Valentino Rossi – A
As I’ve said many a time in my life as a bike fan, I need to keep teaching myself a valuable lesson – NEVER doubt The Doctor. Wanna know a terrifying statistic? Valentino Rossi at this stage of his career is riding like he’s in 2005 when he dominated the field on a Yamaha, winning 11 rounds and the title by nearly 150 points. He’s not been off the podium this season, a streak dating back to Aragon 2014, and has led the Championship uninterrupted from the opening round. Did we mention he’s 36?
Rossi and Marquez are in an era that are rewriting the rulebook on what makes a great rider in this day and age, and even when his documented qualifying struggles are mentioned, he always finds a way to bounce back and get himself in the mix at the front. His killer racecraft in 2 of his 3 wins at Qatar and Assen made it clear that his killer instinct remains unmatched. Yes, he gave up those 4 consecutive wins to Jorge in the middle part of the season, but Rossi has always been there, and Jorge has failed to land a killer blow yet for that very reason. Even if he doesn’t go all the way for title #10 this season, The Doctor is in the house, and he refuses to go away. If anything, he’s just getting more spectacular.
Jorge Lorenzo – A-
Only three things in life are certain – Death, Taxes, and Jorge Lorenzo being a title threat. Only, for the second year in a row, he struggled to get going early on, a helmet malfunction costing him a shot at the win in Qatar, followed by a bout of Bronchitis meant Jorge wasn’t on the podium until Round 4 at his home track of Jerez. So of course, he exploded afterwards and went on a 4-race streak where he looked invincible.
He’s not looked quite so good lately, falling far behind Rossi and a resurgent Marquez at Assen and Germany, but this is Lorenzo, he’ll be right up the front again by the time we get to Indianapolis. This is a very different scenario for Jorge as opposed to last year, where he had nothing to lose, the title already locked up by a dominant MM93. This time, he’s going to be on the edge from here on in, and Rossi and Lorenzo have had many a war already. Me personally, I can’t split them. I’m not holding the bronchitis against Jorge here, both Factory Yamaha’s have been superb in their own way this season, but neither guy is going on a tear again this season. I wonder who would win a proper, fair exchange between the two…
Marc Marquez – B+
Okay, who even thought Marc Marquez would have, even an outside chance of still winning this year’s Championship?
Honda’s struggles have been well documented here, and ultimately, I hold them more responsible for Marquez’s season than him. Remember, this is Marc Marquez, he doesn’t have to prove himself to anyone. It just puzzles me why Honda felt the need to make a 2015 bike that took away Marquez’s strongest assets, his engine braking?! It was a decision that’s already going to cost them the 2015 Manufacturer’s title to Yamaha. And it was Marquez’s ingenuity of going back to the 2014 bike (something no-one else has done), that’s saved his season.
I’m not saying it’s totally Honda’s fault, his crashes at Argentina and Catalonia were mostly on him and were avoidable, but this is the element of a rider who will give nothing less than 110% every time he gets on the bike, and before the 2014 chassis switch at Assen, he had no choice but to push that hard to get anything decent on the bike. Why change your riding style when it’s won you 2 Championships?
Marquez’s Assen and Germany performances showed that his genius is more than still there, his one-lap speed is still untouchable and while the odds of him retaining his Championship are low, he still has a very important role to play, as probably the only rider that can give the Factory Yamaha’s a consistent problem. Marquez, for the first time in his MotoGP career, is a wild-card, an X-Factor, as opposed to a top contender, and there’s nothing more intoxicating, than a rider who has nothing to lose.
Dani Pedrosa – N/A
For the sake of fairness, I’m not going to grade Dani Pedrosa here, mostly because, he’s missed a third of the season after an recurring of a 2014 arm pump issue made him miss COTA, Argentina and Jerez. I mean, look at this way, we tend to give a pass to Casey Stoner’s final season in 2012 and Valentino Rossi’s leg breaking seasons, so I’m doing the same thing here.
I’ll give Dani this, his determination under Honda’s struggles, as well as his fight to make the 2015 Honda work for him are admirable and should be applauded. Pedrosa’s always been a tremendous company man, and he’s had his rewards for being consistent, if a little slow, with two podiums since his return. Personally, I’m not sure if we’ll ever see Dani Pedrosa consistently near his scintillating best, especially with the Top 4 in the state it’s in right now, it seems Pedrosa has a better chance of being 2013 Vale, consistently 4th out of the four. But I hope to be proven wrong, because his three race absence was certainly felt by this writer.
