Valentino Rossi joked he might opt to quit MotoGP again in 2022 after enjoying all the fanfare that accompanied his final race in Valencia before retirement.

Rossi, a seven-time MotoGP champion and legend of the sport, took to the track for the final time on Sunday having confirmed the 2021 season would be his last back in August.

The 42-year-old qualified in 10th and ultimately finished in the same position, achieving the top-10 finish he had identified as his goal heading into the weekend.

Rossi was mobbed at the end of the race, with his rivals, fans and crew all swarming around him before lifting him aloft of the track shortly after old friend Ronaldo waved the chequered flag.

A party then began as Rossi returned to the pits, and he could not hide his enjoyment of all the adoration.

"[There's been] a lot of surprises, we've had fun," he told Sky Sport Italia. "It was my style, we drank, broke a few things. I'm not that drunk yet!

"I'm happy to have had a good race, I finished among the 10 strongest riders in the world. Slowly now I'll realise that I'm stopping, but for now [it just feels like] the championship is over.

"I've always tried to do one last race in my style. They tried to make me cry, but in my opinion this was supposed to be a party.

"Quitting was an excuse to make a bit of a mess, maybe I'll quit next year too! No, you know how proud I am to have gone out strong.

"I was in shape today, I was inspired. I like that I've left in this way. At least I can say that at the last race I finished 10th."

Fittingly, VR46 academy product Francesco Bagnaia was victorious on the day.

He and the other riders to have come through the academy who were involved in the various races over the weekend wore replicas of Rossi's most iconic helmet designs, and he appreciated that tribute.

"Yesterday, when they surprised me with the helmets, it was tough but nice," Rossi added. "Today, it was great to see them in action."

Francesco Bagnaia dedicated his Valencia Grand Prix victory to Valentino Rossi as the MotoGP great hangs up his leathers.

Rossi, a seven-time world champion and legend of the sport, took part in the final race of his illustrious career on Sunday, having confirmed the 2021 season would be his last back in August.

The 42-year-old qualified in 10th and ultimately finished in the same position, achieving the top-10 finish he had identified as his goal heading into the weekend.

Rossi was mobbed at the end of the race, with his rivals, fans and crew all swarming around him before lifting him aloft of the track.

He was then treated to special tributes from other teams as he headed back down the pitlane for the last time, before something of a party began in the Yamaha paddock.

Bagnaia won the race after seeing off Jorge Martin, and the Italian – who came through Rossi's VR46 academy – dedicated the win to his hero.

"It was very exciting because with a helmet like this I could only win," the Ducati rider told Sky Sport Italia while holding a replica of Rossi's 2004 helmet.

"It is the only way to celebrate the greatest of all, it was beautiful. The hug with Vale was wonderful, I was able to pass on to him what he is for me, and all the gratitude for what he's done. Without him I would not be like this at the moment.

"I wanted to give Valentino a gift with my helmet and dedicate this race to him. I thank him for what he did for us at the academy.

"Before the weekend I wasn't sure I could do performances like this here. In the end, we were among the fastest and I'm happy to have won. It's the best way to end a season."

 

Valentino Rossi brought the curtain down on his illustrious MotoGP career with a 10th-placed finish at the Valencia Grand Prix while his protege Francesco Bagnaia crossed the line first in the final race of the campaign.

Seven-time MotoGP champion Rossi, 42, confirmed in August he would be hanging up his leathers at the end of the 2021 season, and he closed things out with a drama-free ride as he achieved his pre-weekend goal of a top-10 finish.

Danil Petrucci, who finished in 18th, is also departing MotoGP.

Rossi received a hero's reception at the end of the race as riders, fans and crew swarmed and held him aloft, with his old friend Ronaldo having waved the final chequered flag of his career.

The veteran enjoyed a solid performance in qualifying, securing a respectable 10th place on the grid, but it was his countryman Bagnaia and rookie Jorge Martin at the front who occupied the main in-race focus.

Martin started on pole for the fourth time this season and showed excellent poise to hold off Bagnaia for a while, but he left the door open at the end of the 15th lap as the Italian's persistence paid off.

Bagnaia was then in a class of his own for the rest of the race as Martin failed to reel him back in, though the latter did just enough to hold off Jack Miller to secure second.

