Brad Binder says 2023 offers him his ‘best shot’ at MotoGP title glory
South Africa’s motorbike racing hero has his eye firmly on the ultimate prize and won’t be standing back for any rival in the 21-race season that roared back into life in Portugal at the weekend.
“I’m here to fight for a title,” South African MotoGP rider Brad Binder says about the 2023 season.
This weekend, riders took to the track for the first MotoGP race of 2023. Among them was Binder, hoping to improve on a solid 2022 season and cement his name as one of the best. He reckons it is the best shot he has had to become world champion.
In his three years in MotoGP, Binder has shown impressive skill in pushing his Red Bull KTM to the limit. In 2020, he entered the top echelon after a successful run in Moto2, in which he placed eighth, third and second, respectively, from 2017. In Moto3, his results were similar, with progression from 21st in 2012 to first in 2016.
In MotoGP, he has continued to show development. In his debut season in 2020, he finished 11th in the championship with one win under his belt from the Czech Republic Grand Prix, where he became the first South African to win a premier class world championship motorbike race.
In 2021, Binder took his second career victory, in Austria, after making a daring choice to stay out in the rain on slicks for the remaining three laps while the other leading riders all dived into the pits to switch to wet tyres.
A defining moment
His brave move in treacherous conditions was a defining moment for the South African rider; any doubt about his determination and talent was blown away, and he finished sixth in the championship.
Though 2022 did not deliver a victory, Binder’s form by no means slipped. He again finished sixth in the championship standings, largely due to an impressive three podiums on the second step and one fastest lap.
Furthermore, he racked up 188 championship points, making a significant leap of 30 points ahead of the previous year’s tally. Over the season’s 20 races, Binder was the rider who gained most positions in total throughout, and his contribution led to Red Bull KTM finishing second in the team championship, giving him more reason to celebrate.
Binder has shown the mark not only of a talented rider but also of one who pushes the limits to improve on previous years. If the trend continues, 2023 should be his best season yet.
Red Bull KTM is bound to be counting on another step up. In January, team manager Francesco Guidotti confirmed that sights are now firmly set on the title. “Finishing second in the team championship last year is something to take, and to have a starting point for the future. It’s important because it means the team works well together and the atmosphere is great. There will be 21 GPs this year and it will be important to be competitive and in the top five every single time,” Guidotti said.
“We are a factory team and the only goal we can have, the only target, is the title. It is easy to say and not easy to get! But this is the main goal.
“Everything has to be efficient, especially now when we have less time to make the right setting in different conditions. It is a basic thing that you need to do; make a team that is closely connected and efficient to face those daily challenges. Our riders – Jack [Miller] and Brad [Binder] – are a special combo and the team will be very strong because there are two special personalities.”
With podiums, wins and championships achieved throughout his racing career, Binder also has his eyes on the top prize in MotoGP. “I’m more than excited to get back to the track and to get started again. This will be my fourth year in the class, and I feel like our best chance so far to really achieve something will be in 2023. We’re ready to go,” he said.
“The only things that I worry about are podiums and winning races. That’s my goal. That’s what I’m here to do. And, yeah, if you look at the bigger picture of how we had some really tough times last season, to finish sixth in the World Championship was great, but by no means is it where I want to be. I want to be fighting with the top guys all the time. And I’m here to fight for a title. That’s what I want to achieve in my life.
“We’ve just got to keep working. And I honestly believe it’s something we can achieve and I think our best shot we’ve ever had of getting it right is going to be this season.”
With this in mind, all eyes were on pre-season testing to get an indication of how Binder and his team measure up to the competition before the first race.
He commented: “I feel great this season. We ended last season in a good way… Of course, there are still things to work on going into this season but, in general, I think we have made a step forward. Any small step in MotoGP at the moment, with how close it is, can really go a long way, so I really hope this is all building up to be the season we all expect from ourselves. Hopefully, we can get the results we know we are more than capable of,” he added.
MotoGP is set for its biggest season yet and Mike Trimby, a power in the paddock as defender of team interests and rider safety for more than four decades, is apprehensive.
The weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix in Portimao was the first of the 21 and there will be more races (10) outside Europe than ever, including new hosts India and Kazakhstan.
‘Pushing the envelope a bit’
Each race weekend also features a Saturday sprint, making 42 races in total. Trimby, a former racer hired by riders in 1982 to represent them and cofounder in 1986 of the International Road-Racing Teams Association he now leads, acknowledges some concern.
“The 2023 calendar is the first one I’ve looked at and thought, ‘God, I don’t fancy that,’ ” he said at a recent awards ceremony for the Royal Automobile Club’s Torrens Trophy honouring an outstanding contribution to UK motorcycling.
“We seem to be catching up with Formula One but … they have two sets of mechanics [who] will alternate at events. We can’t afford that,” the 74-year-old Briton told Reuters. “I know personally of a lot of senior people in teams who are basically quitting. They are saying, ‘No, that’s too much. I can’t be away from home that time; I’ve got a family’.
“I think we’re pushing the envelope a bit on the number of events we’re doing and we’re making our concerns clear to Dorna [motorcycle racing’s commercial rights holder],” he added.
“Dorna keep paying us extra money for all these extra races but there has to be a balance.” DM168
Sarah Hoek is a Maverick Life writer. Additional reporting by Reuters.