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Motorsport.com's Top 20 motorcycle racers of 2019, Part 2

In the second part of Motorsport.com's countdown, we name the 10 standout motorcycle racing competitors of the 2019.

Motorsport.com's Top 20 motorcycle racers of 2019, Part 2
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Part 1:

10. United Kingdom Scott Redding

New entry

British Superbike champion

From the outside, Redding’s switch to British Superbikes at the end of a dismal campaign with Aprilia in MotoGP had the air of a rider coming into 2019 with his tail between his legs. But this proved wide of the mark, as a hungry Redding had ambitions of using his time with Paul Bird Motorsport in BSB to springboard into World Superbikes with Ducati.

Despite having to learn new tyres, a completely new bike and a different way of racing Britain’s top domestic series, the Redding which fought for the 2013 Moto2 title and found his way to the MotoGP podium soon re-emerged.

A debut triple victory at Donington gave way to nine further victories as he locked horns with experienced PBM teammate and ’15 BSB champion Josh Brookes in the Showdown phase of the campaign.

Redding’s consistent form meant third in the Brands Hatch finale behind his race-winning teammate was enough for him to become the first series rookie to win the title on his first go.

Alvaro Bautista’s departure to Honda left a void at Ducati in WSBK for 2020, and Redding’s return to the world stage was secured weeks before his coronation.

Stepping up to face the might of five-time world champion Jonathan Rea and the Kawasaki juggernaut will be no easy task, but Redding’s confidence rebuilding BSB exploits send him into WSBK as arguably Rea’s most potent rival ever. Lewis Duncan

Scott Redding, Aruba.it Racing

Scott Redding, Aruba.it Racing

Photo by: WSBK

Rea on Redding in 2019 and 2020:

"Scott’s a very high-level rider, he was realistically Marc Marquez’s only rival of the last 10 years. In Moto2 he was Marquez’s biggest rival. So he has a lot of talent, he’s been in MotoGP, so he’s obviously got a lot of experience.

"The level of the [BSB] championship is high and the circuits are very unique. So there’s a particular way to ride. The GP and [World] Superbike way won’t work there. That’s why I have a lot of respect for Leon [Haslam] going back from WSBK to winning BSB, because you really have to want to win.

"The guys there are fast and the circuits are unique. Looks like Scott went to BSB with a really good attitude, because I could imagine me going back there after being spoiled with beautiful, big tracks with a lot of run-off, and suddenly you’re running on national tracks. You have to ride in a completely different way.

"It takes big balls to go back because he’s the name rider, the rider they are building the marketing around and whatnot.

"It’s completely different again coming here [to WSBK] and going to tracks like Imola, Magny-Cours, places where he’s never been. It will be a learning year but it looks like Ducati is testing everywhere and next year will be the same. I expect him to be fast, for sure."

Scott Redding, Aruba.it Racing

Scott Redding, Aruba.it Racing

Photo by: WSBK

9. South Africa Brad Binder

New entry

Moto2 runner-up

It’s fair to say that KTM has the talent and determination of Brad Binder to thank for ensuring its final season in Moto2 won’t be remembered as an abject embarrassment. Prior to a mid-season chassis upgrade that made the KTM-Triumph package competitive, only Binder was able to regularly feature in the top-five conversation, and once the new frame arrived, only Binder was able to break the Kalex hold on the top step of the podium. His Ajo Motorsport teammate Jorge Martin, last year’s Moto3 champion, was the next highest KTM rider in the points table, a full nine places down and 165 points further back.

What’s more, the inconsistency of all the other top Moto2 riders meant this year could have turned out so differently with just one fewer bad result towards the start of the season. Five wins in the final nine races – and a hat-trick in the final three – meant that Binder came up an agonising three points short of title glory, quite a remarkable achievement considering the clear disadvantage of not being on a Kalex, and that he was no fewer than 77 points adrift of eventual champion Alex Marquez at one stage.  

