After a busy silly season, the 2021 MotoGP grid looks very different to last year’s at this weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix.
Only one team, championship winner Suzuki, has retained the same two riders, with every other squad swapping at least one.
Some of these swaps have been necessity, some have been well-deserved internal promotions, and some of them have been frankly sublime poaching from rival teams.
It’s going to make for a fascinating season as new names find their way on radically different bikes and old hands prepare to learn new tricks.
With that in mind, we’ve ranked every team combination on the grid to see who’s got the strongest squad and given them a score out of 10 too.
Aleix Espargaro/Lorenzo Savadori
There’s no question that the Aprilia MotoGP team is built around one rider, its number one man Aleix Espargaro.
With five years in the team – and having witnessed five different team-mates in that time – he’s cemented his place as Aprilia’s main hope.
But while he has been an occasional podium finisher in the past, he’s not a race winner (as Jorge Lorenzo rather bluntly pointed out recently), never mind a regular one.
And on the other side of the garage, relative rookie Lorenzo Savadori is a racer who hasn’t come up through the traditional MotoGP feeder series route.
He goes into 2021 with only 34 grand prix starts (31 of them in the 125cc class over a decade ago) to his name.
Promoted from test rider, it’s perhaps cruel to call him Aprilia’s stopgap measure – but no one’s expecting him to win. And his replacement might already be looming.
10. Tech3 KTM
Danilo Petrucci/Iker Lecuona
Danilo Petrucci is a huge addition to the KTM project for 2021, bringing race-winning experience at a time when the remainder of its line-up are relative kids.
But it’s going to take him some time to find his feet at satellite team Tech3, and it’s hard to envision him being a regular podium challenger in dry conditions.
His team-mate Iker Lecuona is still (despite most of a season of experience last year) one of the greenest grand prix riders on the grid.
He’s still got lots to learn – something he himself admits – and 2021 is more about team boss Herve Poncharal continuing to bring out the best in him rather than big results.
9. Esponsorama/VR46 Ducati
Enea Bastianini/Luca Marini
The only team in MotoGP with two rookies this season, as Moto2 champion Enea Bastianini lines up against one of his biggest second-tier rivals Luca Marini – and it should make for a good combo in the box.
Bastianini arguably starts as favourite to prevail here thanks to his impressive championship success last year and after a strong testing programme.
But Marini is something of a dark horse. Perhaps the least-rated out of the three rookies, Valentino Rossi’s half-brother shares many of the talents that made Rossi a legend of the sport, and the premier class is the right platform to show them.
He’s intelligent and he has a keen analytical mind, and that’ll work well for him.
8. Pramac Ducati
Johann Zarco/Jorge Martin
It’s hard to fault Ducati’s decision to stick Johann Zarco into semi-factory team Pramac for 2021.
He’s got plenty of experience, he’ll serve well as both a fast test rider and as something of a target for Ducati’s rookies to chase, and he’s got a chance of the occasional strong result here and there – he managed that last year on the lower-spec Esponsorama Racing Ducati, after all.
Jorge Martin is the rookie that many are tipping for big things after a meteoric rise through the ranks.
He’s fast, he’s smart and he’s been working hard to become a MotoGP rider for quite some time, so he won’t take long to show us what he’s capable of.
7. LCR Honda
Takaaki Nakagami/Alex Marquez
This season is something of a make or break year for Taka Nakagami, after he hinted at so much in 2020 but failed to deliver on it.
Should he manage to do that this year, though, he’ll be a solid rider for satellite team LCR Honda, and should even be able to deliver a podium or two.
Much the same could be said about team-mate Alex Marquez, after a strong debut season on the Repsol Honda in which he took two podiums.
But he’s had a dire time in testing, he’s starting the season injured after a few heavy testing crashes, and he needs to get back to last year’s consistency sooner rather than later.
6. Petronas SRT Yamaha
Franco Morbidelli/Valentino Rossi
Franco Morbidelli is the real deal this year again.
Starting the season on a year-old bike wasn’t a hindrance in 2020 and it won’t be again in 2021.
