<
>

Can Suzuki challenge for the MotoGP crown again or was 2021 a one-off?

For the first time in the history of MotoGP's current premier class, Suzuki were crowned champions last year as Joan Mir and Alex Rins combined to power them to first place in the team championship.

Despite winning just two races all season, Suzuki's consistency shone through as they finished 62 points ahead of runners-up Petronas Yamaha SRT, with Mir also claiming the riders' world championship -- the first for the team since Kenny Roberts Jr. did so two decades before.

However, 2020 was a season unlike any other with the calendar heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marc Marquez's absence was also a massive factor -- with the eight-time world champion expected to dominate once again until his title defence was wrecked by a season-ending injury at the opening race in Spain.

With Marquez's impending return likely to put the Honda factory outfit back among the frontrunners, and both Yamaha teams also looming large, Suzuki already faced a fight on their hands to retain their crown -- and that is before factoring in the added pressure of being defending champions.

But with improvement likely still to come from the relatively-young duo of Mir and Rins, there is every chance that Suzuki can once again vie for top honours and prove that 2020 was not just a one-off.

What they said

Joan Mir: "I have tried to prepare myself even better than last year. Physically I am feeling very well, I have had time to rest and to train. I'm also really looking forward to starting, with new motivations like trying to fight for the title again and trying to ride as well as last year.

"My main objective, and that of my team, is to improve our qualifying performances. We already know that in the races we are quite fast. But if you start higher up the grid it goes without saying that it's easier to fight for the podium or victory.

"So we have to improve in that area and that is why I want to be focused this pre-season and be able to take a step forward."

Alex Rins: "The fact that Joan won the championship shows that the bike was there to win. Anyway, for [myself] also having achieved third position after all the obstacles with the injury and some bad results was very positive and that gives me a lot of strength to start this year.

"The level of talent on the grid is high and this will create a competitive world championship as it was in 2020.

"It could be a bright year for Suzuki, but it will certainly be tough as well and we will have to work even harder than last year."

As the lights go out...

On Suzuki's stunning success last year, Edward Russell, FOX Sports Asia's MotoGP presenter, said: "Not many would have expected Suzuki to walk away with two titles last season, but they achieved that through a consistency that all other teams were unable to match.

"If the other contenders can get their act together this year, then the Japanese side will have a much greater challenge on their hands.

"It will be interesting to see how Joan Mir handles the pressure of being defending champion after being able to spend so much of 2020 flying under the radar.

"If Alex Rins can stay fit, I expect him to be the one leading the charge for the boys in blue."

2021 will be a success if: With Mir and Suzuki's status as the reigning riders and team champions respectively, retaining the titles would naturally be the minimum pass mark this year.

If they can better their tally of race wins from last year and find themselves challenging at the top by the end of the season, it should still turn out to be a positive campaign.