“The rise of a new legend, the stagnation of another, and a return, of The Doctor.”
Hey guys, Dre here, and if I’m honest, this is going to be a 2nd take, because I originally I had one of those moments where I was about 60% through writing this entire Season Review, and I didn’t like where it was going, so I decided to scrap it. Rather than just doing what I normally do and that’s bombard you with numbers, stats and babble, I thought I’d try this again, only this time, be a little bit more creative, and hopefully, you’ll enjoy it.
So, 2014 was a season, where, the usual faces were at the top of the pile, but not in the order you might expect. Marc Marquez stole the entire first half of the season, but it was Valentino Rossi who found resurgence, while in a strange reversal of sorts, it was Jorge Lorenzo to be the one who was stagnating, with Dani Pedrosa bringing up the year. We also had the most loaded midcard the sport has ever seen, with new talent impressing and some more familiar faces showing remarkable improvement, as well as incredible drama, like no other sport in the world can. Let’s review, the 2014 Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing Season.
The Marc Marquez Show
Well, where else do you start than #93? The rookie had already stunned the racing world when he won his first Championship at the tender age of 21, narrowly pipping Jorge Lorenzo at the last, but there were doubts in the air for the young Spaniard when a broken leg in a Motocross event just 4 weeks before the season opener in Qatar raised some eyebrows. But he quickly laid that to rest, coming on top in a great fight with Valentino Rossi to take his first win in the opening round in Qatar, a race where many more experienced riders failed to handle the conditions properly.
Simply put, Marc Marquez in the first half of the season, was terrifying. Practically perfect. He won the first 10 rounds of the season, a feat not seen since the days of Mick Doohan in the 90’s, and he done so in spectacular fashion. A complaint that many fans had, said he was boring. I disagree. It’s not the fact that he won, it’s the way he did it that was often so captivating. From Qatar’s sensational Rossi fight, to the comeback from 10th after Jorge Lorenzo bumped him offline in Le Mans, to the 4-way dogfight in Catalunya, or the level of sheer dominance in Texas, and even in rainy conditions, an arguable previous weakness of Marc from 2013, in Assen and Germany.
By the time the wheelspin error on his bike ended the streak in Brno, the season was practically already over from a competitive standpoint, and if anything, the 2nd half of the season showed he was indeed still human. His youthful talent outmatched his brain in Aragon, where a surefire and record equalling 12th victory was swept up as he stayed out too long, as well as pushing too hard in Aragon when Valentino got away, but in the course of 2014, he is the man you can no longer bet against, and for a kid who’s still just 21 years old, that’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen in MotoGP before.
To beat the strongest MotoGP field we’ve ever seen, in such a fashion, shattering records and outclassing many established World Champions, is simply astonishing. And if he can have a mistake free season somewhere, goodness only know what he could be capable of. As much as older fans want to point out Mick Doohan had a
better win percentage, Doohan never had this level of competition in it, a field where the other 3 title contenders have a combined 16 World Championships between them. A 400 point season next? Who knows… In any case, Marc Marquez isn’t a legend in the making. He already is one.
The Doctor’s Regeneration
The Peter Capaldi of MotoGP. Valentino Rossi was at a crossroads at the start of this season. He gave himself a six-race ultimatum to see if it was worth continuing his career, after a thoroughly mediocre 2013 showing, shown up consistently by the superior Lorenzo. And the departure of long-time crew chief Jeremy Burgess, certainly caught a lot of people wondering, thinking it was a desperate “last roll of the dice” for the 9-time World Champion.
But, in true Valentino fashion, he showed just what a brilliant talent he continues to be, his work ethic and style in a class of his own for a 35 year old, and the elder statesman of the current field. In a season where I genuinely thought he was finished, right from the opening gate, Vale was exceptional. He took Marquez to the limit on multiple occasions, and with some occasional back and forth, he outraced Jorge Lorenzo 10-8 over the course of the season to eventually finish just shy of 300 points, and 2nd in the Championship, a truly phenomenal achievement and a reminder of just how brilliant this man is.
A season, truly highlighted by the win in Misano, a race where it seemed nothing was going to stop him, a race where Jorge had no answer, and a crowd reaction from the home fans unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the 15 or so years I’ve been watching the sport. The 2nd win in Philip Island, on his 250th in the top class, almost as great, the standout in a ridiculously frantic Aussie war.
