Repsol Honda (Marc Marquez & Dani Pedrosa) – 10/10
Well, everything’s coming up roses for the Repsol Factory Honda team, even if the success is a little bit more, shall we say, lop-sided than expected?
Marc Marquez has been perfect this season. Literally. Nine races, nine wins. And on top of that, seven pole positions in the process. And before anyone says it’s “all in the bike”, you have to consider, it’s not like and Pedrosa have been running away with it. In a good chunk of these races, he’s been challenged and pushed at around half the season. For example, Rossi pushed him all the way in Qatar, Lorenzo did the same in Mugello, the Top 4 were all at in Catalunya, Pedrosa for the vast majority of Germany did too. He was knocked off track at Le Mans, came back from 10th to win, from 7th in Argentina. He even had to overcome his only weakness of rain in Assen, and won by 7 seconds.
There isn’t a scenario he’s been dealt yet that he hasn’t been able to overcome, and now, the perfect season is definitely there for the taking if he wants it. I know Marquez is a smart kid, he definitely sandbagged the second half of the season to make sure he won the title with the cushion he had, but if he wants it, it’s there for him. Could he do it? Man, it would be truly something special if he did.
And this is a small shame for Dani Pedrosa, the field’s ultimate scrapper. He’s been forced into a #2 role due to his team-mate’s near biblical ability, but he’s in his own matchup against the Yamaha’s of Rossi and Lorenzo, and he seems to be coming out on top. We all know he can challenge for wins (He DOES have 25 of them after all), but with Marquez down the road more often than not, his consolidation role is working perfectly, in 2nd place in the Championship, 7 points ahead of Valentino.
As a team, it’s a near flawless combination, and it’s working, with no real response from Yamaha, especially from the guy we thought would be right up there…
Yamaha Racing (Valentino Rossi & Jorge Lorenzo) – 7/10
…And it all started so, badly, when Jorge Lorenzo fell in Qatar on Lap 1.
Yamaha have tried, they really have, but their tweaks for their 2014 bikes had had a strange effect on the team. It seems to have reversed with happened in 2013. For the most part, Valentino Rossi has looked like the reliable top-tier threat to the Honda’s (His 142 point haul speaks to that), while his team-mate Jorge Lorenzo, who looked so dangerous last year, seems to be the one struggling.
Rossi has finished in 2nd place to Marquez on four separate occasions, and has out-raced his partner Jorge, on a count of 6-3. This is unheard of for a guy who many thought was finished at the end of 2013, constantly lagging behind the Top 3. It’s no secret the 2014 Yamaha’s setup has favoured the Italian this year, and he’s made it count with some great rides. We should really be used to this now after 300+ races by now, shouldn’t we?
On the other side of the garage, it’s been a slippery year for Jorge Lorenzo. He’s been very honest in saying he hasn’t adapted well to the 2014 Yamaha, and that he was out of shape in the early going, and the team is rallying around to support him. I don’t want to over-hype this, as this looks to be the first year since 2008 where Jorge will be outside the Top 2 in a championship, but it’s not a good look either when you’re the only 1 of the big four, without a contract extension, and Andrea Dovizioso has more points than you.
I think Jorge will bounce back later in the season, in a similar fashion to last year, but his lack of form has been one of the biggest surprises in what’s been a very mediocre showing from the team overall. For every great surprise Valentino has produced this year, there’s been an equally eyebrow raising one from Jorge.
Ducati Team (Andrea Dovizioso & Cal Crutchlow) – 5.5/10
Now this, is an interesting. Ducati decided to roll the dice last year and run as an Open Class machine to go with the new rules. Has it worked? Not really…
Even with the softer compound tyres, they’ve not qualified particularly well. And the riders forms have been all of the place, Cal Crutchlow having some horrendous luck with reliability and injury this season.
However, I have to give Dovi some SERIOUS praise. Him having 99 points half way in and two podiums despite anyone with half a brain cell knowing that Ducati is fundamentally flawed, is a tremendous achievement, all things considered, and a testament to the Italian’s ability. Also, I don’t know why, but that Ducati really does seem to come alive when it rains. Odd.
On the other side of the garage, Nicky Hayden got given the heave-ho and in came Tech 3’s Cal Crutchlow, and he has just a miserable haul of 28 points through the first half of the season. Now, this isn’t totally on Cal, he’s been very unlucky with the reliability of that bike, suffering three mechanical retirements, as well as missing Argentina through injury. It’s not totally surprising given he’s the new guy and the Ducati is VERY different to a factory supported Yamaha, but a team mate outscoring you 4-to-1 is never a good sign given you’re on equal machinery.
I hope Cal can get a good run of form going again soon, and with the news he’s heading to LCR next year, it seems like a fast Honda might be just what the Doctor ordered.
Right, so with the main Factory teams taken care off, let’s talk quickly about the rest of the midcard players.
Tech 3 (Pol Espargaro & Bradley Smith) – 6.5/10
A solid-ish start for Team Ponchenator in 2014. I thought they had hit the ground running when Bradley Smith qualified on the front row in Qatar and he was in the leading group until their double retirement, but then their form as a team has kinda swung up and down as the season’s gone on. Sometimes pushing for podiums, other teams battling the other midfield teams, it’s a strange one.
Pol Espargaro has ad a good start to life in the top class, currently 7th in the Championship with a respectable 67 points and headlined by a great 4th placed finish at Le Mans. But on the other side, Bradley Smith has failed to improve on what was a solid rookie year in the top class in 2013. He started strong with a career high 5th place in Austin, but ever since then, he’s struggled to match his World Champion team-mate. While that may be a little unfair, and they ARE tied 4-1-4 head to head, Bradley actually has slightly less points then he did this time last year. That seat is only going to get warmer.
