From the outside, one podium in the first four races may not look like a successful start to your MotoGP™ title defence. However, that’s not the case for Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Joan Mir, who occupies P4 in the World Championship standings on 49 points.
That’s 38 points more than Mir had at this stage last season. After four rounds in 2020, the Spaniard was 14th in the overall classification on 11 points, 48 adrift of leader Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP). In 2021, he’s just 17 points behind Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team). And if it wasn’t for the Ducatis of Bagnaia and Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) being absolute missiles down the Losail International Circuit home straight, Mir probably would have a P2 to his name this year too. However, that’s not how motorcycle racing works. Ducati have their strengths, Suzuki have theirs. And unfortunately for Mir at the Qatar GP, Ducati were able to unleash theirs at the wrong time for the number 36.
It was, of course, a blow for Mir and Suzuki to have a second place snatched from their grasps in such fashion at the opening round of the season. Nevertheless, it was an excellent ride having started from P10, and yet another comeback ride followed at the Algarve International Circuit. Starting from P9, Mir ascended his way through the pack to claim P3, his first podium of the season.
“Honestly, now, Jerez, Le Mans… this is not the best start to the Championship for us, for me. Qatar and here we managed to fight for the podium, and that’s our goal in Jerez and Le Mans too. Then I expect to be stronger but now we have to survive and score as many points as possible.”
Mir clearly isn’t worried about his start to the 2021 season: “In Qatar I fought for the podium, in Portimao we were on the podium, I think I'm having a good season... what is expected of us, to win everything?” And he has a point.
Suzuki had an absolute disaster in Portimao at the end of 2020, and just five months later, Mir was on the podium at the same venue. It was another indication that the reigning World Champions were right in the hunt in the early stages of the title race; Mir was riding admirably and he was still able to produce prolific Sunday afternoon performances after below-par qualifying stints.
On Sunday at the Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto, Mir was never really able to drag himself into the podium fight. Again, qualifying down in 10th gave the two-time World Champion work to do on Sunday, and it’s an area that is Suzuki’s biggest weakness. Chatting after the race, Mir lamented his qualifying once more and spoke about some of the issues faced in Jerez during a tough 25-lap slog.
“The feeling is ok. You always expect more. During this weekend we made a step and I got good feelings with the bike in race pace. I was especially strong. During the race, here in Jerez what happened is that – I think that happened to all of us but probably to the Yamaha and the Suzuki happened more - we probably don’t have the power to overtake and then to stop the bike behind the other ones, it’s like there is a wall,” said Mir.
“You are half a second behind a rider and there is a wall. You overheat the front and you can’t stop the bike. You have more but you can’t. It’s a bit frustrating. But it’s not the first time it happened here. With hot temperatures you see more of this problem. I think I am not the only one with this problem. We have to improve the qualifying because I am 100% sure that if I had nobody in front of me I could improve a lot more my time per lap. I think that Jack didn’t probably have a better pace than us. He was just super smart and he was able to do a good job.”
Mir continues, declaring that he couldn’t find a way to pass the riders in front of him, especially when another one of Suzuki’s not so strong points is their engine. “The riders that were in front, I couldn’t overtake them. This was the problem. Probably with the rider that was in front, it was the same [situation] for them. But with a better engine you can always make a step. That was the problem. if I had a rider half a second faster I would have been able to follow him. But I’m not able to overtake.”
Suzuki and Mir’s struggles in qualifying have been well documented. Of his eight podiums so far in the premier class, five of them have come from off the front two rows. Remarkably, Mir hasn’t qualified on the front row since the 2017 Moto3™ Valencia finale, and his only front row start in MotoGP™ came because third place qualifier Zarco had to serve a pitlane start penalty. So, including the 2020 Styrian GP, Mir has had 10 front row starts in his 90 races so far, yet he’s a two-time World Champion.
There’s nothing wrong with Mir’s race pace, so if he and Suzuki can find a solution to their qualifying woes, then a second race win – you’d imagine – wouldn’t be too far away. Next up for the 23-year-old is a trip to Le Mans, another circuit he’s not expecting to pull up trees at, but then it’s tracks where Mir is confident he can be strong. Has 64 laps at the Jerez Test seen any improvements made for Mir? We're going to find out soon.