until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Who’s the favourite in MotoGP’s all-Ducati rookie fight?

by Matt Beer
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

If motorcycle grand prix racing has proven one thing time and again, it’s that the cream invariably rises to the top through the championship’s three-tier system. The best of the best often make their way to MotoGP before too long when the talent and the speed needed to win is there.

The 2021 season is no different, with three supremely talented rookies stepping up to the premier class for the coming season. Reigning Moto2 world champion Enea Bastianini joins Esponsorama Racing, stepping into the team alongside his 2020 rival Luca Marini (albeit in different sponsors’ colours), while former Moto3 champion Jorge Martin (below) makes the move to Pramac Racing.

Jorge Martin Pramac MotoGP

We’ve got something of a unique metric for measuring these three riders against each other, too, with all three of them stepping onto Ducati Desmosedicis – although Martin, in the second-tier Pramac squad, will be on a 2021-spec bike while his two Italian rivals inherit last year’s 2020 machines at the Andorran team.

But with only six days on track for testing so far and with all three riders neck-and-neck on the timesheets, we’ve got limited data so far to figure out which of them is likely to be the stand-out favourite for the rookie of the year crown – meaning, for now, past form is perhaps the best indicator.

And on paper, the best past form is probably that of Jorge Martin. A dominant force in Moto3, both in terms of racecraft and especially when in time attack mode, he’s had a more difficult transition to Moto2 thanks to a rather difficult to ride KTM machine.

Jorge Martin, Moto2, Portugal Motogp, 20 November 2020

Martin is someone who’s been on a very established career path for quite some time though, and he won’t let a few weaker years in the intermediate class act as much of a hurdle to him and his long-term goals now that he’s made it to MotoGP.

A savvy character and an intelligent rider who can occasionally be a bit hot-headed, he’s still got a bit of maturing to do.

But surrounded by like-minded people and steered by veteran manager Albert Valera (who knows a thing or two about dealing with hotheadedness from working with both Jorge Lorenzo and Aleix Espargaro), Martin is in the right environment to learn and improve in 2021.

He’s also got the added benefit of a 2021 Ducati, which might go some ways towards fixing the problems that plagued the marque last year, and his spot within Pramac will ensure a little more resource flows his way from Bologna – but that’s likely to make a minimal difference in their rookie seasons for all three riders.

Enea Bastianini Avintia Esponsorama Ducati MotoGP

Over in the Esponsorama garage, Enea Bastianini is perhaps a harder character to read that Martin thanks in large part due to his dark horse status right up until he took the Moto2 crown at the final race of 2020.

A strong Moto3 rider who fought for the crown in two of his three years in the class, he looked like he’d never quite make the adaption to middleweight machines, looking like a nearly man but taking only one win in three seasons. That all changed in 2020, though, with a newfound maturity releasing his speed and taking him to gold.

The Esponsorama team will be a good place for nurturing that, too, with the small-team feel of MotoGP’s perennial underdogs certain to help maintain some of the continuity of last year in the Italtrans camp.

Enea Bastianini Esponsorama Avintia Ducati MotoGP

He’s possibly the least highly-rated of the rookies despite his title last year, but in many ways that’ll suit the laid back 22-year-old by taking the pressure off his shoulder and putting it on Martin and Marini.

Ironically, there’s more pressure on the guy who finished runner-up to Bastianini and who will be his new team-mate – and it’s thanks to nothing that Luca Marini has ever done, either.

Simply being the little brother of nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi will always be an anchor to Marini more than it will ever help him, even if he is riding in Rossi’s colours, and there will once again be pressure to prove that he deserves his spot.

Luca Marini Sky VR46 MotoGP

But the thing is, MotoGP will suit Marini more than Moto2 ever did thanks to his two main attributes: his height and his intelligence.

With Marini having always been hindered by being much taller than the average racer in Moto2 with its stock engines and limited power, the huge top speed advantage of Ducati’s GP bike will mean that he no longer has to fear getting caught out there, even if it did also mean devoting quite some time in testing to ergonomics.

But Marini’s real strength won’t come into play until we go racing. He’s got his brother’s brain for understanding both racecraft and data, and as a result is a Sunday specialist too.

He showed last year that he knows how to perform when the lights go out, and he’s now got exponentially more data to play with and refine, and once he learns how to do that he could be a dangerous package.

Luca Marini Sky VR46 Ducati MotoGP

It is worth caveating all of the above with the fact that that there’s a fourth official contender for rookie of the year – Aprilia’s Lorenzo Savadori.

But Savadori’s situation is very different to that of the Ducati trio. For one, instead of moving up from Moto2, he graduates as Italian Superbike champion – and with three past World Superbike seasons under his belt.

Secondly, the 27-year-old already started three MotoGP races last year following a late-season swap with Bradley Smith.

Lorenzo Savadori Aprilia MotoGP

And finally, there’s a lot more cause to believe he may not get the full season to fight for rookie honours. Savadori was certainly respectable on the Aprilia in his three races last year, but has been struggling with injury all throughout the Qatar test, and rumour has it he may cede to Smith again while injured.

And that’s not even getting into the fact that Aprilia is giving Andrea Dovizioso a run-out on the bike.

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