Motorsport.com’s Top 20 motorcycle racers of 2019, Part 1

Motorsport.com selects its top 20 bike racing competitors of 2019, with the first half of the countdown featuring riders from MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3, World Superbike, national-level series and road racing.

20.  Jorge Navarro

New entry

4th in Moto3

On the heels of Fabio Quartararo’s outrageous 2019 campaign, every MotoGP team will want his signature for when his current deal expires at the end of the following year – but it is inevitable that the Frenchman will be prohibitively expensive. For those on a tight budget, how about the guy who was an admittedly distant runner-up to Quartararo in CEV Moto3, then looked every bit his match during their time as Moto3 teammates and most recently became his impressive successor at the Speed Up Moto2 team?

Alright, so Navarro is no ‘next best thing’ to MotoGP’s hottest property, but Quartararo’s breakthrough should have some knock-on effect for the 23-year-old Spaniard’s reputation, especially as Navarro himself did it no harm by finally emerging as a Moto2 frontrunner.

Undeterred by the challenge of having highly-rated rookie Fabio Di Giannantonio on the other side of the garage, Navarro was firmly among those chasing after Alex Marquez for the title, and his tally of eight podiums was the best for a Speed Up rider since Andrea Iannone in Moto2’s first year in 2010.

He also scored four poles, but much like Quartararo in MotoGP he failed to convert any of them into a win. His best chance went begging at Silverstone, as he lost out to Augusto Fernandez in a last-lap duel.

Despite the pole record, qualifying was too often a hindrance, with Navarro ending outside of the top 10 on the grid every other race and having to fight his way through the pack – which, to his credit, he seemed quite adept at.

But though he still seems a ways away from being the finished article, the way MotoGP’s rider market works means Navarro may have already done enough to put himself well into the premier-class conversation for 2021 – and if, as part of an unchanged Speed Up line-up for 2020, he wins a race or two in the early stages of the season, there is no way he’ll go overlooked by MotoGP. Valentin Khorounzhiy

Jorge Navarro, Speed Up Racing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Moto2 returnees likely to target a MotoGP move in 2021:

NameAgeD.O.B.StartsWinsTop 3s2020 team
Fabio Di Giannantonio21Oct 10, 199819 2Speed Up
 Remy Gardner21Feb 24, 199862 2SAG
 Jorge Martin21Jan 29, 199819 2Ajo
 Enea Bastianini21Dec 30, 199718 1Italtrans
 Augusto Fernandez22Sep 23, 19974235Marc VDS
 Luca Marini22Aug 10, 19977239Sky VR46
 Xavi Vierge22Apr 30, 199777 3Petronas SIC
 Lorenzo Baldassarri23Nov 06, 1996105511Pons
 Jorge Navarro23Feb 03, 199654 8Speed Up

Jorge Navarro, Speed Up Racing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

19.  Miguel Oliveira

Down 7 from P12 in 2018

17th in MotoGP, second-best KTM

While Pecco Bagnaia and Joan Mir were more hyped rookies over the winter and Fabio Quartararo’s potential was evident even in Qatar testing, Miguel Oliveira seemed destined for a modest first season in MotoGP, having joined a Tech 3 team that was as new to the difficult KTM bike as the rider himself.

But Oliveira distinguished himself right from the get-go and had an impressive first half to the season. He was not on Pol Espargaro’s level, but he outshone the struggling Johann Zarco and was several steps above teammate Hafizh Syahrin. An 11th place in Argentina, only the second race of 2019, which was the best Espargaro could do last year apart from his heroic Valencia podium, was already a sign of things to come for Oliveira. He scored five out of nine times before the summer break but the highlight of his season came right after, when he pulled off an eighth place at the Red Bull Ring, KTM’s home venue.

Things went awry in quite spectacular fashion soon after on and off the track. Zarco decided to quit KTM and the factory team had to look for a replacement rider for 2020. They eventually chose Brad Binder, his former rival and teammate in Moto2, which did not sit well with Oliveira even though the Portuguese rider had indicated to his bosses that he would prefer to stay at Tech 3.

