Sunday Times

Grid reshuffle blows open title race


● After the Covid-19 pandemic truncated the 2020 season and forced organisers to hold all 14 races in Europe, MotoGP hopes to fire on all cylinders in 2021 with 19 races around the world, starting with the double header in Qatar this weekend.

Every rider will fancy their chances after six-times world champion Marc Marquez confirmed he would not be racing in Qatar as he recovers from three surgeries, with Stefan Bradl taking his place for the two races.

Marquez fractured his humerus in 2020’s opener in Jerez and missed the rest of the season, blowing the title race wide open as five riders claimed maiden race wins before Suzuki’s unheralded Joan Mir clinched his first MotoGP title.

“I’m surprised Marc isn’t here,” Mir told reporters. “It will be difficult for him to restart in (the third race in) Portimao and fight for the championsh­ip.”

Fired an early warning

Ducati’s Jack Miller switched from Pramac Racing to the factory team as they bid to end a 14-year drought since his Australian compatriot Casey Stoner won the title with 10 victories.

Having replaced Andrea Dovizioso, Miller impressed in Qatar after topping the time charts in pre-season testing and breaking the lap record to fire an early warning at the Yamahas.

“For sure there’s extra pressure... It feels like a step up,” Miller said. “To compare me with Casey is completely wrong. What he did in 2007 was spectacula­r and I don’t think it will be repeated.”

Fabio Quartararo bagged three victories in 2020 and capped his second season at Petronas Yamaha with a promotion to the factory team and expectatio­ns are high after he traded seats with seven-times world champion Valentino Rossi.

“The end of last season was difficult but I learned a lot that will help me this year,” Quartararo said. —

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