21-year-old Iker Lecuona has been left without a MotoGP seat for 2022.
Iker Lecuona at the time of writing has been left out to dry by KTM leaving him with no MotoGP seat for 2022, cruelly announcing his replacement Raul Fernandez in the middle of the FP4 session of the Styrian Grand Prix. This unexpected announcement came as a shock to many including Herve Poncheral who wasn’t given the chance to sit down with his riders and explain to them that they wouldn’t remain with the team, as you can imagine for Lecuona this was a tough time for him with his dreams shattering before his eyes, getting understandably emotional about the situation.
Lecuona is an exceptional talent and has been pipped for a future in MotoGP for many years now, in his early career he racked up a multitude of Spanish Supermoto championships before completely bypassing the Moto3 Junior World Championship and hopping on a Suter Moto2 bike and contesting the CEV Moto2 championship at just 15 years old. In 2016 he would pair up with the Interwetten team and run Tom Luthi’s Kalex from the year previous, taking home a strong P6 in the CEV championship with a string of top 10 finishes to his name, but no podiums.
The same year Lecuona would make his Moto2 World Championship debut at just 16-years-old completing six races scoring the best result of P19 on his debut replacing the injured then sacked Dominique Aegerter. The team were impressed by the young rider who was displaying bags of potential, they would hire him to race their Kalex then KTM chassis’ for the 2017, 2018 and 2019 Moto2 World Championship seasons instead of opting to give him more time in the CEV to gain more experience, he would take solid two podiums in these three years as he developed as a rider and improved his craft.
His shining moment came when he was hired to race for the Red Bull KTM Ajo Moto2 team for 2020, the team were well-known title fighters with the likes of Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder graduating from their Moto2 squad into MotoGP. This seat gave him the opportunity to race incredibly competitive Kalex machinery and even battle for the title, there was no doubt that for 2020 he was a title contender. That was until Johann Zarco happened, Zarco quitting KTM added a huge spanner into the works handing KTM many obstacles to get over including who would ride in their MotoGP team next to Pol Espargaro.
Many riders were considered including but not limited to Remy Gardner and Jorge Martin, both riders declining as they felt it wasn’t the right time in their career to race in MotoGP. Eventually the ride went to Brad Binder who was originally signed up to race for Tech3 next to Oliveira, Gardner later on admitted he regretted not taking the seat as he may have never gotten the chance again, this was until he showed his worth battling for the 2021 Moto2 championship in the same Red Bull KTM Ajo team Lecuona had signed for. Gardner proved to himself he was ready for MotoGP and inked a deal with the Tech3 team at a time he felt he was ‘ready to race’ in MotoGP.
Lecuona stood on the podium in Thailand 2019.
Tech3 team manager Herve Poncharal picked out a then 19-year-old Iker Lecuona as his rider for the now vacated Tech3 seat, Herve saw the same potential the Interwetten team did and rightly so. Lecuona had and still has a lot of potential to be a very strong rider. Initially, Lecuona was unsure about the MotoGP ride given he had the Moto2 Ajo seat lined up for 2020 but eventually he was swayed and accepted, making his MotoGP debut at Valencia at the end of the season replacing Miguel Oliveira who was injured.
Looking at 2020 he had a very strong season as a rookie on the KTM which at the time wasn’t a race winner when he made his debut, every race he finished he was in the points with multiple top 10 finishes to his name.
He had impressed Herve at the beginning in 2020 before things started to turn sour over the year which followed with Lecuona’s work rate reportedly not being as it was with Herve Poncharal commenting on Lecuona after Portimao 2021 saying, “I’m lost for words and I think he is lost for everything. When I remember Iker at the very beginning of last year, he was full of energy, sometimes doing mistakes, but pushing. This year for some reason there is nothing that works, there is no sparkle.”
This lack of ‘sparkle’ due to results not coming as expected could be one of the major reasons why KTM decided to move Lecuona out of the way for Fernandez, there are many more logistics involved in the Fernandez situation including Pedro Acosta, but that’s a story for another time.
KTM’s massive progression in the last two years has absolutely made Lecuona look much worse than he is, he hasn’t performed as expected that is a fact, but after two years in the class on one of the hardest bikes on the grid, he’s done pretty well. He has talent and would be better suited to a Yamaha than a KTM.
Now, the massive problem is that at just 21-years-old Iker Lecuona now is staring at the end of his MotoGP career after spending his life working towards this goal, the only saviour to this could be if Petronas come into the picture and swoop Lecuona up, knowing he has talent, time to progress and a riding style which would suit the Yamaha much more. Lecuona doesn’t help himself though, he has said he doesn’t want to go back to Moto2 for a year which is a big mistake, with the right team behind him he could go to Moto2 and return to MotoGP in two to three years with multiple wins and podiums under his belt, revitalising his career. At 21-years-old he has more time than most to be able to do this.
Aleix Espargaro did so in 2011, returning in 2012 and has had a long career in MotoGP ever since. Even a rider at the calibre of Tony Elias made the move back picking up a Moto2 title in the process. There is of course the option to go to WorldSBK where the young Spaniard could build a career for himself on street-derived motorcycles.
Lecuona losing his ride after going through the ranks and stepping into MotoGP at such a young age is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t be rushing these riders, everybody wants the next Marc Marquez or the next Fabio Quartararo but at some point it will ruin a rider’ career. This conveyor belt of talent, moving rookies up a class after just one season or half a season of impressive results needs to slow down, yes at times these risks pay off when you look at Fabio Quartararo but it could’ve very easily have gone the other way looking at Quartararo’s record in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes, we could’ve been sat here 2 years ago with Fabio out of a MotoGP ride at 21 years old, but because results came he’s been heralded as a hero, rightly so I may add, he’s been phenomenal.
Lecuona is the first rider in recent years to lose their MotoGP ride at such a young age, at the rate it’s going at the moment he certainly won’t be the last with many wanting 17-year-old Pedro Acosta to step straight into MotoGP. These riders need more time in the lower classes with the right people surrounding them, not ‘yes’ men telling riders that if they get a MotoGP offer, they MUST accept, which is what a fairly well-respected rider manager said to a rider last year after declining a MotoGP seat.
Not only that, the framework has to be put in place by the organisers to ensure riders aren’t being pressured into/forced into contracts or rides where they do not feel fully comfortable, solely because their manager will take more money from sponsorship and race bonuses which has happened many times previously. (Not related to Raul Fernandez we must add.)
Iker made his choice and he has to lie in it, if he doesn’t ever race again in MotoGP then so be it, he got to give it a go and 99.9% of the world will never get anywhere near that, but if you want to achieve longevity in this sport then you must make sure you are 110% ready to make the move, because it could spell the end of your career.
Featured images – KTM Media / Polarity Photo (MotoGP) / Gold & Goose (Moto2)