In the end, missing out on the Moto2 title will probably not affect Binder’s career a great deal. Zarco’s unexpected departure created a vacancy in the works KTM team, and after a slightly bizarre turn of events in which Miguel Oliveira said no to a promotion – seemingly assuming the seat would then go to an old hand like Mika Kallio – Binder was selected to partner Pol Espargaro in 2020. It will be a steep learning curve, but as Oliveira proved this year, it’s a lot easier if the RC16 is your first premier class rodeo. Jamie Klein

Brad Binder, KTM Ajo

Brad Binder, KTM Ajo

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Binder reflects on his slow start to 2019:

“The beginning of my championship was a joke, if you look at it. In Qatar, barely finished the race, the next race my clutch burned up... I wasted the first half of the year basically, more or less.

"It’s super disappointing, of course. But you can’t change the past, you can only change the future. So it’s pointless to cry over spoiled milk. It is what it is.

"I think things maybe, if it didn’t start off so difficult, no one would’ve worked the way they did [in the second half]. I think everything has a positive and a negative."

Brad Binder, KTM Ajo

Brad Binder, KTM Ajo

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

8. Spain Alvaro Bautista

New entry

World Superbike runner-up

Bautista was reluctant to leave the MotoGP paddock for World Superbikes after being passed over by Petronas SRT for rookie Fabio Quartararo. But he nevertheless quickly got his head down and got on with the job of developing the new V4 R Ducati Panigale into a race winner.

The V4 R does share numerous characteristics, particularly on the engine side, to its MotoGP counterpart from which it is descended, but no one expected him to make the ruthlessly dominant start he did to the 2019 season.

Almost instantly adapting to WSBK’s tyres, electronics, brakes, etc, and utilising a hefty power advantage over the rest, Bautista won 11 races in succession from the first four rounds to establish a borderline insurmountable gap by May.

Though the V4 R lacked in some areas, which allowed world champion Jonathan Rea to chip away at his lead at Imola, toppling Bautista still looked impossible.

But a string of crashes from Imola to his season nadir at Laguna Seca – where he crashed twice and failed to start the sprint race – demolished his lead and ultimately let what would've been a debut WSBK title slip into Rea’s hands.

Two more wins would follow for Bautista and he ended the season as a comfortable runner-up in a title race he really should have crushed.

As Bautista’s form faltered, so did his relationship with Ducati and he will take on a new challenge next year with Honda as HRC makes a full return to WSBK after a toe-in-the-water comeback in 2019.

With a new Fireblade needing development, Honda has scooped up arguably the best man for the job. But it will need to work hard with Bautista to stop a repeat of the confidence-shattering form dip which robbed him of a sure-fire championship. LD

Alvaro Bautista, Aruba.it Racing-Ducati Team

Alvaro Bautista, Aruba.it Racing-Ducati Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Alvaro Bautista on his season and Kawasaki's resurgence:

"I think there were during the season two or three tracks where we struggled more, but for the rest we were more or less ready to fight for the victory. Then for sure I crashed or other riders hit me.

"But I'm happy overall. I arrived here without experience, I didn't know the team, the tyres, the team didn't know the bike because it was new. Many things to learn. So I can say I'm happy.

"What I always said, the first part of the season for me was unreal, for me to win a lot of races, but also the second half of the season was unreal, because it was impossible to crash [so many times] and to have the problems I had.

"Strange season. At the end I prefer to keep the positives and look forward.

"My feeling is that especially at the beginning of the season they [Kawasaki] were more relaxed. For me, they reacted very well and they made something in the bike. More or less from Donington or even a bit before, maybe Misano, all Kawasakis were in front, not only Jonathan.

"They reacted very well, and for sure the experience is their strong point, the experience with the rider, with the bike, it's important for a championship.

"It's easy to win a race but it's very difficult to win a championship. You have to be very consistent and get the maximum every time you go out on track."

Alvaro Bautista, Aruba.it Racing-Ducati Team

Alvaro Bautista, Aruba.it Racing-Ducati Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

7. Spain Alex Rins

Also P7 in 2018

4th in MotoGP, two wins

For a while, it looked like Rins was going to deliver on the immense promise he showed in 2018 and he and Suzuki would become a title-contending combination, but by the end of the season it was clear both rider and team have more work ahead to make that dream a reality.

There were two factors making life difficult, which nullified Suzuki’s strong points – bad one-lap performance that meant Rins often started far from the front of the grid, and poor top speed which made it difficult to recover in the races. Both of these problems cost him way too many times, and he was often relegated to lesser results despite having podium pace.

