Brad Binder

Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Brad Binder: KTM’s next big thing

Brad Binder is that rarest of things – a rookie factory MotoGP rider. The 24-year-old South African tells us where he’s from, why he didn’t win the 2019 Moto2 title and what he expects from his first year in the premier class

Not many riders get to be factory riders in their rookie MotoGP season. Usually this only happens to the greats, like Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales.

This year 2016 Moto3 world champion and 2019 Moto2 runner-up Brad Binder rides an RC16 for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing. The youngster has an aggressive, manhandling riding technique, which should work well with the hard-to-handle RC16.

A lot of people expected you to win the 2019 Moto2 title. What went wrong?

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Jerez November Monday Test Notes: Yamaha, Honda, Ducati, Suzuki, KTM

If Valencia is an important test, the Jerez test is even more significant. At Valencia, the riders are tired, and the teams know that they cannot burden them too much. The Valencia circuit is also not well suited to test duties, too tight and contorted to give the new bikes a proper workout.

At Jerez, after a few days off to relax and absorb the lessons of Valencia, the teams and riders are back on the track again. The test program for most factories looks to be bigger and more comprehensive than at Valencia.

Maverick Viñales finished the day as fastest, quick and comfortable on the new 2020 prototype of the Yamaha M1. That Viñales had a clear advantage over the rest of the field is plain, but the gaps on the timesheet do not represent the real relative strengths between the riders. A mixture of drizzle and red flags caused by crashes meant that anyone going out on fresh soft rubber was likely to have their attempt at chasing a time stymied by conditions, or forced back into the pits due to a red flag. The teams got plenty of work done, but events conspired to prevent the usual battle of egos which ends each day at the test.

Yamaha: Frame and engine

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Valencia MotoGP Test Tuesday Round Up: Premature Conclusions, New Engines And Frames, And Strange Crashes

What conclusions can we draw from the first day of testing for the 2020 season? Not much, other than a lot of factories have brought a lot of new parts. And it really does feel like a lot of new parts, with new chassis for KTM, Yamaha, Honda, Ducati, new engines all round, and a host of other bits and pieces in preparation for the new season. New riders, too, with Brad Binder, Iker Lecuona, and Alex Márquez all moving up to MotoGP for 2020.

It is particularly tempting to jump to early conclusions about the rookies. There is a clear pecking order, an easy way of deciding who is adapting quickly, and who is taking their time. By that measure, Iker Lecuona is the man to beat, the Red Bull Tech3 KTM rider finishing just under 1.5 seconds off the leading gaggle of Yamahas at the test. Brad Binder, in the factory Red Bull KTM team, is just under 2.4 seconds behind quickest rider Fabio Quartararo, while the latest addition to the class, Alex Márquez, was last, 2.7 seconds slower than the Petronas Yamaha rider, and nearly 2.2 seconds slower than his brother Marc.

King of the rookies

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Crunching The Numbers: Silly Season 2021 - An Unprecedented Youth Wave Conquers MotoGP

The current field of MotoGP riders may only be less than a season into the first year of their contracts, but the opening salvos of the 2021 season are already being fired. That is a direct consequence of almost the entire grid being on two-year deals, which run through the 2020 season. Every seat on the grid will currently be up for grabs in 2021. And because of that, teams, factories and riders are already starting to explore their options for the next season but one.

This is not something teams are particularly happy about. Team managers will grumble both on and off the record that it is a big gamble choosing riders basically on the basis of their performance two seasons before they are due to ride for you. Fear of missing out on a top rider forces their hand, however, and so teams are already making preliminary approaches about 2021.

The extreme and unusual situation of every single seat being up for grabs means that Moto2 riders are also delaying their plans. Most have only signed 1-year deals for 2020, knowing that so many options are opening up in 2021. Remy Gardner even turned down a chance to move up to MotoGP with KTM for 2020, preferring to wait for 2021 and hope for many more options then.

Youth tsunami

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KTM Complete 2020 MotoGP Line Up: Brad Binder To Factory Team, Iker Lecuona To Tech3

KTM have finally found a solution to their rider line up problem for 2020. Today, the Austrian factory announced that they will be taking Brad Binder directly into the factory Red Bull KTM team, to race alongside Pol Espargaro, while they have signed Iker Lecuona to race in the Red Bull KTM Tech3 satellite squad opposite Miguel Oliveira.

This is something of a shake up to KTM's original plans, caused by the early departure of Johann Zarco. The Frenchman's decision to leave the Austrian factory at the end of 2019 (accelerated to after Misano by KTM's decision to drop him from Aragon onward) left them with a puzzle to solve.

With almost everyone with MotoGP experience tied up for 2020, and most Moto2 riders holding on for 2021, when the entire MotoGP grid is out of contract, finding a replacement for Zarco was almost impossible. They had already signed Brad Binder to the Tech3 satellite team, and had few options to choose from. 

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Marc Marquez: Six Titles In Seven Seasons - Where Does He Go From Here?

What was impressive about Marc Márquez wrapping up his sixth MotoGP title in seven years was not so much that he took the title with a win (as outstanding as it was), but how he got there in the first place. Márquez' record after Thailand is almost unparalleled in the MotoGP era: 9 wins, 5 second places, and a single DNF. Márquez' sole DNF came when he crashed out of the lead in Austin, a result of the engine braking problems the 2019 Honda RC213V suffered early in the season.