He then got injured in a crash at Silverstone, caused by Zarco, which was followed by him being blown off track in horrific conditions at Phillip Island. After that, Oliveira wasn’t fit to complete the season. But those lost opportunities shouldn’t detract from a very accomplished first premier-class season for the cerebral youngster. David Gruz

Miguel Oliveira, Red Bull KTM Tech 3

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

18.  Augusto Fernandez

New entry

5th in Moto2

If not for Fabio Quartararo, you could make a good case for Augusto Fernandez being the breakout rider of the year in all three classes of grand prix racing. Although calling him a rookie would be a stretch, as he entered more Moto2 races than not in both 2017 and 2018, this year was Fernandez’s first full-time campaign and the Spaniard did not have any Moto3 background either. There was nothing to suggest Fernandez would suddenly become one of the best riders in Moto2, but that’s exactly what ended up happening.

As the season began, he was in the shadow of Pons teammate Lorenzo Baldassarri, who dominated early on – while Fernandez fractured his wrist in Argentina and missed two races due to having a surgery. But he came back at Jerez like nothing had happened and took his first podium in the series, followed by another at Le Mans. Three races later at Assen, he won. Two more victories followed at Silverstone and Misano, by which time he was second in the standings, and just 26 points behind Alex Marquez.

Then, just as a chance at fighting for the title was within reach, he made his first mistake of the season by crashing out at Aragon. After that, Fernandez was not quite the same, managing just a single top-five result in the final part of the campaign and finding himself demoted by Brad Binder, Tom Luthi and Jorge Navarro in the battle to be runner-up behind Marquez.

The beginning of next year will be crucial for all Moto2 riders with aspirations of moving up to MotoGP, and Fernandez has put himself in a perfect position to capitalise by taking Marquez’s old place at Marc VDS. Even though you may have hardly heard of him a few months ago, don’t be surprised if Fernandez races in MotoGP in 2021. DG

Augusto Fernandez, Pons HP40

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

‘The Fernandez rule’

How does a rider feel if they’ve won a race in such a way that a rule is immediately passed to ensure that nobody does again? Maybe it’s pride, maybe it’s indignation, maybe it’s indifference, but Fernandez will have a better idea than most after his upset triumph over local Di Giannantonio at Misano.

The pair – Fernandez being the revelation of the campaign and Di Giannantonio the highly-rated rookie – put on a superb show for those in attendance at the Rimini-based track, with the Italian holding serve entering the final lap.

Di Giannantonio had countered everything Fernandez had thrown at him, and did so again as the deciding tour began, cutting back against the Spaniard’s round-the-outside move into Turn 1 to keep the lead and edge closer to what would’ve been a crowd-pleasing outcome.

But Fernandez, of course, had other ideas – and after several corners of running right in Di Giannantonio’s wake, he stayed on the throttle through the fast Curvone right-hander, ran blatantly wide on exit versus Di Giannantonio’s defensive line, and then carried the momentum through to the next hard braking point a couple of curves later, shoving his bike down the inside line and forcing the rookie to yield.

MotoGP had been policing track limits that weekend, but it wasn’t a ‘zero tolerance’ approach. Rather, it was a ‘four strikes and you’re out’ type of approach, and Fernandez was not at four – so although there was a post-race investigation (and then a failed appeal from Di Giannantonio’s team), it yielded no penalty.

Yet the feeling the rookie had been – to put it mildly – ‘mugged off’ certainly lingered for some, among them Marc Marquez, who took issue with the way his compatriot (and brother’s main title rival, at that point) had been allowed to bank track limit violation ‘jokers’ for the final lap.

MotoGP race direction seemed to agree, and soon tweaked the regulations accordingly, clarifying that a last-lap track limit infraction “that has affected a race result” will now not go unpenalised.

With any luck, this should be referred to as ‘the Fernandez rule’ down the line – but even if he doesn’t end up with that particular claim to fame, he’ll always have the Misano win.

Augusto Fernandez, Pons HP40

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

17.  Joan Mir

New entry

12th in MotoGP

Most years, Joan Mir’s tally of 92 points and 12th place in the championship – despite missing two races after a terrifying testing crash in Brno – would have been enough to take rookie of the year honours. In fact, it’s almost exactly what Maverick Vinales achieved back in his first MotoGP campaign in 2015, albeit on a somewhat less competitive Suzuki GSX-RR.