MotoGP 2019 positions gained on race day

MotoGP 2019 positions gained on race day

Photo by: Camille De Bastiani

Rins actually only stood on the podium three times all year, although two of those were memorable wins, firstly at Austin and then after his spectacular duel against Marquez at Silverstone. The latter triumph in particular proved Rins’ brilliance, showing that he could become one of the few riders that can potentially go toe-to-toe with Marquez on a regular basis if only the machinery beneath him was up to the task at a wider range of circuits.

One way or another, 2020 could be career-defining for Rins. He could very well take Suzuki to the next level if everything goes well, but if the bike doesn’t progress sufficiently, he could be tempted to look elsewhere. At the same time there is also a risk of upstart teammate Joan Mir reaching his level, which could damage Rins’ hopes of a future as a MotoGP star. David Gruz

Alex Rins, Team Suzuki MotoGP

Alex Rins, Team Suzuki MotoGP

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

6. Spain Pol Espargaro

New entry

11th in MotoGP

Heading into 2019 season, everyone seemed to be mentally preparing for Johann Zarco to lead KTM into the new era and Pol Espargaro, its previous reference rider, to fade into the background. Even Espargaro himself seemed acutely aware of this possibility.

“I’m wondering how fast he’s going to be, if he is going to be faster than me, how much faster, or same, or worse,” Espargaro said last year after the 2019 line-up of himself and Zarco was confirmed. “Even if he jumps on the bike and he does a good result and maybe wins races and does podiums, I will take it as maybe mine because I have developed the bike. We will be proud anyway.”

As it turned out, he would have enough of his own achievements to be proud of. While Zarco struggled to get his head around the RC16, Espargaro pushed it forward, regularly scoring good points and accounting for most of KTM’s highlights throughout the season. And while Zarco was miserable – understandably so, but ultimately too miserable for KTM – Espargaro was unmistakably happy and fully dedicated to the Austrian manufacturer’s cause.

While there was a shock front row in the dry in Misano that left Espargaro beaming with pride, his Sunday results were pretty standard midfield fare, but they were something only he looked capable of regularly achieving on the RC16.

KTM's one-man army

KTM's one-man army

Photo by: Camille De Bastiani

Rumour has it that KTM’s new tester Dani Pedrosa named Espargaro as one of two riders theoretically capable of getting the most out of the aggressive, recalcitrant RC16 (the other being Marc Marquez) – and though that could be a touch of hyperbole, it wasn’t exactly disproved over the course of the season.

The bike did bite Espargaro big-time once, throwing him off in FP4 at Aragon and leading him to miss the race with a left-wrist fracture. But though KTM was critical of Espargaro’s injury record the year prior, his resolve to undergo 24-hour-a-day therapy to be fit for the next race in Thailand and his commitment to leaving no points on the table must have surely endeared him further to his employers.

The Aragon race he missed was one 2019 grand prix where someone else finished as the highest KTM. Red Bull Ring, where Espargaro’s bike cut out moments after the start and he had to retire, was the only other. On every other occasion, he was the one flying KTM’s flag the highest. Valentin Khorounzhiy

Pol Espargaro, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Pol Espargaro, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Photo by: MotoGP

5. Spain Maverick Vinales

Up 3 from P8 in 2018

3rd in MotoGP, two wins

Maverick Vinales has by no means been a failure at Yamaha. Since his arrival in 2017, he has been the manufacturer’s leading scorer, claimed six of its seven race wins and broke into the top three in the world championship on two occasions.

But he also arrived to the Iwata firm as MotoGP’s foremost champion-in-waiting, and though he’d once looked the part - after a spectacular first off-season and back-to-back wins in his first two races – right now this feels like a very distant memory.

In 2019, a run of various calamities coupled with what was probably some teething pains in working among a revamped crew (with a new crew chief in Esteban Garcia and rider performance analyst in Julian Simon) clipped the wings of a potential title challenge instantly and suggested the Spaniard could be in for a painful season.

Instead, 2019 ended with a much more positive Vinales, buoyed by the Yamaha’s massive in-season progress, his own reliable presence towards the top of the timesheets through virtually all Friday and Saturday sessions, and of course the dominant wins at Assen at Sepang.

