No one could have anticipated what happened in the last four laps of the Bitci Grand Prix of Austria. The slick-equipped Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) decided to roll the dice when the Styrian heavens opened, as we witnessed the South African defy the odds to win his second MotoGP™ race in astonishing circumstances.
Binder’s split-second gamble to stay out while fellow leading pack members Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team), Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) and Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) dived into pitlane for their wet weather machines meant we saw a seventh different winner emerge in just 11 races in 2021.
This comes just a week after we were treated to five manufacturers finishing in the top five for the first time since Brno 2008, as MotoGP™ once again proved it’s as competitive as it ever has been. Yes, the closing stages of the Austrian GP were unprecedented. But we could have had the likes of Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), Iker Lecuona (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing), Luca Marini (SKY Avintia VR46), Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) on the podium at one stage. It was a sensational watch. Sport at its unpredictable and enthralling best.
The fact is that we’re currently in an era where every manufacturer has a chance of winning. Yamaha, Ducati, KTM, Suzuki and Honda have proven pedigree, and Aprilia's new RS-GP is edging closer and closer to the podium. In addition, every rider on the grid, if everything aligned for them, are also capable of winning a race. That’s why they’re the best riders in the world. 12 of the full-time riders have won a race in the premier class, 12 have also been World Champions. The 2021 Austrian GP podium finishers are all World Champions in Binder, Bagnaia and Martin.
We’ve had seven winners so far, yet Pecco – the rider second in the title race – is still winless. So is reigning World Champion Mir. Racing doesn’t work like this of course, but you have to think that both riders will climb onto the top step before the season ends, which would take the tally to nine. In 2016 and 2020, we saw nine different riders win a race, the all-time record in a single season. So far, Binder joins Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), Quartararo, Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team), Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), Marc Marquez and Martin in winning at least one race in 2021.
In addition to the seven winners, we’ve also been treated to 11 riders standing on the rostrum. Alongside the victors, Bagnaia, Mir, Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) and Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) have sprayed the bubbly in 2021, the first trio have all been desperately close to a 25-point haul this season. The record for the number of podium finishers in a season? 17 in 1976.
Are we going to see more different winners and podium finishers in 2021? Surely the answer is yes. Aforementioned, Bagnaia and Mir are yet to win, with Zarco sitting on four P2s this season. The fact second, third and fourth in the World Championship haven’t won yet is a testament to the competitiveness of MotoGP™. It’s a testament to how difficult it is to win a race in MotoGP™’s current wonderful, awe-inspiring climate.
Next up: Silverstone. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) is the latest rider to win there, another rider who is thirsty for a first podium of the season. Who knows what's going to happen at the British GP? No one. That's what makes MotoGP™ so incredibly exciting week in, week out.