Fernández repeated this achievement during September’s MotoGP test at Misano, when he stunned the pit lane with his speed during his first ride on a MotoGP bike. Both Fernández and Gardner will ride KTM RC16s with Tech3 next year.
The Gardner/Fernández fight for the 2021 Moto2 title was the best since the birth of the class in 2010. Their duel also created the greatest team performance in the category, with Red Bull Ajo winning 12 of 18 races, taking 23 podiums and seven one-twos. The team’s total of 618 points was astonishing. In MotoGP the factory Ducati squad won the teams’ championship with 433 points.
Gardner’s early season consistency gave him a championship lead that he never relinquished, although Fernández came within one point of his team-mate at Le Mans and within nine points at COTA, where Gardner had his only race crash of the season.
The battle swung this way and that, Gardner apparently taking control with a victory hat-trick at Mugello, Catalunya and Sachsenring, but Fernández replied with his own hat-trick at Aragon, Misano 1 and COTA.
The decisive moment came a few weeks later at Misano 2, where Fernández crashed out of the lead – the rookie’s third race crash of the year – while Gardner struggled to seventh. A fortnight after that Gardner put one hand on the crown with his fifth victory of the year, at Portimao.
Last Sunday at Valencia, Gardner secured the championship with a nail-biting ride to tenth. Fernández needed to win the race and have Gardner finish 14th or lower to take the championship. Fernández duly won the race, while Gardner just made it. If he had finished 2.8sec further back, behind 13th-placed Stefano Manzi, the crown would’ve gone to Spain, not Australia.
Fernández’s eighth victory made him Moto2’s most successful rookie, ahead of Marc Márquez, who rode a Suter to seven victories in his rookie year in 2011, although he did miss the last two races due to a crash that was no fault of his own.
So how do Gardner and Fernández compare?
“I don’t compare riders too much – I like to analyse everyone separately and I always say all these riders have 100%,” says Ajo, whose team previously won the Moto2 title with Johann Zarco in 2015 and 2016. “They have the same amount of skill and everything but in different areas and they need to be a bit lucky and passionate about what they do to get everything out of themselves. I always find the positives of everyone and also the negatives, because this is the way to improve.
“Both Remy and Raúl are talented and hungry guys. If we talk about riding technique, Raúl uses the front tyre a lot, while Remy uses the rear more, so there’s a big difference in riding style. They have more or less the same speed but in a quite different way.”
It’s no surprise that Gardner uses the rear, because his first major success was a junior Australian dirt track title, while Fernández grew up riding minibikes on asphalt.
Despite their very different techniques they don’t use very different set-ups.
“Raúl does the lap time with the front, Remy is more on the acceleration side, but the only difference in set-up is in springs and wheel rates,” adds Baumgartel.
“Remy has grown up a lot during these last seasons. He learned and got recommendations how to ride the new Dunlops [Moto2 now uses tyres originally designed for 1000cc EWC bikes] and he made the next step.
“Raúl is the most impressive rookie we’ve had. His speed and his consistency was amazing, he was always there at every track. The wet isn’t his favourite but he’s learning that now. Actually his season was mind-blowing. The other rookies couldn’t believe his speed in the beginning, it was probably like a hammer blow to them.”
How will Gardner and Fernández go in MotoGP?
“I think it’s the rider’s concentration mode that really matters,” Baumgartel explains. “You’ve got to have the focus to stay in your ‘mind box’ over the season, that’s the big task. And you have to separate the important from the unimportant, believe in your team and keep your spirit.”