until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Is MotoGP 2021’s biggest rider puzzle finally resolved?

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Following a confounding spell of MotoGP form, KTM’s three-time race winner Miguel Oliveira is hoping he can finally be “myself again on the bike” after injury – with the final three races of the season set to provide a handy control group for the experiment.

Oliveira proved his star credentials with a dominant win in last season’s Portimao finale, but his 2021 campaign – which marked his switch from the satellite Tech3 team to the works KTM outfit – has proven remarkably uneven.


In the first five races of the campaign, Oliveira had racked up only nine points – albeit his struggles were largely mirrored on the other side of the KTM garage, not to mention at Tech3 with its new line-up.

But over the next four races, in a stretch concluding with the start of MotoGP’s summer break, Oliveira put up a remarkable 85 points, including a win at Barcelona. Given he was the top-scoring MotoGP rider in that stretch, it briefly positioned him as an outside title contender.

Any such notions were immediately dashed when he got chucked off his bike at the slow Turn 3 in practice ahead of the post-summer break Styrian Grand Prix, taking a hit from the RC16’s handlebars to his right hand and sustaining what he described at the time as “a hyperextension of the hand, a little fissure and bone bruise on my radius, also a lot of fluid going around the joints, and basically the tendons around the hand”.

In the six races since, Oliveira has racked up just seven points and has clearly struggled to replicate his pre-break pace, yet the Portuguese rider has been reluctant to blame his performance on the injury and tended to play it down as a factor.

But once returned from a three-week break following an Austin showing that was certainly above average compared to his other post-injury weekends, Oliveira has conceded ahead of this Misano weekend that he was being held back by fitness – and that he was finally expecting to be “back to normal”.


“The result in Austin was not a result which we were super happy about,” said Oliveira. “But I felt at least on the bike like I could be competitive, I could fight, and that is something that my team and myself were happy about.

“One thing is sure, my wrist is finally feeling back to normal. Which is something that I haven’t felt like that was there during the last few months.

“It should be something that will help me to be myself again on the bike.”

Quizzed by The Race on how his hand injury had been progressing, Oliveira explained: “Well, I had a bone bruise, and a bone bruise turns out to be a little bit worse than a fracture.

“I would get more pain, less pain, not in a [typical] recovery straight line, it had a lot of ups and downs, some tracks more demanding than the others.

“Misano [the first time in 2021] was a very demanding track for the wrist, but Austin was the first time that I felt the wrist was back to normal.”


On the nature of the hindrance, he said: “Most of it was pain, and of course it’s quite difficult when you have such a big filter as your hand – to brake, to accelerate – to have some pain there, because you will always be a bit defensive.

“But yeah, now looks like it’s back to normal, so really happy and looking forward to race like this.”

It’s clear though that it won’t be as simple as Oliveira instantly returning to his pre-summer form, also because KTM’s season as a whole has been erratic.

Factory team-mate Brad Binder has been hamstrung, to varying degrees, by a lack of qualifying performance even if he’s been reliable on Sundays, while in the Tech3 camp Iker Lecuona had made clear recent improvements.

Yet KTM hasn’t breached the top five since Binder’s rain-assisted Red Bull Ring win, and stands to potentially lose fourth place in the manufacturers’ championship to Honda. It was fourth at the end of last year, but was just 21 points off the table-topping Ducati – which it trails by 106 points now.

Oliveira’s season run-in, starting from the Misano race in which he’ll work with former crew chief Guy Coulon following current crew chief Paul Trevathan’s positive COVID test (Trevathan is asymptomatic and will aid the team remotely, according to Oliveira), should therefore be a useful pre-2022 indicator – both of the Portuguese rider’s performance relative to stablemates when fully fit, and of where the RC16 bike is now in the pecking order.

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