We really shouldn’t be talking about this.
But you know how it goes: you’re in the middle of a conversation with a prospect, or potential sponsor and he goes “Who are the 10 top riders in MotoGP? When it comes to MotoGP advertising and marketing, I should sponsor one of the best, right?”.
At this point, as a professional consultant from a leading sports marketing agency, you should always stick with the right answer, which is “good sponsorship really does not care whether you win or lose”. Trust the project, not the podium.
Touch be told, this answer never works. The prospect nods, says this is understandable and the whole thing makes a lot of sense. Then he stares at you and goes, “Anyway, who are the top 10 riders in MotoGP?”
Ok then. We really should not be talking about this, but here it goes.
1 – Marc Marquez
If you think 2020 was bad, Marc Marquez’s 2020 was on another level of bad. The Spaniard not only fractured his humerus during the opening race of last year at Jerez and underwent surgery. He also had a pretty bad infection, another surgery, and then another surgery to try and fix what was left of a *sigh* pretty incredible mess.
Clinical report aside, Marquez is quite possibly the greatest talent motorcycle racing has ever seen. If the man is healthy, he’s going to win this thing again and again.
Like him or loathe him, we all should hope for a speedy recovery for a very simple reason: every rider on the grid knows very well that winning is not the same of Marc is in the competition.
2 – Joan Mir
On paper, the man to beat. On track, the man to beat. The current World Champion has everything it takes to try and go for back-to-back to back titles. He’s young, fast and terribly smart.
Plus, Suzuki have given him the perfect bike for the job. The GSX-RR is a masterpiece of balance and holistic engineering, breezing on the straights and dancing around the corners.
While Mir has no doubt mastered his tricks, two things will be highly different this season. On the one hand, the youngster knows he’s elite and the sky’s the limit: he’s done it once and knows he can do it twice. On the other hand, the underdog days are over and everybody will be on the hunt. It’s open season.
3 – Fabio Quartararo
If we’re honest, we must admit Fabio Quartararo’s 2020 has been a bit of a two-faced creature. After a glamorous start to the season, with the frenchman putting on a masterclass for the rest of the world to see, Quartararo failed to live up to the expectations for the remainder of the year.
The boy’s a talent, no doubt about that. That’s why Yamaha have promoted him to a factory ride for 2021 and given him a top team and bike to see if all that talent can be channeled in the right direction.
If he finds some consistency he’ll be fighting for podiums week in and week out.
4 – Maverick Vinales
Bit of a riddle, this Maverick lad, isn’t he? If we were to make a list of the fastest riders on the grid, he’d probably be number one hands down. Yes, we said what we said: in terms of raw speed, Vinales is maybe the fastest man in MotoGP. And yet you look at the results and see 10th, 7th, 14th.
Sure, the 2020 M1 wasn’t the best bike ever to come out of Iwata, I’ll give you that. But Maverick sometimes just did not display the best mindset either.
This season’s a bit of turning point for him, for you have only so many chances when you race a factory ride and the boy has already squandered some.
If the bike is ok and he starts off with the right foot, this will be one to watch.
5 – Jack Miller
One of the funniest, craziest, most brilliant lads in the paddock, you can’t but love Miller. Sure, a bit of a maverick, a free spirit and one that certainly does not fit the mould but -hey- this is motorcycle racing, what did you expect.
Jack’s been given the red scary thing this year, the official one. And although this is not Jack’s first rodeo on a Ducati, we all know proper Borgo Panigale is a whole different story.
The bike is going to be the linchpin here. If Ducati are willing to accept the fact that there will be bends and curves on the race track, Miller’s ready for the fight. He’s a strong, fierce rider who’s used to battle the beast.
After all, the last man to bring success to Bologna was another aussie, Casey Stoner. Maybe that’ll do the trick.
What can we say? Viva Miller.
6 – Franco Morbidelli
“Frankie says relax” is a very good motto for Morbidelli. Franco is a nice, well spoken, very disciplined young man, who in the words of now-teammate Valentino Rossi only thinks about racing motorbikes and minding his own business.
Franco’s second leg of the past season was nothing short of impressive. He won some, but, most importantly, he showed the world he’s ready to be there with the big boys.
Despite his chill-out, calm attitude, the on-track Morbidelli is a rabid animal going for every inch and who isn’t afraid of a bit of square-up.
7 – Pol Espargaro
Fast? Yes. A crasher? Also, yes. But old saying goes you can learn not to crash, but you’ll never learn how to be fast.
The younger of the Espargaros rode a solid season at KTM and has now landed the paddock’s favorite worst nightmare. In 2021 he will be riding one of the most winning bikes of recent history alongside the world’s strongest rider of recent history.
The good news is there are no excuses: if Pol is ready, focused and committed to riding a consistent season, he can be a threat at each and every race. The bad news? Well, that there are no excuses.
8 – Alex Rins
When in 2020 Joan Mir played to good ol’ switcheroo and became Suzuki’s top man, everybody kinda forgot about the talent of Alex Rins. But make no mistake, the Frog has not lost his touch and is one of the most effective guys in the tarmac when it comes to taming a MotoGP bike.
He had a very strong second part of the season last year, almost securing Suzuki ah historic 1-2 in the rider’s championship. His confidence with the Hamamatsu bike is second to none.
We’ll see his name on the top step of the podium at least a couple times this year. Easy.
9 – Alex Marquez
Talking of setting the bar high, uh? The constant comparison to Marc has always cast a strange shadow on Alex. Is he a talented rider whose brother is just too good to be true or is he a fiasco whose bloodline landed him a great job?
We’ll go with answer A. Alex is a fantastic rider. He’s a Moto2 World Champion and has showed impressive progress during his first year at Factory Honda. The boy’s fast, aggressive and -most important- a fast learner.
While the HRC gig was maybe kind of “too much too young”, the LCR squad will suit him just fine. Lucio Cecchinello’s outfit is highly professional and successful, but will also allow Alex some room to grow. Keep your eyes peeled.
10 – Aleix Espargaro
Good ol’ Aleix has committed to Aprilia in a very old-fashioned, romantic, almost heroic way. Too bad the nice guys at Noale just haven’t managed to build him a competitive ride just yet.
Unripe as it was, the RS-GP did not leave much room to shine to Aleix and for TV viewers it is hard to catch a glimpse of his talent when he’s lagging behind in 17th position.
On the occasional good day, though, the older Espargaro knows how to pull a couple rabbits out of the hat. Again, give him a good bike and he’ll surprise you.
Best of the rest
Respectfully, we haven’t mentioned Valentino Rossi. Simply put, the Doctor cannot be included in such a list, as he transcends the standard criterions and boundaries.
Rossi’s larger-than-life, bigger-than-the-sport persona is impossible to pigeonhole somewhere, somehow. At 41, Rossi is a man on a mission, gracefully ferrying the sport to yet another level and another era. Not only he is the face of MotoGP and motorcycling itself, he is the crest under which the future of racing is now ripening and taking shape.
Is this enough on track? Unfortunately, no. But surely it is enough for fans and sponsors who fly the eternal yellow “46” flags with unchanged passion.