Mat Oxley: ‘Pedro Acosta is MotoGP’s most exciting arrival since Marc Márquez'

Pedro Acosta's super-talent has been obvious since winning in Moto3 on his second appearance. Now he's arrived in the MotoGP big league and he's there to fight

MotoGP has never been harder fought than it is now. A decade of rewriting the rules, levelling up the grid and getting rid of any stragglers has seen to that.

Therefore it shouldn’t be possible for a teenager to come into the premier class and immediately run at the front. But that is exactly what Spaniard Pedro Acosta – who has just turned 20 – has done.

Acosta has been climbing to the class of kings for a while. In April 2021 he scored his first grand prix victory in his second appearance on a Moto3 world championship grid. After starting the race from the pitlane and completing the first lap in 23rd place. From that day in Doha there’s been no doubt he’s a super-talent – MotoGP’s most exciting arrival since Marc Márquez.

Acosta was only 16 at the time, but he already knew how to make the fans love him. In other words, he’s not only super-fast, he’s clever too, with a real understanding of what sport is all about.

“I could see the leaders getting closer, so I thought, ‘OK, this is the day we have to risk it. If I crash, OK, that’s life, but if I win, I become a hero.”

Seven months later Acosta was crowned Moto3 world champion. Last November he won the Moto2 title, having won seven races, by which time he had already been signed by Austrian marque KTM to ride its 300hp RC16 in this year’s MotoGP championship.

Acosta’s arrival in MotoGP more than lived up to the hype. He fought in the lead group on his debut, the Qatar GP sprint race, smoking his rear tyre out of corners and endearing himself to more fans.

“The sprint is a completely different mentality,” he said afterwards. “You don’t have to think about the fuel, you don’t think about the tyres, you don’t think about anything – you just put your balls on and go!”

The following day he passed six-times MotoGP champion Márquez in the GP, just as Márquez had passed Valentino Rossi on his MotoGP debut in Qatar 11 years earlier. Next time in Portugal and the USA he scored his first premier-class podiums.

I had my first one-on-one interview with Acosta last summer, during which I asked him to name his greatest talent.

“Big balls… big balls!” he grinned. “From the moment I arrived I tried to show people that I’m not afraid of anyone. I remember Moto3 races when I started last and by lap five I was first. So, big balls, why not?”

It’s hard to disagree with him or to remain unbeguiled by his brashness, which makes him different to most young motorcycle racers, who are usually less assured.

Acosta doesn’t see humility as a positive character trait in racing.

“You don’t see rider friction any more. I don’t like this”

“I like to feel that the other guys respect me on the track,” he explains. “That’s quite important to me – to have that authority, so when another rider sees you coming, he says, ‘This is going to be tough.’”

And Acosta doesn’t only want to make life difficult for his rivals in MotoGP this season.

“This sport is like a card game, so we have to play with all our cards. And we have lost something – you don’t see friction between the riders any more. They are all laughing and smiling with each other. I don’t like this. We’re not queens – we have to fight!

“I really miss the time when Valentino fought with Marc and Jorge Lorenzo. That was real sport and we need to get back to that time, because the fans need to enjoy the racing.”

Acosta is a joy to watch on the RC16 – he’s very fluid on the bike, with an instinctive feel for what it needs to go faster. And he’s not falling off as much as most fast rookies do. All this suggests a very, very rare natural skill. Márquez was also fast from the outset, but he crashed a lot. And still does.

Incredibly, Acosta is already KTM’s fastest rider. Most people in the pitlane had assumed that South African Brad Binder, who came to MotoGP with KTM in 2020 and finished a best-ever fourth overall last season, was taking the RC16 to the limit. Acosta took just days on the bike to disabuse us of that notion.

This reminds me of comedian Bill Hicks joking about Keith Richards’ ability to keep going even when everyone thought he had gone over the edge. “Look, it’s Keith – he’s found a ledge beyond the edge!”

Acosta’s chief engineer Paul Trevathan is in awe of his new rider’s abilities.

“I’ve worked with guys like Márquez and Casey Stoner and now with Pedro. These guys have something inside them – to ride the motorcycle comes very naturally, so that’s pure talent, then they have the brain capacity to think about what else is going on. I hear that guys like Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna were like that too.”

Acosta won’t argue about his talent but he’s adamant that there’s much more involved.

“It’s so easy to talk about talent, but nobody knows how many hours I spend training at tracks, how many hours I spend in the gym. From the moment I arrived in this paddock I’ve trained every day, morning and afternoon. Every day, every day. I want to be the guy that trains more than anybody else.

“Luck does not come into this sport. You have to strive for it and realise that this isn’t the work of butterflies and flowers. We have to really push for our target.”

Mat Oxley has covered motorcycle racing for many years – and also has the distinction of being an Isle of Man TT winner
Follow Mat on Twitter @matoxley