MotoGP 2021 French Grand Prix rider ratings - The Race

MotoGP 2021 French Grand Prix rider ratings

May 17 2021
By Simon Patterson

If there’s one thing that’s all but certain, it’s that flag-to-flag races will bring chaos to MotoGP. Slick tyres on a wet track, managing wets as the surface dries out, the risk and drama of picking when to dive into the pits for another bike… all in all it produces a unique set of circumstances that generally allow some riders to shine and others to disappoint.

The French Grand Prix was no exception to that rule, with rain coming only a few laps into the race and causing carnage as riders struggled to stay on track, made costly mistakes for their title hopes and, in some cases, got the chance to shine.

With that in mind we have, as usual, ranked the whole grid based on their Sunday performances.

Our MotoGP ranking system is simple: the riders who we believe performed the best are at the top, and the ones who underplayed are at the bottom, and scored appropriately.

It isn’t just about the end result though, with pre-race expectation and form heavily influencing their eventual score – not just the points they take home with them.

Jack Miller – 9.5

Started: 3rd Finished: 1st

Jack Miller MotoGP Le Mans Ducati

Jack Miller of old was pretty good at two things: going really fast for brief periods of time, and crashing out of promising positions. Now that he’s absolutely mastered the first one and all but discarded the second one, he’s finally in a position to show his title-winning potential.

Everyone knows he loves dodgy mixed conditions, and in that regard Sunday’s race was made for him. But at the same time, it’s easy to be fast in those conditions for qualifying, when you only have to stay on the bike for one or two flying laps. It’s a whole other game to be consistently fast for a whole race, but Miller did that in style at Le Mans in an excellent demonstration of how much confidence he has in the Ducati.

Two race wins on the bounce is now more than countering his slow start to the season, and if he can maintain it then who knows what could be possible?

Lorenzo Savadori – 9

Started: 11th Finished: DNF

Lorenzo Savadori Aprilia MotoGP Le Mans

There aren’t enough superlatives to describe the absolutely amazing weekend that Aprilia rider Lorenzo Savadori enjoyed at Le Mans. Adamant that he’s not someone who likes riding in the wet but that it simply counters his lack of prototype machinery experience by making the bikes feel like production-spec superbikes, from his Q1 ride to the race he looked excellent all weekend – even if he was compromised early on on Sunday by contact with Alex Marquez.

Unfortunately, the fairytale result wasn’t to be not thanks to any mistake of his own but due to an Aprilia engine problem. That’s a slightly bitter pill for him to swallow, but the experience has hopefully helped him understand the RS-GP better and may signal a turnaround in what has been a season getting slowly better.

Fabio Quartararo – 8.5

Started: 1st Finished: 3rd

Fabio Quartararo Yamaha MotoGP Le Mans

Fabio Quartararo celebrated after the race as if he’d won the thing, and that’s not much of a shock given how important the result could be for his title hopes – and how very unexpected it was even halfway through the race.

He has never ever been a great wet-weather rider, and regularly struggles when conditions change. Which means to be able to look insanely focused as the weather started to turn, to come out of the pits fighting strong on wet tyres, and to keep the pace up and his head together as Miller and Zarco passed him, is an indication he’s turned something of a corner. It’s the sort of ride that wins championships…

Iker Lecuona – 8

Started: 18th Finished: 9th

Iker Lecuona Tech3 KTM MotoGP Le Mans

Iker Lecuona very nearly came close to topping this week’s rankings, if it hasn’t been for one tiny error – but despite not quite fulfilling his full potential, he’s still got to be leaving Le Mans absolutely delighted with what he achieved at his team’s home race.

Crashing as he exited the pits on cold wet tyres, he essentially sabotaged what would have been a top-five finish, maybe even holding off team-mate (and wet-weather specialist) Danilo Petrucci for a truly exceptional result. As it stands, recovering from a crash in his first-ever flag-to-flag race to finish ninth is an excellent result, and hopefully helps him turn around his confidence now.

Francesco Bagnaia – 7.5

Started: 16th Finished: 4th

Francesco Bagnaia MotoGP Le Mans Ducati

While there’s loads of drama going on around him, there’s perhaps no one doing a more solid job of attacking the title in 2021 than Pecco Bagnaia, and another solid finish at Le Mans is another step closer.

Looking to be in real trouble after a disaster in qualifying, he picked his way through the field in Sunday’s frenetic race to ensure that points damage was kept to the minimum. Sure, he might have conceded the lead and a handful of points to Fabio Quartararo one place ahead of him, but the overall situation is looking good for the Ducati rider.

Johann Zarco – 7

Started: 5th Finished: 2nd

Johann Zarco Pramac MotoGP Le Mans Ducati

There are definite shades of 2017 Johann Zarco to the Frenchman’s 2021 performances so far, as he finds not only his speed but also his consistency again after a few years out in the wilderness. Now three times a runner-up from five races, he’s going about this year in the best possible way.

