With the opening race of the 2021 MotoGP season done and dusted, there’s plenty to analyse after some great performances and some woeful displays.
It was tipped pre-race as a straight up Ducati versus Yamaha scrap, but that wasn’t quite the case as the red bikes showed they simply had nothing to give to winner Maverick Vinales.
With lots to talk about throughout the field, here’s the grid rated from one to 10 on their performances – and my reasoning for why they got the score they did.
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.
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.
Maverick Vinales – 10
Qualified 3rd, finished 1st
Simply put, Sunday’s display was possibly the best performance we’ve ever seen from Maverick Vinales in his MotoGP career.
He did exactly what he said he was going to do all winter, bringing a newfound aggression to the race in a way that we previously thought simply wasn’t possible on the Yamaha.
Of course, he still has to back up Sunday’s ride by proving it wasn’t a one-off – and not the false dawn that we’ve seen more than once from the manufacturer in recent seasons.
He can do that starting next weekend, and if he makes it two wins from two (or even just takes another podium), then you’ve got to think that 2021 Maverick is the real deal at long last.
Enea Bastianini – 9
Qualified 13th, finished 10th
As rookie performances go, Enea Bastianini’s was sublime. The reigning Moto2 world champion kept his cool, managed his race to perfection, and came out of it with a result that very nearly upstaged Ducati team leader Jack Miller.
Dropping back as low as 19th in the early stages of his first ever MotoGP race, it’s impressive that he was not only able to rally forward to a top 10 finish but that he did so without burning out his tyres in the process.
If he can build on his result starting next weekend, then he’ll soon be the occasional top six contender never mind just the leader of the rookie of the year rankings.
Johann Zarco – 8.5
Qualified 6th, finished 2nd
Ducati took a punt on Johann Zarco last year by signing the washed-up KTM rider despite a woeful preceding season – and it was rewarded in style with a Brno podium. Promoted to Pramac from Avintia, he was expected to perform in 2021 – but no one anticipated he would outsmart the factory team in the opening round.
Yet it seems that he’s the only Ducati rider who so far has figured out how to make the Michelin tyres last, and he played a blinder when it came to conservation at Losail.
Zarco ensured that he had rubber left in the closing stages, and it initially looked like he was on for the win as he closed down Vinales – but stealing second at the line from Mir and Bagnaia is an exceptional result.
Joan Mir – 8
Qualified 10th, finished 4th
I suppose we should all know better after 2020 than to rule out Joan Mir, but the reigning world champion genuinely looked like he was struggling all weekend – and admitted afterwards that he was too, saying that he was tempted to smash up the pit box after qualifying, things were so bad.
So it’s testament to him that he was able to turn it around on Sunday and fight for the podium, even if he did get mugged by the Ducatis and end up fourth.
It’s valuable points for him on a day when it would have been easy to expect a lot less, thanks to the sort of ride that takes a champion’s level of maturity.
Jorge Martin – 7.5
Qualified 14th, finished 15th
Most of the impressive work of rookie Jorge Martin’s race came in the first three seconds, as he made a start so perfect some eyes checked to make sure he didn’t jump the gun.
Going from 14th to fourth in the first corner was testament to both the strength of the Ducati off the line and how quickly the 2018 Moto3 champion has adapted.
Sure, he faded back as the race progressed and took only a solidary point in 15th at the finish, but that’s no embarrassment for a first-time rider. He’s smart enough to have learned plenty from it, and the next time he finds himself at the sharp end he’ll hang around a bit longer. Another excellent rookie performance.
Fabio Quartararo – 7
Qualified 2nd, finished 5th
On paper, Fabio Quartararo’s race is perhaps not the best ever, as he was expecting more than fifth and had to watch his team-mate win. Though frustrated afterwards that he wasn’t closer to the action, there’s more than meets the eye to the Frenchman’s performance and he should be pleased with himself.
In 2020, in a similar sort of race, once Quartararo started to fade, he’d have dropped down and down as the race progressed. Instead, he managed to arrest his fall on Sunday and actually rallied himself back again, retaking two of the places he lost and limiting the damage. A more mature ride than we’ve seen in the past, it bodes well for his future.
Pecco Bagnaia – 6.5
Qualified 1st, finished 3rd
A decent result for Bagnaia, taking only his second MotoGP podium in his first race for the factory team – but given that he led for most of the race and that he wasn’t top Ducati at the chequered flag, it’s going to be a little bittersweet for him.
Simply put, he’s still got things to learn about race management and tyre conservation, and that showed on Sunday. Not able to slow the pace enough while in front, he should have been able to keep Vinales and Zarco at bay better – but it’s his first real time at the sharp end in a close race, and it might not be a mistake he makes twice.
Alex Rins – 6
Qualified 9th, finished 6th
Not an amazing race for Suzuki rider Alex Rins, but also one where he limited the damage on a difficult weekend for the manufacturer, albeit in less spectacular form than his team-mate Mir.
He wasn’t able to quite drag himself forward into the podium fight, but the charge he made in the latter part of the race indicates that he should be in a good place when MotoGP returns to Europe.
Aleix Espargaro – 5.5
Qualified 8th, finished 7th
About what was expected from the Aprilia rider, so it wasn’t a disappointing day for Aleix Espargaro even if there were flashes of something more throughout testing and practice.
Still essentially a one-man team as Lorenzo Savadori continues to struggle, seventh is a strong starting point for the new season and new bike – but he’s one rider who should be targeting a strong improvement next weekend.
