Morbidelli had a point to prove in 2020. He was denied the chance to race Yamaha’s latest-spec YZR-M1, so he went into the season riding a second-hand bike. Indie M1s have traditionally performed well, with Johann Zarco and others onboard, but had never won a MotoGP race, until Morbidelli came along and won three.
That was hugely impressive, because while Morbidelli may have Ramon Forcada on his side he doesn’t have the vital electronics and data resources enjoyed by factory riders.
His three victories – at Misano, Aragon and Valencia – were achieved in the usual Yamaha style: leading from start to finish, with no one getting in the way to disturb his wide, sweeping corner entries or overheat his front tyre.
Morbidelli will once again ride 2019-spec M1s in 2021. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on the quality of the 2021 factory bikes.
2: Joan Mir
Very few riders have won the premier-class championship in their first or second years in the category. That’s one reason almost nobody expected Mir to challenge for the title in 2020.
After an unsteady start – he crashed out of the first race on only the second lap – Mir didn’t make another mistake all year. He was a joy to watch on the Suzuki – all aggressive body language and hunched deep into the bike – as he transformed himself from dark horse to title favourite.
It’s never easy challenging for the MotoGP title, especially when you only scored your first premier-class podium a quarter of the way through the season, but Mir let nothing faze him. He kept racking up the podiums and points, while never allowing the pressure of his title hopes get to him.
Mir’s breakthrough in riding technique was mimicking Alex Rins’ super-smooth throttle technique to maximise tyre life. And he’s still learning, so he should be even stronger next season.
3: Jack Miller
Michelin’s new rear slick changed the balance of power in 2020, helping inline-fours to dominate MotoGP like never before. The Ducati was worst affected by the new tyre, so Miller fought an uphill battle throughout the season.