His charge through past fellow Frenchman Quartararo was strong at Le Mans, but he did it without ever putting a foot wrong. If he can maintain his form, then the sort of title challenge launched by Joan Mir in the latter stages of 2020 still isn’t outside the realms of possibility for the Pramac Ducati rider.

Danilo Petrucci – 7

Started: 17th Finished: 5th

Danilo Petrucci Tech3 KTM MotoGP Le Mans

After a very difficult start to 2021 for new KTM signing Danilo Petrucci, there must have been a smile on the Italian’s face when he saw Sunday’s forecast, knowing that there was a chance to repeat his fantastic win from last October.

In the end, fifth wasn’t quite as good as last year, but he was hampered before the race even began by a poor qualifying position. It’s not a win, but it’s a nice positive boost for Petrucci and it’ll hopefully ease his Ducati transition further.

Alex Marquez – 7

Started: 19th Finished: 6th

Alex Marquez LCR Honda Le Mans MotoGP

It’s hard to tell if sixth is a great result or a disappointment for Alex Marquez. On one hand, it’s his best finish of the year and came after an epic charge through the field, where he was able to do a good job of keeping his cool in a race where it would have been easy for MotoGP’s leading crasher of 2021 to make a mistake.

Yet at the same time there might be a bit of missed opportunity in it, given that not so long ago he stood on Le Mans’ iconic podium in similar conditions. The difference this time round, though, is that it wasn’t the result of a straight wet race but rather his first ever pitstop, meaning on the balance of things the LCR rider should be heading home content.

Aleix Espargaro – 6.5

Started: 13th Finished: DNF

Aleix Espargaro Aprilia MotoGP Le Mans

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen an Aprilia rider in a strong position only to be thwarted by a mechanical issue, but that’s exactly what happened to Aleix Espargaro on Sunday. It feels like something that the factory have largely put behind it, but it’s still going to have smarted that Espargaro was denied a chance to perform.

It’s hard to say what would have been possible had the bike held together, but he would have in all likelihood secured yet another top-six in what has been Aprilia’s best ever start to a premier class season.

Takaaki Nakagami – 6

Started: 7th Finished: 7th

Takaaki Nakagami LCR Honda Le Mans MotoGP

Starting seventh, riding through all the chaos, switching to a different bike, and finishing seventh means that Le Mans was something of a success for Taka Nakagami and the LCR Honda team in a race where it was easy to mess up.

In reality, though, it’s likely that he’s more than a little disappointed with the end result considering he looked to have dry pace capable of a bit more, but unfortunately the one thing in racing we can’t control is the weather and you play the cards you’re given.

Luca Marini – 6

Started: 12th Finished: 12th

Luca Marini VR46 MotoGP Le Mans Ducati

Another solid result for Luca Marini in a treacherous race where many of his far more experienced rivals weren’t able to keep on their feet, the French Grand Prix will have added some more valuable skills to the rookie’s arsenal.

Not a circuit where he’s ever had much luck in the past, it’s perhaps all the more impressive that his decent day came at Le Mans, and the next time there’s similar conditions it’ll be curious to see what he’s learned and analysed.

Tito Rabat – 5.5

Started: 20th Finished: 15th

Tito Rabat Pramac MotoGP Le Mans Ducati

When Tito Rabat was parachuted into the Pramac Racing team as Jorge Martin’s replacement, there wasn’t a huge amount of expectation placed on him, so he’ll return to the World Superbike paddock happy to have once again scored MotoGP points.

Riding a steady race amidst all the chaos in conditions that he’s admittedly not very fond of after his 2018 Silverstone injury, he nonetheless did a steady job that will have pleased both rider and team.

Valentino Rossi – 5

Started: 9th Finished: 11th

Valentino Rossi Yamaha Petronas MotoGP Le Mans

Sunday started full of so much potential for Valetino Rossi, with the veteran racer looking faster in the dry than he’s been all year, and like he might have had a real chance of something special in the rain. Yet in the end it all came to naught for him, really, because there was much more on offer than 11th.

It was partly something out of his control, admittedly, after opening-lap contact between him, Franco Morbidelli and Pol Espargaro, but that doesn’t excuse that he also struggled on a damp but drying track in the latter stages of the race. It was a glimpse of a more positive future, but things are still far from perfect.

Enea Bastianini – 5

Started: 22nd Finished: 14th

Enea Bastianini MotoGP Le Mans Ducati Avintia

An impressive charge through the field for the Ducati rookie, especially as he admitted after the race that he wasn’t feeling well throughout the weekend.

