This weekend’s MotoGP in Qatar heralds the start of a season which promises to be one of the most eventful and maybe as exciting as 2020.
But it also contains two or three events which promoters Dorna and undoubtedly the fans would rather not have.
Marc Marquez, one of the, if not the, greatest riders MotoGP has seen will not be contesting the first two rounds.
For the first time in many years there will be no British rider in the Championship, Cal Crutchlow having announced his retirement. And the voice of BT Sport Keith Huewen, while not retiring, will not be heard on that channel.
But never one to be shy of expressing his opinion, the former British champion, MotoGP contestant and doyen of current motorsport commentators talked to bikesportnews.com about all three ‘events’ starting with the season ahead and the Marquez situation:
“Has there ever been a season that has been more anticipated or talked about, Marquez included? With testing restricted by Covid19, and machinery only subtly changed from last year because of it, this year’s results could hinge more on who has made the most of their data from 2020?
“Will Andrea Dovizioso help Aprilia to finally come good over race distance, or will he stay on the bench ‘Undaunted’? But the biggest paddock gossip is about Marc Marquez.
“Will he be the man he was and with a two-race handicap can he be the man he was? Some 250 days plus of recuperation if he gets to Portugal has got to have taken its toll. He’s come back almost instantly from injury in the past, but never from one as complicated or that has taken him off a motorcycle for so long.
“It’s not about if he can ride fast again, he will, it’s about whether he can take as many risks with his body again. He’s a little older and a lot wiser, these are never helpful factors when you’re a man with his style.
“And what about the Honda? I wonder if brother Alex and test rider stand-in Stefan Bradl have changed the direction of development while Marc’s been away?
“And there’s his new team-mate, Pol Espargaro, both talented and aggressively fast, he could be just the man Honda have been looking for now that Cal Crutchlow has moved on.
“Marquez is unique, he has changed the way almost every racer must ride to win. Without him in 2020 there were nine premier class race winners. But not just winners. Believers! Even without injury, that’s a powerful dynamic for Marc to overcome.
“The situation with British riders in MotoGP is a poor state of affairs. Part of the problem is that, as usual, British riders tend to mature later than your average because of the way things are financially and business wise in the UK.
“There are riders in the past who have got families with a bit of money, and I use Bradley Smith as an example. He and his dad Allan went out to Spain at an early age and really dedicated their lives to it. And young, promising and dedicated riders have a chance of getting picked up by teams who see it as an investment in the future - a 15-year-old can be good for the next 20 years.
“Other reasons for lack of British riders include Britain becoming a Superbike country but that’s the way it is and both Jonathan Palmer and Stuart Higgs have made it a great commercial success. And you can’t change a great British success to create a ladder to go to MotoGP.
“We’d love them to be able to do that and maybe in the future they will. But there are opportunities and I use Jake Dixon as a massive example. He is doing more for the aspirations of young riders than anybody since Cal Crutchlow.
“He went across as a Superbike rider into Moto2 and initially it looked like he wasn’t going to make it. But as luck would have it he banged his head in Texas, got taken out for a few races and they put Matteo Pasini on his bike.
“He couldn’t make it work either and the team started to listen. Jake came back, he got a second year and you saw what happened.
“Money does count of course. Dorna and IRTA want British riders and they have helped fund a number going back to Jeremy McWilliams. There is a lot going on behind the scenes and with the help of Frankie Carchedi, his manager, funding was found to keep him in for a second season.
“Scott Redding became the nearest of any British rider to becoming a Moto2 champion in, I think, 2015 after an apprenticeship in Spain but wasn’t equipped to succeed in MotoGP and ended up in Superbikes.
“What about Rory Skinner? His, in my opinion, is a very unfortunate case and I think he was treated badly. He clearly has talent and won the Talent Cup at the final round of MotoGP in Valencia.
“I can’t quite get to the bottom of why he wasn’t the man chosen to move forward after winning that series. It seems a travesty to me, it held him back for a year but look what he did in British Supersport and now he is in Superbike.
