Portuguese Grand Prix 2021 MotoGP rider ratings - The Race
MotoGP

Portuguese Grand Prix 2021 MotoGP rider ratings

Apr 19 2021
By Simon Patterson

Another weekend of epic MotoGP action completed as the series returned to Europe for the Portuguese Grand Prix, and it was once again Fabio Quartararo who emerged on top.

In the process, he stole the championship lead from fellow Frenchman Johann Zarco after a superb ride at Portimao.

But as always with the ultra-competitive series, there were more winners than just the three on the podium at the end of the race – and plenty of losers too.

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.

Fabio Quartararo – 9

Started: 1st Finished: 1st

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A pretty sublime performance from the Yamaha rider, and the sort of show that will win him a championship if he’s not careful in 2021.

This was a bit of a repeat performance of his win last time out in Qatar, as he picked his way though the field before timing his charge perfectly. t couldn’t have worked out much better.

And perhaps even more impressively, he sounded calm, cool, and ready to do it all over again afterwards.

Working hard this past winter on his mental training even more than his physical preparation, Quartararo is finally talking the talk as well as walking the walk – and the end result of that could be the big prize.

Marc Marquez – 9

Started: 6th Finished: 7th

Marc Marquez

We knew Marquez wasn’t going to win the race. We knew that his return to action was as much about the next step of his rehab as it was about finally getting his title aspirations back on line.

And as such, it would be easy to rule out a seventh-placed finish as nothing too extraordinary for the man who has dominated MotoGP since 2013.

Yet the pictures of his face after the race ended tell a story all by themselves.

Coming home in seventh after nine months off a bike, three big surgeries and a doubt about whether he’d ever ride again might have taken more effort than any of his eight world championships.

As we’ve come to expect, Sunday’s race was Marquez giving his all.

Aleix Espargaro – 8.5

Started: 7th Finished: 6th

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This weekend’s race was a really important one for Espargaro and for Aprilia, as they looked to put to bed any lingering doubts about their newfound form, even after strong results (and Aprilia’s closest ever gap to the winner) in both races in Qatar.

Finally getting the chance to bring the 2021 RS-GP to a new circuit, there was big pressure on Espargaro’s shoulders to prove Aprilia wasn’t just fast at Losail.

Yet he didn’t disappoint, taking an excellent sixth place to record one of his and Aprilia’s best ever results, as well as cementing what we thought: that the new bike is a potential podium finisher this season. Now all they have to do is go a few places better…

Luca Marini – 8.5

Started: 8th Finished: 12th

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Marini’s MotoGP rookie season was always going to be a bit of a slow burner, because that’s the way that he’s approached his entire grand prix career so far.

Building into Sunday’s race with an excellent eighth on the grid, he went backwards when the lights went out to finish 12th – but it was the praise from other riders that bumps him up the list, not his finishing position.

Perhaps unable to make the VR46 Ducati’s tyres last all race, he certainly made a roadblock out of himself in defending his position, with both Danilo Petrucci and half-brother Valentino Rossi admitting that it took all their skill to get past him.

It wasn’t a sensational performance like fellow rookie Jorge Martin’s last time out, but it’ll be valuable for Marini’s eventual development.

Pecco Bagnaia – 8

Started: 11th Finished: 2nd

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On Saturday it looked like Bagnaia was facing something of a difficult race, after losing his lap record pole position time due to infringing on a yellow flag, and going from first to 11th in a split second.

It’s the sort of deflation that would have scuppered many a racer before the race began – but it’s credit to the Ducati man that he took it in his stride and ran a smart race.

Picking his way through the pack relentlessly but without any drama, he was able to put himself in the right place at the right time when misfortune befell both Alex Rins and Johann Zarco. Bagnaia duly inherited a podium place that’ll stand him well in the title race.

Joan Mir – 8

Started: 9th Finished: 3rd

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Once again, the name of the game for world champion Mir in Portugal was damage limitation.

