For the first time since 2014, a rider prepares to defend the MotoGP title for the first time in their career. But the circumstances in which Joan Mir is preparing for the 2021 season are very different to who Marc Márquez prepared after he won his first MotoGP title back in 2013. The Covid-19 pandemic means no mass celebrations, no jetting around the world to have his photo taken with sponsors, to fulfill the requirements in his contract. No going directly from the previous season into testing, with barely a break in between.
Joan Mir has had plenty of time at home, with media engagements few and far between, a necessary consequence of the pandemic. He has been in his home in Andorra, training, working to get ready for the coming season. Earlier this week, he spoke to a group of journalists about the year ahead. And here, too, he reaped the benefits of the pandemic: he participated in a large-scale media event from comfort of his home. No time wasted traveling, just change into a team shirt, sit down behind a laptop, and fire up the webcam.
He was as professional in the zoom debrief as he has been in every aspect of his career. And the zoom debrief was as well-organized and smoothly-run as we have come to expect from the Suzuki Ecstar team. It's hardly a surprise that Joan Mir won the 2020 MotoGP title.
Mir started off telling us about how he had been spending the winter.
JM: I feel great. Honestly, I'm quite happy about the preseason we are doing. I'm trying to do as much moto as I can. Also training here in the gym, also doing the skimo, it's something that benefits me a lot. And I almost didn't stop since the championship finished because I was always training, I was one week out on holidays with my girlfriend and then just training. A little bit boring but it's like this, sorry!
Q: How has your life changed since becoming champion? Do people recognize you more often when you go out?
JM: Yes, this is the main difference. When I go to a restaurant probably at least one or two people recognize me, and before it was not like this. And in Andorra even more. Normally in Andorra they recognize you but they don’t ask for photos. The people are like this here. And I can't imagine in Majorca! I haven't been to Majorca, but for sure there life would change completely I think! But the rest is the same. I train the same. When I make a three minute moto with the motocross I still have arm pump! It's always like this!
Q: With the Covid-19 pandemic still ongoing, and the racing uncertain, it looks like we will have another strange start to season, with races canceled and back-to-back races at some circuits. Will the experience from last year make it easier to prepare? Will you prepare any different now you are champion?
JM: No, the way to prepare for the championship is always the same. I normally do a preparation preseason based on the moto training and with the gym and cardio. This is always the same. If the championship is short, long or whatever.
It's true that now I will have more experience, if we do the calendar like last year. But it's also true that it's the same for all my rivals!
So we will have more experience to do a championship like last year. I hope it's a more normal championship, but it will be what Covid will want. So let's see what championship awaits us and let's give 100% and try to defend the title.
Q: When Marc won the championship, we would automatically say he was the favorite for next year. Are you the favorite for 2021, now that you are champion?
JM: It’s true that when Marc won the title, he was the favorite for the next year. This year, inside of me, I'm the man to beat, but probably I'm not the favorite. But I feel like this, no? I think that I have to show much more to be the favorite. It's true that last year we won the championship not by speed, we won by consistency and by being clever.
I think that the margin I have to improve the speed is probably not the same as other people with more experience. So we have on paper good tools to defend, but I don't feel I will be the favorite. I will be the man to beat but not the favorite. Let's see. If I won this year then I will be the favorite anyway.
I'm looking forward for this year and to try to show more, to enjoy more and to be a better rider. That is my goal for this season. If I'm able to repeat the title I will be super happy because at the end it's what everyone wants. The goal is that one, but inside of me I want to be better. I don’t care about the championship, okay at end it's the important thing, but I want to be better. I want to start to make pole positions, I want to start to win more races, and then if I'm able to do that, I'm already constant. So let's try to improve in that area.
Q: Who do you see as the favorite?
JM: For me the favorite if he comes back at 100% is Marc. He is the favorite. He has more experience than me. More titles. More speed, and he's the man to beat. If you remove Marc, I don’t see any favorite. Probably it's me, in that case. But with Marc on track, it will be Marc.
Q: Did you make any changes in your team? Do you have a spotter or riding coach?
JM: I would like to hear everything that needs improving, it’s something I'm always interested to do. But I think that inside our team we have a little bit what we can call a coach. We don’t have the name, but we have something that helps us to improve our skills.
