In the spirit of looking forward, not backwards, I’ll try and resist the temptation to write a 2021-Awards style column. That will probably have to wait for New Year, by which time I’ll obviously be desperate for material. For things are changing, maybe more than we really understand. A raft of new, young World Champions and their contemporaries has been unleashed and they’re rendering much of the old guard unemployed – or at the very least reducing their potential earnings so drastically a real job seems a reasonable alternative.
We have a 22-year old MotoGP Champion about whom Dolce &Gabbana tweeted to inform the fashion world he was wearing one of their suits at the FIM awards ceremony, a 23-year old Moto2 champ who just beat his 21-year old team mate to the title, and a 17-year old rookie Moto3 winner with startling maturity and terrifying potential. He may just be the best of them. It’s happening in Superbike too. Toprak Razgatlioglu, who at 25 seems positively elderly, ended the long reign of 34-year old Jonathan Rea and made a few team managers reflect on why they’d spent so many years expecting him to succumb to anyone from a field he’d been thrashing for seven years. For reference, Marc Marquez won his first title at 21 and is now 28. Looking for success for the over-30s? You have to go to World Supersport where 30-year old Dominque Aegetter cleaned up after being spat out of the Grand Prix paddock. Mind you, that Gonzalez kid (19) who finished third looks useful.
None of this means that a rider has to win races in his first year. Neither Remy Gardner or Fabio Quatararo had easy starts in the MotoGP paddock, as Casey Stoner recently pointed out. And he’d know. Sometimes, he said, it takes a rider/bike/team combination that clicks to extract the potential. A lot of people, me included, weren’t sure about Casey in the beginning. It was after Mick Doohan told me anyone could see Casey could go all the way. Mick is very high up on my list of people not to argue with. As soon as I saw Casey on a MotoGP bike I and everyone else knew what was going to happen. Some riders just need all that power; Remy’s dad was telling anyone who’d listen that his kid was really a big-bike rider while the lad was in Moto3. Casey said he’d really didn’t know what Remy’s talent level was until he went to work for Aki Ajo’s team. Yamaha clearly believed Fabio had the Right Stuff and put their money on him. The first racer interview I ever did was with Raymond Roche about 40 years ago. He told me – forcibly – that motorcycle racing was a team sport. Raymond is also very high up that list I mentioned earlier.
So it’s not a matter of the new wave taking over, they already have. Much was, rightfully, made of Valentino Rossi’s retirement but the racing truth is that he left a few years ago when the spec software arrived. The paddock will of course feel different without him, but the racing won’t. And there is the omnipresent VR-46 Academy to remind anyone with a fallible memory. We must also contemplate the possibility of Marc Marquez not returning. He has effectively been absent for two seasons, and such is the brutal nature of motorcycle sport – any sport in fact – that less than half that time out of competition renders you invisible. Let us pray for a second coming.