I recently watched an F1 race. In my defence, nothing else was up that weekend. Holy fucking gasoline, what a complete sham that sport has become. It’s basically a fight between the two Mercs, while the rest scramble to pick up the pieces. And then that whole radio fiasco and the stupid little penalties for tiny little things, what a fucking shitshow.
MotoGP returns this weekend after a long break. The upcoming Austrian GP promises to be an interesting one too, with the hope that the Ducatis will manage their first win. It’s been one hell of a season so far, almost every race in every class has been a crazy ride, and the way things are poised at the middle of the year, it looks like the second half is going to be even more insane.
Now would be a good time to look back at the 3 classes, and see how things have panned out from all the speculation that happened before the start. The Michelin tires and the ECU change have shuffled the field up considerably, but not entirely in the way everyone had predicted. Here’s a brief overview of what has happened so far, and some predictions from me for the remainder of the season.
MotoGP: Brains > Balls
Anybody who denies the incredible talent that is Marc Marquez, and tries to pin his wins to luck or strategy is a moron. At Sachsenring, he won because he took a massive gamble with the slicks, and had the skill to make it stick. Many others tried and failed.
He has always been aggressive, a bit too much at times. His 2015 season was all about mistakes, and this year he seems to have learned massively from them. At 170 points in the championship, he’s 48 ahead of Lorenzo and 59 of Rossi. His teammate’s performance over the season should give you enough idea of how well Marquez has adapted to what can only be described as a less-than-perfect motorcycle, and bent things to work for him.
Swallowing pride isn’t something that Marquez was known for, going all-out, win or crash trying always seemed to be his motto. He has always been great fun to watch, and whenever he does crash out, he seems to have that skill to not take anybody else out, unlike Iannone. This year however, things have changed dramatically. Watching him give up a risky win for a secure second at Assen was surprising, to put it mildly.
Marquez never lacked the balls, he probably has a crate full of them in his freezer somewhere. What he lacked in brains and self-control now looks like a story of the past. In spite of all the ugliness with Rossi last season, my respect for him has only gone up, and from this point on, the 2016 crown is his to lose, although it’ll take some incredible amount of bad luck and idiocy to make that happen.
As much as I respect Lorenzo and the unbelievable talent that he is, I’ve never been a fan. For someone who is, the 2016 season must have been hard. It started out rather well, wins, podiums, he had it all, apart from that crash in Argentina. However, once he was taken out by Iannone in Barcelona, things have taken a sharp spiral downwards.
I’m not a racer, I’m not a competitive man at all. Every racer that I follow tells me that at the top of the MotoGP world, it’s all in the head. Believing that you are the best and the fastest means you are the best the fastest, and at some point during this season, Lorenzo seems to have taken a hit on his psyche. Nowhere was this more clear than during his psychotic rant-off about the Catalunya circuit changes after Salom’s death. That was the sound of man who’s afraid.
It could be the way Yamaha handled him during his spat with Rossi, that’s one place where the loss of confidence could’ve started. It can’t feel great to give years to your team, and get a cold shoulder from them when you bring home the championship. Rossi’s mind games couldn’t have helped much either, his comments about Lorenzo’s balls on the Ducati move being rather dickish and uncalled for.
I was rather surprised when he announced his switch to Ducati for 2017. That should give you some idea of how lonely he must’ve felt at Yamaha, to give up a proven winner for a career destroyer. The Ducatis are great, no doubt about it, but no one apart from Stoner has been able to handle them in recent history. Lorenzo’s surgical style needs the perfect hardware, and I have strong doubts about what the Italian manufacturer can bring to the table.
Lorenzo has been accused in the past of not being a fighter, that all he knows how to do is to get ahead and control from there. I myself have commented in that direction many times. His dislike for wet weather conditions is also well-known, but both of these items are irrelevant, and at least at some level, false. Nobody can climb to the top step of the motorcycle racing ladder without being a fighter. Lorenzo is certainly one of the few that can actually open a gap on his MotoGP rivals and then keep it there, but he has proven time and again that he knows how to overtake and push when needed to.
