Having caught up with Michael Laverty to discuss the MotoGP development freeze and its impact on the 2021 season, the Northern Irishman’s attention turned to home talent and rider performance.
How would he rate the Brits’ 2020 seasons across the MotoGP paddock, and what is he expecting from them over the coming year?
“I was impressed with all the Brits in the 2020 championship, all for very different reasons. Starting with Moto3, I thought John McPhee was very strong the first half of the season,” Laverty told bikesportnews.com.
“He came out and was fighting really strongly for the championship. He was quite unlucky in a couple of instances, in Jerez when he got tagged in the last corner when he should have been minimum first or second on the podium, the same in Austria, his bike was slow and he was battling to stay in that podium position the last few laps and he crashed out.
“But then, obviously after he didn’t get the step up to Moto2, his championship did go away from him, or his championship challenge went away from him a little bit in the second half of the season.
“He’s staying with the same team, staying in Moto3, it’s a great squad, he’s the right size and he’s got the right ability. He’s got the belief in himself now, and I feel he can go and fight for that championship this season.
“I would love to see him being a British Moto3 World Champion and I think John’s very capable of it. We know the slight weaknesses they had this year, we did question Stiggy [Team Director, Johan Stigefelt] about it a lot, about the speed of the bike, it was visibly slower than his rivals, and especially over the last, probably five or six races.
The KTMs and Husqvarnas took a big step forward so it seemed a tough challenge for John even though he was really strong on the brakes. He had improved his aggression and all those areas but he was actually just lacking that speed and that can be so frustrating for a rider.
“I thought John had a strong season, not as strong as he would have liked over the full 15 rounds but I thought he was really impressive and I look forward to seeing him back on the Moto3 Honda this year and taking that championship fight to the younger guys in the class.
“In Moto2 I though both Jake and Sam were phenomenal. Jake, for his second year in the class, obviously stepping up onto a Kalex chassis, moving into the Petronas team, having that step up in machine and crew, more of an English-speaking team around him, he’d really begun to believe in himself by the halfway point and that race in Le Mans!
“He was so unlucky not to get the win. He’d done everything right and then, I know what it’s like on a slightly damp track, didn’t do anything different and just folded the front on that last corner. I was heartbroken for him but his speed then was without question in both qualifying and practice over the coming races.
“In Barcelona, unlucky when the throttle-position sensor broke on him, and he possibly could have fought for the podium that day. He didn’t get to stand on the podium but he definitely showed the speed and maturity and ability, it’s all there and I know a lot of people in the paddock are speaking about him as a potential replacement for Cal in a top-level team in MotoGP.
“Obviously he’s in the right place, with the Petronas squad, to make that step, if he can go and perform at the level Sam did this year and fight for the championship.
“Moving on to Sam, he was phenomenal. None of us really predicted that pre-season, because he had such a tough couple of years off the back of his MotoGP campaign with Aprilia. His time on the KTM wasn’t fantastic, his time back with Gresini wasn’t as fruitful as it had been when he was there in the past but then last year, the move to MarcVDS, just clicked up another gear.
“Sam, even speaking to him, the belief he had in himself, coming back from injury, missing that opening race in Qatar but being out there, that shows his determination, he had to be told to sit out.
“Then when he came back after the pandemic delay, he was just another level. It was the best Sam Lowes I’ve ever seen! He was unlucky not to be Moto2 champion in 2020. The momentum was on his side, he’d done everything right and then that little crash in Valencia, it just [frustrated] the injury.
“But the come back from that through the Portimao weekend just showed the heart that Sam has, so I though he was just phenomenal this season and I expect more of the same in 2021.
“I think, the belief he’s got in himself, he can start the season with that kind of momentum and he can build himself up a points cushion and then it’s a different ball game. Whereas he was the man attacking all throughout the second half of the last year, he was so fast, so consistent. The runaway race win in Aragon he just decimated the field, it was pretty special by Sam Lowes.
“I felt a little bit for him that people in the paddock weren’t talking about him as being a MotoGP rider again, when you looked at [Enea] Bastianini and [Jorge] Martin and all the boys he was beating, [Luca] Marini.
“They’re all getting MotoGP rides and seeing [Marco] Bezzecchi being considered for GP rides but Sam’s name wasn’t mentioned even through he was performing better than them all, and that’s purely down to that one tough year, on a poor package, with a team who didn’t believe in him at Aprilia.
“He really deserves that opportunity and I think he’ll earn it this year in Moto2, it’s whether there is a door open for him in the future.
“I see Sam as a Moto2 world champion at the end of 2021, I really believe in his speed and his ability, his work ethic and, with how well he performed this year, he just impressed me no-end. Same with Jake actually, I think he will be a consistent podium finisher, I think he’s going to make that grade.
“He will stand on that podium, he will win a race, I don’t think he’s going to be as strong as Sam over the season but I think Jake’s going to step it up another gear this year. He’s obviously got the injury to come back from, he’s working hard on the rehabilitation - that was a big wrist injury - but no doubt he’ll be back.
“He’ll be stronger, it will be his third season in the paddock, gaining that belief, staying with the same team, I see good things ahead for Jake.”