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Small fish, brutal pond | The MotoGP riders who’d quickly realise it’s very tough at the top

Gold & Goose
Darryn Binder, RNF Racing, Yamaha M1, 2022 MotoGP, Valencia MotoGP, Ricardo Tormo Circuit, portrait, garage, pit, box [Gold & Goose]

It’s a jungle out there in MotoGP, an unforgiving and ruthless one at that.

While just reaching the upper echelons of motorcycle racing is certainly an achievement not to turn one's nose up at, in a series where mere hundredths of a second can decide whether you start from pole or on the back row, MotoGP can be an intimidating arena for those starting out in the premier class.

Indeed, there isn’t much time for riders to make their mark among esteemed competition, so it’s inevitable that for every sensational rookie like Fabio Quartararo, Marco Bezzecchi and Jorge Martin, there are riders who came, saw what they were up against and quickly left - a bit like these…


Sam Lowes

2017 - Aprilia Racing

You can’t blame Sam Lowes for grabbing the opportunity to graduate to MotoGP when it came, particularly as it came with factory backing too.

However, the benefit of hindsight suggests Aprilia Gresini Racing was simply too much of a ‘work-in-progress’ to suit a MotoGP newbie like Lowes. 

Indeed, an already difficult initiation process for Lowes as a rookie was then made trickier still by trying to learn the ropes on an Aprilia RS-GP that at the time was an unreliable and inconsistent package.

Measured against experienced team-mate Aleix Espargaro, with Lowes cracking the points on just two occasions across the season, there was to be no second year for the Englishman in the Italian team despite having a contract in place.

Thomas Luthi

2018 - EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda

Of all the riders featured in this list, it is Thomas Luthi who arguably deserves the most sympathy after enduring a dismal single season in MotoGP having spent more than a decade trying to break into the premier class.

Indeed, the Swiss rider had long been considered a solid bet for a promotion from Moto2 to MotoGP in the several years prior to it eventually happening in 2018 with Marc VDS Racing, even counting himself among the front-runners in the intermediate class as early as 2007 when it was still the 250GP class.

However, despite having the pedigree of 11 wins and being twice a runner-up at Moto2 level prior to his big shot, once in MotoGP Luthi struggled to adapt and would end his one and only season having failed to score a single point.


Remy Gardner

2022 - Tech3 Racing KTM

With a title-winning roll-call that includes the likes of Enea Bastianini, Pecco Bagnaia and Franco Morbidelli, it is generally assumed that riders who win the Moto2 World Championship are destined for great things when they reach MotoGP.

In the case of Remy Gardner though, he wasn’t given much chance to prove this or otherwise after KTM unceremoniously axed him from its line-up just 12 months after hiring him.

A bitter pill to swallow for Gardner in the wake of his hard-fought 2021 Moto2 title win with KTM Ajo - having spent years hard-grafting in the intermediate class already - while he blamed the iffy competitiveness of his satellite KTM package, the Austrian firm made assertions that he was difficult to work with.

Either way, with a new wave of KTM juniors waiting in the wings, Gardner was given the heave-ho after bothering the points on just six occasions in 2022.


Xavier Simeon

2018 - Reale Avintia Racing Ducati

Xavier Simeon’s brief MotoGP chapter bears striking similarity to that of Thomas Luthi, the Belgian moving up to MotoGP in 2018 having spent several years plying his trade in Moto2 already.

Unlike Luthi, however, Simeon was considered a less obvious choice for a chance at competing in MotoGP given his relatively modest results in the middleweight category with just one win and four podiums to his name in eight seasons of competition.

Signed up by Avintia Racing to ride its two-year old Ducati GP16, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Simeon struggled to make a name for himself, trundling around at the back with Luthi and scoring just a single point.

James Toseland

2008-2009 - Tech 3 Racing Yamaha

With two WorldSBK titles under his belt, James Toseland’s progression to MotoGP with Tech 3 Yamaha in 2008 not only generated a vast amount of publicity, it served to re-ignite British interest in MotoGP.