As far as riding in rain goes, he has had many problems over the past which again seem to have pushed some switch in his brain. His famous incidents with the HJC helmet, combined with the crashes and broken bones would surely have dented his confidence. Take for example Pawi, the kid with the biggest set of balls I’ve ever seen. The only reason he’s able to win wet Moto3 races with half a minute of gap is because he is confident he wouldn’t crash. Because he is confident, he accelerates hard, brakes hard, which brings in temperature, which gives him even more feedback and better grip, and then he pushes some more. Being afraid is not an option in motorcycle racing, and even someone as experienced as Lorenzo can get caught out sometimes.
If my respect for Rossi could be plotted as a graph against time, the line would be more curvaceous than a photoshopped model’s ass. His antics at the end of last year left a bad taste in my mouth, and things continued the same in the beginning of 2016. He loves Michelins, he is comfortable with his bike, he probably has more experience than everyone else combined. He doesn’t need to play mind games anymore, mostly because they don’t work.
What promise he showed with his confidence has not been backed by actual results. He has had his fair share of bad luck, but has made more mistakes than most too.
What rattled my cage the most was his behaviour post Salom’s death. His reactions were better than Lorenzo’s, but nowhere near what is expected from a man of his stature. You don’t expect to hear that the greatest icon of the motor racing world hasn’t bothered to take part in the safety commission meetings in months, no matter how much you might hate the company of your enemies.
You don’t need me to tell you how great he is, a 37-year-old man giving the middle finger to kids 15 years his junior and pulling wheelies all over their faces is testimony enough. He’s by far the most powerful voice in the MotoGP field, but hasn’t always used it to make any significant difference. While he ranted off about 6 years of telling the safety commission that Catalunya wasn’t safe, it’s highly unlikely that Valentino Rossi said something and it wasn’t done. The unlikely voice of Casey Stoner has been the one that’s loudest in this field as far as safety concerns go.
Rossi also happens to be the strongest mind of the field, a side-effect of being there so long. Even so, his mistakes during this season have been very troubling. On some level, it feels like Rossi and Marquez have switched bodies, the man who was known for his patience and intelligence has become the man known for his recklessness and stupidity.
In spite of whatever the 2016 championship might end up as, Rossi will remain the GOAT that he is. I do fear that he’s now approaching that point where the transition from hero to villain happens. He has signed up for 2 more years with Yamaha, and I’m sure he’ll hunt that 10th title like a Hyena that smoked too many joints. However, there’s a good time to leave the stage, and then there’s a not so good one. Rossi is still extremely competitive, capable of winning races and the championship, but will that be the same in the next 2 years? Nobody wants to see him languishing at the end of the point-scoring places.
He needs to decide when that mic needs to be dropped.
In some ways, Dani Pedrosa is in the same boat. The nicest guy on the field, and one of the most skilled one too, he just can’t seem to find that little bit of luck to pick up that first championship. Not that it matters, he is and always will be one of the greatest, but you do tend to start questioning his position in the Honda paddock after so many attempts and fails. His next 2 years at Honda will probably be painful, since they clearly see more potential in Marquez and have developed a bike that suits his riding style, which is a polar opposite of what Dani wants. I’m sure he’ll race as long as it is fun, but it does look like the frustration is getting to him, and his terse and irritated comments at press conferences simply can’t be ignored.
Vinales, who has been pushed too far up in the sky with too many reporters touting him to be the next Rossi, hasn’t really done anything spectacular till now. He seems to be the perfect replacement for Lorenzo at Yamaha as he shares the hate for wet, tricky conditions that Jorge does, but appears to have a rather cosy relation with Rossi, however long that might last. 2016 for him has been unremarkable, he has done things that were expected of him, and failed sometimes. I don’t expect 2017 to be any different either, but once he has experience with the Yamaha, he certainly will be the man to look forward to.
Petrucci, one of my favorites in the paddock, needs to get some luck ASAP. He has proven time and again that he’s capable of riding at the top, and his Ducati seems to have a decided advantage over most other satellite and even a few factory bikes. He’s quite the character, and I can’t wait to see his antics on the podium soon, which will certainly happen before the season ends.
Barbera is another of the Ducati club that commands huge respect. He is higher in the points table than the factory Ducati’s for fucks sake. Granted that Iannone and Dovi’s problems are each other and themselves, but you can’t take anything away from Hector’s consistency and intelligence.