“He is doing all he can do and there aren’t any others until he has slapped them in the face with his talent. Or a big cheque. His father Mike has backed him all the way just like father Frank did with Barry Sheene and look where they got to. That’s what it takes.
“It is said that Spain and Italy have the structure to support youngsters which we don’t have but it is also something as simple as the weather. And they also have lots of suitable circuits. Near where Rossi lives there are ten mini-bike race tracks and a structure for all the kids coming through. And in Spain motorcycle racing is a big sport next only to football.
“Money talks of course and there does seem to be more available on more consistent basis in these countries. In the UK sponsorship comes and goes, in one year and out the next.
“There is also something called the ‘comfort zone’ because I think it does come down to that sometimes. If you come from ordinary households which is where most riders do, and I certainly did, you’ve got to earn money and nowadays racing at that level is a full-time job.
“And you can’t always be in charge of your own destiny. Jonathan Rea may be an example. He’s still in World Superbikes and could well be winning his seventh title this year with his luck and the ruthless way he rides.
“He’s the Marc Marquez of Superbikes. In his early days Honda put him into MotoGP from Superbikes and he did two races. He rode really well but was held back by swapping tyre brands one weekend to the next and being told not to crash under any circumstances.
“I am sure he is very happy now earning lots of money and nobody is ever going to do what he has done in Superbikes.
“I am sure every young rider’s ambition is to win in MotoGP and it is harsh, but with an element of truth, that it is the Premier League versus the Championship in footballing terms. But I think Jonathan Rea could have gone all the way in MotoGP and I’m sure a lot of MotoGP riders would have loved to win one Superbike race let alone achieve what he has done.
“As for Crutchlow I think he’s absolutely brilliant and I’ve got huge respect for him but not the kind of guy you would think could make it in MotoGP. But he absolutely has. His personality is spiky and on the surface he seems difficult. But for a media man he is great because you can always get a quote out of Cal.
“Underneath it all he worked really hard as a racer and it is all very different now from how it used to be. No longer two clicks on the front and three on the rear.
“And he came through the hard way through the British system to be a Supersport world champion. I was commentating on his in British Supersport alongside Eugene Laverty and Tom Sykes. And I don’t think the system then was any better than now, certainly not financially.
“What of the present people we have in Moto2 or Moto3? I think potentially they are.
“Remember that Jack Miller from Australia came straight from Moto3 into MotoGP which everyone thought was breath-taking but now he’s being tipped for a world title.
“And Brad Binder from South Africa has risen spectacularly. From the UK, Dixon is your man, he’s on his way. The wrist injury he had at the end of last year is a bit of a worry but I hope it won’t hold him back too much.
That tip for the top is not at all dismissing Sam Lowes or John McPhee in Moto3 but I’ll stick my neck out and say Jake, hoping that isn’t a Murray Walker prophesy.
“The Moto2 bikes are powered by 765 Triumph engines and they’ve got electronics and other stuff making them much closer to MotoGP bikes and what is required to handle them. Dorna has been brilliant with the rules over the years making MotoGP bikes less technical with spec electronics and the racing has been tighter and closer.
“Finally, I have to answer the question as to what really happened between myself and BT Sport and what am I going to do? Well, Michael Laverty once said to me that reasons and excuses sounded pretty similar so don’t bother with either of them.
“Well, there are reasons for me being in the situation I’m in. I’m obviously not happy at not doing MotoGP and I would quite like to be doing it still but not the way we were doing it so the time was right for me to step aside and I did.
“I am enjoying the time I am having, which all sounds very flowery and wonderful but I have to say I am made to be beside a track. It is something I absolutely enjoy. Getting on and off an aeroplane is something that has never bothered me and it doesn’t now.
“Me and a mate of mine have set up a YouTube channel called two ‘twofourlegends ‘and the first interview is with the legendary Murray Walker. I needed to make a change but I am still taking telephone calls.