Into the unknown: the behemoth beckons at the British GP

Six kilometres of unadulterated speed? This is Silverstone, and it normally serves up a storm

After a year in which the paddock was unable to race the behemoth that is Silverstone Circuit, the FIM MotoGP™ World Championship is ready to saddle up and go again at one of the fastest and longest venues on the calendar. And for many, it’s a step into the unknown. Two of the top three in the standings have zero racing laps of the venue in MotoGP™, and the other finished outside the top ten as a rookie. So is everyone ready for another showdown?

Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) is the rider for whom the italics on zero racing laps apply. The Championship leader does have experience at the track on a MotoGP™ bike and qualified fourth in 2019, he just didn’t make it further than the exit of Turn 1 after being unsettled by a rider ahead and going down. Could that prove crucial? The track has often been good turf for Yamaha though, especially in the hands of Jorge Lorenzo, so that should be a firm tick in the pro column.

Speaking of Yamaha, there will be some different faces in the Iwata stable at Silverstone. Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) remains, steadfastly on the search for another solid finish as he races at Silverstone for the final time in MotoGP™. But joining Quartararo in the Monster Energy Yamaha garage is now Cal Crutchlow as he moves from filling in for Franco Morbidelli to filling in for Maverick Viñales, so there’s a new face joining the ranks to replace Morbidelli: Jake Dixon. The Moto2™ rider takes on the premier class for the first time this weekend, and on home turf no less. He has experience on bigger capacity machinery from his days in BSB, but MotoGP™ is a whole new challenge – and what a track to take on. 

But back to the top three, and Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) as the aforementioned "outside the top ten as a rookie". After his storming of the podium late on in Austria though, that is nevertheless some valuable experience to add to his current form heading into the weekend. And Silverstone has been painted Ducati red before. On the hunt for that maiden win, Bagnaia is now the closest challenger to Quartararo but by literally nothing in terms of points, so can he sustain his momentum and stay ahead, or even cut that gap?

Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) will be keen to stop that happening and take back his previous position as top Ducati in the standings. As it is, he’s now second Ducati and fourth overall. He also has the added challenge of not having ridden Silverstone on Borgo Panigale machinery before. Rookie teammate Jorge Martin, by definition, is the same, but the number 89 will arrive with a bounce in his step after a win and a podium across two stunning weekends at the Red Bull Ring. And what about Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team)? The Australian had a more muted double header in Austria but he’s the rider in the top five with the most experience of the track on his current machinery, or similar. 

Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar), meanwhile, is the rider in the top three heading into a complete unknown. It seems a long time ago now to rewind back to before he was the reigning Champion, but as a rookie in 2019 his season was temporarily derailed by a crash in testing at Brno – and he missed the British GP. So he’s not done a single session at the venue, but in some good news, the Suzuki most definitely has.

The 2019 British GP was an instant classic. There have been a few of those in the last few years, haven’t there? But it truly was, with Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) just coming out on top against Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). Rins has therefore shown the recent strength of the Hamamatsu machine around the venue, even when pitted against the man who took pole by four tenths with a new all-time lap record of a 1:58.168, when not too long ago the question was who would break the two-minute barrier. Suzuki also won the 2016 event with Maverick Viñales. So the bike has form, can Mir and Rins add more? The reigning Champion will hope so as he stares down the chance to leapfrog Bagnaia, and Rins will too as he goes through a difficult season in 2021 so far.

So what about Marc Marquez? The eight-time World Champion was the obvious favourite heading into Silverstone the last time we did, but since then he’s been through the biggest upheaval in his career. In Austria, however, he looked like he’d made another step forward in his recovery and his form, able to dice it out at the front for longer than we’ve seen – Germany aside – so far in 2021. And he led the way into pitlane late on at the Red Bull Ring, thinking the rest would follow as he gambled to try and win his second race of the season. And they all did, except one… but more on him later. Marc Marquez will have taken heart from another bit of progress though, so what can he do at Silverstone?  And can fellow Honda rider Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), who impressed in Styria, get back in the mix along with teammate Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) and Marc Marquez’ teammate Pol Espargaro?

And now, back to the headline stealer in Austria: Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and another of those instant classics. The South African will arrive on the crest of a wave, and KTM in the midst of what’s become another frontrunning season, but Silverstone is a very different challenge. How will the Austrian factory measure up? The last time MotoGP™ raced there, a top ten was realistic target. Now, they expect far more. So will the step they made from 2019 to 2020 be apparent immediately? Or will less data mean more time needed out the box for both Binder and teammate Miguel Oliveira, who is likewise a race winner this season and will hopefully also be better recovered from his Styrian GP practice crash?

Aprilia likewise arrive with a little less recent data given the gap in events at Silverstone, but the Noale factory also have an RS-GP that was given a complete overhaul. Can they continue to hit the ground running and get in that fight? Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) was incredibly close to getting that podium last time out before losing ground in the final stages, so the goal will remain that top five finish aka a best in the MotoGP™ era.

Fast and poised to put on another spectacular show, Silverstone always creates some incredible racing... and there's no reason to doubt 2021 will be any different. Buckle up and strap in for more as MotoGP™ go racing at 13:00 (GMT +1) on Sunday the 29th of August!

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