And yet, for all the late-year optimism, one cannot help but wonder whether Vinales is simply back to the level he started at back in 2017 and, more pertinently, whether this is as far as his current partnership with Yamaha can go.

The Japanese firm clearly found something extra this year, and though the bike was flattered by a seemingly inherent propensity for one-lap pace and was simply not fast enough on the straights, it still clearly became a much more competitive, much more versatile machine overall.

The step forward was not sufficient for Vinales to assert himself over Marquez for any meaningful sustained stretch. Given the champion’s otherworldly campaign, that’s fair enough – but Vinales didn’t really emerge as a clear second-best either, and even if Marquez comes back down to Earth next year, this kind of form probably isn’t enough to topple him.

The glaring terribleness of Vinales’ starts and high-fuel pace from last year has been largely dealt with, but just too many of his grands prix still just do not come together despite the fact practice pace is almost always promising. And while the likes of Quartararo and Valentino Rossi have also had some pretty major oscillations in Sunday form, it comes with the territory of being a rookie for the former, and the latter is probably more after individual race glory than sustained title runs at this point in his career.

Vinales unquestionably has the speed to be a champion, and by this point he must be running out of patience. Whether it’s down to him, the crew or the bike, the past three years have offered little evidence that his bursts of frontrunning form can be sustained in the Yamaha environment – and if the same pattern continues at the start of 2020, a potential reset over at Ducati will surely seem quite tempting. VK

Maverick Vinales, Yamaha Factory Racing

Maverick Vinales, Yamaha Factory Racing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Crew chief Esteban Garcia on Vinales' title prospects:

"Honestly, when it comes to his level of riding, I think Maverick is ready to fight for the title.

"In the end, when I hear Marquez, Marquez this, Marquez that... Marquez is a great rider but he also has a great team behind him, a group that has worked with him for many years - not only the personal and technical crews, but also the factory.

"They're giving Marquez everything he asks for and making a bike especially for him. And naturally the results come. And that's what we need for next year.

"The rider is here, Maverick is ready to win. We have improved out weak points - we have improved our starts, from both the bike and the rider standpoint.

"We have given him the tools, he had asked for certain things, we gave them to him and he has improved the starts a lot.

"He has worked hard and regained the confidence he had lost.

"We as a team will always have things to improve and so will the rider, and we will work on it in the pre-season. But at the end of the day it's all about giving 100 percent. We as a team are giving 100 percent, Maverick is giving 200 percent, he is testing everything.

"Now with all that information going to Yamaha, they also need to give 100 or 200 percent to be able to win. They need not just a Marquez, but also a team like Marquez has and a factory like Honda has."

"We have a rider who's on the level to achieve the title. Now we need the rest."

Maverick Vinales, Yamaha Factory Racing

Maverick Vinales, Yamaha Factory Racing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

4. Italy Andrea Dovizioso

Down 2 from P2 in 2018

MotoGP runner-up

Even though Dovizioso secured the runner-up position in the championship for a third consecutive season, there was something a little underwhelming about the Italian’s 2019 campaign. The novelty of Dovizioso revitalising his career and being Marquez’s closest rival has long since worn off, especially as the points gap between the duo has grown massively, from 37 to 151 in just two years.

The now-classic last-lap Marquez-Dovizioso deciders still happened a couple of times and the Italian emerged victorious twice, in Qatar and Austria, but those were the only times he could even compete with Marquez all season. Yet Dovizioso still put together a commendable campaign, in which he had a little less success than last year but retained superb consistency. His only two retirements, taken out by Lorenzo in Barcelona and hit by Quartararo at Silverstone, were not his fault, and he was close to always finishing in the top five if not for a couple of low-key races late in the year.

In the second half of the year, Dovizioso was indeed the least competitive he’s been in the last three seasons but how much was this was down to him or the bike is difficult to gauge. Compared to the collapse of teammate Danilo Petrucci however, who was right up there with him until the summer break, Dovizioso’s drop in form was barely noticeable.

Dovizioso’s and Ducati’s quiet end to the year raises an uncomfortable question – can the Italian come back stronger than ever and still beat Marquez, or even the likes of Maverick Vinales or Fabio Quartararo? Since he joined Ducati in 2013, Dovizioso has improved the bike tremendously and if it weren’t for Marquez, the last couple of years would have ended with the Desmosedici as the most successful bike. But the Ducati always had its limits and now that the Yamaha is back with two rapid riders, that is a bigger problem than before.