It’s also at the upper end of the target that Fabio Quartararo revealed he had been set after he sealed the rookie prize at Motegi. So, to objectively evaluate Mir’s season, we need to disregard the French wunderkind – and the assessment is a pretty positive one.

Given there are just two Suzukis on the grid, inevitably the benchmark is Alex Rins, who scored more than double the points and two victories while Mir’s season peaked with a fifth place at Phillip Island. But for a rookie he made very few mistakes; if it hadn’t been for the first-lap incident at Brno, for which he was entirely blameless, he would have finished every race he contested from May’s Mugello round onwards, and in the top 10 on all bar two occasions. In qualifying as well, Mir’s record was strong, making it to Q2 more often than not, and once he’d recovered from his horror test shunt he out-qualified Rins three times in the final six races, a promising foundation on which to build for 2020.

While comparisons aren’t entirely valid on account of Rins missing such a big chunk of his rookie season back in 2017, there’s an argument to say that Mir is already looking the more complete package than his countryman at this stage of his career. Given that his seat at Suzuki is looking relatively secure, the target for next year will be to really establish himself as a regular top-five finisher and podium threat, much as Rins did in his sophomore year. Jamie Klein

Joan Mir, Team Suzuki MotoGP

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

16.  Cal Crutchlow

Down 5 from P11 in 2018

9th in MotoGP, three podiums

Statistically speaking, 2019 was not one of Cal Crutchlow’s finer MotoGP seasons. Ninth place in the championship matches his rather mediocre 2017 campaign, far short of the fifth place he achieved in 2013 with Tech 3 Yamaha, while 133 points leaves him 15 shy of the tally he amassed last year despite contesting four more races this year.

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The 2019 Honda, by all accounts, was a rather capricious beast, one that effectively ended Jorge Lorenzo’s illustrious career. And Crutchlow missed the chance to help mould it while it was still in the development phase during post-season testing last year, as he recovered from his horrific Phillip Island crash injuries.

The result was a bike that was geared entirely around Marc Marquez, with horsepower to finally match Ducati but without the sharp front end that had characterised previous iterations of the RC213V. Third place in Qatar for Crutchlow was a false dawn, as he failed to find the podium again until the Sachsenring, largely languishing towards the bottom of the top 10 in the intervening period. Second at Phillip Island towards the end was the only other bright spot, before he rounded off the year with DNFs at both Sepang and Valencia.

After signing his current HRC deal in the summer of 2018, Crutchlow strongly suggested it would be his last contract in MotoGP, which would mean that the upcoming 2020 season could mark his farewell year. But as the 2019 campaign progressed, the Coventry man started to backtrack on that claim, saying his bad results this year acted as motivation to keep going.

Only the man himself knows for sure how likely he is to stay in MotoGP beyond next year, although he has already hinted that contract discussions with Honda have begun. But if he is to rediscover the highs of 2016 and 2018 and add to that tally of premier- class victories, he’ll need to push harder than ever to ensure he gets a bike compatible with his style. JK

Cal Crutchlow, Team LCR Honda

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Crutchlow sums up his season:

“Average. We need to build a bike that is more consistent, that you can push to the limit consistently without making mistakes or crashing. It’s just that maybe I do them in the races and Marc [Marquez] does them in practice, except Texas. I couldn’t tell you when I last had a practice crash, except for here [in Valencia]. We have to improve that for next year.”

Cal Crutchlow’s LCR stint

Photo by: Camille De Bastiani

15. Peter Hickman

Down 2 from P13 in 2018

Isle of Man TT winner, North West 200 winner, Ulster GP winner in every class, 6th in British Superbike

The 2018 road racing season proved to be a breakout year for Hickman, as he achieved his first Isle of Man TT victories and became the world’s fastest road racer after a 135.452mph lap on his way to Senior TT glory.

Repeating such feats looked like they’d have to wait another year, though. BMW’s all-new S1000RR already showed promise in stock trim, but the Superbike-spec wouldn’t have the proper race engine all year and delays in his Smiths Team taking delivery of the bike in the pre-season put him on the back foot.