Pol Espargaro – 5
Qualified 12th, finished 8th
Not a bad opening race for Repsol Honda’s new signing even if he was hoping for bigger things. We know that the RC213V is a hard bike to master and an aggressive machine to ride, and while Espargaro has been making good progress in testing, the physicality of a race is a different matter.
He’ll do better next time out, as evidenced by a good push in the latter stages of the race.
Luca Marini – 5
Qualified 18th, finished 16th
Luca Marini is a diesel engine not a two-stroke, and it was never going to be a sudden success for the Ducati rookie. He needs time to find his feet in the premier class; he’s very intelligent, that will perhaps serve him well in the long-term but occasionally means it’s hard to be fast right away.
He’ll study every lap of his race, take that information into next weekend, and do better.
Stefan Bradl – 4.5
Qualified 17th, finished 11th
We know that Stefan Bradl can do better than finishing outside the top 10 when he’s allowed to race freely – but with the German back to testing duties more than racing as he deputises for the injured Marc Marquez into a second season, he didn’t have the free rein he perhaps deserved in Qatar.
Unfortunately, with the return of Marquez looking increasingly imminent, that’s unlikely to change for Bradl now.
Iker Lecuona – 4
Qualified 21st, finished 17th
It was a difficult weekend for KTM all round, but arguably Iker Lecuona was the one of its riders who came closest to fulfilling his potential.
Never set to be a race winner anyway as he continues to learn in his sophomore season, he didn’t do a terrible job to come home only 21 seconds off the winner and under 10s from top KTM rider Miguel Oliveira.
Franco Morbidelli – 4
Qualified 7th, finished 18th
There’s an argument for Franco Morbidelli being higher on this list given that he nursed a bike with a sticking holeshot device home from the word go, but bear with me.
Speaking after the race, he admitted that he knew on the line that there was going to be a problem, but decided that for his crew he needed to ride on, which is a very Morbidelli trait.
Except there’s equally an argument that had he come into pitlane and switched to his spare machine before the start, then he’d have had a more successful race – and might even have taken a few points.
Losing a second per lap as it was but only finishing seven seconds from the points, it in theory could have been a better strategy – although hindsight is of course a wonderful thing!
Valentino Rossi – 3.5
Qualified 4th, finished 12th
There’s no beating around the bush – a rider of Valentino Rossi’s experience shouldn’t be having tyre life issues when other riders on the same machine are winning races.
The new Petronas Yamaha racer didn’t have great race pace all weekend and it showed, as he fell back through the order in a hurry and ended up in a disappointing position.
Early contact with Brad Binder didn’t help his cause, to be fair, and Rossi was able to bounce back from that to his initial position, but that still doesn’t make up for what was a very forgettable performance for the nine-time world champion.
Alex Marquez – 3
Qualified 16th, finished DNF
It clearly hasn’t been an easy adaption to satellite status and Honda’s 2021 bike for Alex Marquez – which is something of a surprise given how seamlessly he transitioned from Moto2 to the factory team last year.
Crashing has been the key point of the year so far for him, and while contact in Turn 1 with Danilo Petrucci set him off at a disadvantage, he still really needed to get a finish under his belt.
Brad Binder – 2.5
Qualified 19th, finished 14th
We knew it was going to be a tough weekend for the factory KTM duo at Losail, and unfortunately for them that prediction was right on the money.
As he never even came close to challenging for much, the best thing that can be said for Brad Binder’s race was that he stayed on the bike and scored two points.
Miguel Oliveira – 2.5
Qualified 15th, finished 13th
Much like team-mate Binder, the only silver linings for Miguel Oliveira are that he scored points and that he beat the other KTMs.
They’re going to be delighted to see the back of Losail after next weekend’s race, although the results are perhaps more indicative of the faults still to be ironed out in the RC16 than the riders’ mistakes.
Lorenzo Savadori – 2
Qualified 22nd, finished 19th
Obviously caveated with the fact that he’s riding injured after hurting his shoulder during pre-season, Sunday’s result for Aprilia test rider cum racer Lorenzo Savadori is nonetheless disappointing not so much for the position as for the time difference.
19th out of 19 at the chequered flag, he was further from Morbidelli in 18th than Morbidelli was from Vinales in first…
Taka Nakagami – 1.5
Qualified 11th, finished DNF
For a man who built his 2020 on consistency, crashing out of the first race of 2021 is a terrible start to the year for LCR Honda rider Taka Nakagami.
He should have been targeting the top Honda spot this weekend as Pol Espargaro continues to learn the bike, but to fall off the bike from far down the order isn’t exactly a stellar ride.
Danilo Petrucci – 1
Qualified 20th, finished DNF
Tech3 rider Danilo Petrucci was never going to have an easy weekend at Losail given the problems KTM faced, but that’s no excusing the fact that someone who has been a factory rider in the past shouldn’t be t-boning other riders and falling off in the first corner of the first race of the year.
Jack Miller – 1
Qualified 5th, finished 9th
It might surprise some to see Jack Miller at the bottom of the list given his top 10 finish, but based on pre-race and pre-season expectations, coming home way out of the podium battle and as third Ducati was an unmitigated disaster for the Australian.
He looked like he had everything he needed to fight for the win, so it’s somewhat embarrassing to hear that the rider Ducati had pinned its hopes on still wasn’t able to manage his tyre conservation until the end of the race.
Outshone by Zarco and Bagnaia and nearly embarrassed by rookie Bastianini, he needs to find something and fast for the second race at Losail.