Arguably, plenty of spotlights will be on these riders ahead of a huge season in 2022, as most rider contracts come to an end
With the exception of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), who have contracts with their respective factories until beyond 2022, every rider on the grid has a contract that ends next season. It therefore means that the upcoming campaign is huge. For every rider. But some – arguably – more so than others, especially those who occupy factory seats that other riders are eying up.
So, let’s take a look at some factory riders who are seemingly under a little bit more pressure than their teammates to perform.
Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar)
Heading into the 2021 season, Alex Rins was one of the favourites for the title. However, the Spaniard endured a tough campaign, finishing P13 in the overall standings – compared to P3 the year before. Rins’ only podium was secured at Silverstone with a well-earned P2, compared to four in 2020, but what cost Rins the most was the DNFs.
Rins crashed six times in 2021, while his freak cycling accident at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya saw him break his wrist. 2022 is a massive year for Rins, who will be hungry to regain the kind of form that saw him rise to a late title contender in 2020.
Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing)
2021 was a strange year for Miguel Oliveira. KTM in general struggled in the early part of the season with an underperforming RC16, before Oliveira claimed three consecutive podiums at Mugello, in Barcelona – his victory – and at the Sachsenring. Oliveira was back. However, a crash at the Red Bull Ring set the tone for the Portuguese star’s second half of the campaign.
Just nine points were tallied by Oliveira between Styria and Valencia, and although injury played its part, bike and rider just weren’t clicking. 14th in the standings, compared to teammate Brad Binder in 6th – and the rise of new Tech3 KTM Factory Racing rookie pairing Remy Gardner and Raul Fernandez – means that the KTM factory seat will be hot property.
Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team)
The transition from KTM to Honda didn’t go as smoothly as Pol Espargaro and HRC would have hoped. The Spaniard ended his debut year on the RC213V in 12th, but that doesn’t tell the full story. None of the Honda riders were comfortable on the 2021 package for large parts of the season, and despite enduring some tough moments, there were a couple of highlights: pole position at the British GP and second place at the Emilia-Romagna GP.
Signs of promise have been seen, but when you’re teammate to eight-time World Champion Marc Marquez, pressure is always there. Marquez’ contract takes him to 2024, so if Honda want to make a change in their factory line-up, then it’ll be Espargaro who has to make way. The number 44 has the talent, desire, work ethic and everything in between to ensure he’s a frontrunner in 2022 though. It will be a fascinating watch, especially with HRC’s exciting brand-new machine being brought to the table.
Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing)
We mentioned 2021 being a strange season for Oliveira, but no one could have predicted the year Maverick Viñales would have endured before lights went out in Qatar. The Yamaha stories have been well documented, so there’s no need to delve into those again. But after, Viñales’ new adventure took him to Aprilia, where lay a very promising RS-GP.
In five starts, Viñales finished in the points twice, with his Emilia-Romagna GP P8 the standout performance. His adaptation to a completely different type of motorcycle – going from Yamaha’s inline-four to Aprilia’s V4 – is still a work in progress, but Aprilia will be expecting big things from their new signing in 2022. Everyone is, because we all know how much talent Viñales possesses.
Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team)
The issues that Jack Miller faces, despite winning two races and finishing fourth in the World Championship, is Ducati’s Independent Team rider line-up and being a teammate to Francesco Bagnaia. It’s stating the obvious a bit, but it’s true. Miller’s campaign was far from poor, however, Bagnaia strung a sensational second half of the season together to act as the only rider able to put pressure on eventual World Champion Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP).
Rookie of the Year Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) won one race, picked up three other podiums and bagged four poles, with Enea Bastianini (Team Gresini Racing MotoGP) standing on the podium twice. MotoGP™ silly season is brutal, and if Miller wants to remain as a factory Ducati rider in 2023, great results will be necessary during the early part of 2022. However, it must be said, Ducati are seemingly very, very happy with Miller, and your first year in a factory team is never easy. The Ducati battles are one to keep a very close eye on.
MotoGP™ Stories: Miller’s journey to top step glory
All these riders are in factory teams for one reason: they’re ferociously fast. It’s going to be incredibly intriguing to see what some of the decisions will be regarding who goes where for the 2023 season across the whole grid. Some shake ups from factories is highly likely, but at the minute, no one knows where they’ll be coming from. All we can do is look forward to the racing that lies ahead in 2022.