riders to watch
Credit: Suzuki Racing

In a series of previews for the 2021 MotoGP season, Part 1 looks at the five riders to watch this year and who may impress the most.

Joan Mir

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On the back of what was an unexpected championship-winning 2020 season, Joan Mir will be looking to start off 2021 with the strength that he showed throughout last year.

Suzuki have been on the rise since making their return to MotoGP in 2015, and 2020 was certainly the icing on the cake for both them and Mir, who made his debut with the team in 2019.

With a championship under his belt after just two years in the premier class, the Spaniard can only develop into an even faster racer. A rocky start to the 2020 campaign showed that there were still some things to iron out, but that will come in good time for the 23-year-old.

It is likely that Mir will have a challenge on his hands to retain the championship however, especially with the expected return of six-time MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez, who missed the large majority of the 2020 season through injury.

If the Spaniard can get off to a good start and perform with the strength he did last season, a second MotoGP championship may well be on the cards.

Brad Binder

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A race-winner and finishing as rookie of the year in 2020, Brad Binder’s first season in the top-class was nothing short of impressive.

The pressure was on from the first race for the South African, after being elevated into the factory KTM team before the season had begun from Tech 3 KTM, the team he had originally signed to race for in his rookie year.

A 13th place finish and a retirement in the first two races was not ideal for the 25-year-old, but in Brno, at the third race of the year, Binder took a shock (and sensational) victory, showing that he can put himself in the position to battle out in front.

Adding to the victory, being crowned rookie of the year will have been a boost of confidence for Binder, who comes into 2021 on a KTM which has started to push up to the front of the grid in recent years.

There is no doubt the South African will be targeting high points finishes and podiums on a regular basis this year, and will certainly be a rider to keep a close eye on.

Miguel Oliveira

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With a move up to the factory KTM team in 2021 after spending two years with Tech 3 KTM, this year could be a championship contending campaign for Miguel Oliveira.

The Portuguese rider comes into 2021 after claiming his maiden MotoGP pole at the final race of 2020 in Portugal, and subsequently leading from start to finish to take what was a dominant win and his second victory of the year.

The 26-year-old had nine top-10 finishes in 2020, and showed that hard work was paying off for both him and Tech 3, after a tough rookie season in 2019.

Coming into his third year in the MotoGP class, Oliveira will be hopeful to carry on his hot run of form from last year, and he now has full factory support underneath him to push him further.

In 2021 Oliveira could be a real threat to his rivals, and after an impressive 2020, he looks set to put up a strong fight for the MotoGP crown and is certainly one of the riders to watch.

Fabio Quartararo

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2020 looked like it was going to be a year of success for Fabio Quartararo, but his championship hopes faded away towards the end of the season. 2021 brings a year of fresh hope for the Frenchman, with a move to the factory Yamaha team.

At the beginning of the delayed 2020 season, Quartararo looked to be the strongest contender for the championship after winning the first two races and building up a solid lead in the standings. Ultimately, this lead was not to last, with the 21-year-old finishing down in eighth place overall.

The Frenchman enters his third year in MotoGP with a switch to Monster Energy Yamaha, and a full factory environment to progress in.

2021 will surely be a stronger year for Quartararo, who will look to build on the pace he showed last year, whilst aiming to perfect the consistency which will be vital to fight for the championship.

As long as Yamaha can give him a strong bike, the French rider will be one of the lead contenders to fight for the championship and one of the riders to watch.

Alex Marquez

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After a rookie season on the Repsol Honda factory bike in 2020, Alex Marquez moves to LCR Honda, an environment which will allow him to grow and develop in MotoGP without the pressure of being in the factory team.

Marquez seemed to be struggling at the beginning of his debut year in the premier class, with one top-10 finish in the first five rounds.

The 24-year-old showed his potential as the season went on however, finishing second twice in a row, in Le Mans and Aragon. It looked like the Honda rider was on course for a third straight podium in the Teruel Grand Prix, but crashed out on the 14th lap of the race.

As mentioned, the move to LCR Honda will give Marquez some breathing space to find his feet in MotoGP, and he will receive factory support from Honda in 2021, so the tools will be there to push for results.

The positive signs from the latter stages of the 2020 campaign show that Marquez is capable of achieving strong results, and as the Spaniard’s development continues, 2021 should be a positive year.

The Verdict

The five riders to watch in 2021 feature for different reasons, be it as a contender for the championship, or for developing their skill in the top class. Pre-season testing will provide a clearer picture on who looks set to impress the most, but looking at the 2020 season, these five riders are definitely the ones to look out for when the racing begins!

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