Ducati bikes locked out the podium as their factory team secured the teams' title in emphatic fashion, but all the attention was on Rossi at the end, with various teams producing their own tributes to him as he rode back down the pit lane for the last time.

 

 

MotoGP great Valentino Rossi received a timely boost from one of the championship's emerging stars in qualifying for the Valencia Grand Prix.

Rossi, a nine-time world champion, is retiring after Sunday's race, which brings the curtain down on the 2021 season.

Fabio Quartararo already has the title sewn up, and the newly crowned champion will start from eighth on the grid, two ahead of 42-year-old Rossi.

Rossi was given a helping hand by Francesco Bagnaia, who is looking to cap a superb individual season that has seen him claim wins at Aragon, San Marino and Portimao.

Bagnaia finished second in qualifying, just 0.064 seconds behind Jorge Martin, who claimed the fourth pole of his rookie season with a superb ride.

The Ducati rider crashed at Turn Two, though still found the power to provide Rossi with a tow that secured his place in Q2.

"Pecco helped me, I'm very happy," Rossi explained.  "We didn't have a clear plan, I just started behind him and he saw me but he continued to push. So thanks a lot to Pecco, who helped me improve my lap time.

"This is a great feeling for me and for the team in my last race. I think that apart from the emotional moment for me it's very important to try to make a good weekend, a good result and I will start in the top 10. So it was a good Saturday."

Bagnaia added: "No, no [it wasn't planned]. But, I did see him enter on the track before me, so it's the minimum that I can do for him. He gave so much over the years to us so it's the minimum I could do."

Bagnaia gave Martin full credit for clinching pole and the Pramac Racing driver said he took a risky approach to give himself the best chance of a second win of the season.

"In qualifying as always, we risk a lot," Martin said. "It's not an easy track because the layout is strange, it's not normal and also the grip is not perfect here. So, I was risking every lap, in every corner, but finally I could finish this lap.

"I'm really happy. My performance is good. You can see all the Ducatis are strong, so tomorrow will be a great battle but I think I have the pace to fight for the podiums."

Jack Miller, Bagnaia's Ducati team-mate, will round out the front row on Sunday.

All eyes will be on Francesco Bagnaia at the Grand Prix of Americas after the Ducati star claimed his third successive pole position.

Bagnaia became the first Italian rider to clinch a hat-trick of poles since MotoGP great Valentino Rossi in 2009, while he is first Ducati to do so in consecutive events since Jorge Lorenzo in 2018.

The 24-year-old achieved the feat after snapping Honda superstar Marc Marquez's run of seven straight poles at the Grand Prix of Americas in Texas on Saturday.

Bagnaia's last lap of two minutes, 02.781seconds left six-time world champion Marquez in third as Yamaha championship leader Fabio Quartararo earned second spot.

As Bagnaia seeks to become the second Ducati rider to clinch three straight victories along with Casey Stoner (2007 and 2008), Yamaha's Rossi lavished his countryman in praise.

"Pecco is impressive, it's his third consecutive pole position, with an incredible lap," seven-time MotoGP champion Rossi said after qualifying 20th fastest.

"He's in great shape and it's a real pleasure to see him ride. It's really been a long time since I've seen the Ducati ridden so well, so I'm very happy for him."

It is set to be another showdown between Quartararo and Bagnaia, who is 48 points adrift of the Frenchman ahead of Sunday's main race with crucial championship points on the line.

Quartararo is the only MotoGP rider who has collected points in the 14 races held so far in 2021. In fact, he has picked up points in his last 15 races – his best historical run in all categories and the best of any MotoGP rider since Maverick Vinales' 16 between 2020 and 2021.

But Bagnaia said: "I took some risk to do it because this morning I was more in trouble. Then we decided to stop and try to let the bike follow the bumps better. 

"I started getting a better feeling in FP4 and in the Q2 I was able again to have the same feeling. 

"It was easier for me to push more. Then when I saw I was down [faster] in the first sector by two tenths I tried to push more and I'm very happy because we started this weekend a bit in trouble and now we are again on top."

 

Qualifying results

1. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) 2:02.781
2. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) +0.348secs
3. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) +0.428
4. Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) +0.497
5. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda) +0.511
6. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) +0.598
7. Alex Rins (Suzuki Ecstar) +0.672
8. Joan Mir (Suzuki Ecstar) +0.747
9. Luca Marini (Avintia) +0.765
10. Jack Miller (Ducati) +0.939
11. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) +1.000
12. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda) +1.094

Pol Espargaro will hope to be celebrating at the end of Sunday's British Grand Prix, yet the Spaniard already feels like a winner after surprising even himself by claiming pole position.