It’s also difficult to ignore that Dovizioso will turn 34 next year so, so Ducati may think twice before it commits to him for two more seasons as the lead rider, especially with younger alternatives such as Vinales, Quartararo and Jack Miller available for 2021. DG

Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati Team

Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati Team

Photo by: Ducati Corse

How the 2019 MotoGP points table would look without Marquez:

Pos. Rider Bike Points Wins
1 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati 316 5
2 Maverick Vinales Yamaha 244 3
3 Alex Rins Suzuki 235 3
4 Fabio Quartararo Yamaha 232 5
5 Danilo Petrucci Ducati 202 1
6 Valentino Rossi Yamaha 202 1
7 Jack Miller Ducati 196  
8 Cal Crutchlow Honda 158  

3. United Kingdom Jonathan Rea

Also P3 in 2018

World Superbike champion, Suzuka 8 Hours winner

Rea’s four World Superbike titles pre-2019 already cemented his place in the history books, but for many his dominance wasn’t genuine. He had the best bike, they claimed. Life had been an easy ride to that point.

And when Alvaro Bautista came along and wiped the floor with Rea and Kawasaki on the all-new Ducati V4 R Panigale in the early rounds of 2019, those same detractors believed the Ulsterman’s façade had slipped.

The reality was, Rea’s quality had never shone as bright in those early races. As Bautista continued to erode morale at Kawasaki, Rea ensured he put his ZX-10RR in the best position possible; 10 runner-up spots and a third from the first four rounds kept him in play.

When Bautista faltered, Rea stepped up. He won both races at Imola which offered a glimmer of hope – though this was quickly dashed at Jerez when a scrappy weekend left him 61 points adrift despite a crash for Bautista.

Misano proved the turning point. As Bautista went on a run of crashes from Jerez to Laguna Seca, Rea tallied up seven wins and won twice more before another victory at Magny-Cours netted him a sensational record fifth world title – the culmination of a 190-point swing beginning at Misano.

Rea ended the year with 17 victories and a points lead of 165. But more importantly, he proved beyond doubt that everything he has achieved in WSBK with Kawasaki has been no mere product of fortunate circumstance.

Obliterating almost all existing records along the way – while helping Kawasaki to its first Suzuka 8 Hours win since 1993 - no argument against Rea laying claim to the title of the greatest Superbike rider in history exists anymore after mounting a comeback only a rider of his quality could manage in 2019. LD

Jonathan Rea, Kawasaki Racing Team

Jonathan Rea, Kawasaki Racing Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

A comeback for the ages

February 23, Australia Phillip Island: Rea starts the first race of the season two places ahead of debutant Bautista, but ends it a dispiriting 15 seconds down the road, dropping an average of nearly seven tenths for every lap of the race distance. Bautista 25, Rea 20

March 16, Thailand Buriram: Having been powerless to prevent a Bautista hat-trick in Australia, Rea takes the early lead in the opening Thailand race, but can only maintain it for two laps. He defends a Bautista move aggressively on the third lap and the Ducati man loses a place, but then shrugs off the setback, fights through to the lead and disappears up the road. Bautista 87, Rea 69

April 7, Spain Aragon: Forced to battle from 10th on the grid to second as Bautista romps to another 15-second win on Saturday, Rea passes Alex Lowes on the penultimate lap of the sprint the next day to keep his run of runner-up finishes alive. He’s forced to fight harder still in the final race, picking off Davies on the final tour for yet another second as Bautista wraps up another hat-trick. Bautista 186, Rea 147

April 14, Netherlands Assen: Rea’s runner-up streak ends at 10 as his valiant attempts to find a way back past Michael van der Mark late on pay no dividend. Bautista 238, Rea 183

May 11, Italy Imola: Bautista’s winning streak ends at 11 as he is beaten to the tune of eight seconds by Rea…

May 12, Italy Imola: … but though Rea then wins the sprint race as well on Sunday, rain then picks up to force a cancellation of the final race, denying the Northern Irishman a likely hat-trick and limiting him to just a 10-point weekend gain over Bautista. Bautista 263, Rea 220