Not really putting a foot wrong in the race and coming out of the bike swap in one piece will be something for him to build on going forward.

Brad Binder – 4.5

Started: 21st Finished: 13th

Brad Binder KTM MotoGP Le Mans

Something of a damage limitation race for Brad Binder in his first ever flag-to-flag encounter, his actual problems came before the lights even went out when his launch control failed to initiate. Last going into Turn 1, he was actually able to make something of a solid recovery throughout the race.

Rejoining on wet tyres on what he described as the worst conditions of the weekend, it wasn’t a bad end to take home some safe points and some new experience of the RC16, even if it wasn’t a result on par with what Tech3’s satellite riders were able to pull off.

Marc Marquez – 4.5

Started: 6th Finished: DNF

Marc Marquez Le Mans French GP Honda MotoGP

On one hand, Marc Marquez had an excellent race on Sunday, showing that he’s still the unequivocal master of managing flag-to-flag craziness and that while he’s still not entirely fully fit, he’s still got the speed to lead races.

Yet he’s right to say after the race that he’s angry with himself, because he threw away a golden opportunity with not one but two crashes.

Franco Morbidelli – 4

Started: 4th Finished: 16th

Franco Morbidelli Petronas Yamaha MotoGP Le Mans

If there’s one thing you can say about Franco Morbidelli, it’s that he’s a trier – and Sunday’s result proved that. Unlucky to miss out on the points after a charge through the field in the second half of the race, it was pure determination that kept him riding despite a badly aggravated knee injury.

Yet the fact remains that the only reason he needed to make that charge was his own mistake on the first lap. Caught out when Pol Espargaro dived in front of him after a moment, Morbidelli miscalculated the next corner and made a mistake, taking himself out of the race and nearly taking Espargaro and Valentino Rossi with him.

Joan Mir – 4

Started: 14th Finished: DNF

Suzuki MotoGP Le Mans Joan Mir

Sometimes, it’s hard to remember just how inexperienced some of MotoGP’s new breed of stars are, but inexperience is exactly what caught out reigning world champion Joan Mir on Sunday, after failing to understand the rules in his first ever flag-to-flag race and paying the price for it as a result.

Crashing out when the rain initially started to fall but before pitting – admittedly an easy mistake to make – he ran back to the garage to mount his second bike, only to discover that you need to bring your other machine with you… A costly error given that there were points on offer, but not one he’ll make again.

Maverick Vinales – 3

Started: 2nd Finished: 10th

Maverick Vinales Yamaha MotoGP Le Mans

Is there a race that more perfectly encapsulates Maverick Vinales’ career than Le Mans’ flag-to-flag battle? Able to qualify well and to make a good start (which is admittedly not a trademark of his), he was a rocket off the line and burst into the lead, looking for all the world like the old Top Gun and potentially set to dominate the race.

Yet the second things started to deviate from the mean, with the start of some rain falling, he plummeted backwards through the order, eventually finishing only 10th. Titles are won on consistency in all conditions, and it’s a huge chink in his armour that he needs everything to be just right for him.

Pol Espargaro – 2

Started: 8th Finished: 8th

Pol Espargaro Le Mans French GP Honda MotoGP

Not very long ago, Repsol Honda was talking about Pol Espargaro as a title contender, the man hired to be a safe pair of hands while Marc Marquez continued to recover but expected to be his wingman when he returned to fitness the way that Dani Pedrosa was previously.

And while he managed to finish Sunday’s race in the points, had Marquez not made a mistake then Espargaro would have been fourth Honda across the line. Sure, we know it’s a difficult bike to adapt to, but measure his performance against the likes of Alex Marquez’s podium form at Le Mans back in October and it’s obvious something isn’t going right.

Miguel Oliveira – 2

Started: 10th Finished: DNF

Miguel Oliveira KTM MotoGP Le Mans

We know that the 2021 KTM/Michelin combination is causing problems for their riders, but both Danilo Petrucci and Iker Lecuona proved on Sunday that the problem is one that clearly doesn’t hamper them too much in the wet. Yet while the satellite riders might have had a strong weekend, theoretical team leader Oliveira struggled yet again, crashing out of Sunday’s race after making a mistake on a wet track.

Now five rounds into the season, his best performance is 11th and he’s averaging less than two points per round. The last KTM in the standings and part of a team that takes no prisoners, he needs to find something rather quickly.

Alex Rins – 1

Started: 15th Finished: DNF

Alex Rins Suzuki MotoGP Le Mans

Alex Rins crashes are becoming about as predictable as Alex Rins being left out of lists of title contenders by his rivals – something he’s complained about in recent weeks only to subsequently prove them right by failing to score points for three races in a row.

There’s no doubting that he’s ultra fast, but until he stops throwing away strong results, he’s only squandering his talent.

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