Portimao is not a track where the GSX-RR is ever going to be a frontrunner under normal circumstances and up against a pack of rivals who in theory were stronger than him, a podium finish is an excellent result – and exactly what he needed to finally get something akin to a title defence underway after two mediocre opening rounds.

Brad Binder – 8

Started: 15th Finished: 5th

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It used to be that Rossi was the most obvious Sunday specialist in MotoGP – but that title is now being well and truly inherited by Binder.

Far back in qualifying, he came seemingly from nowhere to suddenly sneak himself into the top five by the end of the race and was only a few laps short of being a podium contender.

The average on Saturday/fast on Sunday approach won Mir a title in 2020, and if Binder can demonstrate more of his newfound consistency with more rides like that in 2021 then he could be a dark horse.

Franco Morbidelli – 7.5

Started: 5th Finished: 4th

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Fourth place isn’t an exceptional result any more by three-time race winner Morbidelli’s standards, but coming when it did at Portimao, it could well be the foundation he needs to launch something bigger and better this season.

It’s been a rocky road to Portugal for him and it would have been easy to let his lack of confidence get the better of him, especially after a tough start to the weekend.

But he knuckled down and managed to find something in the race that got some much-needed points on the board. Unexpected if not unsurprising, it was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Taka Nakagami – 7

Started: 21st Finished: 10th

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Marc Marquez wasn’t the only heroic performer in Sunday’s race, with Nakagami putting himself through the wars in the build-up with a violent crash on Friday that left him not even able to ride in qualifying.

So it’s testament to the Japanese rider that not only did he get on the bike, he soldiered through the race to his first points-scoring finish of the season to boot, coming home in a 10th place that didn’t set the world alight but was much needed.

Enea Bastianini – 6.5

Started: 16th Finished: 9th

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There was nothing too exceptional about Bastianini’s performance on Sunday beyond that it was yet another strong ride from the MotoGP rookie.

So far averaging six points per race in his three starts, it’s been a solid introduction to the premier class for him, and he continued that well at Portimao.

Lorenzo Savadori – 6

Started: 20th Finished: 14th

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Credit where credit is due – it hasn’t been an easy start to Savadori’s MotoGP career, but the Aprilia rider chalked up his best ever finish at Portimao.

It’s the first time he hasn’t finished last and the first time he’s scored points too, so is a nice reward for his perseverance – especially through both injury and plenty of speculation about his seat being stolen from beneath him.

Alex Marquez – 6

Started: 13th Finished: 8th

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Another rider who just needed a finish on Sunday after a frankly woeful start to 2021, Alex Marquez managed to do that in some style – even if he admitted afterwards to being jokingly frustrated at not beating his “bastard” brother in their first race together!

Solid points on the board after a series of big crashes will keep team boss Lucio Cecchinello happy for now.

Valentino Rossi – 5.5

Started: 17th Finished: DNF

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It’s a sign of the times that a crash out of 11th is enough to give Valentino Rossi a slightly above-average score these days.

The reality is that he has not had a good start to 2021 but he looked at least like he was making progress in Sunday’s race until he burned out his tyres pushing to pass half-brother Marini of all people.

It was the first sign of progress all season. Whether it’ll translate to the next race at Jerez remains to be seen, but it finally seems like a little sliver of light at the end of a pretty dark tunnel.

Pol Espargaro – 5

Started: 14th Finished: DNF

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It’s hard to give Espargaro any more than an average score, because a problematic rear brake from the second the lights went out meant we never got to see what he was capable of.

In saying that, the Repsol Honda rider arguably should have been higher on the grid than 14th, and it’s hard to imagine he would have ended the race as top Honda even on a fully functioning bike.

Johann Zarco – 5

Started: 3rd Finished: DNF

Johann Zarco Pramac Ducati crash Portimao MotoGP 2021

So much promise – retaining the championship lead, taking three podiums from three races, giving France another double podium. It was all within sight.