June 8, Spain Jerez: Bautista is back in dominant form, and Rea is back to having to fight tooth and nail for damage limitation. As part of this, he ends up hitting Alex Lowes off at the final corner of the race, and receives a penalty that makes him the first of the two title contenders to end up off the podium in 2019. The penalty also sends him to the back of the grid for Sunday’s sprint. Bautista 288, Rea 233

June 9, Spain Jerez: Rea goes 19th to fourth in six laps in the sprint, then takes a sudden big chunk out of Bautista’s points lead when the Spaniard crashes out of the lead in the day’s main race. Bautista 300, Rea 259

June 23, Italy Misano: The title rivals trade crashes in the two Sunday races, but while Rea falls in the sprint – where fewer points are on offer – and remounts to finish fifth, Bautista retires out of the lead in the full-distance race. Bautista 330, Rea 314

July 6, United Kingdom Donington: The wet race is plain sailing for Rea, who is on course to more than halve Bautista’s already-eroded points lead, before the Spaniard crashes and surrenders first place in the championship. Rea 339, Bautista 330

July 13, United States Laguna Seca: Chasing after Rea and his own Ducati squadmate Chaz Davies, Bautista falls off yet again to hand Rea a 49-point lead…

July 14, United States Laguna Seca: .. but it’s Sunday that proves more damaging to Bautista’s title hopes. He taps the rear of Toprak Razgatlioglu’s Kawasaki in the sprint, picks up a shoulder injury in the resulting crash and consequently cannot last the distance in the day’s main event. Rea 433, Bautista 352

September 7, Portugal Portimao: A clash between Davies and Bautista leaves the latter in damage limitation mode, and though he recovers to fourth after dropping to almost the end of the pack, race winner Rea’s lead balloons to nearly 100 points. Rea 458, Bautista 365

September 28, France Magny-Cours: On the heels of a one-tenth defeat to Bautista on Sunday at Portimao, Rea is beaten by Razgatlioglu in a last-lap duel at Magny-Cours – but does enough to establish the campaign’s first 100-point lead.

September 29, France Magny-Cours: Razgatlioglu falls over in the final race while chasing a hat-trick and collects an unfortunate Bautista. Rea, handed a sudden opportunity to wrap up the title then and there, does so by beating van der Mark to victory. Rea 544, Bautista 415

Final tally (six races later): Rea 663, Bautista 498

Jonathan Rea, Kawasaki Racing Team, Alvaro Bautista, Aruba.it Racing-Ducati Team

Jonathan Rea, Kawasaki Racing Team, Alvaro Bautista, Aruba.it Racing-Ducati Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

2. France Fabio Quartararo

New entry

5th in MotoGP, 7 podiums

Forgive the cliché, but this wasn’t in the script. Fabio Quartararo’s Moto3 and Moto2 stats in no way suggested premier-class stardom, and yet it awaited him all the same as a quietly promising pre-season became loudly promising and then gave way to an utterly superb campaign.

We’ll see next year whether manufacturers and team bosses have been swayed enough to aggressively roll the dice on a wide variety of Moto2 graduates – but even if the hope of replicating the magic Quartararo/Yamaha combo of 2019 may be remote, it’ll be hard to blame anyone for trying.

Of course, for all his prior struggles and the ‘right place, right time’ circumstances of his Petronas Yamaha deal, Quartararo was no average Moto3 and Moto2 rider. He had arrived into the paddock with fanfare, a prodigious two-time champion of the CEV Moto3 category, but an injury disrupted his 2015 and he spent almost three years trying to get his groove back.

Fabio Quartararo's rookie season

Fabio Quartararo's rookie season

Photo by: Camille De Bastiani

Even so, to see that once-dormant potential realised so swiftly was staggering, with the one-lap pace in particular proving a big shock as the Frenchman became MotoGP’s youngest-ever poleman and then added five more for good measure.

Franco Morbidelli described beating Quartararo in qualifying as “one of the most difficult things in the world”, and though it’s always beneficial to talk up your teammate, you can totally see what he meant.

