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After another stunning year of racing, it’s time to bring the curtain down on 2021. But it’s not just any season finale this time around, it’s one that will stay long in the memory by default as the paddock bids farewell – on track at least – to one of the all-time greats. 26 seasons later, after over 44% of all Grands Prix staged throughout the more than 70-year history of the sport, Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) bows out. The stats make for incredible reading, but the legend speaks for itself.
The Last Dance: Valencia set for final fireworks
As the sea of yellow fans enjoy their final appointment with the ‘Doctor’, part of his legacy will already be lining up alongside him on the grid, including most recent winner Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team). Pecco was – according to the review of 2020 Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) – almost perfect in Portugal, with his metronomic pace and incredibly consistent laptimes compounding that feeling even further for everyone looking on. But Valencia is somewhere the Italian says he’s sometimes struggled, so it could be an interesting one to watch him take it on as a breakthrough season comes to a close.
Last year though, there was already some good Ducati form at the venue – and more good form from the first VR46 Academy rider to take to the top step in MotoGP™. That duel between Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) was an instant classic, showing more Borgo Panigale pace at a track not traditionally a hunting ground for them. But as Miller says, the days of X strengths and Y weaknesses in the bike are largely a thing of the past, so he and Pecco can be expected at the front.
Morbidelli will want to use his good memories as a springboard to move forward once again, and Andrea Dovizioso (Petronas Yamaha SRT) will want to end the season on a useful note ahead of taking on the new spec machine for next season. Rossi will, of course, be guaranteed most of the limelight, but Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) will try and wrestle some back. For a venue that’s treated Yamaha pretty well – the Iwata marque has eight wins here, only two off Honda’s record of 10 – the reigning Champion hasn’t got the best record, so he’ll be looking to put that right and bounce back in style from a crash at Portimão and his only DNF of the season so far. With Ducati now in the hot seat in the fight for the teams' title – and having already wrapped up the Constructors' crown, there's still plenty on the line.
UNSEEN: Mir makes podium return after mental reset
As that Morbidelli-Miller duel rounded out the season in 2020 though, Mir was arriving into a race weekend not only as a man on the edge of glory but also as a first time premier class winner. Consistency and podium pace was his calling card last year but that win finally came – although Styria looked like it could have been close – at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo. This time around Mir’s third overall and the title fight is over, but he arrives from some serious form on the Algarve, including his first ever MotoGP™ top three in qualifying. Mir was Bagnaia’s main challenger and Valencia swings the form book in the Suzuki rider’s favour. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) also took a front row at the European GP last year and followed Mir home for a Suzuki 1-2, and the number 42 also sliced through to fourth in the season finale. Can the Hamamatsu factory take that first win of the season?
There’s also the fight for Rookie of the Year that will be decided. Incredibly, it’s now only three points between Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama) and Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing), with the Italian just ahead. Martin has arguably the better record at Valencia though – having taken his maiden win at the track in Moto3™ – and it’s home turf too…
"It's close!" - Rookie of the Year battle going to the wire
Valencia is also home turf for Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) and the number 73 arrives from a great duel with Miller in Portugal, taking top Independent Team honours in the race and nearly taking another premier class podium. To repeat the feat he’ll have to fight off Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing), who wrapped up top Independent of the season, as well as the Rookie of the Year duellers and the likes of LCR teammate Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), who has a great record at Valencia. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) will want to go better than his Valencia form so far too.
Despite Marc Marquez being on the sidelines, Honda’s record at the track – those ten wins – make for good reading, and that’s something both Alex Marquez and Nakagami will take more motivation from too. As will Pol Espargaro, who’s had three MotoGP™ podiums at Valencia before arriving at the Japanese factory, and he’ll want another one with Honda to end the season well.
Those aforementioned rostrum finishes for Pol Espargaro were with KTM, for whom Valencia has hosted some history: their first podium in the premier class back in 2018 and then two more last year too. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and teammate Miguel Oliveira also have some serious form at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in the lower classes, and will be looking to end the year with some bigger finishes. For Tech3 KTM Factory Racing it’s also an emotional one, as both Danilo Petrucci and Iker Lecuona bid farewell to MotoGP™. Can they go out swinging?
Arrivederci, farewell, ciao, but not goodbye. VR46 will remain a presence in the paddock and a legend for millions of people and the sport itself. Petrucci and Lecuona take on new challenges… and everyone takes on the Circuit Ricardo Tormo for one more time in 2021. Tune in at 14:00 (GMT +1) on Sunday for the Doctor’s last dance and the final fiesta of the season!
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