Laverty is another one of the satellite Ducatis that has looked very impressive. It’s quite a shame he didn’t move to a better team, there’s only so much you can do with an old bike. Rumour has it that he’s looking to move to WSBK to fight for wins, rather than stay at MotoGP and fight for top 10. That’s a lure that took Bradl to WSBK and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Irishman goes too.
Pol Espargaro has been hugely impressive, so had Dovi, but both of them are on the opposite side of the luck spectrum. Pol is at 72 points, Dovi at 59, and you get the feeling that if he didn’t have that giant machete of hard luck cleaving through his season, he’d probably have been fighting for the top 3. His teammate on the other hand has continued to cause mayhem throughout the season, which is sometimes fun to watch, but mostly irritating.
The difference between a good guy on a motorcycle vs a bad one was immediately apparent when Dani crashed into Dovi, and went straight to him to check if he was OK, and followed that up with a visit to the paddock. Contrast that with Iannone’s reaction to taking Dovi and Lorenzo out. His antics seem to have caught up with him though, and his next stint at Suzuki should more or less seal his exit from the premiere class of motorcycle racing.
Moto2: It’s all in the head
The Moto2 world championship is the closest one at the halfway point, but it doesn’t really feel that way given the momentum Zarco has carried on till this point. The defending world champion leads Rins by 25 points, but it looks like the Frenchman’s train has just caught speed, and there’s nothing capable of stopping him now.
If MotoGP is all about psychological warfare, Moto2 isn’t much different either. Zarco’s season started pretty rough, but he has slowly come back into his 2015 form, stalking his prey from a distance, and then taking them out with a few laps to spare with such a decisive blow it pains even to look at on a TV.
Rins has talent, no questions about it, but I don’t think he has the mental strength of Zarco. It was surprising to find Rins at Suzuki for next year’s MotoGP and not Zarco, but I’m sure their battles will continue to be legendary. Sam Lowes stands third at this point, and although he’s one of the most beautiful riders to look at the way he backs that rear in, I don’t think he’s any threat to this year’s championship.
Nakagami is one of my favorite riders on the grid, more so because he provides some change of scenery from the Spanish/Italian orgy that the entire field seems to be. He’s plenty fast, but consistency seems to be a major hurdle for him moving forward. I would love to see him race a MotoGP bike at some point, but I guess it’ll take a bit longer for that dream to come true.
Luthi, who just got confirmed to ride with Binder in the 2017 KTM Moto2 team, hasn’t impressed much as far as this season goes. He always gets great starts, but the drink frizzles out somewhere down the middle and then it’s all about damage limitation. His ride with KTM would certainly be interesting though, especially with a teammate as talented as Binder.
Moto3: Done and dusted
As chaotic as the Moto3 field can be, it looks more or less certain that Brad Binder, the South African kid with the serenity of a 100-year-old man, is going to take the trophy. He leads the championship by an incredible 47 points, and more importantly, he has managed to increase the gap in every race, one way or the other.
The thing that I love the most about Binder is his ability to stay on the bike. Moto3 is, at times, nothing more than a glorified crash fest. The young racers full of adrenalin can’t seem to be able to stop making huge mistakes. Binder is in a completely opposite universe, and he looks like he’s spent decades riding in Moto3. I really don’t see any way the 2016 crown isn’t going on his head at the end.
The Moto3 field is literally swarming with talent, Navarro, Fenati, Bulega, Pawi, Bagnaia, Canet, almost everyone has the potential to grow into a one hell of a racer, it’s kind of sad that only a few will get to. Some will be taken out by sheer bad luck, other by the lack of money. Maria Herrera, the sole women in all 3 classes, was also doing rather well, before a big crash at Sachsenring. Her story, although inspiring, looks like it’s moving towards the dark end of the tunnel.
Predictions for the 2016 championships
Here’s me putting my money on the places that I think the riders will take at the end of Valencia.
- Marc Marquez
- Valentino Rossi
- Jorge Lorenzo
- Jonathan Zarco
- Sam Lowes
- Alex Rins
- Brad Binder
- Romano Fenati
- Jorge Navarro
In any case, it’s going to be an inhuman amount of fun to watch the championship unfold. Remember, as the winner’s position gets more and more solid, the losers have nothing to lose and can take chances the leader can’t. So sit back, bring that lube out, and take in the fun.
This article is mainly inspired by David Emmett and Mat Oxley’s blogs. You can check both of them out over at MotoMatters.com.