A few more hours and the last page of the 2021 calendar will be turned to make way for the first of 2022. A new year the MotoGP is ready to face with caution due to Covid, so much so that the tests being prepared in Malaysia and Indonesia will be locked down. Nothing really new. But let’s put aside the health emergency, which fills newspapers and news broadcasts, and focus on sports.
2022 will be the first season without Valentino Rossi, a rider who has marked the last two (very abundant) decades of our sport. And, to add to this, no one knows if and when Marc Marquez will return to his Honda. The Spanish rider is taking advantage of the winter holiday to recover from his diplopia and, if the last pre-Christmas press release hinted that further surgery may not be needed, there are still no certain dates for his complete recovery.
So the season could start without two of its symbols and, in this case, there will definitely be a number of pretenders to the crown. It goes without saying that, in the past two years, the Doctor had not been as competitive as in his heyday, while Marquez was forced to skip a year, then race in another, but starting late and finishing early.
Joan Mir’s name first appeared on the roll of honor followed by Fabio Quartararo. Two very young riders with a laurel around their necks, but still far from the domination that their two illustrious predecessors had imposed for years. If Valentino's era is definitely over and Marquez is on hiatus, who will be their successor?
Quartararo has the ball in his court. He won the title by monopolizing three quarters of the season, making no mistakes and limiting damage when needed. Unlike Mir, who had stolen the championship in 2020, thanks to consistency more than to pure speed, and who was unable to defend the title last year, also due to a Suzuki that was not at all brilliant.
This is the duo, but the rider who was most fit in the 2021 finale was neither one. Bagnaia was instead the one who prevailed, with 4 wins and 5 podiums in the last 6 races, and a fifth success wasted due to a mistake. Not to mention that the Ducati, by all accounts, is the best bike at the moment. So some are saying that the beginning of an era in red could be upon us.
The Ducastists are hoping for this. They’ve been waiting to celebrate a world riders title again since 2021. And, with regard to Bagnaia, all Italians are hoping the same, because the last Italian champion was Valentino, in 2009. Finally, it seems the time has come to take that last step which has always been missing, and Pecco is at the top of the favorites list.
These are the three official favorites, also since they’re the riders who ended the championship on the podium, but they’ll still have to watch their backs. The generational change is now a reality, and there are quite a few new players waiting to shine. In Ducati, Jorge Martin and Enea Bastianini are the hot names, with the former winning a race in his debut year and the latter making it to the podium with a two-year old bike. Then there’s also the two star riders from the Moto2, Gardner and Raul Fernandez, hoping they’ll be able to improve the KTM. Finally, Bezzecchi and Di Giannantonio didn’t particularly shine in 2021, so they’ll have to take advantage of this opportunity in the best possible way.
But there are also many riders who have to redeem themselves. Maybe that's not the right term for Morbidelli (his 2021 was first compromised by a not very competitive M1 and then by a knee injury), but Franco is now in the right place (the factory Yamaha team) and must pick up where he left off in 2020. And we musn’t forget Alex Rins, who is endowed with an undoubted talent that he was unable to demonstrate, or even Miller, overshadowed by his teammate. Dovizioso, on the other hand, was the star of a surprise return, and then there’s Vinales, who abandoned Yamaha for Aprilia.
The new year has yet to begin, and we can't wait to find out what it has in store for us.