Espargaro had arrived at Silverstone after struggling in the previous two rounds of the MotoGP season in Austria, failing to score any points by recording successive 16th-place finishes.

However, the 30-year-old belied his recent lack of form with a stunning qualifying performance, securing his first pole for Repsol Honda as he squeezed out Francesco Bagnaia by just 0.022 seconds.

Jorge Martin initially appeared to have set a new fastest lap in the closing stages of the final session, only for his time to be wiped out after it was discovered he had cut the Vale chicane. He will instead start from fourth position.

Championship leader Fabio Quartararo will begin from third, but this was a memorable day for Espargaro as he looks to get back scoring points again, having not gone three in a row without collecting something since he was at KTM in 2018.

"Yeah, it's a little bit shocking after how tough Austria was, how we've been able to come back here," Espargaro said in his post-qualifying interview.

"It's difficult to believe, but there are different ways to take these bad moments – in a sad way, or in an angry way. We opted to take the second option.

"I tried to be every day a little bit better. I’ve been working so much, but unluckily the results were not coming.

"Here, everything is coming much easier. Sure, the track, the weather is cold, the extra grip we have in this track gives me the feelings, I have to apply my riding style and maybe to forget a little the problems we have in the pit box with the bike.

"Also, this place has been good to Honda in the past years, so let's enjoy today. Today this pole felt like a victory."

Quartararo admitted the choice of soft tyres had initially caused him some issues on Saturday, though he was happy enough after a switch helped him achieve his target in qualifying.

"Today I've been struggling so much with the soft tyre," the Frenchman, who is the only MotoGP rider to claim points in every race so far this season, told the media. "I was not feeling great on the bike, but with the medium tyre I was immediately feeling better.

"I was struggling so much in acceleration. The main goal was to be on the front row, and we will not touch anymore the soft tyre. I’m happy about my pace – and also the tyres."

Marc Marquez and Aleix Espargaro join Martin on the second row, while Valentino Rossi, who has finished on the podium in four of his five most recent appearances at the British GP, ended up in eighth, sandwiched between Jack Miller and Johann Zarco.

Joan Mir, meanwhile, has work to do from 11th place. The reigning world champion sits level with Bagnaia in second place in the standings on 134 points, 47 adrift of leader Quartararo.

Jorge Martin capitalised on his record-setting pole position to claim victory in a dramatic Styrian Grand Prix on Sunday to seal his maiden win in MotoGP.

Martin, competing in his maiden MotoGP campaign, clinched pole with a time of 1:22.994 – the fastest recorded at the Red Bull Ring.

However, he needed a second chance to turn his superb qualifying session into a race triumph following an early red flag due to a crash involving Dani Pedrosa and Lorenzo Savadori.

Francesco Bagnaia had taken an early lead ahead of Martin, but when the race restarted, the original grid positions were used, and having reclaimed control from Jack Miller – who later crashed out – the Pramac Racing rider held firm to secure a first premier class success ahead of Joan Mir and runaway championship leader Fabio Quartararo.

Bagnaia wasted no time in getting on the attack and had overtaken Martin within seconds of the start, while Mir, Quartararo and Marc Marquez had an almighty tussle for position on Turn 6.

Yet their efforts proved fruitless as the red flag was soon raised.

Pedrosa fell on the exit hairpin of Turn 3 with Savadori subsequently colliding with the stricken bike.

Making his first start in MotoGP since 2018, Pedrosa came away unscathed, though Savadori had to receive further medical attention and was carried away on a stretcher. Meanwhile, race marshals had to contend with a fire on the track – a result of a ruptured fuel tank from one of the bikes.

After a 30-minute delay, the race restarted with 27 laps remaining. This time, it was Miller who was the early aggressor, with six-time MotoGP champion Marquez dropping to 14th and Martin back to third.

Miller could not hold on, though, with Martin picking his line perfectly to undertake, while defending champion Mir and Quartararo soon followed suit.