But unfortunately Zarco’s ambitions were cut short in Portugal by a gearbox problem that fired him from his Pramac Ducati while sitting in third.

Sure, he was under pressure from Bagnaia, who had just overtaken him, and sure he admitted afterwards that the crash was perhaps not entirely due to the mechanical issue and could have been avoided – but he was once again at the sharp end of a MotoGP race and looking comfortable. More to be happy about than disappointed in.

Alex Rins – 4

Started: 2nd Finished: DNF

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It shouldn’t need saying, but it’s disappointing that after four years as a factory MotoGP rider, Alex Rins is still doing what Alex Rins does best: crashing out of really good positions.

Two falls from race leads in 2020 arguably cost him the title, but it looked like he had put it behind him in Qatar this year with solid results in the opening two races when it would have been easy to make a mistake.

But the good news about Sunday is that while it might have ended in the gravel trap, there was real speed there – more than anyone expected Suzuki to bring to Portimao. That’s a welcome sign as the series heads to more GSX-RR-friendly tracks.

Danilo Petrucci – 3.5

Started: 18th Finished: 13th

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One of a number of riders who was flummoxed in their attempts to pass Marini during Sunday’s race.

It’s something of a surprise that a rider of Petrucci’s experience is still far from comfortable on the KTM RC16 when we see other riders like Binder figuring out how to make it go fast.

There are a few hints that it’s starting to get there – but it needs to happen faster for the Italian veteran.

Iker Lecuona – 3

Started: 19th Finished: 15th

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His worst ever weekend in MotoGP, according to Lecuona. There’s not much to celebrate for the youngest (and least experienced) rider on the grid.

A stranger to Portimao on a MotoGP bike after missing last year’s race and unable to ever get comfortable, he might have picked up a solidary point but that won’t be enough for long given the hungry crop of KTM youngsters eyeing his seat.

Miguel Oliveira – 2.5

Started: 10th Finished: 16th

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Last year’s winner never looked happy at Portimao from the minute he saw the Michelin tyre allocation had robbed him of the hard front tyre that he used both at home in Portugal and in Austria to take two impressive victories last year.

Struggling without it, he overloaded the next best thing and crashed out.

The reality is you can only work with what you’re given. While he might have wanted something different from Michelin, it was never going to give it to him.

It’s adapt or die in the cutthroat world of MotoGP, and Oliveira couldn’t adapt this weekend.

Jack Miller – 2

Started: 4th Finished: DNF

Jack Miller crash Portimao MotoGP 2021

It’s hard to imagine how Miller’s first three races as a factory Ducati rider could have gone any worse.

Two ninth places in the opening races, when he was billed as favourite for both, and with satellite Ducatis on the podium at both, wasn’t a good start.

But his rookie crash in Portugal, overloading the front after the rider in front of him made a small error, is perhaps even more unforgivable.

Ducati is a brutal manufacturer when it comes to rider management and Miller is on a one-year contract.

He might be adamant that there’s still plenty of time to turn things around, but he needs to start showing that sooner rather than later.

Maverick Vinales – 1

Started: 12th Finished: 11th

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When he took a perfect victory at the opening race in Qatar, it genuinely looked like we had a new Vinales for 2021.

And even when things didn’t go quite according to plan in the second race there, he still limited the damage to come home in a solid fifth place.

That’s why it’s so disappointing to see him go backwards spectacularly at Portimao, even if he did eventually pull himself together for a few points.

Disadvantaged by his poor qualifying after exceeding track limits, 12th on the grid was always bad news – but it doesn’t excuse being dead last after the opening few laps.

Though Vinales was able to drag himself forward as the bike’s fuel load decreased, it’s still just not good enough.

Titles are won on consistency, not being fast at only a handful of tracks – and of course, his team-mate handily winning the race made things look even worse for him.

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