The ability that Valentino had, to learn from, and adapt to the new top dog in Marc Marquez, apply that to his own style, and be able to maximise his performance, was one of the great things about this season, and, let’s be real here, the sport is still just a more exciting, emotional sport when Valentino is winning. He’s only done so 3 times in the last 5 years, and we know the end is coming soon, so we crave and enjoy those victories just a little bit more, when you know these days are numbered, and that’s what made Valentino’s 2014 so special. Welcome back Doctor.
The Not-So-Super Spaniards
This just wasn’t Jorge’s year. He wasn’t in the best of shape to start the season, relatively dinged up and not at 100% after recovering from offseason surgeries. Then, by the time Marc Marquez had taken his 2nd win in Texas, Jorge was 44 points behind, after the crash on Lap 1 in Qatar, and the embarrassing jump start he had at COTA. Despite flashes of his usual brilliance in Mugello and Silverstone, it wasn’t until Aragon did his bravery pay-off, and it seemed like the Jorge of old had returned. And after a stretch of 15 since his last win, the longest of his career, it needed to be. And that’s what makes Jorge’s season so confusing.
If the season had started in Brno, he’d have been Champion over Rossi. His struggles to adapt to the 2014 Yamaha and the resurgence of Valentino have been a detriment to what would normally be the pound-for-pound king of the sport. His now reluctance to push in the rain hasn’t helped either, the ghosts of Assen 2013 and his separated shoulder, still running strong, a race where even Broc Parkes managed to finish ahead.
Jorge’s tale of two seasons was shocking to this writer, a rider who’s a Double World Champion, can win any given race on his day, and for the first time since his rookie season of 2008, failed to finish in the Top 2 of the Championship. I have no doubt that this was just a small blip in the former Champion’s career, but you have to wonder, is there now a changing of the guard at the top, or can Jorge comeback to his former best?
On the other side of the factory garages, there was Dani Pedrosa. And one has to wonder if he’s just going to end up being the ‘ultimate bridesmaid’ after another season where there was just someone better than him over the course of the year. A season where Marquez out-raced him 16-2 head-to-head, over 100 points behind #93, and just the one win to his name in 2014, the first time since 2009 his win tally was that low. Of course, it was an awesome cause for celebration given it was his 26th in the top class, and his loyalty has been rewarded with another two-year extension, but at 29, you have to think it could very well be his last.
Pedrosa is without doubt a victim of circumstance, a time where we’ve had so many greats, a golden era in MotoGP, but man, after another unimpressive season, you gotta wonder if that extension was the right call, especially with so many bright talents underneath just waiting for that golden ticket of an opportunity. 4th is a regression for the man who really seemed to be kicking on the last couple of years after having a good run of health and a fire in his belly.
A Tale of Two Ducatis
Talk about polarizing seasons in the Factory Ducati camp. Andrea Dovizioso quite rightly took the “Best of the Rest” award for another supremely consistent season, in the standard fare of Ducati having a bike that’s clearly not competitive enough yet to truly challenge Honda and Yamaha’s factory packages. If anything, the Open Class rules exposed the “Catch 22” nature that the new rules came with.
On the plus side, the softer tyres gave them a huge boost in qualifying, and they even got their first Pole Position in over 4 years in Motegi, with Andrea Iannone on the front row on multiple occasions too, but those softer tyres you had to run in races, meant they faded and lost pace in the latter half of Grand Prix’s. I suspect the rules still need refining in that regard.
Dovi got on the podium twice in 2014, and in a sense of luckiness, the team had three podiums total, but two didn’t count against their concessions due to the rain being involved. One of Dovi’s podium’s an excellently managed race in the rain at Assen.
On the other side of the garage, it was a different story for Cal Crutchlow. Qatar was a microcosm for Cal’s season after his big money switch from Tech 3 to the Ducati, and it was summed up by finishing in 6th place despite an ECU failure making him look like he had run out of fuel. A season littered with mechanical issues, twinned with an unfortunate habit of constantly hitting the deck in races. Obviously, Cal thought the jig was up by announcing an LCR Honda switch at Indianapolis, which only seemed to make the situation more awkward in the sense of upgrades and the lack of support, as well as seeing teammate Dovi get an enhanced GP14 in the latter stages of the season.
