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A few weeks ago, after winning the Styrian GP and claiming third a week later at the Red Bull Ring, many would have thought Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) would comfortably claim the 2021 MotoGP™ Rookie of the Year crown. And understandably so. However, Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama) is now hot on the heels of his fellow Ducati rider.
‘Bestia’ – meaning ‘beast’ in Italian – stunned on Sunday at the Gran Premio Octo di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini to claim his maiden premier class podium. Bastianini produced a stunning performance to earn P3, finishing just 4.7s shy of race winner Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team), as the reigning Moto2™ World Champion comfortably beat the likes of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) and 2020 MotoGP™ Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar).
Climbing onto a MotoGP™ podium is arguably the hardest it’s ever been. But what’s most impressive about Bastianini’s podium is he did it on two-year-old equipment. Both he and fellow rookie teammate Luca Marini (SKY VR46 Avintia) are on 2019 Desmosedicis, which has made their already tough rookie campaigns that little bit more difficult. Ducati’s GP19 is by no means a slow bike, hence Bastianini’s ability to put it on the podium, but every other factory has improved their packages – including Ducati – since 2019.
On a 2021 Ducati, Martin has been simply outstanding this season. Securing pole position and a podium in just his second race, the Spaniard immediately impressed. His huge crash in Portimao heavily disrupted his unreal start to the season, but even after missing three races and recovering from several broken bones, Martin has never lacked pace this year. Far from it in fact.
His performances at the Red Bull Ring were sublime. Only Mir was able to even get close to laying a glove on the 2018 Moto3™ World Champion in Styria, while at Silverstone, Martin was again right up there with the top guys in terms of pace. Two DNFs in the last three, including Misano’s early tumble, has seen an inform Bastianini close him down in the overall standings though.
P6 in Aragon was Bastianini’s best result before the San Marino GP. Four top 10s had been a very solid return for the rookie, but there won’t have been many who really expected a podium challenge at Misano – especially from P12 on the grid. Picking your way through the pack, on a two-year-old bike, and going on to set the fastest lap of the race, is more than a difficult task. But Bastianini made it look easy. If he’d started a row or two further up the grid, a win could well have been on the cards…
So, with four races remaining, the 2021 Rookie of the Year battle has been turned up a notch. Martin sits on 71 points, with Bastianini 10 behind on 61. Next up for the pair is a trip to Austin and the Circuit of the Americas, a demanding, technical layout they have no experience on with a MotoGP™ machine. Who are you backing to come out on top? It should be a fascinating fight.