In fact, Hickman later revealed to Motorsport.com that BMW didn’t want him to use the new S1000RR on the roads and would rather he stick with the proven previous model.

But the benefits of the new bike were obvious. He took pole in the Superstock class at the North West 200 in May, having never ridden that spec of the S1000RR prior to those laps. He would give the S1000RR its first win in the first STK race at the NW200.

At the TT he took a hybrid STK/SBK version of the bike to victory in the first SBK race, adding wins in the Supersport class on the Triumph and in the STK race. He was set for a second Senior TT win before a recurring water leak issue on the SBK engine robbed him.

That mystery problem solved in time for the Ulster Grand Prix, Hickman completed a record clean sweep of victories in the SBK, STK and SSP classes and established the Dundrod circuit as the fastest in the world with a lap of 136.415mph.

The BMW’s lack of a full-blooded race engine meant he struggled in BSB, but still managed a podium finish and a place in the Showdown to cap off what was a stunning year for road racing’s answer to Marc Marquez. Lewis Duncan

Peter Hickman, 1000 BMW/Smiths Racing BMW

Photo by: Dave Kneen

Hickman: New bike was “a bit of a risk”

“It’s been a really good year,” Hickman said in an upcoming episode our Tank Slappers podcast. “It could have gone either way with the brand new bike that we obviously got very, very late. It could have been a disaster, you never really know which way the new bike could go.

“I was pretty confident it was going to be a good step forwards, and fortunately enough it was. The bike’s been really, really good. The team’s been awesome as always.

“Alright, we lost the Senior through a bit of trial and error that didn’t quite work in our favour. But apart from that the rest of the year has gone really, really well. We made the Showdown again in BSB, we were the only BMW again, third year in a row to make the showdown.

“We won at the North West with the brand new bike, we won at the TT with the brand new bike, we won at the Ulster as well. It’s been a good year, I can’t really knock it.

“It was a bit of a risk riding the new bike. Even BMW themselves were pushing us to use the old bike this year, because they said ‘look, you know it inside out, you’re going to be fast on it straight away, you don’t really know where the new bike’s going to be’.

“And to be honest it was me and Darren [Jones], my crew chief, who is also the Smiths team coordinator, we pushed like hell to make sure we had the new bike because if we didn’t start this year on the new bike, next year we’d be on the back foot.

“And for me the sooner we got on the back foot and learned what we needed to learn, the sooner we could go fast with it.

“I’m not saying I wrote the year off so much, but I kind of went ‘look, this year will be whatever it could be with the brand new bike; it could be bad, but even if it’s bad we’re going to learn for next year and next year won’t be bad’.

“So we both pushed for that, and fortunately for us the S1000RR, the new 2019 bike has been absolutely phenomenal apart from that one hiccough we had, which was unfortunately in the Senior. [Otherwise] it’s been pretty faultless all the way along.”

Peter Hickman, 1000 BMW/Smiths Racing BMW

Photo by: Dave Kneen

14.  Lorenzo Dalla Porta

New entry

Moto3 champion

The 79-point winning margin Dalla Porta ended the season with was all sorts of deceiving, given that just five races until the end he had been only two points clear of nearest rival Aron Canet, before the Spaniard’s challenge imploded.

But even by then Dalla Porta had looked the marginally more deserving champion. The familiar light blue Leopard livery was the most consistent presence at the front of Moto 3 races, as chaotic as always in 2019, and the Italian never shied away from leading.

Spectacular under braking, he fought off numerous challenges while heading the pack race after race, and ended up with a field-high 117 laps laps led – more than three times as many as anyone else but Tatsuki Suzuki.

Despite this, the intangible ‘clutch’ factor was missing early on as he made a bit of a habit of being beaten to race wins, having to wait until the ninth race of the campaign at the Sachsenring to finally grace the top step and then going winless again until his decisive late-season hat-trick at Motegi, Phillip Island and Sepang.

In the end, though Canet and the other title threat Tony Arbolino were caught up in more incidents and seemed overall less fortunate, Dalla Porta did make his own luck by staying out front and thus ensuring he was a lot less likely to get caught up in anyone else’s mess. He also didn’t get an entirely smooth run himself, having seen his bike expire with an electrical issue while running in the lead in Barcelona.