Quartararo did not climb the same heights on Sunday, but was still in a whole another world compared to the rest of MotoGP’s rookie contingent – and, most of the time, compared to his highly-rated squadmate as well. And though two last-lap Marc Marquez moves have kept him from taking a maiden win just yet, Quartararo rightly wore those defeats as a badge of honour.

Adding to all that is the fact he looked supremely cool under pressure, very rarely crashed and said all the right things to the media, and you have every MotoGP team manager’s dream. VK

Fabio Quartararo, Petronas Yamaha SRT

Fabio Quartararo, Petronas Yamaha SRT

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

1. Spain Marc Marquez

Also P1 in 2018

MotoGP champion

This time last year, this writer argued that Marc Marquez had already done enough to assure himself of ‘GOAT’ status, and after a truly mesmerising 2019 campaign, any remaining holdouts must now surely be converted. The Honda rider yet again utterly demolished the competition, despite the renaissance of Yamaha and the emergence of Quartararo as a credible medium-term threat to his dominance. What looked in the spring as if it could be a close title battle, an impression artificially created by Marquez crashing at the Circuit of the Americas, was again transformed into a one-horse race by June.

While there were individual races where a particular rider could challenge Marquez and sometimes come out on top, nobody else came close to his staggering level of consistency across the season. Mistakes by and large just didn’t happen. Crashes – and there were 14 of them (only Miller and Johann Zarco had more) – came almost exclusively outside of races. Had his Honda’s engine braking not caught him out at Texas, he would have likely wrapped up the title at Aragon, a full two months before the end of the season.

Honda's Marc Marquez dependency

Honda's Marc Marquez dependency

Photo by: Camille De Bastiani

Even the second-place finishes were largely the result of Marquez losing out on victory by tiny margins. Only by Vinales at Assen and Sepang was he beaten convincingly; his remaining defeats – to Dovizioso in Qatar and Austria, to Danilo Petrucci at Mugello and to Rins at Silverstone – were all by two tenths of a second or less. Texas aside, it was pretty much as close to a perfect campaign as one can hope for in modern-day MotoGP. And Marquez himself often seemed equally happy to finish as the runner-up at tracks he deemed prime Yamaha or Ducati territory as he did to win, knowing what mattered was the points tally come Valencia. Incidentally, 420 (you read that right) points is a new record.

The other thing about Marquez’s success is that it has made him even more critical to the Honda operation as a whole. The 2019 RC213V, despite what Alberto Puig may claim, is Marquez’s bike, and the early indications are that next year’s model is not a radical departure. That a rider of Jorge Lorenzo’s talent found himself demoralised to the point of ending his career by its wicked tendencies tells you all you need to know. Remove Marquez from the equation and Honda slips from first to fourth in the manufacturers’ standings – not only some 60 points behind Suzuki but only a similar margin clear of KTM in fifth place.

With Lorenzo out of the picture, the arrival of Alex Marquez in the other side of the Repsol Honda garage only reinforces the hold the 26-year-old Spaniard has over the largest and most illustrious factory in grand prix racing. It looks virtually certain their alliance will be extended a further two years beyond 2020, but if Alex settles into life as an elite MotoGP rider as his elder brother no doubt hopes, then there’s even less reason for him to ever consider ending the relationship. That’s bad news for rival manufacturers who might have been hoping to tempt Marc away in the hope of finally ending Honda’s reign – not to mention fans who wistfully remember the days of title battles going down to the wire.

Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team

Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Crew chief Santi Hernandez tracks Marquez’s growth:

“Marc adds more knowledge every year, and his learning curve is tremendous. In the first two years everything came quite easily because he was young, the bike helped him a lot and the difference to the others enabled him.

"But in 2015, he realised that to win world championships, that mentality of ‘win or bust’ had to be renounced. We had to understand to achieve the most important goal, there were times that he had to settle for finishing third, or even fifth.

"The following year, we won with a motorcycle much worse than the best. Marc knew, we had our difficulties, but he never threw in the towel. On the contrary, it was his motivation. He never made excuses because he knows this doesn’t contribute anything. He goes out on track and gives it 200 percent. Where the motorcycle is lacking, he makes up for it. He keeps learning.

"Now, for example, he has been able to win by escaping on the first lap, something that until now has cost us. I really don’t know where his limit is.”

Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team

Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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