competing on equal machinery), the Italian’s home success – in a race his rival crashed – effectively wrote the 2020 contract for him.

However, in one of the more curious evolutions of 2019, Petrucci’s form all but disappeared thereafter. Indeed, the Mugello win hadn’t come out of the blue with podiums either side in France and Catalunya, but after the summer break he managed just a best finish of seventh.

Awkwardly, the slump coincided with Miller’s sharp upturn in form as the Australian ended the season with five podiums to Petrucci’s three. Indeed, Petrucci scored just 55 points during the second-half of the season, compared with 121 points for the first half, with Miller just 11 points shy of overhauling him by the season’s end.

Though Ducati has rebuffed suggestions he could be forced to swap with Miller for 2020, the pressure will be on him to hit the ground running and fast from Qatar. Indeed, Miller won’t be the only rider sniffing around for his ride, with Ducati no doubt keen to develop Pecco Bagnaia, while Johann Zarco has high aspirations now he’s within the fold at Avintia.

Moreover, Ducati has casually dropped hints it could ignore all that and make a pitch for either Vinales or Quartararo for 2021… in short, Petrucci has it all to do in 2020.

Alex Marquez

While Alex Marquez’s move to Repsol Honda in MotoGP is a ‘dream come true’, such a high-profile switch comes with a lot of caveats and pressure.

While you don’t need to think too hard to imagine exactly how and why Marquez was signed alongside his brother in the Repsol Honda team for 2020, the flip side is that it will sharpen focus on Alex’s efforts against the most formidable team-mate of all (brother or not).

Though Jorge Lorenzo’s dismal 2019 means the bar isn’t set terribly high for Alex to scale in his rookie campaign, he faces an uphill task to at least become a successful supporting act to his headlining brother.

A single-year deal means Marquez can’t spend too long adapting to his surroundings and the fact the only other two rookies are on probably less competitive KTM machinery means he won’t have many benchmarks to strive for.

Still, this is a sport with long-term goals so as long as Marquez doesn’t throw it down the road too much and isn’t three seconds a lap off the pace like Lorenzo, he’s unlikely to go anywhere. Whether that’s enough to silence the cynics who believe he’s there because of nepotism rather than talent though remains to be seen…

Andrea Iannone

As it stands, we don’t know whether Andrea Iannone will be taking his place on the 2020 MotoGP grid as he continues to be embroiled in a drugs scandal.

However, Iannone was under enough pressure coming into the season based on results alone following a campaign with Aprilia that could best be described as anonymous (unlike his Instagram account).

A rider that could still be winning races with Ducati had he played his cards right and not alienated himself, Iannone’s shift from on to Suzuki and then to Aprilia suggests the exit door to WorldSBK was always being readied for 2021.

Remarkably rapid on his day – as demonstrated by his completely against the formbook top six in Australia, which stood as Aprilia’s best result in 2019 – the flashes of form just serve to consolidate his status as an enigma whose mind isn’t always on the job.

What this all means in the context of his suspension remains to be seen, but if Iannone is unable to return to action in 2020, it may be coming just a year earlier than planned anyway.