Which is funny to me, because by that time, Cal was starting to get it. He got his first Ducati podium in Aragon, he very nearly got another at Philip Island if it weren’t for the failed asymmetric tyre experiment, and he was matching Dovi stride for stride in Valencia. Wonder if he’ll end up regretting the switch, but overall, a year to forget for Cal and another notched bedpost on the failed riders that have gone to Ducati, and have it not worked out.
If Ducati can take anything away from this season, it’s that they have arguably their strongest ever combined line-up heading into 2015 with Andrea’s of Dovizioso and Iannone, as well as a season where they did genuinely show real progress. 2013 wasn’t that long ago, and back then, they were 45 seconds off the top. Now, they’re getting closer to the front four on the right track. I wonder if they can push on and becoming semi-regular podium achievers next year, with the help of the Open Class rules and some improved in-house development, because the potential and the talent is definitely there.
The Midfield Of Great Expectation
The midfield this year, I’ve often said on here, was stacked, and the result was a real mixed back, with 7 or 8 riders constantly battling for Top 6 results on many occasions.
Top of the pile for me, was Pol Espargaro, who barely put a foot wrong as a rookie in 2014. The MotoGP leap is always a big step up from Moto2, but Pol was riding like he’d already done 5 years. Very few mistakes, a regular finisher in the Top 6, and incredibly consistent, showing nothing but upside, and he was rewarded with finishing 6th in the Championship, a truly excellent rookie showing. When the five guys above you are the five best bike riders on the planet, that is quite the achievement. I’m really looking forward to seeing if Tech 3 can improve a bit and whether he can steal a podium or two.
On the other end of that garage, you had Bradley Smith, who had a real dogfight of a season. He was ultra-inconsistent to start 2014, challenging at the front in Qatar before falling, then reaching the Top 5 for the first time in his career, before a mediocre stretch of results, and that 5-crash weekend from hell in Germany. At that point, there were genuine questions as to whether his seat was worth keeping. But Bradley dug in, and showed great spirit in the 2nd half of the season, Getting in the Top 7 on nearly every occasion, getting that incredible and emotional first podium in Australia, and earning a contract extension for another year.
For me, this was a real lesson in maturity for Bradley, and if anything, he’s not out of the woods yet. The fact he was out-raced by a rookie teammate, when he’s had 30 races of experience himself, and after saying he wanted “To make Yamaha’s life as difficult as possible” upon seeing Pol’s factory-supported contract, makes it seem to me, that he’s really got to kick on for 2015. Herve Poncharal was shrewd in only giving him a one-year extension, a clever way of hedging his bets. If he works out next year just re-sign him again. If not, you can clear him out for a Moto2 graduate, or someone else. There WAS talk about him and Alex Rins this past season after all…Let’s not pretend like there wouldn’t be half a dozen takers for that kind of seat if the chance came up.
Then you have the terrible case of Alvaro Bautista. True story, I put £20 on him being the highest ranked non-Factory rider in the Championship this season, outside of the Top 4. Cheers Alvaro, great job. I’m not bitter at all, honest…
But in seriousness, he had a miserable 2014 season. It took him 4 races to just get on the scoreboard, and while he had the one flash of brilliance at Le Mans to get on the podium, he struggled to adapt to the 2014 Honda all season long, never really coming close to the bike’s full potential, with multiple crashes in races, and generally rather lacklustre performances, from a guy who last year, wasn’t far off the Top 4 at all. I can’t blame Honda from leaning away from him, they’re in a cutthroat environment with WAY too much younger talent to ignore nowadays.
And one of those guys is Scott Redding, another probable Rookie of the Year contender. Remember, this was just his first season, and he was on a vastly inferior bike compared to his experienced teammate, on a Production Honda in the Open Class, severely down on power, losing as much as 15mph on the straights. And besides that, he only finished 8 points behind Alvaro, finished all but one race, and got in the Top 10 on 7 occasions, including 4 of the last 5, showing great improvement and consistency. He absolutely deserved a chance with the full Factory bike, and I’d be very excited for British hopes next year with him, Cal and Brad all on satellite bikes, and Scott getting his old Marc VDS team around him for support. The future is bright. The future’s Redding.
Because it’s the end of season review, why not hand out some awards?