Andrea Dovizioso – B-
Oh, Dovi, Dovi, Dovi, what happened, it was all going so well? I’ve always valued Andrea as being the best rider outside of the Top 4 umbrella, a guy capable of podiums and consistent performances, regardless of bike manufacturer. And he spearheaded what was a resurgent return for Ducati in the opening three rounds of the season with three 2nd place finishes.
The problem is, he’s only been on the podium once since then, and has just 4 points since that podium at Le Mans. In that same timespan, Andrea Iannone his teammate, has 57. The wheels have completely fallen off Dovizioso’s season. He was unlucky to have suffered a sprocket failure at Mugello, but he’s also been responsible for crashing the same number of times as Marc Marquez has this season, but Dovi seems to have gotten away with it for some reason. Very uncharacteristic from Dovi, a rider often praised for being consistently solid. Much was made in pre-season that Iannone was adapting to the new GP15, and that seems to have been proven.
Dovi getting exposed by his namesake across is not a good sign, and he needs to step it up a gear again or else he’s going to get left out in the shade. What Dovi do we have here, the early season one? Or the one now?
Andrea Iannone – A-
Wow. The 2014 Harrison breakout rider of the year has taken another huge step forward. Who had Iannone down for 3rd in the Championship at the halfway point, with 2 podiums in that mix, and not one rider outside of the Top 6? He’s out-Dovi’ing Dovi!
Not to mention, the adversity of Andrea has to be praised. He’s riding through a shoulder injury and a broken leg through this season too, and has provided some superb entertainment with Marc Marquez and others. And more than anything, he dispelled my biggest fear – I was afraid he’d be lost in the Factory shuffle. And I’ve been proved wrong.
I think he will fall a bit in the order to Marquez and maybe Pedrosa, but if he can get the better of Dovi in his first season on a proper Ducati, everyone’s eyes will be on him for the future. I mean, who had him 31 points oHe’s the Maniac no more. Now, he’s just a beast.
Pol Espargaro – C+
What the heck’s happened to Pol? Last season, a lot of British fans gasped at Pol being handed a Factory contract with Yamaha upon his debut in MotoGP last season, and to his credit, he validated that with an excellent rookie season, finishing 6th in the Championship. What’s happened this season though, is puzzling, as to why he’s currently 23 points behind his teammate, Bradley Smith.
And it’s not like Yamaha aren’t throwing the former Moto2 Champ a bone here either. He’s been given the Factory chassis and an upgraded swingarm to help him out, and even still, he’s currently 2-7 against Bradley head-to-head, and with 2 DNF’s under his belt, and a bitchfest with Scott Redding over Instagram on all places.
And if the rumours are true that Yamaha are re-considering Pol’s status as the “Valentino Rossi replacement” (What an oxymoron), then Pol has to get his ideas together, because as Stefan Bradl proved, if a factory turns its back on you, you’re probably not going to get a second chance. Speaking of which…
Bradley Smith – A-
Okay, who is this man, and what has he done with Bradley Smith? This time last year, he was the man most at risk of losing his job, but Herve Poncharal put his faith in him, he was given a one-year extension, and he’s done a superb job with it since. This has been the coming of age season that Bradley has needed and wanted.
Why? He’s developed consistency. No more five-crash weekends for the former ginger. He’s finished every single race in the Top 8 this season so far. And while that may not sound that impressive, it’s given him a 21 point lead over any other rider on a Satellite bike. As I said previously, beating your teammate 7-2 head to head is fantastic, and it represents a tremendous turnaround for Bradley, who had always looked 2nd best since entering MotoGP, like Cal Crutchlow.
I can only hope Bradley can keep this going, he’s walking proof you can turn things around for yourself, and that you can be a late bloomer and still flourish, even as the sport gets younger, faster and more stacked. For me, the most improved rider in the 2015 field. When you’re top Satellite, you’re really not doing much wrong.
Aleix Espargaro – B
A solid start to the season for the little Espargaro brother who could. The grades for the Suzuki’s clearly depend on how you value the bike in comparison to the other Factory bikes, and for a team that’s only just come back, I can see the vision and the potential here. And Aleix’s one-lap speed has been astonishing at times this year, with two front row starts this season and that unprecedented lap record in Catalunya, which ultimately went to waste as he dropped it from fourth with just a handful of laps to go.
Aleix has been the more inconsistent of the two Suzuki’s so far this season, and while his peaks have been higher than Mack’s, the three consecutive retirements between Le Mans and said Catalan race are unacceptable, and like Dovi, uncharacteristic for a rider of Aleix’s talent.
It’s easy to forget this is another brand new bike for Aleix, and with that, they’ll be teething problems, but this is another case of the teammate in the team making him look worse than what he actually is.
