Guest Blog: Mat Oxley’s 2020 MotoGP Top Ten

MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.


Mat Oxley’s 2020 MotoGP Top Ten

Joan Mir won the 2020 MotoGP World Championship, but was he the strongest rider last season?

What’s the point of a journalist conjuring up his own MotoGP top ten when the championship does exactly that?

Not much really, but looking beyond race wins, podiums and points allows us to take into account other factors, like the quality of a rider’s machinery, the strength of his back-up crew and the depth of his experience.

This year’s MotoGP top ten is a strange one, because for the first time in two decades neither Marc Márquez nor Valentino Rossi feature. Márquez, because he only started one race and didn’t finish any, Rossi, because for the first time since he joined the premier class in 2000 he doesn’t deserve to be considered one of the best riders in the championship.

1: Franco Morbidelli

Morbidelli was overshadowed by rookie team-mate Fabio Quartararo during his first season at Petronas Yamaha. While Quartararo became Marc Márquez’s toughest rival in 2019 Morbidelli reconfigured his riding technique to take advantage of the Yamaha’s strong points after spending his first premier-class season on a Honda.

Quartararo rides very much on natural ability, perhaps too much. Morbidelli goes to work in a different style – he takes his time to find the limit, working towards it step by step, never trying to run before he can walk. Only once he’s got the bike where he wants it and only once he feels comfortable taking it to the limit does he find that something extra.

Morbidelli had a point to prove in 2020. He was denied the chance to race Yamaha’s latest-spec YZR-M1, so he went into the season riding a second-hand bike. Indie M1s have traditionally performed well, with Johann Zarco and others onboard, but had never won a MotoGP race, until Morbidelli came along and won three.

That was hugely impressive, because while Morbidelli may have Ramon Forcada on his side he doesn’t have the vital electronics and data resources enjoyed by factory riders.

His three victories – at Misano, Aragon and Valencia – were achieved in the usual Yamaha style: leading from start to finish, with no one getting in the way to disturb his wide, sweeping corner entries or overheat his front tyre.

Morbidelli will once again ride 2019-spec M1s in 2021. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on the quality of the 2021 factory bikes.

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

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Comments

(David, did you mean to move the save button back down there again?)

I used to spend brain bandwidth doing permutations of "what if they were all on the same bike? But which one, since different riders are a fit for different bikes?" It doesn't get to anywhere solid nor far, but for me it does go somewhere albeit of my own relativity. (I put them all on Suzukis btw). 

Re Morbidelli, we don't know if it is good that he is on the 2019 again but DO know it is good he isn't on the 2020. 

If we are going for subjectivity, those who impressed and struck me the most, I would include Taka Nakagami. I would also push Binder higher. All the Yamaha guys besides FM21 would be much lower, but then we are talking a good bit about bikes again. Well, re Maverick, it gets tricky to say. We get to a spot inevitably with ALL such considerations in which we realize we CANNOT discern rider from ride. Right? You can go way further in with a deep understanding of the bikes and make some smart adjustments. But in the end there doesn't exist a rider not on a particular bike after the Rookies Cup. Moto2 nearly. It is important that we stay to NOW, not longer term. Many include the past, and it gets nostalgic (and Fanboy nearly everywhere but Motomatters eh?). My inclination has always been going the OTHER way - preoccupied with what is about to happen and potential. Both riders AND bikes. (Bagnaia and Ducati, oh how you taunt! Yamaha, you owe me a shirt...that says "Monster Gresini Suzuki" now). 

The commentary and reflective analysis here is great Mr O. If you did it for every rider it would be interesting, maybe even more than the bickering that may ensue over ranks. A great discussion might be ranking the whole grid before the season (not just expected points haul, but as you are doing), including their expected trajectory relative to that static rank. Then doing it again here at the end of the season unpacking what occurred. Our biases get on display, but better yet we get to explore just what has been going on. 

Pondered doing my own for the whole grid here. Sat with coffee #2, looked at the circus with numbers next to them, and guess what happened? Appreciation for the whole thing. Had a brief appreciation that Tito Rabat is likely to brighten up and enjoy goodness of fit with Superbikes. Just a softened big open warm joyful goodness with the whole mess, as it is. THAT friends is a sign of a great era.

 

I'd agree about Nakagami and scratching my head about his exclusion from Oxley's list.  Dramatic year over year improvement and one of the most consistent on the grid this year.  

More impressive to me I guess is that he was able to look at Marquez' data and actually APPLY it.  That Honda may still be a beast, but it was refreshing to see someone else able to get on terms with it and not as a one-off.

Nakagami promised far more than he actually delivered.

His season was his best by far but could have been so much more.
He underachieved badly in terms of getting close to what his speed showed could have been possible.

 

Despite less races to remember, I'm sure I'm not the only person this year who is having memory problems! Facts like Pol being 3rd for number of podiums, Quatararo only having 3 podiums, or Miller's 3 non-fault DNFs (lots of 3's this year, eh?). So these short lists really help put the season in perspective. While I want everyone working in MotoGP to get their much deserved, much needed break, I'm ready for 2021 already! Too many story lines to count right now (but I bet it's more than 3).

And reading the MotorSport comments, it's amazing what people will convince themselves of, eh? People doubting Mir, despite now being a multi world champion. Doubts about Miller, despite constantly being the strongest Ducati rider. Selective memory, despite the facts laid out before them.