Operation Reset | 6 MotoGP riders who really need to pick up the pace for 2022

With the 2021 MotoGP title now done and dusted, attention turns to the 2022 MotoGP World Championship... namely those who will need to hit the big reset button

Alex Marquez - LCR Honda

The 2021 MotoGP World Championship season has come to a conclusion and now attentions are already turning towards the potential rollercoasters that await in 2022.

With the grid settled, a handful of riders head into the winter knowing they need to hit the ground running in 2022 if they are to stand a chance to either holding onto their current seats or switching to another.

While this may seem early to be feeling the pressure, the 2023 MotoGP season will mark the start of a new contract cycle, in that most riders are coming to the end of the standard two-year deals they hold. With competition fierce and teams eager to land some coups, it means several deals will be settled and negotiations started well before the first wheels of 2022 have turned.

So with this in mind, which riders will head into the winter nervously checking their phones?

Alex Rins - Suzuki Ecstar

Once a golden child of Suzuki, Alex Rins has endured a tough couple of seasons strewn with sloppy errors, bringing with it persistent injuries and niggles, plus the mental hurdle of watching his less experienced team-mate surge to a shock 2020 MotoGP title.

One can sympathise with Rins when you consider the shoulder injury he sustained in the opening round at Jerez in 2020 took a lengthy toll. By the end of the season he was arguably just as fast, if not faster, than Joan Mir and he’d finished the season a fine third but as the rider pondering the biggest ‘what if…’

With Suzuki playing it a touch too safe with the GSX-RR to avoid going the wrong way in development over the winter, neither Rins nor Mir have found their groove in 2021. However, Rins - perhaps fuelled by a determination to grab the initiative back from his team-mate - has too often lobbed it into the scenery from strong positions.

When he has finished, the results have been unconvincing or no better than Mir’s to an extent that it would be no surprise if Suzuki has already decided to look elsewhere for 2023. If it hasn’t, Rins more than anyone, needs to start 2023 with podiums, wins and, more importantly, no falls.

Jack Miller - Ducati Corse

It took him seven seasons of MotoGP to get it, but Jack Miller’s much vaunted factory berth at Ducati is rumoured to be very under threat for 2023.

While Miller hasn’t had a bad season per se, it’s not been a notable step forward over 2020 on the Pramac machine. Two wins impressed early on, but since then he hasn’t had the speed or consistency to match Pecco Bagnaia.

Indeed, had Bagnaia enjoyed the season Miller had done it would have been considered a good showing from a less experienced rider. The fact it has happened the other way around is a double blow for Miller.

Amping up the pressure for him though is the bevy of exciting other options for Ducati in its ranks. While Johann Zarco probably isn’t as ‘next in line’ as his status or championship position would suggest because he hasn’t won a race yet, Jorge Martin’s success in Austria dazzled bosses, while Enea Bastianini has emerged as the surprise package that has made everyone sit up and take notice of the Italian.

Miller and Martin will likely go head to head for the factory Ducati seat in 2022… which might work out well for the Aussie if Martin, victory aside, doesn’t quite snuff out a relatively high frequency of crashes he is also experiencing.

Takaaki Nakagami - LCR Honda

It’s almost a shame to have Takaaki Nakagami on this list because of the progress he has made since being promoted to MotoGP against eye-rolling cries of nepotism over Honda’s determination to get a Japanese rider on the grid by any means.

However, Nakagami came on huge strides in 2019 and 2020, earning himself a spec-Honda for 2021 that he simply hasn’t gelled with. In his defence, even Marc Marquez has struggled to make the factory bike his own, but Nakagami has been one of the more anonymous performers of the year.

Still without a podium in MotoGP, a damning statistic that doesn’t tell a full story of his time in premier class, he has nonetheless looked a long way off it in 2021.

Worse still, if nepotism was the primary reason for his presence in MotoGP, then he will be nervously watching the progress of Honda’s new protege Ai Ogura in 2022 following his impressive rookie campaign in Moto2.

Alex Marquez - LCR Honda

There were plenty of knowing smirks when Alex Marquez was picked as Marc Marquez’s team-mate at Repsol Honda in 2020, a cauldron of pressure that went from simmering to boiling point when the multiple title-winner’s injury elevated the rookie into the manufacturer’s lead title defender.

Growing pains aside, there were flashes of surprising form at times as his confidence grew, but given Honda had decree he would be LCR bound for 2021 before he’d even started a race with the Repsol squad, it wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence from the get go.

Truth is, like Nakagami, Marquez has faded into the background with few redeeming moments from his campaign. No other rider on the grid has to bear the levels of external pressure Marquez has endured the last couple of seasons but the evidence of a potential breakthrough after 2020 hasn’t materialised in 2021.

On the plus side, Honda’s reluctance to outwardly invest in the next generation as it did with Marquez, coupled to the reluctance of other riders to make the move to Honda could work in his favour come negotiation time.

Luca Marini - VR46 Ducati

Luca Marini will represent the Rossi family beyond Valentino into 2022 but will certainly be seeking a sizeable step forward over a rookie campaign that hasn’t exactly sparkled.

With a story that relates a little to that of Alex Marquez, Marini both benefits and loses out from his Rossi association when it comes to opportunity versus scrutiny.

However, the Italian’s biggest problem in 2021 has been the sheer speed of his team-mate Enea Bastianini, whose exceeded expectations have put Marini’s results into context. The most recent race in Misano when Marini seemingly reversed the trend of form by qualifying a fine third was then spun round into something worse when he went backwards as Bastianini went from 15th to the podium.

True, his two-year old Avintia Ducati perhaps isn’t the best gauge of his skills in MotoGP and he will have more up-to-date machinery in 2022, but few places to hide… even from Vale.

Remy Gardner - Tech 3 KTM

OK, so this might look a little strange including a rider that hasn’t even started a MotoGP race yet, much less one that has just won the 2021 Moto2 World Championship.

In reality, Gardner shouldn’t be under pressure for his maiden MotoGP season with Tech 3 KTM but he will have a lot going on around him for himself and - crucially - KTM to compare him to.

The rookie campaign should have been a season to savour for Gardner after earning his MotoGP breakthrough via an excellent season in Moto2, knowing he’d just need to keep up with Iker Lecuona or Danilo Petrucci on the sister RC16 to be given a pat on the back and a new deal.

However, the bundle for Raul Fernandez’s signature sees the Spaniard back alongside Gardner in MotoGP and, arguably, taking all of the spotlight with him. 

While Gardner has had the measure - just - of his team-mate this year, there is a significant gulf in experience between them with this being the Aussie’s seventh in GP racing and only Fernandez’s third.

With the two Factory seats at KTM seemingly settled beyond 2022, Gardner needs to perform to keep his seat at the very least… which won’t be easy if highly-touted Pedro Acosta turns out to be a revelation in Moto2 next year and KTM has to react to fend off offers from rivals again.