Maverick Vinales – A-
Rookie of the Year is locked up, without a doubt. Maverick is in a pretty cool club, as one of only five riders so far this season, to have scored points, and one of only two guys to do that, outside of the Top 3 in the standings. He’s not had that big pole position like Aleix had, or the potential big finish, but Maverick is doing a proper professional job at the moment and should be praised for it. I was in SHOCK when I realized he had 13 points more than Aleix Espargaro does at the halfway point, and once again, being consistent has a habit of coming through in the end.
Not to mention, six of his nine MotoGP races in the top class has been in the Top 10, no easy task with 3 strong Factory teams, and a loaded field of Satellites. Did we mention he’s only a 20 year old rookie? This kid is going to be something special, the top class has not fazed him one little bit. If he can keep racking up the points and the test data, he’s going to be the shining light of the Suzuki factory for a good while yet.
Cal Crutchlow – C+
Just me who was expecting a little more from Cal on a Honda? I know it can’t be easy learning your third different back in three seasons, but on the other hand, Cal’s brought this on himself for being impatient with Ducati. Not only was he getting the hang of said Ducati towards the end, now he has to deal with a 2015 Honda that is a buckin’ bronco in the wrong hands… And it’s not like Cal has a great reputation for staying upright at the best of times…
2015 to me, has got every mantra of a Cal season – A couple of high points (In this case, the Argentina podium), a fair few in-race crashes, a bit of moaning, and otherwise, some decent but unspectacular results. And given he’s a point behind Dani Pedrosa, who’s missed three rounds and struggled with arm pump on what’s basically the same bike, is not a good luck. For me, Cal just seems to be taking sidesteps in terms of his career, and has never looked quite the same as his 2013 Yamaha season, where winning wasn’t out of the question. Maybe he should more time learning the bike, and less time moaning about Tommy Bridewell on Twitter.
Danilo Petrucci – B
Okay, you’re going to be limited here when riding for the Pramac’s, especially when Andrea Iannone was so good on it last season, but Danilo, coming off that awful ART bike that resembles more of a Frankenstein’s monster, Danilo had some pressure coming into this role, but he’s taken it on with gusto and has performed very well.
In that six rider club of finishing every single race this season, while he doesn’t have quite the same upside of Yonny Hernandez for raw speed, his consistency has him hovering just around the Top 10, and for Danilo’s first season on a proper bike, he’s doing an excellent job. And you have to remember, he’s using the GP14.1, a bike slower on paper than his teammate’s too.
Yonny Hernandez – B-
Yonny is a curious one. As I alluded too, he’s on the GP14.2, a superior bike to Danilo, but at the moment, he’s struggling to justify the upgrade. He’s not been terrible by any stretch, and on a good day, he does get the measure of his teammate, but he’s another rider with three falls to his name and that’s put him nearly twenty points behind.
You have to also remember, this is Yonny’s third season in MotoGP now, and he really needs to kick on from here, otherwise he’ll be swept under the rug for someone else, especially now Danilo’s been given the job and has been better for more value so far. His raw speed is very good, highlighted by that 5th in qualifying in Germany, but I still think he needs to reign it in just a touch.
Scott Redding – D+
Without a doubt, to me, the biggest disappointment in 2015. Scott was my 2014 Rookie of the Year and did an exceptional job on the Production Honda, finishing just a handful of points of the vastly more experienced Alvaro Bautista on the factory bike. So big things were expected for Scott going into the 2015 and the promotion to the factory bike, alongside his old crew with Marc VDS, but so far, he just hasn’t got to grips with this bike, at all.
I don’t want to pin this all down on Scott, because I feel to a degree, he’s a bi-product of Honda’s 2015 struggles, but when the Satellite Ducati’s from last year are beating you, you have serious issues. A nasty crash in Austin to take out Pol Espargaro, and a rookie mistake in Germany, compound the problems. Sure, he finished 7th in Catalonia, but that was due to a war of attrition, and he lost out to Maverick’s Suzuki, a guy he really needs to be running with.
Scott’s a supreme talent, and he had good reason to have us excited last season, but he has some serious pressure given the $10m investment put into this team, and if he can’t deliver, Tito Rabat is waiting in the wings. Redding has maybe three races to save his job, and how he reacts after the summer break could make or break him.
Hector Barbera – B
I pull for Barbera a lot. Always a solid rider, held back by some awful bikes to contend with, and now he has a GP14 to play with, he’s been the top open class runner in the field. I know that’s kind of like punching against a glass ceiling, but there really isn’t much more you could realistically expect him to do, scoring in 7 out of 9 races so far this season. He’s not had a Top 10 finish yet, and quite frankly, I don’t expect him too. And that’s okay. Hector’s veteran experience is carrying the Avintia team, and while not every team can be a winner, I always have time for riders doing an experienced, professional job.
