It’s Season Preview week on Motorsport101 this week, and if you haven’t listened to our latest episode, pop that on in the background, it features a heap of F1 2017 previews, and my new addiction to Snapple! In the meantime, though, it’s late here on Wednesday, so here are some of my MotoGP musings going into the 2017 season opener in Qatar!
Marquez vs Maverick – The Future Is Now
And it’s partly orange. Haha, old school phone companies. In any case, it’s kinda crazy. I’ve had a hunch for some time that Marquez vs Vinales would be the backbone of the sport for years to come, but it’s already happening right now.
The story of the pre-season has been how fast Maverick Vinales has taken to the factory Yamaha, and in the final test, topped the timing sheets on all four days, saying “This bike is ready to race right now”, unlike the other side of the garage, more on that later. Seeing Maverick in a race weekend scenario with this bike will be interesting to keep an eye, especially given Qatar is a good equalising track, the last few years having all of the big three manufacturers in contention.
Last year, we heard similar rumblings from Marquez. Multiple crashes, Honda electronic and engine struggles, but it was that which made Marquez a more restrained, better point scoring reader. It’s what ultimately made his third World Title in the top flight look so easy, as everyone else tripped each other up.
If Marquez brings back that same style this season, it’ll be interesting to see if Maverick makes the same mistakes Rossi and Lorenzo did as Mav has never been in that level of pressure cooker environment before. I think that’s what makes this potential rivalry so intriguing right now, is that while Maverick is fast, no-one knows just HOW quick he is. Marquez is already the proven article and hasn’t really had a consistent threat yet since he got to the top. Let’s hope Mav is the one, eh?
The Elder Statesmen
Hard to believe we’re entering Year 21 of the Valentino Rossi Experience. He turned 38 last month, and he’s coming off three straight runners-up finishes, and this has been a winter of discontent for Vale. He surely would be happy to see the back of nemesis Jorge, but he might have been replaced by someone even faster.
Not to mention, he’s struggled throughout testing as well, complaining the bike is hard to control when at the limit. Now, I don’t know how much of this is Vale talk, and he’ll finish on the podium in Qatar and this was all for that because Rossi has a knack for the ol’ “mind games”. I just sit here and wonder if the man’s wheels will ever “fall off” competitively. He’s seemingly put himself on a two-year clock, but if Maverick and Marquez are the Top 2, Rossi’s mountain to climb might still be too big… And heck, there’s a chance Jorge Lorenzo is just as big a threat in red still.
Lorenzo’s had a difficult time learning the Ducati, but that’s to be expected. After eight years at Yamaha, he’s getting used to an entirely different bike, when the “blue” brand is all he’s ever known. But the blessing is that the potential in the rider is probably a little higher than it’s ever been, given the inconsistencies at times with the Andrea’s of yesteryear.
Not to mention, Ducati has a near nailed on win in Austria, and are competitive whenever it rains, as well as places like Qatar. If Lorenzo can take more of those chances, and Ducati can rack up three or four wins… That might be enough to give Lorenzo a serious chance if the win count gets spread out like last year. Don’t forget, Marquez won the title last year with five, and Rossi very nearly did the year before with four.
We’re about to get fundamental proof if Ducati’s problems these last few years of the reboot have been with the riders, or with the bike. It’ll be very interesting to see what the answer is to that.
Also, when was the last time Vale and Jorge were as big a price as 11/2 to win the title? Odd.
The Surprise Packages
Don’t look now, but I think Tech 3 is being overlooked by a lot of people. I know they’ve slipped in recent times and drifted into being more of a Yamaha “B” team, but I’ve been very impressed at how fast Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger have adapted to MotoGP, both men deep in the Top 10 in multiple occasions.
I worry that Folger’s chronic inconsistency could come back to bite him. His final season in Moto2 left a lot to be desired after finding out he had his MotoGP seat secure, but his level of upside has always been INSANE on his day. And as for Johann Zarco? Well, he’s probably the greatest Moto2 rider ever, and he’s got the experience so ensure that moving up shouldn’t be a big deal. It wouldn’t surprise me if these guys end up as the top independent team…
…If Alvaro Bautista wasn’t crushing it right now on the Ducati GP16 over at Aspar. Another guy who’s had a superb test and it seems he really come off age since rebuilding Aprilia, pretty much on his own. With the customer Ducati’s all so disjointed, the lead riders like Barbera, Petrucci, and Bautista all have a chance to shine despite the limitations of their hardware.
The Problem with KTM
KTM are the new boys, and to their credit, they already look further along than when Suzuki came back two years ago. Lest we forget Randy de Puniet’s testing times. But they potentially have come back at the worst possible time. With the customer teams now having the bill flipped by Dorna, with more standardised parts, it’s harder than ever for a new team, especially a factory, to establish itself, as the others can now spend more money on development. The advantage of just being a factory isn’t as big.
A shame as well, given they’ve got the two of the three best independents in the sport with Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro leading the team forward. I hope this is more than a development year for them, even if it may not look like it at face value.
In Qatar, they were 2 seconds off of Maverick’s best. Sounds great, but that was outside the points. The Top 18 were covered by 1.2 seconds. It’s ridiculous. This might be the most stacked MotoGP season ever in terms of sheer competition, and this is right arguably the best roster the sport’s ever had. I’ve not even mentioned Aleix Espargaro at Aprilia, or Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins at Suzuki now.
That should say everything about just how ridiculous this season could be at sheer face value. I can’t wait to see them go racing, I am SUPER hyped. I haven’t even gotten into how wide open the intermediate class is, or Moto3 being Moto3! Look for a race review up next Tuesday or so, but I can’t wait for MotoGP in 2017!