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Mystic Hodgson reviews MotoGP 2020 and predicts 2021

British and World Superbike Champion Neil Hodgson certainly knows a thing or two about motorcycle racing, and as an integral part of BT Sport’s MotoGP coverage, the Burnley man had his eye firmly on the premier class paddock throughout 2020.

We caught up with him over the festive break to get his take on the unprecedented year, how he thought the current crop of Brits got on and what he’s looking forward to for 2021.  

“How I’d sum up the 2020 season, would be very difficult for everybody involved. The fact that, mainly MotoGP but obviously Moto3/Moto2 as well, there were so many races, so many back-to-backs, was it 14 races in 19 weekends? Something like that, it's very difficult,” Hodgson told bikesportnews.com.


“So far as we were concerned with the TV, it wasn't too bad because we weren't on site, that made it not as difficult for us but a lot of people, well pretty much everybody, were having to be in bubbles and isolate in between so it was incredibly difficult."

Difficulties and pandemic aside, 2020 actually proved to be a stellar year for the MotoGP Championship, with 26 race winners across the three classes. So who did Hodgson rate as a standout, in such an impressive and exhilarating season?

“There’s so many. In MotoGP, if you just focus on that, there were so many one-off standout rides. I mean, Brad Binder won his third-ever MotoGP race. Think about that, it’s bizarre!.Marc Marquez won his second, back in 2013 and you thought ‘Wow, how amazing is that, imagine winning your second-ever MotoGP race’ but this year, Brad Binder on a KTM won his third in Brno.

“Mir winning the championship from having a horrendous start - he only scored points once out of the first three races. In a shortened season you thought his year was done but it wasn’t.

“Franky Morbidelli, stunning on the old Yamaha, which turned out to be the better bike to be on, fantastic. I mean, there’s so many standouts, I loved it! Miguel Oliveira winning two races, in the MotoGP class, Miguel Oliveira, in his second season in MotoGP on a KTM - in the B team KTM, so in the Tech3 - he won the third most races of the season, it’s bizarre isn’t it…

“In the other classes, Remy Gardner winning the last race of the year, just from nowhere, really, that was stunning. Moto2 was just a bizarre season because it came right down to the end.”

In a typical year, Hodgson, and the BT Sport crew would travel the calendar like the rest of the paddock. Arriving at each circuit by the Wednesday of race week, ready for Thursday’s media debriefs, long-form interviews and catch-ups with riders and mechanics alike, before broadcasting live, trackside, across the weekends.

This season, however, left them grounded much like the rest of the world, their new ‘working from home’ routine placing them at the Triumph Headquarters, in Hinckley, as the season finally got underway in July until an early October move saw them relocated to the top of London’s BT Tower for the final six rounds. While the backdrops remained impressive, how different, and difficult, was it to cover the season from outside the paddock?

“It actually wasn't too difficult to cover it from where we were, because if we had been at the side of the track, because of the coronavirus restrictions, we wouldn't have got any better access so actually it worked out okay.


“The reason it was easy to do it from off-site, also, is the fact that we've done six seasons in the paddock, so we've got relationships with all the riders, all the team managers, all the PR people, they know us all. So it was easy when we are sat in London or at Triumph and our person on-site, our Dorna guy, requests an interview, they know us.

“What would be difficult is if we stayed off-site for another season or another few seasons.  The plan is definitely to get back on-site but I don't think it affected the coverage at all, because we got all the interviews we needed and like I said, if we had been on-site, we wouldn’t have been able to get any more.”

The British flag was well-and-truly flown in MotoGP this year, with pole positions, career-best results and race-winning battles all showcasing the home talent, and despite Cal Crutchlow’s decision to become Yamaha’s test rider calling time on his competitive career, 2021 looks just as promising, as Hodgsonenthusiastically explained:

“Sam Lowes was an absolute standout really. I think he finished 16th the previous year, he’d finished 15th the year before that, in Moto2, two really average seasons coming off a disappointing MotoGP season - and I'm not blaming him for that! - on the Aprilia.


“A lot of pressure on Sam, starting the season injured, no testing, missed the first race, the pressure of being in the Marc VDS team - I don't think anyone realises how difficult that is - but he was just stunning, just absolutely amazing!

“He surprised everyone I think, and if you say he didn't surprise you, I think you're a liar. I mean, you know my relationship with Sam but even I didn't expect him to perform to the level he did, so I was really pleased and proud of him.

“I'm excited to see what he can do next year because I think he can build from what he did this year, and obviously he finished third in the world, same points as second-place, this season so I’d put him as favourite for the 2021 title definitely.

“I thought Jake Dixon was absolutely stunning as well, made a huge step, again similar situation, moving to a different team, a better team but with a lot of pressure on him, a lot of people expecting. Well it was the make or break year for him wasn't it, if he'd been battling for 25th, 20th, 23rds, that would have been his last shot at it.

“He took the bull by the horns, rode fantastic, almost won his first Grand Prix. Certainly did himself proud, obviously very unlucky at the end to get injured but that's racing.

“John McPhee I thought had a stunning first half of the season and I genuinely feel sorry for him because when he had his contract issues with the team, he let it affect his riding a little bit.

“I don't know if it was that he let it affect it but it did affect his riding and if you look at the results, he sort of dipped a little bit but I feel sorry for him because he was let down by the team. He had a contract in place and they didn't really honour that. The deal was that if he was top-three in the world at the halfway point, he got a Moto2 ride and they sort of reneged on that, which wasn’t nice.

“It's never nice when that happens but I think John will be in a strong position next year, obviously staying with the same team, so that should be good.