Ultimately, 2019 leaves him with a heck of a CV, with the world title adding to lightweight class crowns in Italy and Spain. Yet at 22 he’s also not the youngest junior prospect around, and will want to make an instant impression in the intermediate class next year. VK

Race winner Lorenzo Dalla Porta, Leopard Racing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

13. Toprak Razgatlioglu

New entry

5th in World Superbike

A darling of Kawasaki, Razgatlioglu’s debut season in World Superbikes in 2018 with the works-supported Puccetti squad offered much promise. The pressure, however, was on in 2019 to back up this form and vindicate Kawasaki’s continued belief in the Turkish rider.

After four rounds, he was thus far failing to do so. He didn’t manage a single top-five finish between Phillip Island and Assen.

But, from Imola onwards, the Razgatlioglu many had expected finally materialised. A third-place finish in the first feature race was followed by rostrum appearances at every round through to the penultimate event of the campaign in Argentina.

From relative underachievement, Razgatlioglu quickly turned into a rider for whom victory was a matter of time, rather than a questionably achievable result.

In France, having started from 16th, Razgatlioglu battled his way through the pack to beat works Kawasaki counterpart Jonathan Rea on the last lap. He repeated the feat in the sprint race, once more coming from 16th on the grid.

Razgatlioglu ended the campaign in fifth in the standings, amassing 164 more points than he did in his rookie season.

The relationship between Razgatlioglu and Kawasaki broke down over 2019, and the world champion manufacturer lost him to the works Yamaha effort for 2020. Should he carry his form over the R1 – and there is every indication that he will – Kawasaki will almost certainly come to rue this. LD

Toprak Razgatlioglu, Turkish Puccetti Racing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Latest first-time WSBK winners:

RiderTeamYearRaceGridRace #
 Jordi TorresAprilia2015 Losail R1P625
 Nicky HaydenHonda2016 Sepang R2P414
 Michael van der MarkYamaha2018 Donington R1P689
 Alex LowesYamaha2018 Brno R2P2118
 Alvaro BautistaDucati2019 Phillip Island R1P3Debut
 Toprak RazgatliogluPuccetti Kawasaki2019 Magny-Cours R1P1653

Razgatlioglu’s breakthrough

“This season started I think very bad, not good, and after the Imola race I changed my style.

“Normally my style is like [Ducati rider Chaz] Davies – sliding. And now I ride the bike, all corners sliding, and I’m feeling much better.

“Now I go to a different team, [retain the] same style, I think will be much better.”

Toprak Razgatlioglu, Pata Yamaha

Photo by: WSBK

12. Jack Miller

New entry

8th in MotoGP, five podiums

It might seem odd to describe 2019 as a breakthrough year for a rider who won his first MotoGP race three years ago, and next year will go into his sixth season at this level. But it would be fair to say that only this year did Jack Miller really prove beyond doubt his status as a likely future factory ace by pairing his long-since obvious speed with a much-needed dose of consistency aboard the Pramac Ducati.

Before the season, Miller’s memorable Dutch TT win at 2016 marked his only podium finish in MotoGP; by the time the dust settled on the campaign at Valencia, he’d made a further five trips to the rostrum, albeit all on the third step. In previous seasons, the Aussie could be accused of peaking early in the year and then fading as the year wore on, but if anything this time it was the inverse – four of those five podiums came after the summer break.

There may have been no absolute standout result like his factory counterpart Danilo Petrucci’s Mugello victory, but Miller’s record versus Petrucci is pretty favourable for the Australian, given his satellite rider status. Four DNFs to Petrucci’s two more than account for Miller coming up 10 points shy in the full-season points totals, and counting only the 10 races from Brno onwards, Miller scored 95 points to Petrucci’s 55.

It’s not for nothing that as the season neared its end rumours intensified that Ducati was considering swapping Miller and Petrucci in 2020. And although such claims appear to have been wide of the mark, it’s clear which one heads into next year in a stronger position. JK

Jack Miller, Pramac Racing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Does Miller have a Ducati future?