Yamaha’s satellite squad has a genuine title contender here if he’s allowed to carry on as he did last year, working quietly and consistently with crew chief Ramon Forcada.
Valentino Rossi is a harder one to call. He’s obviously vastly experienced, and he seems to have found a new lease of life outside the factory set-up.
Having one of his best friends as his team-mate will aid both of them, and they’re possibly the only team pairing whose sum is greater than their combined parts because of it.
Rossi can still win, if luck falls the right way for him, and regular podium contention isn’t a stretch.
Jack Miller/Francesco Bagnaia
There’s no doubting that Jack Miller is the team leader at Ducati for 2021.
Promoted after a strong 2020 where he found the consistency he was missing to match the speed that he’s always been able to display, his newfound maturity is making him an all-round better rider, and he’s the person that Ducati needs. It’s the first time he’s ever been a true championship contender.
His team-mate still needs a bit more time to find himself at this level.
Pecco Bagnaia was perhaps promoted a little earlier than intended thanks to the shock departure of Andrea Dovizioso, and it’s fair to say that another year at Pramac would have helped him out.
Instead it’s time to sink or swim for him, and that’s going to mean a season under pressure.
Brad Binder/Miguel Oliveira
The factory KTM team has what is arguably just the right mix of experience, youthfulness and talent for 2021 as double race winner last year Miguel Oliveira steps up from its satellite team.
A well-experienced KTM rider thanks to two years in Tech3, he’ll become the focus of attention as he rejoins Brad Binder – his long-time team-mate at Ajo Motorsport in the lower tiers.
Binder has plenty of talent of his own, as demonstrated with a win at Brno in only his third race ever in the premier class.
The South African still needs to polish off his rough edges, but that’ll come with time and experience, and KTM’s factory set-up will help mature him rapidly.
Maverick Vinales/Fabio Quartararo
On paper, this is one of the strongest pairings on the grid. In reality, it’s going to take some time to see if it really turns out that way.
Both riders are something of an unknown after their respective 2020 campaigns, and it’ll take time to make sense of their potential.
Maverick Vinales has had his issues with consistency in the past, but that’s as much a Yamaha problem as one of his own – even if he tends to make things worse by overthinking the solutions.
He sounds like a more mature character this season, and imminent fatherhood will make him grow up even faster, which could be the making of him as a rider.
Fabio Quartararo also blew hot and cold last year, but proved conclusively in his debut season in 2019 that he can be fast even at tracks where Yamahas shouldn’t be fast.
If he can get back to that level, he can do even more than the three race wins he enjoyed last year.
Marc Marquez/Pol Espargaro
We’re scoring this one on the line-up Honda will have for most of 2021, rather than where it starts the year.
Simply put, if you have Marc Marquez, you keep Marc Marquez, even if he is injured and his future remains a little unsure.
Repsol Honda has got the dominant force of MotoGP on its books, and until he shows evidence otherwise he’s still the number one guy you want on your bike.
Sure, he’s not going to come back at full strength right away, but he’ll get there. The title? Maybe not. Race wins before the year’s out? Bet on it.
And on the other side of the box, new signing Pol Espargaro seems to have been the genius signing of the silly season.
The most Honda-style rider on the grid not previously riding a Honda, his aggressive and fearless riding style is exactly what the RC213V needs to make it go fast.
He’s already displayed hints of genius in testing and practice, and there’s plenty more to come.
Joan Mir/Alex Rins
It’s a great move by Suzuki to keep its 2020 duo in place or another two years, after stellar performances from both last season.
Joan Mir was sublime as the series’ new champion and Suzuki’s first in two decades, mastering consistency but still retaining enough speed for when it counted.
He goes into 2021 not just as the reigning champion but the clear favourite to retain the crown.
On the other side of the garage, Alex Rins finally lived up to the potential he’s come close to showing in previous years.
Still with a few little niggles to iron out of his racecraft (he crashed out of the lead twice in 2020), he’s going to benefit from another year in the Suzuki camp, and will certainly deliver more victories and maybe even a title rivalry with his team-mate.