MotoGP 2021 Mid-Term Report: The Winners & Losers Pt.2

It’s Part 2 of Visordown’s MotoGP ‘parents evening’ where we detail which riders get a smiley face sticker… and we which get a frowny face

Valentino Rossi - Petronas SRT Yamaha

The 2021 MotoGP World Championship roars back into life this weekend with the Styria MotoGP held at the Red Bull Ring in Austria.

Marking the green light for the second half of the season, while there may be nine races still left to decide this year’s title, everyone will be looking to put their best foot forward in the Styrian foothills to start as they mean to go on.

For some that means picking up where they left off but for others it will be a chance to start afresh having taken the opportunity during the summer hiatus to cleanse the bad vibes and forage for four-leaf clovers.

But at the end of the day there can only be one winner, and someone has to finish last too.

We’ve already given you a first part - which you can read HERE - detailing which riders return to action with a spring in their step and others which have some ground to make up. And now here is the sequel for Part II of our Winners & Losers from the first half of the 2021 MotoGP season.

Winner - Miguel Oliveira

After five rounds of the 2021 MotoGP World Championship it looked like Miguel Oliveira would be nestled deep into the ‘loser’ column… but then he scored three podiums on the trot, including a win, and since then has looked every inch a potential title contender.

Oliveira’s emergence as a MotoGP superstar may not be a huge surprise to those in the know but after a modest debut in the category in 2019 that saw him passed over for the factory KTM seat in favour of Brad Binder, the Portuguese rider has seen his stock skyrocket ever since his shock maiden win about a year ago in Austria.

Getting his belated promotion for 2021, Oliveira struggled to get the KTM RC 16 to his liking until an update at Mugello transformed it into a weapon he can sharpen. 

The stats make for interesting reading. After five events Oliveira was 20th in the standings with nine points - fewer than Valentino Rossi. One win, two seconds and a fifth place finish in the following four events earned him 76 points, surging him to seventh at the summer break.

In race trim - especially in recent races - arguably only Fabio Quartararo looks the more composed, with indifferent qualifying performances currently the only thing letting Oliveira down.

However, he has some favourable events coming up, not least two races in Austria - where he scored a famous win for Tech 3 a year - and another go at Portimao, his home event where he was so dominant in 2020 but struggled with the unbalanced RC 16 on the series’ return earlier in the year.

Ignore his seventh in the standings, Oliveira is as much a title contender on a par with Pecco Bagnaia and Jack Miller. It remains to be seen whether that tardy start to the year will really cost him dear though.

Loser - Valentino Rossi

Is it low-hanging fruit to include Valentino Rossi here just because of who he is?

Alas, not really… there is no other way around Rossi’s 2021 MotoGP season so far than to describe it as an unmitigated disaster. 

We will ignore the old adage that he is ‘too old’ for MotoGP because only he can be a judge of that, but Rossi has looked all at sea on the Petronas SRT Yamaha this year. 

While the swap to the Malaysian team might seem more livery than mechanical, it’s fair to say Rossi is more sensitive to upheavals around him and having been unable to take most of his crew from the Yamaha Factory squad with him, it appears he is suffering.

It’s true to say the M1 isn’t to Rossi’s liking and Yamaha is unlikely to be as willing to listen to his cries for change given it is dominating out front with Fabio Quartararo. However, Maverick Vinales’ wildly differing form lends itself to the theory that the M1 is no longer the most adaptable motorcycle on the grid.

However, Rossi’s complaints about the rear of the Yamaha, namely finding a set-up that both exploits the tyre without butchering it, have become something of a mantra since 2018 now. To his credit, Rossi doesn’t lay the blame at Yamaha’s door and says it is up to him to find a solution, but if his career is ending in 2021 then it certainly isn’t with a flourish.

Fortunately the attention surrounding his future is doing a good job to distract from what is happening on track.

Winner - Joan Mir

Branding Joan Mir a winner here might seem a little contentious… but only if you don’t scratch beneath the surface.

Indeed, it has been something of a quiet season for Mir thus far, but then his run to a shock 2020 MotoGP title started in a similar manner. 

While it is perhaps a stretch to say Mir can repeat his tremendous feat of last season and complete a title defence that would in some ways be even more surprising than the first, the Spaniard has for the most part avoided being flattened by the pressure resting on his young shoulders.

In many ways, Mir is being let down by his bike. It’s clear Suzuki is paying the price for a conservative approach with the 2021-spec GSX-RR having neglected to fit it with the ride-height device that helps it keep up with rivals on the straights, an omission riders believe is costing them as much as 0.4s a lap (it will be introduced from this weekend). 

Indeed, while the GSX-RR suffers and benefits from the same weaknesses - poor qualifying owing to getting the tyre to work over a single lap - and strengths - tyre preservation over a race distance - as it did in 2020, but the likes of Ducati and KTM remain stronger in qualifying and no longer slip back in races anymore.

As such, Mir’s results - which peak with three podiums - don’t seem befitting of his reigning champion status, but you will not see a rider working harder or rising further up the order come race day and if you look a little closer his six top five results in nine races are actually ahead of where he was this time last year.

If the ride-height device really is worth 0.4secs then Mir and Suzuki will be back to a much stronger position come race day. If that is the case then they are still in contention for this year’s title.

Loser - Alex Marquez

Much has been said about Alex Marquez’s family connections to an extent that the man himself flat refuses to answer questions that are in some way related to Marc.

You can’t blame him for wanting to distance himself a little from his high-profile sibling in an effort to make a name for himself, but Alex Marquez has failed to build on the headline-grabbing moments of 2020.

Being somewhat unceremoniously shuffled from Repsol to LCR no doubt hasn’t helped but Marquez has been the weak link in an already troubled Honda set-up.

A strong result in France of sixth place once again showed what Marquez can do in the wet, but in the dry he has been comprehensively out-performed by his peers, while - like his brother - he has spent too much time wallowing in the gravel. 

It is lazy to compare Alex to Marc simply because of their entirely different progression to the upper ranks… but the association isn’t exactly helping him either.

Loser - The British contingent

Cal Crutchlow returns the Union Jack to the MotoGP grid in Austria this weekend and the series has certainly missed the outspoken, doggedly determined Brit.

His return comes at a time when it seems unclear if and when we will see another British rider making the full-time step up into MotoGP based on the fortunes of our three remaining GP racers; Sam Lowes, Jake Dixon and John McPhee.

Lowes began the season in sparkling style with two wins to emphasise his status as a title favourite having blunted his hopes of securing the elusive crown in 2020 with an untimely injury late in the year.

However, his form has faltered since then with three DNFs in the following four races putting him on the back foot. Results has improved since to keep him riding high in fourth overall, but he comes into the second-half of the season facing down 83 point margin to runaway leader Remy Gardner.

Though Lowes remains Britain’s best hope of a GP title winner, it is his countryman Dixon that arguably stands a better chance of progressing into MotoGP courtesy of his association with the Petronas SRT/Sprinta team, which just so happens to be looking for a rider for 2022.

However, Dixon has endured a torrid campaign with only two points’ finishes from nine races. While this belies his actual pace on a Moto2 machine, though Dixon seems to be in the right place at the right time, it would be a stretch for Razlan Razali to justify promoting him to MotoGP next year.

Things haven’t been going much better for his Petronas Sprinta counterpart McPhee, who came into the 2021 Moto3 season as a favourite for the title in what is his ninth season in the quarter-litre class.

Bad luck pre-season has given way to getting some solid top ten finishes on the board, but it would take a minor miracle for McPhee to consider even cracking the top three this year.