Breakout Star Of The Year – Aleix Espargaro: Aleix has always been seen as the Nico Hulkenberg of MotoGP, constantly over-performing on mediocre bikes, and this year was no exception. The Forward Yamaha was definitely a cut above the Aspar CRT of 2013 though, so inevitably, the improved showings were no coincidence, and this season should eliminate all doubt as to Aleix’ talent. He got his first Pole Position in the horrid Assen conditions, opened the year with a 4th in Qatar, and showed great tactical nouse to master the changing Aragon conditions, and make history to become the first Open Class rider and bike to make the podium. I can only hope and prayer Suzuki gives him the opportunity he deserves.
Most Improved Rider – Andrea Iannone: “Crazy Joe” lived up to his nickname last season, being wild, but didn’t really show much of his actual talent though. But when the Open Class rules gave his Pramac Ducati a new lease of life, the level of improvement skyrocketed. He improved his career high finish on 3 occasions this season, with his 5th placed finishes in Germany, Brno and Misano standing out, especially in Brno where he held off Andrea Dovizioso in an epic Ducati dogfight that didn’t get anywhere near the screentime it deserved. Multiple front row starts and the reputation of being an incredible starter came through as well.
And what I really loved about Iannone this year, was his level of confidence, and how he was always willing to stick someone back who tried to pass him on a faster bike, like with Marc Marquez in Brno, or Valentino Rossi in Valencia. That was fun to watch and I look forward to seeing what he can do with the factory team.
Biggest Disappointment – Stefan Bradl: I was tempted to put Jorge Lorenzo in here, but he did have legitimate problems this year. Stefan Bradl on the other hand… Yeah, he’s run out of chances at the top tier. The talk was already strong Honda wanted to let him go after the 2013 season, but LCR’s team boss, Lucio Cecchinello begged to give him one more year. Honda relented, and it didn’t work. If anything, Stefan regressed on last year slightly, and while he had the occasional 4th place, 9th in the Championship, on that level of bike just isn’t good enough anymore, and his career in the top class has stagnated every since his rookie season in 2012.
And with Cal Crutchlow available, it had to be done. Bradl is a very good rider and I hope he can prove them wrong with Forward Yamaha in 2015, because while Honda’s rejection might be a bitter pill to swallow, his talent is most definitely there.
Race of the Year – Aragon: In a season with some great races (As per usual), Aragon, for me, was the “Canada 2011” of MotoGP races. It had everything except Michael Bay as a director. Before the rain even got super heavy, we already had the drama of a Marquez/Pedrosa/Lorenzo fight in the first 70% of the race, Rossi and Iannone had spectacular crashes, the rain then came down, Aleix was the big winner, Crutchlow surged up the field, the Honda’s got it wrong in stunning fashion, and Jorge Lorenzo won despite his nuts shrivelling up the moment he saw raindrops on his visor. MotoGP doesn’t get any more ridiculous than that. The best race in my eyes, since Estoril 2006.
Funniest Moment of the Year: It has to be Luis Salom flopping to the ground after crashing out. It was scored a generous 9.5 from the Russian judge, and Ashley Young would have been proud. Honorary mention to the punch up in Moto2 in Germany, the last time I saw a glove toss that lame, it was in a Looney Tunes cartoon. People in Motorsport, why is it whenever there’s a fight, you aim for the helmet. WHY?! (Note: Click the picture to see the full video)
Fail of the Year – Alex Rins in Brno: Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear. Final Lap starts, wheel to wheel with Miller, and of course you stand up and punch the air thinking you’ve won, when in reality, there was still a lap to go. Whoops. And trust me, if it was THAT close, even if it was the photo finish he thought it was, I wouldn’t be confident enough to immediately start celebrating either. Bit of an embarrassing moment for one of the most talented riders in the world today.
Dre’s Rider of the Year – Marc Marquez: Really? You want me to explain this? And no Rossi nut-huggers, there’s no way he deserved this one more.
For me, it’s been a year of surprise in MotoGP in 2014. Marquez’s 10 race winning streak, the return of Valentino, the struggles of Jorge Lorenzo, the Espargaro brothers kicking ass, Andrea Iannone and Ducati’s improvement, Scott Redding’s awesome rookie year while Bautista struggled, and more.
We had a fair share of tremendous action as well, with drama, politics, and incredible drama all through the year, and in the end, 2014, belonged to Marc Marquez. Thanks very much for reading all the reviews and columns from the season, it’s been a pleasure, and let the countdown for 2015 commence.