The 2020 MotoGP season hasn’t turned a wheel in anger and already there are a significant number of riders with their future secure for 2021 and beyond.
That’s something of a surprise, because with every single works rider out of contract at the end of 2020 this was expected to be a long-winded and eventful ‘silly season’ by many.
Then came some very early big moves. Reigning champion Marc Marquez signed up to an unprecedented four-year deal that’ll keep him with Honda until at least 2024, and even before then Yamaha dropped the bombshell that Valentino Rossi would be out of the factory team next year as Fabio Quartararo joins the already re-signed Maverick Vinales.
Rossi’s precise future remains the headline question, though, and there’s still plenty of other wheeling and dealing to be done before next year’s grid starts to take shape.
With the paddock awash with rumour and speculation at the minute, The Race sat down to examine what we’ve heard about who’s going where.
One of the first pieces of the puzzle to be settled, Marc Marquez’s exceptionally long deal with the manufacturer he’s taken to six premier class titles is good news for everyone apart from his competition.
The team is rumoured to be paying something in the region of €100million over the four years, and in all probability it means that Marquez will now be a Honda rider for life.
However, the fate of the other side of the Repsol Honda garage is much more open to speculation. The elder Marquez will surely push to keep his little brother Alex (pictured above) on board for at least more than a single season. Having an even more difficult-to-ride RC213V for 2020 might, in fact, buy Alex some time if stellar results aren’t immediately forthcoming.
Takaaki Nakagami is also pretty certain to stay at the LCR Honda camp, with the Japanese factory investing heavily in one of its compatriots at the top level – and improving results in 2019 won’t have done him any harm.
Should Cal Crutchlow choose to retire or move on, it could open up a world of possibility on the second bike there, with team boss Lucio Cecchinello no doubt favouring an Italian; perhaps like Pecco Bagnaia or Franco Morbidelli.
It sounds like there could be a major reshuffle due at Ducati, with rumours of both Danilo Petrucci and the long-serving Andrea Dovizioso moving on to new challenges (more on their potential destinations in a moment).
If that is the case, then surely Pramac’s Jack Miller must be in line to take over one of the factory rides after solid work both in races and during testing for the team.
The same two young Italians that might be on LCR’s list have also been linked to a seat at Ducati, with Bagnaia’s start to the 2020 season on brand-new machinery at Pramac no doubt being an important audition after a somewhat rocky rookie effort last year. Morbidelli is also a contender, with fast pace last season for Petronas SRT Yamaha only overlooked slightly thanks to his rookie team-mate Quartararo’s incredible performance.
In the satellite camps, it’s anyone’s guess. Johann Zarco will definitely be angling for a step up to at least the Pramac team and its newest spec of bikes after a season at Avintia. But there’s also plenty of young Italian talent in Moto2 who’ll be looking to graduate, with names like Lorenzo Baldassarri, Enea Bastianini and Marco Bezzecchi no doubt all set to crop up.
Once again the first to make a move, Yamaha has scored well to secure Vinales and Quartararo in the factory squad for 2021. That leaves SRT Yamaha the object of speculation there, with Rossi obviously the main mover and shaker linked to the team. However, with signs looking increasingly likely that he’ll step sidewards into car racing sooner rather than later, it could be that SRT is in the market for two new pilots.
It’s made no bones about expecting more from Morbidelli in 2020, and he’s going to need to up his game to keep a seat. If he does, he could be joined by a familiar face, though, with Rossi likely to angle for his half brother Luca Marini to join fellow VR46 Academy rider Morbidelli should he have a successful Moto2 season.
The other Yamaha wildcard, of course, is none other than five-time world champion Jorge Lorenzo. Still adamant that he’s not planning a return to racing, his insistence level seems to drop with every day he spends testing for the team and a few strong wildcard appearances in 2020 could help persuade him.
There’s nothing on paper just yet, but it looks very likely that Suzuki will retain its two current riders for next year.
Both Alex Rins and Joan Mir are doing a solid job, team boss Davide Brivio has been honest in his desire to retain them, and Rins, in particular, has been eager to stay put – admitting recently that all that’s needed is for lawyers to bash out a contract now.
Mir might put out some feelers to other squads, though, and with a riding style very similar to Marc Marquez, it might not be a surprise if there were some interesting chats happening between his management and Alberto Puig about a move to HRC. It’s unlikely but never say never in the crazy world of MotoGP.
The Austrian factory is in a bit of an unusual position for 2021, with an embarrassment of riches in terms of young talent – and not enough seats to put them all in.
It would be a surprise to see Brad Binder or Miguel Oliveira relieved of their MotoGP place without a fight thanks to impressive starts to their careers, but other KTM youngsters like Jorge Martin (tipped by many as a future superstar) are desperate to move up.
Perhaps the biggest KTM surprise, however, is persistent rumours that it’s deep into talks with none other than Dovizioso. Happy to bet on Pol Espargaro as its number one rider for the project’s first four years, the feeling among some is that it’s now time to secure the signature of a proven race winner to take the team to the next level.
Bringing a brand new bike to the game at just the right time, Aprilia has moved from last chance saloon to ‘potential podium finisher’ in the eyes of many in the paddock. It too will be looking to add a big name to its repertoire for 2021, especially after the failed experiment with Andrea Iannone – now looking set to face an extended absence from the sport as his doping debacle rolls on.
The top name linked to Aprilia so far is Petrucci (pictured above), with the Ducati veteran on paper a very good fit for the current RS-GP’s required riding style. Whether that comes at the expense of Aleix Espargro or whether his wealth of development experience is just too good to pass on is still to be decided.