The only rider to have done anything like this before was Valentino Rossi in 2002. Then, in the first year of the 990cc four strokes, Rossi won 11 of the 16 races, and took 4 second places, with one DNF, caused by a problem with his rear tire. It was Rossi's third season in the premier class, a year after winning his first title aboard the 500cc two stroke Honda NSR500.

To find other parallels, you have to go back further in time. In 1997, Mick Doohan won 12 races out of 15, finishing second in two more and not finishing in the last race of the year, his home Grand Prix at Phillip Island. Before that, there was Freddie Spencer, who won 7 races in 1985, finishing second in 3 more, crashing in Assen and choosing to skip the final race in Misano. To find greater dominance, you would have to go even further back, to the days of Giacomo Agostini on the MV Agusta, who either won or retired in every race he started in during the period from 1968 to 1971.

Closer than ever

Márquez' 2019 season stands above all of those, however, for the sheer level of competitiveness of the current era. When Agostini was racing, the MV was in a league of its own, the Italian regularly lapping the rest of the field. In 1985, Spencer's only real opposition came from Eddie Lawson, and from his own successful attempt to secure the 500cc and 250cc titles in the same season.

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Austria MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 2: Yamaha's Revival, The Rookies Come Good, And Tolerance For Talent

There was so much to talk about after the Austrian round of MotoGP. The stunning battle and spectacular last lap between Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Márquez, in which Dovizioso emerged triumphant. The bizarre story surrounding Jack Miller's contract and Jorge Lorenzo, a rider who wasn't even present in Spielberg. And to top it all, Johann Zarco's shock announcement he would be leaving KTM at the end of 2019, with no clearly defined plan.

While all of this dominated the headlines, there was so much more going on at the Red Bull Ring that got lost in all the drama. Developments which promise much for the future, both for next year and for the rest of the season. This was a weekend where Yamaha made a comeback, and especially where this year's crop of rookies started to shine.

That Fabio Quartararo should have a good race is no longer really news. The Frenchman has slotted in perfectly to the Petronas Yamaha SRT team, and has shone from the very first weekend. He has had a couple of podiums before, but the podium at the Red Bull Ring should count as something very special indeed. Barcelona and Assen, the two previous races where he got on the podium, are known to be Yamaha tracks. The Red Bull Ring is anything but.

No business being so fast

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Austria MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 1: Lorenzo And Zarco Recapped, And The Marquez vs Dovizioso War

Sometimes events overshadow events. The MotoGP race at the Red Bull Ring turned into an instant classic, pretty much as the last three editions have done, with the race decided at the last corner, but despite the adrenaline-filled, heart-pumping, edge-of-the-seat final few laps, it is the drama which happened off track for which this race will be remembered. The insanity of a rider stepping away from a MotoGP contract with no guarantees of a ride for 2020, and the insanity of a rider flirting with another factory with a few to swapping teams and manufacturers in the middle of a contract rather took attention away what turned out to be a fantastic race.

So let's get the off-track stuff out of the way first. Though I have covered both the Jorge Lorenzo situation and the Johann Zarco situation in some detail elsewhere, here is a quick recap of where we stand.

Jorge Lorenzo first, as that situation is now resolved. Over the summer break, it appears that Lorenzo had been in touch with Ducati about a possible return to the Italian factory, after having severely hurt himself on the Repsol Honda, and found it a far more difficult beast to tame than he had expected. That all came to a head in Austria, as the seat Lorenzo and Ducati were discussing was currently held by Jack Miller at Pramac Ducati.

Not worth the paper they are written on?

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Subscriber Feature: The Revolution Which Will Shake The 2019 MotoGP Grid Up Beyond Recognition

At the start of this year, I made three predictions for the 2018 MotoGP season: that Marc Márquez would win more races this year on his way to the title than he did last year; that Valentino Rossi would sign a new contract with Yamaha; and that this year's Silly Season would be a disappointingly tame affair, with most riders staying where they are.

Three months into the year, and it looks like one of those predictions will be right, as Rossi is already close to signing a new contract already. It's too early to judge the Márquez prediction, with racing still to start, though the Repsol Honda rider has looked very strong in preseason testing.

But I am starting to believe that my final prediction, that Silly Season would turn out to be something of a dud, will be proved completely wrong. After three MotoGP tests and a whole lot of talking, the rumor mill is running at full tilt. And what it is saying is that this could be the season where the grid is turned upside down. Though at this stage, much is still just gossip and rumor, it looks like the only factory team to remain unchanged will be the Movistar Yamaha team.

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A New Year: Three Predictions For The 2018 MotoGP Season

A new year brings new opportunities, and a chance to start again with a blank slate. The future is unknown, and so now is a time for predictions, some wild and baseless, some canny educated guesses. That we do not know which category our predictions will fall into is half the fun of making them, of course.

2018 looks like being another outstanding year for motorcycle racing. There is much reason for optimism: the racing in MotoGP has never been as close as it is now, the field is deep in talent and the bikes are close in performance; there are fresh young faces coming up through Moto2 and Moto3, ready to push aside the old guard; and new rules in WorldSBK may help to address the disparity between the championship front runners and those who pursue them.

Will the new season play out as we hope? Anything can happen in racing, but here are three predictions for 2018, and factors to watch in the coming year:

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