Matters were made worse for Miller with 10 laps to go, the Australian skidding out on Turn 7 as he attempted to hunt down Quartararo. It is the second successive race he has failed to finish.

The day instead belonged to Martin, the 23-year-old keeping compatriot Mir at bay to win with a 1.548-second cushion.

Quartararo came in in third, collecting more points in his quest for the world title, while Marquez – who finished on the podium in three of his four previous MotoGP races at the Red Bull Ring – had to settle for eighth.

Jorge Martin made history as he claimed his second pole of the MotoGP season, which resumed at the Styrian Grand Prix on Saturday.

The Pramac Racing rider's winning time of 1:22.994 was the fastest recorded at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, as he finished 0.044s ahead of Francesco Bagnaia.

There was drama as Martin's effort was almost eclipsed by Fabio Quartararo, only for the runaway championship leader to exceed track limits by drifting into the green at the vital moment.

MotoGP debutant Martin made a strong start to his maiden campaign; taking pole in Doha in round two on the way to an impressive third-place finish.

However, injury during qualifying at the Portuguese Grand Prix two weeks later ruled him out of four races, while he was also forced to retire at the Dutch TT last time out.

Nevertheless, the 23-year-old has demonstrated brilliant determination to bounce back and finish fastest in qualifying, which he dedicated to his currently hospitalised grandfather.

"It wasn't the perfect lap," he said. "I started quite well in the first sector.

"I kept pushing and saw I was coming in hot, but then I made a mistake with the gearbox in corners four and five. 

"In the last two corners, I tried my best not to go to the green because with the wind, it was difficult. When I finished the lap and saw the time on my screen, I thought: 'that's a good time.'

"I want to dedicate this pole position to my grandfather. He's in hospital and he's battling a lot."

Despite missing out on a sixth pole of the season, Quartararo will begin Sunday's Grand Prix on the front row of the grid for Monster Energy Yamaha.

"It's a shame because of the track limit. I did the maximum with what I had," said the Frenchman, who is currently 34 points clear at the top of the riders' standings.

"Sunday, it looks like it's going to rain, so it's good to have a great position on the grid. 

"I pushed my bike to the limit. I will not say it's my best lap because I made many mistakes, but it's the first time that I've pushed that much on a bike."

It was a good day for Ducati with Martin and Bagnaia first and second with Jack Miller and Johann Zarco, who finished fourth and sixth respectively, not far behind.

World champion Joan Mir will start fifth for Suzuki Ecstar.

Meanwhile, seven-time MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi, who announced earlier this week that he would retire at the end of this season, was 17th.

Provisional classification

1. Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) 1:22.994
2. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) +0.044s
3. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) +0.081s
4. Jack Miller (Ducati) +0.306s
5. Joan Mir (Suzuki Ecstar) +0.328s
6. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) +0.382s
7. Alex Espargaro (Aprilia) +0.454s
8. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) +0.495s
9. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha) +0.514s
10. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda) +0.542s
11. Alex Marquez (LCR Honda) +0.847s
12. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM) +0.950s

MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi has announced he will retire at the end of the 2021 season after a 26-year career.

The nine-time MotoGP world champion confirmed this campaign would be his last at the Styrian Grand Prix in Austria – where the Italian claimed his first Grand Prix podium in 1996  – on Thursday.

After falling down the pecking order at Yahama this season, Rossi, who has achieved 115 Grand Prix victories and 235 podiums in 414 starts, decided to continue his career with Petronas, though only managed to collect 17 points from the first nine races in the 2021 campaign.

Ahead of the summer break, the Italian was expected to announce his future plans and he did so during Thursday's exceptional news conference.

"It's a very sad moment," Rossi said to the media. "It's difficult to know that next year I will not race with a motorcycle.

"It was a long journey that I enjoyed very much. Next year, my life will change.

"It's a difficult decision but in the end in all sports it's results that make the difference, so I think it's the right decision. I can't complain about my career."

Rossi had been winless in MotoGP since the 2017 Dutch TT, though his legacy will not shrink away from the sport to which he has contributed so much.

Having set up the VR46 Riders Academy to help young Italian talent, Rossi's own VR46 team will make its debut in 2022.

While Rossi's next move remains unclear, there is speculation around him competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, given he has previously expressed a desire to compete with GT3 machinery.

Jorge Martin will start Sunday's Doha MotoGP on pole after stunning the field in qualifying but the rookie insists the race win will belong to someone else.