I expected Tech 3 to regress a little bit this year due to Cal’s departure, neither was going to realistically match his 2013 form, but I’m sure Pol will only get better by the race. The next 9 races are going to be very important for Bradley’s future.
Gresini Honda (Alvaro Bautista & Scott Redding) – 6/10
Oh dear. Alvaro Bautista looked really good last season, another guy who could get podiums semi-regularly if he stuck at it, and was 5th in the Championship. This year, just the 1 podium to his name, and he started the season with three straight crashes. He made up for it with an awesome 3rd at Le Mans, but besides that, he’s been very mediocre, disappointing for a rider of his ability. His suit is under fire at the moment, and given his season so far, it’s hard to argue.
On the other end, Scott Redding gets the distinction of the top Customer Honda so far, and he’s done a very solid job so far this season, consistently in the Top 12-13 riders or so, and not making many mistakes, even finishing 7th at Qatar, the highest finish of any customer Honda to date. If he keeps this up, he’ll be a prime contender for the Factory bike if Bautista is moved on to that rumoured Aprilla spot.
LCR Honda (Stefan Bradl) – 6.5/10
Stefan Bradl has actually been pretty good this year, and has done well to have three finishes within the Top 5 given the state of the midfield being so stacked. The issue is, his bike is probably the strongest of that bunch, so I can understand why Honda themselves aren’t convinced he’s the ticket. They seem to think he’s regressed a bit, and he has in my opinion. I think they were expecting more podiums, which I think is an unfair expectation of him given there’s 4 guys ahead of him on better machinery and who are more talented riders.
We now know Cal Crutchlow is heading to give the bike a shot next year, let’s hope he can unlock LCR’s true potential, and re-discover his 2012 and 2013 form.
Special Awards – Where I hand out some special awards for the other cool stuff I haven’t mentioned yet!
Most Improved Rider – Andrea Iannone (9/10)
Iannone has been awesome. I wasn’t convinced with him on that Pramac Ducati in 2013, he looked very mediocre, but this year, he has some tremendous improvement, beating his Career High finish on 3 separate occasions, and cracking the Top 5 last time out in Germany. “The Maniac” has really adapted well to that 2014 Bike, and despite the odd crash, he’s proving a lot of doubters wrong, will still flying relatively under the radar. Him getting Factory Support for 2015 is a reward for a well earned half-season.
The “PLEASE get him a better bike” award – Aleix Espargaro (9/10)
For the last 3 years now, has anyone done more, with less in MotoGP than Aleix Espargaro? Stuck with CRT’s and hand-me-down parts, yet ALWAYS punching well above his weight. Now, he’s the best midfield runner with 77 points at the moment. HOW?! Two 4th placed finishes in Qatar and Assen as well making history as the first Open Class bike to score a Pole Position was mega for the Spainard. Here’s hoping whatever happens next, he continues to build, as he’s still probably the most exciting rider not on a Factory machine.
Individual Ride of the Season (So far): Marc Marquez at Qatar
So, which one of Marc Marquez’s performances stands out the most?! I had to pick Qatar out in this one, not just because it was an unreal battle with Valentino Rossi and one for the history, a lot of people forget, Marc was only 3 weeks off of breaking his leg!
It also showed Marc’s level of improvement already. Last year he was in an identical battle with Rossi and came out on the losing end, finishing 3rd on his debut ride for Repsol. Now he’s winning with a broken leg. HOW?! And the iconic shot of the fist bump between the two after the race was wonderful.
The Comeback in Le Mans for Marc was a very close 2nd, and I think I want to praise Broc Parkes 11th in Assen as well. Great tactical nous and beating Jorge Lorenzo isn’t bad for a weekend’s work.
Race of the Season so far: Catalunya
There’s some viable contenders for this one, but I’m going for Catalunya on this one, the Top 3 was wheel to wheel from start to finish and all manor of crazy happened. Stefan Bradl looked competitive for a few laps, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi got amazing starts, but Lorenzo dropped like a stone, Marquez clipped a wheel, came off track and back on again, then nailed Pedrosa again a turn later, EVERYONE got confused over yellow flags, Lorenzo came back then dropped off again, and Pedrosa had the worst “Hail Mary” final lap lunge we’ve seen this season to date, that caused nearly every fan in the Marc Marquez fan club to pass out.
That about sum it up? It nearly gave me heart failure.
See that form book people wrote about this season? If you haven’t already, throw it out of the window and burn it. And I don’t care what anyone tells me, this season HASN’T been boring. As said before, as much as people want to make out that Marquez’s dominance is killing the sport, it simply isn’t, because he’s been the biggest provider of entertainment since this season began. He’s earned every one of his 9 victories, and in the process, beaten every other guy in the Top 5 head-to-head to do it. It may be dominant, but it’s entertainment and it’s making history. What more could you ask for considering we’ve had epic battles, different manufacturers at the top, the Open Class have flung the grid positions all over the place so the racing is more intriguing, we’ve had rain, changeable conditons, and even half the field in the pit lane…
…This season in MotoGP has been amazing so far, and as much as there hasn’t been a title race, quite frankly, it hasn’t needed one. Check back here soon for my thoughts on Moto2 and Moto3 (This post is already two thousand, two hundred and thirty five words long, I’ve kept you long enough!)
Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it!