2020 was the most competitive season MotoGP has ever seen, but some riders stood out more than others.
Firstly we will start with our rider of the year, Joan Mir.
Joan Mir was a clear stand out for obvious reasons given that he was the 2020 MotoGP World Champion however there’s more to this than meets the eye, Mir had a season absolutely nobody expected him to have with a huge 7 podiums and a race win his consistency was only really comparable to the likes of Pol Espargaro who’s massive podium haul and consistent top 5 finishes were what bagged the most points over the season instead of relying on jackpot point-scoring wins.
Mir had a tough rookie season in 2019 in what was only his fourth season as a Grand Prix rider, jumping from class to class at a rate which is unheard of with a Moto3 title in his back pocket to show for this. The comparison of his 2019 and 2020 seasons are unbelievable with Mir stepping up his game hugely on the Suzuki which was on rails for most of the season taking 9 top 5 finishes. 2020 was a game of consistency with riders gaining and losing the championship lead in a matter of 2 race weekends and it felt like nobody wanted to win the title until Joan Mir came along, his professionalism off and on track was something many riders could take note of, he was not arrogant or cocky and instead made comments about how he is taking the season race by race and even if he didn’t win the title he still would’ve been happy as he had the opportunity to fight.
On track Mir was a demon, generally qualifying fairly low down the order he would pick his way through the pack race after race taking podium after podium, even at races which many thought it was completely impossible he was still there battling and fighting and being mature and smart, opting to take championship points over a race win which could have ended in the gravel trap. After some criticism, he did manage to get that elusive race win at the European GP. His attitude to the title in 2020 set the bar for many future riders and his work ethic and consistency is what won him our rider of the year.
Runner Up #1 – Miguel Oliveira
Picture this, I am going to get in a time machine back to March and I am going to tell you that by the end of the season Miguel Oliveira will be a double MotoGP race winner, what will you do? Laugh? Call me an idiot? Most likely. Yet against the odds Oliveira was able to do things with Tech3 which were unheard of in their history, registering their first-ever premier class win after 20 years in the class being so close so many times.
Oliveira has come along over the last few years and put Portugal back on the racing map, taking wins in Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP and is the first man from his country to do so. He had a season most would be incredibly proud of, riding for a manufacturer which has only been in the class for 5 seasons Oliveira was able to stun many with his 2020 season which once again compared to his 2019 season was the complete polar opposite. 2019 was a struggle for the Portuguese rider who had already spent 3 years previous with the KTM family and was starting to become part of the furniture there, he broke the top 10 just once in 2019 with a P8 finish in Austria, a hint of what was to come.
In a dramatic race at Styria which saw Oliveira waiting behind the battling Jack Miller and Pol Espargaro, he was able to run with the duo and pick the pair off at the very last corner thanks to a lunge from Jack Miller who was attempting to win the race, it was a stunning victory which sent MotoGP fans watching into a frenzy, the win was so unexpected but so thrilling to see Oliveira and Tech3 finally register a premier class race win. This win wasn’t the only highlight as he had already beaten his 2019 best result with a P6 at Brno which was the start of something special and Oliveira took 9 top 10 finishes which is a stark improvement on the 1 from 2019.
Fate would also play into the Portuguese hero’s arms as it was announced that MotoGP’s season finale would be hosted at Portimao in Portugal, a track he has raced at many times, winning two races in the Portuguese Superbike championship at the start of the year at the same track, he had a home advantage going into the race and everyone expected at least a podium for the worlds fastest dentist, for him though this wasn’t enough. He wanted to win the race and did exactly that, taking pole position and completely clearing off from the rest of the field, wiping the floor with his competition and coming home to win the race on home soil in front of his friends and his family in a day he will remember forever.
His drastic improvement in 2020 and his two race wins are why he is one of our runners up.
Runner Up #2 – Franco Morbidelli
Frankie says relax! Franco Morbidelli broke out of his shell this year and was truly phenomenal on 2019 machinery, he finished the season in second place overall in the standings with 5 podiums and 3 race wins to his name and was the coolest, calmest character on the grid. He was a victim of his teammate’s success in 2019, Fabio Quartararo joined the class and very quickly impressed many with Morbidelli sat in the shadows of his teammate whilst everyone boarded the hype train leaving Morbidelli on the platform despite impressing.
2020 it was time for Frankie time, he opened the season by matching his best result in the class of P5 before an engine failure in Jerez 2 cost him his maiden podium of the class, thankfully though he didn’t have to wait long for this as he would take P2 in the next race at Brno behind Brad Binder who clearly ate his Weetabix that morning storming to victory in just his third race as a rookie. From here the podiums just kept on coming, Frankie was working away every session ticking along finding what worked for him and capitalising on this, he was rewarded for his time in his home race, the Misano Grand Prix, taking victory with fellow VR46 Academy Rider Francesco Bagnaia also joining him on the podium.
One victory? This wasn’t enough for him, he had a taste of the champagne and wanted more, taking some consistent top 10 results he would be rewarded again in the Teruel GP with another win with a third being added to his name in Valencia which tied him with Fabio Quartararo as the most winningest rider of 2020, flying up the championship standings in the process. His fight with Jack Miller to take the win in Valencia cannot be disregarded, Morbidelli had some sort of sixth sense, he always knew where Jack Miller was at all times and used this to his advantage to block off every move Miller made or had thought about making which meant Miller couldn’t get the inch he needed to take a mile and divebomb Morbidelli, this racecraft was truly World Champion material and he was a cool cat staying calm and winning the race before Miller was able to take some revenge in Portimao beating Morbidelli in that race.
Another thing which went somewhat unnoticed was that he was the only rider to speak out against racial inequality with his Misano helmet which he won the race with, his helmet saying ‘equality’ on the back in multiple languages with a nod to the Spike Lee movie ‘Do The Right Thing’ saying “Time Out” with a cartoon of Morbidelli forming a ‘T’ with his hands to follow this. This comment about equality was missed in the MotoGP paddock with riders either ignoring the issue or not wanting to speak out against it, however, Morbidelli correctly decided it was the right thing to do.
His impeccable season is what has given him our runner up status and we hope to see more in 2021.
Featured image – www.motogp.com