A debut MotoGP podium, and potentially race victory, slipped through Takaaki Nakagami‘s fingers on more than one occasion in 2020.
The most obvious example was at the second Aragon event, which Nakagami dominated practice and qualifying only to fall from the lead on the opening lap.
A mistake also cost him a shot at victory in the second Valencia race, where the LCR Honda rider crashed as he passed Pol Espargaro for third, with 10 laps still to go and having closed to within 2.3s of race leader Franco Morbidelli.
Out of Nakagami’s hands was the red flag while holding second place in Austria, after which he slipped to a close seventh (+1.8s from victory) in the restart.
All of which left the Japanese with a best race result of fourth place in Jerez 2 (just 0.567s from the podium) and Valencia 1 (+0.991s).
“Some races, like I think Aragon, we were definitely on target to win. Also in Valencia,” Nakagami reflected. “So a couple of races, definitely we could try for the victory.
“It was difficult to manage for me because it was the first time I’m thinking for the victory. It was too much pressure from the outside. I couldn’t control many things.
“But definitely my feeling is that this season has been a [big] step from last season, because many races we were able to finish top five.”
While a rostrum may have eluded Nakagami, he did celebrate his first MotoGP pole position, four front-row starts and topped many free practice sessions, all of which should help him become more comfortable with the pressure in 2021.
“For my career it’s good to feel the pressure from the outside because I never had a pole position, no front row, before this season. And many practices we are able to take top of the timesheet,” he said.
“This is a great motivation. I think that this season I made ten times. Last season never. So I’m happy about that. Of course for the mental side, I need to change or I need to find some different way [to deal with the pressure] for next season.
“I want to think about that during the off-season, because we have two or three months. So I think I have one month to reset my mind, and after New Year, I have to think about 2021.”
The Aragon fall not only sunk Nakagami’s best podium chance but broke what had been a perfect finishing record. Combined with the Valencia DNF, he eventually slipped from fifth to tenth place in the final world championship standings.
Nonetheless, Nakagami remained the top Honda and, for the first time in his premier-class career, will be upgraded to the latest-spec machinery in 2021.
“I’m already looking forward to the 2021 season. I love this team, and I continue with this team. And it’s so good that next season I will use the latest bike. I think it helps a lot, having all four Honda bikes exactly the same,” he said.
“Let’s see. But I have the confidence and hopefully we can fight for the championship next season.”
Nakagami will be joined by Alex Marquez, the only Honda rider to finish on the podium this season, at LCR in 2021.