The Spaniard nudged Pramac Racing team-mate Johann Zarco into second place with a superlative display, with Maverick Vinales – who won the season-opening race in Qatar – in third.

It was a phenomenal result for Martin on just his second outing in qualifying for a premier-class event, but the 23-year-old refused to get carried away as he lowered expectations ahead of the race at the Losail International Circuit. 

"It's difficult to describe my feelings," he said of his first pole. "In the first run, I was behind [Joan] Mir and I felt super confident, I was catching him so fast, and I said, 'Okay, I need a faster bike [to follow]'.

"I was hoping to be behind Pecco [Francesco Bagnaia] but he wasn't improving at all, so I said, 'Okay, it’s my time to boost, my time to demonstrate who I am'.

"For sure, I didn't expect to make pole; I was expecting to be front four, front five.

"When I finished the lap and I was up there in first position, it's unbelievable. This is so great. Tomorrow – another day to learn because for sure it's not my day to win.

"If we can fight for a top six that'd be great and I will be super happy."

Martin picked up a point with a 15th-place finish last week, when Zarco and pole-sitter Bagnaia joined Vinales on the podium.

A best lap of one minute and 53.106 seconds saw Martin clinch pole this time around and Zarco admitted he was taken aback when he realised who had gone faster than him.

"I'm pretty happy, a low one minute 53 seconds was a good target to be on the first row," said the Frenchman.

"When I saw this one minute 53.2 seconds when I crossed the finish line I expected to be on pole.

"But when I understood it was the 89 on pole, my team-mate, I was a bit surprised.

"I'm happy anyway because it's all going too perfect for Pramac team – first and second and it's just happiness to take. It has been great."

Provisional classification

1. Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) 1:53.106
2. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) +0.157
3. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) +0.161
4. Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) +0.197
5. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) +0.363
6. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) +0.548
7. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) +0.599
8. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) +0.639
9. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) +0.679
10. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) +0.688
11. Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team) +1.118
12. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) +1.990

Francesco Bagnaia targeted "a really great result" at the Qatar Grand Prix after setting a stunning lap record on his factory Ducati debut.

Third-year MotoGP rider Bagnaia had finished 15th and 16th in his two seasons with Pramac Racing but has quickly focused on loftier ambitions following his bow with the factory team.

Ducati - winners of the previous two Qatar GPs with the since-departed Andrea Dovizioso - had been fast all week at the season opener, with Jack Miller setting the practice pace in his 100th grand prix with a best time of one minute and 53.387 seconds ahead of second-placed team-mate Bagnaia.

But Bagnaia later suggested he had believed he could run in less than 1:53 in qualifying and so it proved, a magnificent 1:52.772 setting a two-wheel lap record at the Losail International Circuit.

That was enough for a healthy 0.266-second gap to Fabio Quartararo, while Bagnaia gave veteran Valentino Rossi - a four-time Qatar winner - a tow to take him to the front of the second row.

Rossi has 10 podiums at Losail and his next in MotoGP will make him the first to 200.

Even from his commanding position, Bagnaia could be forgiven for being pessimistic after his year-high six abandonments in 2020 - including five in the final eight races - but he was full of positivity following an outstanding display.

"I'm very happy," he said. "Already yesterday I was thinking it was possible today to arrive at (1:)52.

"In the second attempt, when I started pushing, I thought it was possible. After the third sector, I was very close to this lap time.

"I'm very happy; my first pole position in my first race with this team. I would like to make everything possible to finish the race tomorrow in the best way possible. I think we can make a really great result."

Miller had to settle for fifth, next to Rossi, as he pursues a third straight podium for the first time in his career following two to end 2020.

Quartararo also had reason to be disappointed with his day as he mistimed his second run and the chequered flag denied him the opportunity to challenge Bagnaia.

Another debutant at a factory team, Yamaha's Quartararo won the first two races of the season last year but has had only one podium in 12 outings since.

The 21-year-old, who has colleague Maverick Vinales - the 2017 Qatar winner - behind him in third, said: "It's a shame I couldn't do the second lap on my second run. I had the chequered flag for a second.

"But I'm quite happy. I think we did a great lap. We tried something in FP4 that was bad, honestly - I didn't feel great on the bike. But I feel that we have great potential for tomorrow.