Loris Baz – B+
Now this has been one of my biggest surprises of the season so far. Loris had his reputation in trouble after his unceremonious exit from Kawasaki’s World Superbike team, and he was never really a top-tier runner consistently, despite being with the best team in the paddock. Not to mention, he’s freakishly tall and that’s a natural downside of being a bike rider at all, throwing himself into the deep end at 22 into MotoGP, and having a World Champion teammate alongside in Stefan Bradl. But he’s been excellent.
Loris recently did an interview with my co-hort Louis Suddaby on “The Chequered Flag” where he spoke about feeling like he had to learn and adapt at a younger age, and it’s worked out excellently. Baz is a quick learner, he’s had two open class victories to his name, and has been in the points in four of the last five rounds. For a class rookie, that’s excellent, and unexpected. Baz has done a great job so far and I’m excited to see if he can continue his solid work.
Stefan Bradl – C
Now I see why Honda let him go. I know it’s a new bike for Bradl, and it’s difficult coming in for Aleix Espargaro, who I think flattered that Production Yamaha, but Bradl just hasn’t got it down yet. Yes, he has the best open class result of the season so far, an 8th in Catalonia, but take that away, he only has one other performance in the points.
Not to mention, he’s in the rather painful club of having been in 4 DNF’s so far this season. Having a near 50% attrition rate is awful and Bradl has to start having more of his good days otherwise he’ll be out of the class. You don’t sink much lower than a Production Yamaha after all. Mind you, Forward Yamaha might not be a thing at all soon…
Alvaro Bautista – B+
I originally had this as a C+, but again, Louis nagged me into upping it, and he made some very valid points. Alvaro Bautista’s reputation was in tatters after a season where Scott Redding showed him up and Honda dumped him as Gresini collapsed around him. With Alvaro turning 31 in November, you could argue that his time at the top was up, but Aprilla threw him a lifeline, and he’s stepped up very well.
Make no mistake, Aprilia’s 2015 bike is glorified junk. But Alvaro has lifted it into points on six out of nine races so far, including a Top 10 in Catalonia. That has to be better than anything Aprilla was expecting, especially given as its their first season back. Given where they were in testing, I thought points were out of the question. I was wrong, and Alvaro is a big reason for this, getting his head down and turning himself around after a disastrous 2014 campaign. Alvaro is doing a great job and he deserves praise, and this effort will reward him with Aprilia in the long run.
Jack Miller – C
Jackie, the grand experiment. Gotta be honest here, he’s doing a better job than I anticipated. His raw speed is right inline with those around him in the Open Class, and that’s half the battle. The issue I have with Jack, is his ultra-aggressive racecraft isn’t going to fly here. He’s been involved in 4 retirements this season, 2 of them direct tangles with fellow riders, including nearly wrecking Hector Barbera’s leg in Assen, leading him to getting an official warning from Race Direction.
If Jack can get to grips with this bike when around others, he’ll be just fine. He just needs to realize that “elbows out” in Moto3 is a different animal to what he’s doing now. Remember, he was top open class in Argentina, so he’s not slow by any stretch.
Nicky Hayden – C-
Meh. Nicky’s a better man than me for still putting himself through all this. Two big points performances in Texas and Catalonia and that’s about it. He’s still a nice marketing draw, and I know Aspar as a team is really struggling, but surely there’s a more exciting rider to give a chance to here, right? I mean, see below…
Eugene Laverty – C
…Now don’t get me wrong, Laverty’s no genius here either, and he’s still behind on points, but since being given the 2015 swingarm, he’s looked a fair match for the Kentucky Kid, a solid yardstick for an experienced rider, but still class rookie. Aspar are stuck in purgatory though, which makes any bright spark from Eugene, almost irrelevant.
Hiroshi Aoyama – F: Seriously. Why?
Mike De Meglio – D-: At this point, I can’t help but question what Mike brings to the table that any half decent Moto2 rider couldn’t match, if not surpass. Given he’s French, does anyone have Johann Zarco’s number?
Alex De Angelis – D: ADA, the ultimate rider for hire. ART at this point is about as useful as a sieve made out of chocolate.
Karel Abraham – F: I see why Daddy Karel is thinking about pulling the plug on the awful Cardion team. It’s a dead end. Karel is never going to be a thing, and if Dad’s not willing to buy a better Sattilite, what’s the point? You’re not selling anything when your son has a better chance of being on TV through a crash, than through an actual performance. When Alex De Angelis has more points than you, what the hell are you doing?
Marco Melandri – F: …I don’t even know. I think I’m going to call his parents, I haven’t seem him in school for a fortnight now.