Given Miller’s marked improvement this season, it’s easy to forget that there was a point in the year where he was very close to losing his ride altogether. When Jorge Lorenzo was putting out feelers to return to the Ducati camp during his four-race injury lay-off, it was Miller – the only rider in the Borgo Panigale stable without a signed 2020 contract at that point – whose head was on the metaphorical chopping block.

“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” admitted Miller during the Austrian Grand Prix weekend. “For me it’s just extra motivation. You use it as fuel, for sure. I mean, we can all get comfortable like I say, and think I’ve done a good enough job – clearly some people are thinking I haven’t, so I guess I have to do a better job.”

Soon it emerged that KTM had reached out to Miller to invite the Australian to replace Johann Zarco, who had already made It clear he wouldn’t be sticking around to see out his two year-deal. In the end, Lorenzo opted against a Ducati return and Miller’s seat was safe, but the 24-year-old admitted he found it tough to say no to KTM.

Early next year, the MotoGP rider market will be in full swing, with every factory ride barring Marc Marquez’s Repsol Honda seat potentially up for grabs. After losing out to Petrucci in the race to be Andrea Dovizioso’s teammate in 2019, Miller made it clear he intended to make his paymasters realise they made the wrong call. But after the Lorenzo flirtation, you’d forgive him for wondering whether his future for 2021 and beyond lies elsewhere.

Could KTM come calling again? It’s possible, but jettisoning Brad Binder after one season in the works team might be a little harsh, unless the South African flops. Honda? Probably less likely now Alex Marquez has joined his brother at the works squad. Suzuki or Yamaha? Perhaps switching to a totally opposite style of bike may not be the wisest of career moves.

And so, it looks like staying where he is looks like Miller’s strongest bet for now. But with Vinales already firmly on the Ducati radar, Dovizioso looking unlikely to have many better options, Zarco eyeing up a place after putting pen to paper with Avintia and Petrucci determined to cling on to that ride, will there be space at the works squad? 

Jack Miller, Pramac Racing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

11.  Alex Marquez

New entry

Moto2 champion

For one part of 2019, Alex Marquez and Moto2 were finally on the same wavelength, and he showed what he is capable of when that happens. Between the Le Mans and Brno rounds, Marquez won five out of six races, a perfect streak only ruined by a crash out of his control.

But in theory the breakthrough had come at the wrong time – even if we disregard the fact that he needed four years to get to this level, there were virtually no places available in MotoGP for 2020. He appeared destined for yet another year in the intermediate class, and he risked losing a reputation of a MotoGP-ready talent that he finally acquired. Concerns that he wouldn’t be able to win again were proved valid because, even this year, apart from his Le Mans-to-Brno run, Marquez was never exceptional. After Brno, his form declined as the title loomed on the horizon, and by the flyaway races he was no longer even a podium contender, save for the second place that finally sealed the deal at Sepang.

Luckily for Marquez, all of that became irrelevant when the opportunity came up to join his brother at Repsol Honda in place of the retiring Jorge Lorenzo after the season ended. It wasn’t the prettiest of title runs in Moto2 history and after he’d only won by three points over a resurgent Brad Binder, the argument that the KTM rider had the better campaign overall isn’t tough to make. But Marquez did at least do enough to earn his chance in MotoGP. DG

Alex Marquez, Marc VDS Racing

Can Marquez survive at Repsol Honda?

He may be joining the most successful team on the grid and may have his brother as a teammate, but the evidence suggests he will have a tough time next year. Despite his talent, it would be a big surprise if he was able to tame the notoriously tricky RC213V right from the off given how badly Cal Crutchlow and particularly Jorge Lorenzo struggled with it this year.

He only has a one-year contract but expectations will be suitably low – especially after the Lorenzo debacle – and it seems likely he will be retained for another contract cycle, barring a complete failure of a campaign.

But by 2021 he will be expected to perform, particularly if Marc finally decides to look elsewhere; he doesn’t have to be mega, but he needs to establish himself as a solid back-up for his brother. Honda won’t tolerate mediocrity, no matter what surname a rider has.

Alex Marquez and Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Check back tomorrow (Saturday) for Part 2 of our countdown.

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