MotoGP 2021: Five burning questions ahead of Qatar season opener - including Marquez's fitness and the Doctor's future

Four months after a wildly-unpredictable season concluded in Portugal, the fastest show on two wheels is back on BT Sport!

By Tim Williams Published: 25 March 2021 - 5.25pm

MotoGP is set for another unmissable season, with all the action beginning this weekend in Qatar - exclusively live on BT Sport.

After a season of scarcely-believable drama concluded in Portimao in November, excitement is at fever pitch as we prepare to do it all again.

As usual, every session from all three classes will be available to watch on TV or to live stream online, with our expert team keeping you across all the action.

Here, btsport.com answers five burning questions ahead of the hotly-anticipated season opener.

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When will Marc Marquez return?

Marc Marquez and Honda have announced that the eight-time world champion will miss the opening two rounds of the season in Qatar.

The Spaniard broke his arm at the 2020 season-opening Spanish GP in Jerez in July and hasn’t competed since.

A comeback in Doha looked a distinct possibility when the 2019 champion documented his return to riding on practice bikes, but the curtain raiser has come too soon even for Marquez.

“After the last review with the medical team, the doctors have advised me that the most prudent thing was not to take part in the Qatar Grand Prix and to continue with the recovery plan that we have followed in recent weeks,” Marquez said in statement.

Despite his enforced absence, the Spaniard will still be eyeing a winning return to action and BT Sport’s Neil Hodgson is under no doubts that he will rediscover his inimitable form.

“Even though he’s been off the bike for 12 months, he will still be fast,” he said.

“The muscle memory will click back into place and he’s clearly determined. A leopard doesn’t change his spots. Expect fireworks.”

Is this Valentino Rossi’s farewell season?

There’s no rest for The Doctor as Italian icon Valentino Rossi is gearing up for his 26th season as a MotoGP rider.

The nine-time world champion said goodbye to the Yamaha factory team at the end of last season, and the 42-year-old is confident that he will be part of the conversation in Qatar this weekend.

“After testing in Qatar, I feel quite strong and the balance of the bike is good,” he said. “I achieved my best-ever lap of the circuit, which was an important and positive thing to do.”

He hasn’t won a race since 2017 and finished 15th in the standings last season, so is the 2021 season our last chance to see the legendary rider in the paddock?

“I will decide during the summer break. So, in the middle of the season,” he said. “I want to make half a season and then my decision will be based on the results. If I’m strong and can fight for the podium, can fight for the victory, I can continue for another year. Or if not, no.”

Whether or not the new season is a long goodbye to one of the greatest of all time, Rossi’s first season with Petronas promises to be box office.

Who will win the championship?

The big question: after nine winners and 15 podium finishers in 2020, who will win the title this year?

Reigning world champion Joan Mir is the early favourite. Fabio Quartararo, Franco Morbidelli and Miguel Oliveira won more races than the Spaniard, but Mir was on the podium seven times and his consistency was rewarded in one of the closest title races in years.

Morbidelli finished second behind Mir, 19 points ahead of bronze medallist Alex Rins. Both will be bidding for a maiden world title after breakout seasons.

Ducati will be targeting a successful year as Jack Miller and Francesco Bagnaia take over from Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci, while Yamaha will look to bounce back from a disappointing 2020 with Maverick Viñales and new boy Quartararo.

Marc Marquez cannot be discounted, but how soon will the Spaniard need to return to his scintillating best? Team-mate Pol Espargaro will also be looking to push on after his best season in MotoGP to date.

Valentino Rossi can never be written off at 42 years young, while Alex Marquez and Danilo Petrucci will be challenging for podiums with their satellite teams.

So, who will reign supreme this year? The short answer is it’s anyone’s guess. But if you want an expert tip, here’s BT Sport pundit Michael Laverty’s take: “If I had to go for it now, I think I’d go for Franco Morbidelli.

“Joan Mir, Alex Rins they’ll win races no doubt, but it’s going to be that guy who can be consistent throughout the full season.” You heard it here first!

Will Sam Lowes go one better this year?

Brit Sam Lowes came agonisingly close to securing the Moto2 crown last season, despite producing one of the rides of his career in the season finale in Portugal.

The Lincoln-born rider finished third in the final standings, nine points behind champion Enea Bastianini and battled through the pain barrier to fight for the title after breaking two bones in his hand in the penultimate race in Valencia.

Speaking ahead of the curtain raiser, Lowes told BT Sport: “It was disappointing not to get the championship, of course, but it was definitely a good season for me to take a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence from.

“I just need to learn to pick my battles a little bit better. I crashed in FP3 in Valencia and ruined the championship chance with my hand injury which is a session I didn’t need to be pushing that hard in.”

Lowes has been the fastest Moto2 rider in Qatar testing so far this week and looks well placed for another assault on the title. What’s more, with Bastianini, Luca Marini and Jorge Martin all stepping up to MotoGP this year, Lowes is the highest-placed returnee.

Can he banish memories of last season and go one better this year?

What’s new at BT Sport?

BT Sport’s very own Gavin Emmett will lead MotoGP commentary for the 2021 season alongside Neil Hodgson and Michael Laverty after Keith Huewen’s departure.

Speaking ahead of the season launch, he said: “I’m so excited about it. Obviously we all know each other, we’ve all been working together for many years. Now I get the chance to talk as the lights go out and I’m so looking forward to it. MotoGP is in its best moment, we are in a golden era!”

Natalie Quirk, who has fronted BT Sport’s Speedway coverage, will be a reporter for the new season.

“I can’t wait to get my teeth into it all,” she said. “Being right at the heart of it is going to be really exciting, muscling my way through with the BT Sport microphone and I’ve got big shoes to fill!”

So strap yourselves in for another rollercoaster ride in 2021 as BT Sport brings you all the thrills and spills from another MotoGP season.