After nine vibrant Grands Prix to start 2021, the protagonists of the MotoGP™ World Championship take a well-deserved break of 5 weeks until a Red Bull Ring double at the beginning of August. It's now time to review some of the riders who, after a challenging to start to the season for one reason or another, could be the surprise package of the second half of the season. There are motogp.com's Ones To Watch in the MotoGP™ class!
Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) - 8th, 61 points:
The Spanish rider has seen his hard work and dedication finally turn into some important results for Aprilia, supported brilliantly by the unquestionable jump in quality from the new and improved RS-GP. Straight away at the Qatar Test, the Noale factory made certain people took notice and suddenly they were classed as serious contenders for a top five and even podium finishes. Espargaro's one lap speed has been sensational so far, missing out on a place in Q2 only in Le Mans. In Mugello, he started 4th and in Germany he qualified 3rd, the first time an Aprilia had been on a premier class front row since Jeremy McWilliams achieved pole position at the 2000 Australian GP and, therefore, the best qualifying from the Noale factory in the MotoGP™ era.
Six top eight finishers have come in the opening nine races, as he gets closer and closer to a historic top five. Aleix looks to the second half of 2021 with optimism, waiting to shine on favourable circuits such as MotorLand Aragon. With his 2022 partner, whoever that might be, set to dominate discussion away from the circuit, don't be surprised if that offers a little extra boost for Espargaro to make sure he's the man to go down in Aprilia folklore and secure their first podium in MotoGP™ history.
Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) - 9th, 60 points:
After establishing himself in 2020 as Rookie of the Year with performances to frame like his triumph in Brno, the South African has had a stop-start beginning to 2021. In line with the performance of the RC16, which took several Grands Prix to realise its full potential, Binder and the KTM found their feet in Mugello thanks, in large part, to the technical improvements implemented in decisive areas such as the chassis. Binder's partner, Miguel Oliveira, has been in full flow from that date onwards and now the South African will have to follow in the footsteps of the Portuguese rider.
The first podium of the year for the 33 is surely just a matter of time. So far this year we have seen, on more than one occasion, Binder prove he is the Mr. Sunday of the premier class. Capable of leaving his mark with epic comebacks, such as the one at the Sachsenring, a circuit he'd previously never tackled in MotoGP™ before, where he battled through from 13th to 4th. That leaves just one question: what can Binder achieve if he can qualify well? The Red Bull Ring could be the first big opportunity for the former Moto3™ World Champion, don't be shocked if we say double orange on either Sunday at the beginning of August.
Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) - 12th, 41 points:
Polyccio's first year at the Repsol Honda hasn't exactly been the dream partnership he'd have hoped for. His best result to date has been 8th at both Qatar and Le Mans, a position we're sure even he will admit are below the expectations of a top rider who outlined such great ambitions after joining the Honda factory team at the end of a very productive 2020 at KTM. Everything suggested that his riding style would marry perfectly with the requirements of the RC213V. However, adaptation has been slower than expected.
However, both within HRC and with Pol himself there are reasons for optimism. On a technical level, Honda continues to look for solutions and has already found some steps in the right direction after a laborious post-Catalan GP test. At the same time, the progress made by Marc Marquez since his return should be a stimulus for the number 44 and offer some invaluable help to dial in the perfect setup for his machine. After standing on the podium with KTM last season at the Red Bull Ring, Misano and Valencia (2), Pol will now return to happy hunting grounds hoping to at long last declare lift-off with HRC.
Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) - 13th, 40 points:
Morbidelli's 2021 campaign has clearly been marked by misfortune. After a very discreet double in Qatar, the current MotoGP™ World Championship runner-up appeared to have hit the level of last year by finishing 4th in Portimao and taking a podium in Jerez. From there, however, a whole host of unfortunate circumstances, such as the potential of his 2019 M1 and, especially, a niggling knee injury has prevented him from scoring points, with the only exception being the Catalan GP.
After a crash while training days before the Assen TT, the Italian rider was forced to undergo surgery. He will have to work hard to be present at the Red Bull Ring, but the current headlines sweeping the MotoGP™ paddock got us thinking about what sort of Morbidelli could return. The Italian is surely in pole position for a factory Yamaha seat alongside former Petronas SRT counterpart Fabio Quartararo. He will also visit Misano, Aragon and Valencia, all circuits where he claimed victory last year. Surely a fully fit Franco will be firing on all cylinders upon his return and he will be trying his absolute most to overcome the performance deficit he faces in 2021.
Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) - 14th, 33 points:
After showing his ability to fight for the title in a 2020 in which he suffered too many costly crashes, Rins has not been able to eradicate that chink in his armour during the opening half of 2021. Whilst his teammate, Joan Mir, continues to play his cards every weekend, supported by his consistency, Rins has once again exhibited an incredible pace with his GSX-RR, rubbing shoulders with the best most weekends, but has been heavily penalised by various crashes. After two strong results in the opening weekends of the season, Rins' title charge was finished before it even started after a flurry of DNFs. Then, to rub salt in the wounds, the Spaniard was injured in Catalunya due to a fall while riding his bicycle on a Thursday. It's no surprise then that the summer break is the perfect time for the MotoGP™ race winner to hit the rest button.
Rins might not be a Championship contender but he will no doubt play an important role in the title chase throughout the final stages of the season. In 2020, he won in Aragon, clinched a podium at the Teruel GP, before also getting on the podium in Valencia. If Rins can better manage those crucial moments in a race, he will take points away from various riders fighting for the title and, more importantly for the 42, will surely be in with a chance of taking a MotoGP™ victory for a third straight yeare.
Jorge Martín (Pramac Racing) - 18th, 23 points:
Whilst taking nothing away from the performances of Enea Bastianini, Martin is the clear candidate for Rookie of the Year. The emergence of the Madrid rider in the premier class was earth-shattering. After learning a huge amount in his first GP, in which he starred with a meteoric start, few could have predicted what would come at the Doha GP. The former Moto3™ World Champion dazzled under the lights with his first pole position and a brilliant podium, matching the likes of Marc Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa in his second MotopGP™ outing. Just a week later, however, his world was turned upside-down, literally, after a hard fall in Free Practice at Portimao. He was forced to miss a total of four races with a multitude of injuries.
Despite returning to Catalonia, the aftermath of his injuries in Portugal have continued to be present. In fact, at the Dutch GP he was forced to drop out due to muscle fatigue, caused by tendonitis. Both the rider himself and his team are thankful for a five week summer break so the Spaniard can fully recover. Martinator can - and should - expect a lot from the double at the Red Bull Ring, a circuit where he made his mark in Moto2™ and which was a Ducati fortress up until last year. In previous years, Martin has also excelled at other tracks such as Aragon and Valencia. Don't be surprised if the rookie, once back at full fitness, challenges at the sharp end at more than one occasion before the end of the season.