Joan Mir‘s historic world championship winning season for Suzuki was characterised by a slow start – DNFs in two of the opening three rounds – then staying rock solid as the pressure rose in the MotoGP title fight.
But as reigning champion, pressure and expectation will be resting on the 23-year-old’s shoulders from the very first round of the 2021 campaign. And Mir thinks it will be a good thing.
“I will have the pressure straight away this year,” he confirmed. “Last year I was feeling the pressure, but it didn’t affect me in a negative way. This is something that we have to do again this season.
“And if I have this pressure from the first race, it means that we will be at 100% at the first race. So I think it will be really important and the key for the season to take that pressure in a positive way.”
The pressure won’t just be coming from outside the team, with project leader Shinichi Sahara saying his 2021 targets are even higher than the results achieved last season.
While Mir and team-mate Alex Rins were first and third in the 2020 standings, winning the riders’ and teams’ crowns (but missing out on the constructors), Sahara now wants the triple crown of titles plus one-two in the riders’ standings.
“I’m super happy to hear that the goal is that one,” Mir said. “It means they are pushing to make this team even better than we had.
“They know more than everyone that it’s really difficult to win every year and make super good results every year.
“But for sure if we continue with that mentality, then we will be able to do it – if not this year, we will be able to repeat it. I’m 100% sure.”
Sahara’s lofty goals indicate no nerves at the recent loss of Suzuki team manager Davide Brivio, to F1.
“I was in shock when I first heard the news,” said Mir, echoing the comments of team-mate Rins. “But I think inside Suzuki we have very competitive people that are able to manage the situation [without hiring a new team manager] in the best way. That’s why I’m calm. I think that Sahara-san, and inside of Suzuki, they will do what is best for Suzuki. And that’s the best for me also. So I’m not worried.”
But might Mir be worried by Rins, who was able to finish third in the world championship and was Suzuki’s first race winner of 2020 despite dislocating and fracturing his shoulder at the opening round in Jerez.
“No, I think Alex will be as strong as last season,” said Mir, who has stated that Marc Marquez remains the 2021 title favourite should he be fully fit.
“Alex was injured in the first part of the season, but then it’s true that he was more and more competitive. We were fighting with each other in every grand prix. He finished third in the end.
“I think that everybody made mistakes, it’s not easy to make all the season without mistakes. The injuries, the crashes, this is always a part of our job and we have to manage in the best way that we can.
“I think that Alex made a good job in this way. He will be competitive for sure, but not more competitive, he was already really strong.”
Potentially helping both Suzuki riders as far as 2021 is the special Covid technical freeze on development, with only KTM and Aprilia able to roll-out a new engine design.
That means less opportunities for Suzuki’s rivals to close the gap on the well balanced GSX-RR.
“Last year we saw a lot of equality among the different bikes. The lap times were really close together, and I think this will not change,” Mir said. “Of course the package that we had is good, we were competitive in every track, and I think we won’t lose this. Let’s cross the fingers.
“I still think we [also] have margin to improve our engine. It’s not the fastest but it’s not the slowest. But I think there are other manufacturers that are in a worse position than us, for sure.
“We have a balanced bike, a good package, and if we are able to improve a little bit more the things that we can improve – not the engine, the other things [chassis, electronics, aerodynamics etc] – we will be even more dangerous this year.”
The Covid pandemic means MotoGP is facing another disrupted calendar. A question mark again hangs over the overseas events, in turn meaning the possibility of back-to-backs at the same track to maintain event numbers.
“My way to prepare for the championship is always the same – based on the moto training, gym and cardio – if the championship if short, long or whatever.
“It’s true that now I will have more experience if we do have a calendar like last year. But also it’s the same for all my rivals!
“So let’s see what championship awaits us and let’s give 100% and try to defend the title.”
In terms of how his life has changed after becoming Suzuki’s first MotoGP champion since 2000, Mir said he is now recognised more when going to restaurants but “the rest is the same.
“When I train with the motocross bike, I still have arm pump after three minutes! It’s always like this!” he joked.