"We will go with that bike for the race because it's the one that I feel good [on]. I think we made too much changes today, but I'm feeling happy.

"I think we did a great, great job in the qualifying. Now we're just missing the race. I can't wait."

Neither the Ducatis nor the Yamahas should have to worry this weekend about defending champion Joan Mir, who failed to capitalise on the absence of Repsol Honda great Marc Marquez.

Mir was forced to contend in Q1 and will start from 10th, having finished eighth in his only previous Losail entry in 2018.


Provisional classification

1. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) 1:52.772
2. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Yamaha) +0.266s
3. Maverick Vinales (Monster Yamaha) +0.316s
4. Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha) +0.342s
5. Jack Miller (Ducati) +0.443s
6. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) +0.514s
7. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha) +0.541s
8. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team) +0.543s
9. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) +0.718s
10. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) +0.910s
11. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda) +0.949s
12. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda) +1.158s

For the first time in a long time, the new MotoGP season promises a wide-open title race.

Marc Marquez's standing at the top of the sport has long been undisputed, but injury robbed him of his 2020 campaign and allowed Joan Mir to profit.

A response from Marquez this year has to be expected, but he will not be fit in time for the Qatar double-header that begins the season.

The first of the two Losail International Circuit races comes on Sunday, when Marquez's rivals will be looking to send a message to the absent superstar ahead of another intriguing title tussle.
 

MIR A THREAT TO MARQUEZ?

The 2020 championship would typically make Mir the man to beat in 2021, but Marquez is the bookmakers' favourite, even as he prepares to sit out the start of the season.

Prior to last season, when he appeared in only the first grand prix, Marquez had six titles in seven years.

The Repsol Honda rider will be confident, too, that his delayed recovery will not negatively impact his challenge. This will be the 14th time the campaign has started in Qatar but only four of the previous 13 race winners – most recently Marquez in 2013 – have gone on to top the standings at the end of the year.

Indeed, it is not an event Marquez will mind missing too much, with just one win in seven appearances at the Qatar Grand Prix.

If he can return swiftly afterwards, however, his rivals will have reason to fear. Excluding four abandonments, Marquez has finished first (16 times) or second (eight) in his past 24 races.

Mir's sole previous appearance at Qatar does not suggest he will be able to forge an early lead either, having finished eighth in 2018.

But the defending champion made the podium in seven of his final 11 races in 2020 to clinch the title, Suzuki Ecstar's first riders' championship since 2000.
 

CHALLENGERS TO THE CHAMPIONS

Mir was the man who went away with the title as Marquez missed out, but he was not alone in pursuit of the six-time champion's crown.

Petronas Yamaha's Franco Morbidelli was second last year, just 13 points back, and finished the campaign with two wins in four races, as well as consecutive podiums to end the season.

Jack Miller, now of the factory Ducati team, joined Morbidelli on the podium on both occasions and is being counted among the contenders despite never finishing higher than seventh over the course of a season in this category.

Morbidelli's team-mate last year Fabio Quartararo has moved to the Yamaha factory team after a disappointing 2020, but he has shown just what a threat he can be early in the year, starting with back-to-back victories last time out.

And while Marquez and Mir at least do not have to worry about Andrea Dovizioso, taking a one-year sabbatical, the Honda man might find competition a little closer to home.

New team-mate Pol Espargaro earned his move with five podiums in his past 10 races after only one in the previous 109.
 

THE OLD AND THE NEW

Marquez could join Valentino Rossi on seven titles, behind only Giacomo Agostini (eight) in the 500cc class, with another championship – and the Italian is highly unlikely to play any part in stopping him.

With Marquez out of the picture, veteran Rossi slumped to a career-worst 15th place in the standings last season, with only a single podium – his lowest return since 2011.

That disappointing campaign brought an end to the 42-year-old's second stint with the Yamaha factory team.

Rossi will instead ride for Petronas Yamaha, where he needs just one more podium to become the first 500cc/MotoGP rider to the 500 mark.

At the other end of the spectrum, Luca Marini, Enea Bastianini and Jorge Martin are debutants.

There were three new men in 2020, too, although with Esponsorama Racing pair Marini and Bastianini, this is the first year since 2013 (Andrea Ianone and Claudio Corti) there will be two Italians making their bow in the same year.

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