Johannesburg - Brad Binder did not reach the heights expected of him in 2021, but the Red Bull KTM rider has no doubts that this year, team and rider will have a much bigger impact on the MotoGP season.
The race calendar starts this weekend with the Qatar Grand Prix, and with a decent pre-season in south-east Asia behind them, Binder and Co are confident that their start to the season will be much better than what transpired this time last year.
Then, the KTMs battled to make any sustained headway around the Losail International Circuit - Binder finished 14, while teammate Miguel Oliveira placed one spot ahead. A week later, while completing a double-header at the track, Binder and Oliveira finished eight and 15th, respectively.
It was not, Binder admitted then and a point he reiterated this past week in an interview with Independent Media, the glorious start that the team had envisioned. 2022 could be quite different.
“Qatar last year,” the 26-year-old explained, “and there are no other words for it, it was a disaster. It was literally terrible.
“No matter what we did or what we changed, we were right at the back of the field. Honestly, when I think back to the performances we had there, it was actually one of my best races of the year – the second Qatar (the Doha GP) – because we were so slow compared to the other guys, that in the race I managed to be so consistent that I still finished in eight ...
“As a track, I do enjoy it and I honestly believe with our new base, it is much more suited to Qatar; whereas our old one, it wasn’t a bike that wasn’t very good at rolling, keeping corner speed and turning without front-brake pressure. Now, with the new base, we are able to ride a lot cleaner and will be able to keep that mid-corner speed up.
“That is something you need to have in Qatar, so expect us to be a lot more competitive out there (this weekend).”
A look back at pre-season testing insists that the field will be quite tight during the opening rounds, with eight-time world champions Marc Marquez of Honda; the Ducati trio of defending world champion Francesco Bagnaia, his teammate Jack Miller (of the Lenovo team) and Jorge Martin (of Pramac); and Suzuki’s Joan Mir the early favourites.
Binder showed last year that he can eke out awe-inspiring performance out of his RC16 on race day, but his biggest failing in 2021 was his inability to qualify in a decent position to take the fight to the top 3. Earlier this week, Binder revealed that KTM have made incremental improvements to their bike, but that those small upgrades would pay huge dividends this season.
Nevertheless, for them to take advantage of their “improved” package, Binder will have to be much more successful on Saturdays, escaping the clutches of Q1 on a consistent basis. In spite of those concerns Binder, Marques and KTM should be considered dark horses - once again – to challenge for podiums on occasion.
Brad Binder will not be the only South African riding in the elite class this year as his younger brother, Darryn, enters the category for the independent WithU Yamaha RNF team.
Not much is expected from the 24-year-old. Indeed, during pre-season testing, Binder clocked in at the back of the field as he came to grips with his much bigger and more powerful Yamaha after leapfrogging into MotoGP from Moto3. Familial links in MotoGP are not uncommon: The Marques brothers – Alex and Marc – currently race against each other; as do brothers Aleix and Pol Espargaro.
It does add an extra dimension to SA and the Binders’ participation, however, and it is a rivalry that Brad is extremely proud to be a part of.
Said Binder: “It is fantastic, not only for my brother, but our entire family.”
“It has been our lifelong goal and that is all we have worked towards. So, to have us both racing MotoGP, is absolutely fantastic and that is the beginning of the dream. At the end of the day, you want to try and win in MotoGP and be a world champion, but to get there is a really huge step.
“I am really excited for Darryn and I am sure he has a lot to learn. It is not going to be easy but it is going to be an exciting time for him in his life.”
Lights-out for the Qatar GP is at 5pm on Sunday.