Charged with reaffirming WorldSBK’s reputation as a series capable of producing riders capable of making a competitive step into MotoGP, alas Toseland’s two years in MotoGP failed to sparkle.

That’s not to say he wasn’t impressive, Toseland proving competitive among the satellite contenders from his debut. However, the podium would ultimately prove elusive, while he was comfortably out-performed by team-mate Colin Edwards.

With Yamaha’s new star protege Ben Spies waiting in the wings for 2010, Toseland’s solid but unspectacular tenure in MotoGP came to a quiet end.

Darryn Binder

2022 - RNF Racing Yamaha

You wouldn’t blame Darryn Binder for feeling a bit under pressure when he rolled up for his maiden MotoGP race at the start of the 2022 season in Qatar.

Only the second rider in recent history to be given a MotoGP shot straight from Moto3, he did so under the cloud of accusations from riders that he was too under-qualified and too erratic to mix it in the premier class.

Credit then to Binder for holding his nerve at the highest level, the South African proving a surprisingly capable addition to the grid that was far more impressive than predictions would have led you to believe before the year.

While the combination of his general inexperience and having a flaccid year-old Yamaha R1 package under him limited his results, he could out-pace esteemed team-mate Andrea Dovizioso and even notched up a top ten finish in wet conditions.

Tito Rabat

2016-2020 - Marc VDS Racing Honda, Avintia Racing Ducati

What sets Tito Rabat apart from the other riders here is that he was able to sustain a five-year stint in MotoGP despite results best described as ‘modest’.

Moto2 World Champion in 2014, Rabat went on to make his MotoGP debut in 2016 with the same Marc VDS Racing team, the Spaniard accruing two years on the RC213V before spending the next three on Ducati machinery with Avintia Racing.

A solid point-scorer when the going was good, it’s a shame that in five seasons and 77 starts that Rabat made it into the top ten in just six of them…

Gabor Talmacsi

2009 - Scot Racing Team Honda

While Jack Miller and Darryn Binder are the only riders of the modern grand prix era to have made the direct leap from Moto3 to MotoGP, Gabor Talmacsi is as good as the most recent example of a rider jumping from 125GP to the premier class.

Granted, we will let the record show that Talmacsi did participate in a handful of 250GP races, but he’d make only three starts before he was snapped up by the Scot Racing Team to make his MotoGP debut from Round 6 onwards in 2009.

The 125GP World Champion in 2007, Talmacsi at least came with some impressive junior credentials but the promotion to MotoGP was too premature for him to find his feet in time and his results paled into comparison with those of giant-killer Andrea Dovizioso a year earlier.

Lukas Pesek

2013 - Came IodaRacing Suter 

While the divisive CRT/Open era of MotoGP served its purpose by swelling the grid and encouraging new teams to give the premier class a go, there was the occasional flip-side of seats being filled by those of - shall we say - lower calibre.

It goes some way to explaining how Lukas Pesek emerged from almost nowhere to wind up on the 2013 MotoGP grid pedalling the IodaRacing Suter.

Indeed, while the Czech rider had been a competitive 125GP racer several years earlier, his most recent grand prix outing prior to his Ioda signing had been a part-season Moto2 campaign in 2010.

Unsurprisingly, Pesek struggled to mount a revival on his return to front-line competition on the Suter chassis, failing to score a single point all year. 

Christophe Ponsson

2018 - Avintia Racing Ducati

Typical, you spend your racing career dreaming of getting a shot at competing in MotoGP and then when the chance does come around, you get the entire grid hating on you hard!

Indeed, this was probably not the reaction Christophe Ponsson or Avintia Racing were anticipating when the Frenchman was chosen to deputise for Tito Rabat at the 2018 San Marino MotoGP, despite it being a world away from his regular Superstock 1000 gig…

However, when Ponsson proceeded to lap several seconds off the pace in practice, riders called for him to be barred from racing for bringing the sport into disrepute. They didn’t get their wish instantly, but when Ponsson proceeded to qualify three seconds off the next slowest rider, Avintia bowed to pressure to drop him before the next event.

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