MotoGP Exclusive Q&A: Neil Hodgson shares his thoughts and predictions for the 2022 season

Neil Hodgson believes that Fabio Quartararo can become champion again in 2022
Neil Hodgson believes that Fabio Quartararo can become champion again in 2022

Ahead of the 2022 MotoGP season opener in Qatar this weekend MCN sat down with BT Sport Pundit, and 2003 World Superbike champion, Neil Hodgson to discuss the year ahead.

OUT NOW: Our 36-Page 2022 MotoGP Season Preview is included in the latest issue of MCN.

Is Pecco Bagnaia the man to take Ducati back to the top of MotoGP?

Pecco is one of those riders who never stops improving. He’s a rider that’s incredibly intelligent, so works closely with his engineers, and what he does, which is slightly the opposite to what Marquez does, is that he creates a bike with a great setup, which gets the most out of the tyres. He’s a very calm individual, you only have to look at him being interviewed after a race; he’s level and considered, and doesn’t waste words.

Whereas Marquez is a firework! Marquez is winning off instinct reaction, Pecco is considered. What I’ve learnt from watching Francesco is that he gets better each year. Last year was his second season and he was very strong, but this year the final pieces of the jigsaw will be put together. He’s going to be hard to beat and, on paper, the Ducati appears to be the strongest motorcycle.

I’m not going to say it’s now or never for Ducati because it doesn’t work like that, but they’ve got a very strong chance.

Pecco Bagnaia Ducati

Ducati look strong, but Fabio Quartararo isn’t overly positive at Yamaha. Are they in as much trouble as he’s suggesting?

I don’t think they are. He’s trying to put pressure on the manufacturer that he wants to continue working for in the future, and the only way you get Yamaha to improve is to keep banging and banging that drum. Yamaha will do it their way and they always have done. They don’t want to reinvent the wheel, they make small, incremental improvements.

They’ve done that again this year, there’s no big step for Fabio, but the bike will be better. I think there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors, let’s not forget that Fabio, on this ‘crap Yamaha that’s really slow’, won the championship last year. I think people are going to be surprised, a few have said he will struggle, but I don’t think he will.

Could Quartararo leave if he doesn’t get what he wants?

It’s tricky because plenty of contracts are up, so you’ve got to work out where you can move and guarantee that it will be better. He won’t want to be Marquez’s teammate at Honda, Marquez is there for another two years. Ducati are stacked with all their young talent, and they have their main man in Pecco, so I can’t see them investing. Suzuki wouldn’t be able to afford him. I think he’ll stay at Yamaha but he’s pushing them to A, get more money, which you can’t blame him for, and B, to make that bike better.

Joan Mir is in a similar situation, isn’t he? He’s determined to prove a point….

The Suzuki looks to have taken a step. Honestly, I can’t see Mir leaving either. He won’t want to join Aprilia, whilst KTM are also stacked with talent. I actually think Honda will sign Pedro Acosta. They’re going to look at Marquez, they’ve got the freak that he is, and they got him straight away when he was in Moto2, so I think they’ll sign Acosta soon, but make him stay in Moto2 for another year. Marquez is heading towards the end of his career, but they can have Acosta ready.

We’re in a weird situation, we’ve got more bikes on the grid than we’ve ever had, but we’ve got so much talent. There are no obvious routes for people to go.

Joan Mir Suzuki

How big of a deal is Acosta?

Every 10 years someone comes along where you just watch them and it’s hard to understand. Last year he got a podium in race one and then won from pitlane. He then had that horrible pressure of having the championship lead all season but still got it over the line. What a talent!

Everybody I’ve spoken to that’s known him for years before he arrived in this paddock forewarned us what a natural talent he is. Everybody told me that he rides big bikes all the time at kart tracks, and that when you give him more power he’ll be even better – and that’s what we’re seeing! The Moto2 boys are trouble. He’s the title favourite and he’s not even done a race yet. When you watch the way he rides, he’ll suit MotoGP too, and he’s 17!

He’s considered the next Marquez, what about the current Marquez? Can he still dominate?

I can’t help but feel that the best championship for Marquez, when we look at his career, will be that 2019 season. That said, I think he’s going to be sensational this year, as long as his eye can take the impact of a fourth gear highside. He doesn’t just tuck the front; he’s prepared to have the humongous crashes.

If he can crash and get away with it, Marquez will be a weapon because the Honda has taken a step. Marquez has dominated our sport for the last decade, and he hasn’t had the best bike. Just imagine if Honda have produced a bike which is as good as the Ducati – This paddock has always said imagine what Marquez could have done on a Ducati.

He’s a winning machine and is addicted to the endorphin release of a victory! One thing we’ve learnt over the years is to never rule Marc Marquez out.

Marc Marquez Honda

Can Aprilia win?

I don’t think so. They’ve made a step forward, but I feel sorry for them because MotoGP is so competitive now that for an Aprilia to win, the stars have got to align for Maverick, and whilst Aleix is an incredible rider doing an incredible job, I don’t think he has a MotoGP win in his pocket

Podiums, yes. But to win, it means that an Aprilia has to beat Bagnaia, Quartararo and Marquez. You can beat one of them, maybe even two on your day, but to beat all three of them it has to be in freaky conditions. It’s not going to happen in my opinion.

We have 21 races this year, is that too many?

I think so. I think less is more. You want to be excited that MotoGP is on at the weekend, rather than it just being on every week. F1 has too many races and this is too many. For me, 18 is too many, I think a 15-round championship would be near-perfect, and that’s not because I’m lazy and I don’t like travel, I just prefer the excitement of waiting for the next round. We’re also in danger of reaching the final three rounds of the championship with all three classes already decided because there’s been so many races.

Jake Dixon Aspar

What about the Brits?

That’s another reason why we’re all excited this year; We have Moto3 to look forward to. We always want to bang the drum for the Brits, and we do with John, I love john but it’s his last year in Moto3, so I’m pleased we have talent coming through. Scott has already surprised me with what I’ve seen pre-season. Josh is still learning and doing a good job too. We’ve got a lot to look forward to.

In Moto2, I’m pleased that Jake had a good pre-season. Last year was disappointing, he was disappointed and suffered a little with the wrist. I’ve spent some time with him in the winter and he’s really upbeat. He could be a surprise package this year.

With Sam, I’m unsure, not about his speed, ability, and commitment, it’s his wrist. He can do without that plaguing him at the start of the year. Alex [Lowes] had the same problem, and needed an operation so it’s not ideal. Moto2 is hard enough without an injury.

Money on the table, name your 2022 MotoGP champion…

Quartararo! I think he’ll surprise everyone because nobody is expecting him to get the back-to-back titles. He’ll qualify well, he’ll be consistent, he’ll win races, he’ll be perfect and take the points when he needs to. Basically, he’ll do just as he did last year.

BT Sport is the home of MotoGP in the UK. Catch all the action from the opening Grand Prix of the 2022 season exclusively live on BT Sport including practice, qualifying and the race. The weekend’s action starts from 8.45am on Friday 4th March on BT Sport 2