The final podium of the Covid-19 compressed 2020 MotoGP season neatly encapsulated so many parts of this strange and fascinating year. On the top step stood Miguel Oliveira, his second victory in a breakthrough year for both him and KTM. Beside him stood Jack Miller, the Ducati rider taking his second podium in a row. And on the third step stood Franco Morbidelli, arguably the strongest rider of 2020, outperforming the 2020 Yamahas on a 2019 M1.
The podium was emblematic in another way, too. All three riders were racing for satellite teams: Oliveira for the Red Bull KTM Tech3 team, Miller for Pramac Ducati, and Morbidelli for the Petronas Yamaha SRT squad. Furthermore, Morbidelli's third place finish wrapped up second spot in the MotoGP team championship for Petronas Yamaha, behind the factory Suzuki Ecstar squad and ahead of the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team.
It was the first time since Qatar in 2004 that the podium had consisted solely of riders in satellite teams. The 2004 race was won by Sete Gibernau, who finished ahead of his Gresini Honda teammate Colin Edwards. Ruben Xaus was third across the line, nearly 24 seconds back, riding a D'Antin Ducati. Xaus finished ahead of the two factory Repsol Hondas, Alex Barros crossing the line 6 seconds before Nicky Hayden.
(Parenthetically, the Qatar 2004 race marked the high point of the feud between Valentino Rossi and Sete Gibernau, after Gibernau's Gresini team informed Race Direction that Rossi and Max Biaggi had been cleaning their grid spots on the sandy Losail International Circuit the evening after qualifying. After the race, Rossi vowed that Gibernau would never win another MotoGP race again. The curse worked: the Spaniard never finished better than second, retiring from MotoGP due to injury after the 2006 season, with only an abortive return for six races in 2009.)
An all-satellite podium at Portimão reinforced just how strong satellite teams were in 2020. In 14 races, satellite riders finished on the podium 16 times, including 8 victories. That is a win rate for satellite teams of 57.1%, the highest rate in the MotoGP era (that is, starting in 2002 when four stroke machines started to replace the 500cc two strokes which had dominated the Grand Prix racing premier class since 1976).
The 2020 satellite podium rate of 38.1% has only been bettered twice before in the MotoGP era: in 2003, when satellite bikes took 43.8% of the available podium positions, and in 2004, when they took 56.3% of podiums, both from seasons of 16 races. In terms of raw numbers, too, only 2004 and 2003 were better for satellite teams, with satellite riders finishing on the podium 27 times in 2004, and 21 times in 2003. But in neither year did satellite riders take as many victories, 7 in 2004 and 6 in 2003 compared to 8 in 2020.
Before we put this into a wider historical perspective, we should really address the elephant in the room. One reason that there were so many podiums for satellite riders is because notorious podium hog Marc Márquez was absent all year. Through the 19 races of the 2019 season, Marc Márquez was on the podium in all but one race. Márquez finished either first or second everywhere except Austin, where he crashed out of the lead.
But even if we assume Márquez would have been able to repeat this incredible achievement in 2020, it would not have made that much difference to the number of podiums for satellite riders. If we gave Márquez a first or a second place for all 14 races, satellite riders only finished in third on three separate occasions this year – Johann Zarco at Brno, Jack Miller at Austria 1, and Franco Morbidelli at Portimão. So putting Marc Márquez on the podium in all of this year's races would still leave satellite riders with 13 podiums out of a possible total of 42, a podium rate of 31%. That is still the third highest podium rate for satellite riders in the MotoGP era, behind 2004 and 2003, though in raw numbers, it pushes 2020 down into fifth place, behind 2004 (27), 2003 (21), 2019 (15), and 2005 (14). All those season had far more races, however.
So how does 2020 compare to the rest of the MotoGP era? Here is an overview of podiums for satellite riders since the beginning of the MotoGP era in 2002:
To read the remaining 3144 words of this article, you need to sign up to become a MotoMatters.com site supporter by taking out a subscription. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here. If you are already a subscriber, log in to read the full text.
This is part of a regular series of unique insights into the world of motorcycle racing, exclusive for MotoMatters.com site supporters. The series includes interviews, background information, in-depth analysis, and opinion, and is available to everyone supporting the site by taking out a subscription.
If you would like to read more of our exclusive content you can join the growing band of site supporters, by taking out a subscription here. If you prefer, you can also support us on our Patreon page and get access to the same exclusive material there.