“Next year, I think Sam is going to be battling for the title, I think Jake Dixon will make the next step and by that, I think he'll be a regular top-10 finisher, he will score quite a few podiums and be in the mix and battle for, let's say, top-six in the championship. I think that's his next step, and hopefully win a race, I think that's really possible.

“Bradley Smith had it tough, the Aprilia is not the bike to be on. Everyone can see that. They’ve not had a lot of success, since they’ve been back in MotoGP, really.

“Probably their most successful year was, was it 2015? 15 or 16, I can’t remember, and they had Bradl and Bautista, since then they've definitely not gone forward. Back then they’d got to the point where both riders were scrapping top-10s no problem but, Aprilia, it's difficult to judge.

“You get someone like Bradley, who can obviously ride a bike, and it is difficult to judge how good he is because the bike is not capable of being, really, inside the top-15. You can get the odd result from Aleix where he holds his breath a little bit but he can't consistently be up there.

“Let's hope he gets a chance next year. I think with Bradley, obviously he had to do testing as well but I think in general he was just focusing on the racing but, if you are a test rider and a racer, it's difficult because your number one goal is to bring the bike home.

“They don't really want you to crash it because then it’s been a complete waste of time if you’re trying something new.”

Talking of Aprilia, how does he view the team’s progress and their handling of the second seat issue in particular?

“Yeah it’s been quite embarrassing watching Aprilia and the way that they’ve handled the second seat. It appeared like they'd offered it to quite a lot of people, well they had, hadn’t they, you could see that. There was also a lot of names going round that didn't get mentioned [officially], that we'd heard had been offered it, so yeah, they seem to have gone about it in a strange way, Aprilia.

“I don't know if it’s, well it must be the management, they seem to have lost their way a little bit. Lost their way with the development of the bike and the way that they seem to be handling the situation and then when I hear some of them being interviewed, well they seem slightly delusional really.

“I think they need to really press reset there, the fact that they’ve still got concessions you’d like to think that they could make some huge steps next year but I certainly wouldn't be holding my breath.”

With the new year now in full swing, and discussions already abound regarding the viability of winter testing and the provisional calendar’s early rounds, what is Hodgson hoping and expecting from the 2021 championships?

“I’m hoping the 2021 championship to be a little bit more normal. When I say normal, I’m expecting it to be 20 rounds. The calendar that's come out, that's probably not going to happen like that but Dorna have got everything in place for rounds, first of all to be moved and then replaced.

“The fact that they managed to get 14 rounds in, between the end of July and November, leaves me feeling confident that they can get 20 rounds in between the end of March and the middle of November!

“I think MotoGP is going to be ridiculous again. The big question mark is obviously about Marquez’ fitness, will he start the season? Going off everything we’re reading, you’d have to say probably not but a lot can happen between now and then.

“I’d like him to start the season and I'd like him to be fit. I just think the championship isn’t the same without him. I know the argument is it's more exciting not having him racing because there's more opportunities for other people to win but I've always enjoyed watching the fastest riders in the world, and what Marquez can do.

"Think about this, I’ve said this to a few people since the end of the season, how many MotoGP riders this season did we see save a front-end-slide? I can't remember one and I don’t think I missed many sessions, not like a proper Marquez slide. I saw Bastianini do it two or three times in Moto2.

“When you're watching Marquez doing those sorts of things on a motorcycle, I don't know how he does it but that's the sort of thing, that's why I miss him.”

With that in mind, who does he think will be the ones to watch across the classes, this coming year?

“Well, in MotoGP it's difficult because you don't know about Marquez, obviously he's the one to watch if he's back and fit. I can name about five riders. Morbidelli is gonna be a man to watch.

“Mir is going to be a man to watch. It will be interesting to see what happens at Yamaha because obviously that motorcycle, the 2020 bike, seemed inconsistent and made it difficult for their riders.

“I think Jack Miller is going to step up, joining the factory team, I'm excited to see Jack win some races next year, I think he will do. It will be good to watch the rookies as well, see how they get on, Bastianini and Luca Marini. Who else is there to watch, oh yeah, Jorge Martin has moved up to MotoGP, he'll go well as well.

“In Moto3, what I really like is watching the rookies coming in from the Junior World Championship, so the guy who won, Guevara, he looks good and Artegas. There is a few of them, so I’ll be excited to see how they all get on.

"In Moto2, obviously Sam and Jake. It will be good to see how they get on. I think Bezzecchi is going to be hard to beat, he is definitely going to be one of the favourites for the title, and Vietti moving up into the Sky team, he’ll be impressive, and it's Moto2, so there will definitely be some surprises no doubt.”

Like Portimao for last year’s finale, 2021 also ushers in the potential to travel to new venues, with Finland’s KymiRing, Russia’s Igora Drive and Indonesia’s Mandalika street circuit all making an appearance on the provisional calendar, in either scheduled or reserve form. So is there anything he’s looking forward to, in regard to the new circuits?

“New circuits? It sounds a bit weird but I'm gonna say I'm not right bothered. I don't really get that excited, I'm not bothered about going to Finland and everyone tells me the time of year we go, at that time of year it rains a lot. I’d rather not go to Indonesia really.

“When I used to go over there, when I raced over there in the 90s, it was always hot and humid, so I’m not overly fussed about there. Same with Russia really, I’ve been to Russia once and [pauses]… I’m not too bothered about going to the new tracks. I know some people get really excited about going to new circuits, but I like it when I know where I'm going and I know where everything is, must be because I'm old and boring.”

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