There’s a changing of the guard in MotoGP™. The new generation of superstars are rising to the fore, shown by the riders standing on the podium at the Michelin® Grand Prix of Styria – the reigning World Champion, the 2021 World Championship leader and a rookie sensation, all of whom are 23 years old or younger.
Jorge Martin’s (Pramac Racing) maiden MotoGP™ victory was nothing short of superb. A debut premier class podium at the Grand Prix of Doha – a race in which he also started from pole position – was already a sure sign the 2018 Moto3™ World Champion was the real deal. His comeback from his horrific Portuguese GP crash, that saw Martin suffer eight broken bones, has made Styria’s performance even more remarkable.
“In just three races, I’ve experienced the highest and lowest points a MotoGP rider can have.” The words of Martin, in motogp.com’s short documentary about his recovery. And he’s right. Podium elation in Doha to missing four races, all in the space of a few weeks, is sometimes the brutal reality elite sportsmen and women unfortunately sometimes must face. The Spaniard even admitted he briefly thought about quitting after Portimao. But, of course, he didn’t.
Returning at the Catalan GP, Martin went about his business quietly but effectively, picking up points in Barcelona and Germany before retiring at Assen. Returning from the summer break in Styria, a second pole position was pocketed by Martin on Saturday afternoon. This shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise to anyone though, the number 89 is the second quickest rider – equal to Marc Marquez and Casey Stoner – to take pole position in the premier class, Jorge Lorenzo being the only rider to take pole on his MotoGP™ debut so far.
Some illustrious company then for Martin, and he’d join more world-beating names a day later. Sunday’s Styria encounter promised to be a thriller, but not many would have expected Martin to take victory so comfortably. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) kept Pramac’s rookie honest throughout, but Martin “didn’t feel nervous”. The 23-year-old made himself look like a rider who had been on the Ducati for six years, not six races. Martin now joins Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez in winning a MotoGP™ during a debut season. A rather gifted list of names.
Reigning King Mir is rejuvenated after Suzuki finally debuted the rear ride height device in Styria. It’s safe to say the Spaniard and his team are over the moon with the addition to their GSX-RR, and a P2 in Styria signals the real start point of his title defence.
The rider Mir and everyone is chasing is third place finisher Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP). Apparently, the Red Bull Ring isn’t a Yamaha track, but the Frenchman was quick – in the dry – all weekend and picked up another podium in 2021. That’s now seven Quartararo has notched up this season, with the latest taking him 40 points clear of Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) in the title chase.
But there was more significance to the podium. Martin (23), Mir (23) and Quartararo (21) make up one of the youngest premier class podiums we’ve seen since the 2008 Qatar GP. The top three on that day? Stoner (22), rookie Lorenzo (20) and Pedrosa (22), still the youngest we’ve ever seen. Three of the four so-called ‘aliens’ who lit up the World Championship together with Rossi for five years. Stoner, Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Rossi went on to win all but two races between 2008 and the end of 2012. And for two of those years in 2011 and 2012, Rossi didn’t win a Grand Prix. Domination at its finest.
On the weekend that nine-time World Champion Rossi announced 2021 would be his last season racing in MotoGP™, it's in a way fitting that we saw three of MotoGP™’s current and future gems standing on the podium. All three will be dreaming of trying to emulate what The Doctor has done on track over the last 26 years, with two of them already World Champions in Martin and Mir. Quartararo, the second youngest rider on the 2021 grid, is firmly in the driving seat to be crowned MotoGP™ World Champion.
Rossi, Lorenzo, Stoner and Pedrosa, then Marc Marquez, have hogged MotoGP™’s most distinguished awards for the last two decades. Rossi is the last of the original four to confirm his exit from the sport as a rider, as Stoner’s 2013 Repsol Honda replacement and now eight-time World Champion Marc Marquez continues to display his ruthless speed and talent against the new elite upon his return from injury.
Mir’s brilliant 2020 title win confirmed the next generation is here, and they’re here to stay. The number of new winners we’ve had in the last two and a half seasons says a lot. Mir, Martin and Quartararo are joined by Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), his teammate Brad Binder, Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Danilo Petrucci (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing) in picking up maiden premier class wins between now and 2019, with Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) earning his first dry weather race win too. Apart from the vastly experienced Petrucci, all those riders are 26 or younger.
There’s been a changing of the guard coming in MotoGP™ for the past couple of seasons. Now, it really feels like it’s happened. The Styrian GP podium was a sign of more things to come over the next decade in MotoGP™, with more names destined to etch their name into the MotoGP™ winners’ book in the near future.