Miguel Oliveira: The Portuguese Talent

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Miguel Oliveira was born on January 4th, 1995 in Almada, Portugal. Today he is a Moto2 (2nd class of MotoGP, the top motorcycle racing championship worldwide) rider for Red Bull KTM Ajo Team and he is in the 4th place in the standings with three races remaining to the end of the season. The first time he started to get some attention was in the Spanish Championship in 2010 when he was runner-up only by two points to Maverick Viñales who is currently fighting for the MotoGP title. By 2011 Oliveira became the first full-time Portuguese rider to reach the Motorcycling World Championship.

In his rookie year of the 125cc Championship, the Portuguese rider finished 14th despite not participating in the final four races because his team didn’t have enough financial support to afford the last part of the season. The next following years he proved he was fast but not very consistent. In 2012 Moto3 replaced the old 125cc category. That year he even led some laps in Jerez and Le Mans but eventually he crashed out. Still his speed rewarded him his first podium in Catalunya and a 2nd place in Australia close to the end of the championship which made him the 8th best rider that season. The next season was the exception due to his consistency, and with his single podium in Malaysia he made history since it was the first podium ever for the Mahindra team. Improving his best, the young rider was the 6th best rider in Moto3 that season and the best Mahindra rider. 2014 was a difficult year due to his lack of consistency. Despite getting another podium finish, Oliveira only finished 10th that season but he was still the best rider with the Indian machinery.

For Miguel Oliveira, 2015 was his breakthrough year. He signed with Red Bull KTM Ajo which had already lots of experience in the lowest MotoGP class, having won 3 championships even though only the latest one has been with a KTM chassis. After some ups and downs during the first five races, Oliveira made history again in Mugello, becoming the first Portuguese rider to win a Grand Prix in the World Championship. You could see that it has been something he had been long working and waiting for, having been very close to achieving it in different situations. After that race it looked like he broke a mental hurdle and he could finally show his full potential. A few weeks after that he was celebrating his second win in Assen with a great demonstration of his tactical skills in the last laps. Unfortunately in the practice for the next race in Germany Oliveira suffered a heavy crash which made him withdraw from the race because of an injury. Despite being able to ride, the three following races were not easy for him due to the recovery period.

After the 12th round in Silverstone, Oliveira was in 5th place, 110 points (more than 4 victories) down on Danny Kent, the leader of the standings, with only six races remaining. The Portuguese rider was on another level in these last races as he won four of them and finished 2nd twice. Oliveira steadily cut that gap taking the title fight down to the wire in Valencia, finishing just 6 points behind Kent. In Portugal, his talent led to lots of people waking up at the dawn just to watch him race in the Asian tracks (Japan, Australia and Malaysia). Portuguese motorcycling fans were super excited with the chance of listening to the national anthem at the end of a Grand Prix which is something that was never expected to happen until 2015. Even people outside of the motorcycling world started recognising him in his country which is very difficult as well if you are not in Football.

Being vice-champion in Moto3 and with those astonishing last races, the Portuguese rider assured a place in the Moto2 2016 World Championship. He moved up with Danny Kent as a teammate and Leopard Racing was their team which was debuting in the middle class. Kent already had one year of experience in Moto2 but that didn’t help much since the team was a beginner with this machinery. In this season, Oliveira failed to be the “Rookie of the season” just by one point. If he hadn’t been injured after Franco Morbidelli crashed into him in during practice for Aragon GP which led to missing four races, he would, most certainly, be the best rookie that season. As a matter of fact, he had been the top rookie in the standings for most of the season.

Oliveira joined then Red Bull KTM Ajo Team (Moto2) for this season in an interesting project: although it is the first year for the KTM chassis in this class, the Ajo Motorsport Team, which won the last two Moto2 titles with Johann Zarco, joined KTM in this investment. Some of the pits crew had already worked with the Portuguese rider in 2015. Plus, Brad Binder, who was also his teammate in 2015, joined him this season after winning the Moto3 2016 Championship. So, at the beginning of this season, expectations were not that low since most of the team members had already worked together successfully, despite being the first year of this chassis. In the first race of this year, Oliveira finished 4th which was, according to the team, above expectations. And “above expectations” is what describes his season so far: two pole positions and six podiums led him to the 4th place in the standings with three races remaining. Taking into account that Morbidelli (championship leader) is in his fourth full year of Moto2, Lüthi (2nd place) is in his eight year and Álex Márquez (3rd place) is in his third year (always with the same team), it’s simple to conclude that Miguel Oliveira is having a brilliant season.

Besides being a great rider at the one of the highest levels of Motorcycling competition, he is also a student of a Master in Dentistry. This shows how much of an example he is, especially to the young Portuguese riders. On one hand his determination and passion in Motorcycling led to stoic achievements, reaching to places no Portuguese has ever reached. On the other hand the acknowledgement that a career in Motorcycling is very risky and unpredictable demonstrated by his commitment to still pursue his studies. This is quite uncommon in Motorcycling and even in other sports. The most normal situation happens when athletes drop the studies to pursue their careers in sports.

So the question is: when are we going to see this talent in MotoGP? Well, most probably in 2019. It wouldn’t be such a wise choice to try this move next year because most factory teams, since the beginning of this season, had already contracts with their riders until the end of 2018. This was also a smart choice for his career because he would have more time to practice and also to show better results. Furthermore, Oliveira got a present for his dedication and results in the season from KTM which was a test in a MotoGP by July. The goal of this test was not to see his speed, but for him to enjoy it. And that was exactly what happened. In August of this year he also renewed his contract with his Moto2 team for next year, and one month later, KTM announced it will field five bikes in this class, which is three more than what they currently do. This leads to even more help developing the bike, after a good development through the current season.

Miguel Oliveira said in a recent interview to “A Bola TV” his goals for the next few years are to be champion in Moto2 (2018) and to become the first Portuguese rider in the MotoGP class. Taking into consideration what’s written above, I believe this is the type of rider most teams are looking for: quick, consistent, determined and persistent.

To conclude, what we need to realise from Oliveira’s career is that it’s incredible to see how a Portuguese rider can thrive in an environment packed with Spanish and Italian riders who are usually more boosted by media (in their own countries and even internationally sometimes). He is really making his own path through places no Portuguese has ever been, and desires to continue breaking records in that aspect. Plus, the fact that he is still studying makes him much more of an example to the young riders out there.

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