Also we have the data. I have a super strong teammate who I'm able to compare with, and if I'm watching at the barriers, even if I'm world champion or whatever, it's difficult for me to find the difference between one rider and another riding three tenths slower than the other. It's a little bit difficult! For sure if you have the experience you can see different type of riding styles, of the Ducati, Suzuki, different bikes. But it's really difficult to see from the outside.
Q: Your teammate, Alex Rins, was a big rival last season, finishing third in the championship even though he was injured in the first race. Will he be a bigger threat this season?
JM: No, I think he will be as strong as last season. He was injured in the first part of the season, but then it's true that he was more and more competitive. We were fighting with each other in every Grand Prix. He finished third in the end, I think that everybody made mistakes. And we will see what happens next season, probably it's not easy to make all the season without making mistakes. The injuries, the crashes, this is always a part of our job, and we have to manage in the best way that we can. And I think that Alex made a good job in this way. He will be competitive for sure, but not more competitive, he was already really strong.
Q: [Team Director] Shinichi Sahara and [Technical Manager] Ken Kawauchi in Japan said the target for 2021 is winning the triple crown, fighting for the podium in every race, and finishing 1-2 in championship…
JM: I'm super happy to hear about Suzuki, that the goal is that, because it means they are beating hard. They are pushing to make this team even better than we had. So this is super great to hear.
Always it's really difficult and they know more than everyone that it's really difficult to win every year and really difficult to make super good results every year. But for sure if we continue with that mentality, working mentality with high status, then we will be able to do it if not this year we will be able to repeat it I'm 100% sure.
Q: What was your reaction to team boss Davide Brivio leaving the team for Formula 1? Will that be a problem for this season?
JM: I hope not. Inside of me, I think also it won't be. Because I think that of course I won't lie to you if I say I was in shock the first time that I heard the news. But then, when I realized about that, I think that inside Suzuki we have very competitive people that are able to manage the situation in the best way. That's why I'm calm. I think that Sahara-san, and inside of Suzuki, they will do what is the best way for Suzuki, and if it's the best way for Suzuki, it's the best chance for me also. So I'm not worried.
Q: Suzuki was very consistent last year, will that be an advantage this year too with the development freeze?
JM: Well, I think that last year we saw a lot of equality of different bikes. The lap times were really close together, and I think this will not change. Of course the package that we had is good, we were competitive in every track, and I think we won't lose this. So I hope it will be like this, and let's cross the fingers.
Q: Will the engine development freeze be an advantage for Suzuki, given how competitive the GSX-RR was at every track?
JM: Well, I think we have margin to improve our engine. It's not the fastest but it's not the slowest. So I think there are other manufacturers that are in a worse position than us, for sure.
We have a balanced bike, a good package, and if we are able to improve a little bit more what we can improve – which is not the engine, the other things – and have something more, we will be even more dangerous for this year.
Q: We haven't seen you training with a Suzuki GSX-R production bike like Alex Rins. Do you have a similar bike to train with? Do you want to train on a track with a production bike?
JM: Well, if you check my Instagram or my Social Media, I don't like to show my training a lot. I show what I want. I have the GSX-R, it's also really beautiful, you can trust me! [Laughs] For sure I make a couple of laps. Not a lot, because I think that probably it's not the best training that you can do, because it's a completely different bike, but for sure I make a couple of hours with that bike, at least a couple of times before the season. So it's like this.
Q: You admitted you had some pressure at the end of last year, what do you expect this year? Did you learn something?
JM: The same. I think that I will have the pressure straight away. Last year, I was feeling the pressure, but for me, it didn't affect me. It was affecting me, but not in a negative way. This is something that we have to do this season. If I have this pressure from the first race, it means that we will be at 100% at the first race. So I think it will be really important and the key for the season to take that pressure in a positive way.
Q: You were very strict last year on managing Covid, isolating yourself, making sure you took no risks, including with your girlfriend. How are you handling it now?
JM: Well, now we took all the measures, the legal measures, but I'm more relaxed. I go to restaurants a couple of times when I can go, and it's a different story. I'm 100% conscious that when the season starts the nightmare will come back! [Laughs]. So it will be like this for everyone, and we will be really strict because we cannot lose any points for this reason, and we have to start the first race doing the same protocol as last year.
If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, supporting us on Patreon, by making a donation, or contributing via our GoFundMe page. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.