Even 27 crashes couldn’t stop Marc Marquez from clinching his sixth title in 2017. Throughout an intense battle which went down to the wire with Andrea Dovizioso, we were treated to some brilliantly close racing. The new liveries have been unveiled, the tests are over, and there’s a lot of excitement surrounding the 2018 season, which starts at the Losail circuit in Qatar this weekend.
Marquez will be the likely leader of the charge as the grid rolls into Qatar. The reigning world champion will be setting his sights on the trophy at the end of the year, but after a consistent set of tests in Valencia, Sepang and Buriram, his team mate Dani Pedrosa shouldn’t be far behind either.
Upon the GP grid’s first visit to the Thai circuit, Pedrosa topped the times despite having never seen the track before. We’ve all sat patiently and waited as Pedrosa desperately tries to take title honours, but could 2018 be the year he goes from being the bridesmaid to the bride?
Eager to upset the winning rhythm of the Hondas will be Ducati. Andrea Dovizioso really came to prominence last year. He fought to the wire with Marquez for the title, losing out narrowly after a crash in the final round. Springing in to 2018 with a new-found confidence, the Italian will be back with a vengeance as he seeks out that elusive first title.
While his more illustrious team-mate, Jorge Lorenzo, didn’t have the best year in 2017, he did gain two podiums which spoke volumes to the critics who claimed he couldn’t successfully make the switch from the Yamaha M1 to the Ducati Desmosedici. It was still a year of difficulty for the Spaniard and Ducati though. As Lorenzo made the switch to the team, Dovizioso seemingly dropped to ‘man number two’, as Lorenzo took on the reported €20 million salary while Dovi supposedly took a pay cut to accommodate it.skyspo
While it looked like the Italian was the one who should’ve been raking in all the money with his consistency, Lorenzo will almost certainly come of age on the Desmo this season and he has already impressed many in the pre-season tests.
At the beginning of 2017, Maverick Viñales was down on everybody’s list as the favourite for the championship. After making the switch from Suzuki to Yamaha, he impressed in the pre-season tests and opened his championship campaign with back to back wins in Qatar and Argentina. He followed that up with another win in Le Mans just three rounds later, and that was the last of his good fortune. Although he had a few more decent rounds, he quickly dropped off the pace, leaving him lying third in the standings overall – respectable, but certainly not what he or Yamaha were hoping for.
During the pre-season tests, he was either right at the top or outside of the top ten, so it’s impossible to predict what kind of season he may have. However, it’s safe to say that good things will come from Viñales. He’s now got a year’s experience with the team, and he’s still one of my favourites for title contention, and one we should all be looking at in 2018.
One man you can never rule out is nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi. He was in with a chance of the title in 2017 until a motocross crash saw him suffering with a broken leg. But in true GOAT style, he bounced back and just 23 days after breaking his leg he defied everyone and was back on the bike. The resilience of The Doctor is something to be admired, and it sums up the sport entirely. His winning attitude will carry over into this season as he aims for his 10th title. Naturally there have been rumours of retirement for the 39 year old, but it has been reported that he’s already in talks with Yamaha for a new contract. Only time will tell what will happen to Rossi, but he’s still most definitely in with a shot for the 2018 title honours.
But as the factory Yamahas struggled during the second half of the season, the Monster backed Tech 3 Yamaha team and their pair of rookie riders appeared to take a step forward. Johann Zarco moved up to the class at the start of 2017 and did nothing but impress. From leading the pack in the first round at Qatar, to three podiums and more top 10 finishes, the Frenchman went from strength to strength and proved that he was a force to be reckoned with, thus earning him the Rookie of the Year award. Watch out for Zarco this year as he pulls more risky moves, upsets more rivals and potentially goes for the title.
Team mate Jonas Folger impressed too, after a wicked battle with Marc Marquez at the Sachsenring. Unfortunately he won’t be racing this year despite having signed a contract, due to ill health. He will be replaced by Malaysian Hafizh Syahrin, who makes the step up from Moto2. It seemed like an odd choice at first, but we of course have to trust Herve Poncheral’s instinct, as he really does have an eye for talent. He didn’t do anything exciting in the pre-season tests, but we have to give him time to get used to the new bike.
In Moto2 he was known for his wet weather performance, so expect to see him fighting in the top 10 if the rain falls. Other than that, we should see him in the top 15 after a few rounds, and he’ll be eager to impress his home fans when MotoGP heads to Malaysia in November for the penultimate round of the season.
Pramac Ducati have retained the services of Danilo Petrucci for the coming season. Mid-season he pulled everything together, most memorably in Assen where he fought with Valentino Rossi, with the latter coming out on top. He’s led races and stood on podiums, but didn’t win a race. He’s adamant that he wants to be on the factory Ducati squad from 2019, but he needs to start producing consistency before Ducati will look at him as an option.
He may be spurred on by his new team mate Jack Miller, who’s moving from the Marc VDS team. Things have been a little hit and miss for the Australian, but the pre-season tests have shown that he clicked with the Ducati straight away. Watch out for Miller who will surely be battling within the top 10, perhaps even the top five as he aims to repeat his unexpected 2016 Assen victory consistently.
Someone who has constantly come under fire for his attitude and commitment to racing in the past season is Andrea Iannone. One of his biggest critics has been MotoGP legend Kevin Schwantz, who has been quoted as saying that Suzuki “absolutely has to replace Iannone for 2019.” But his criticism comes with good reason, as throughout 2017 Iannone seemed more interested in posting topless selfies on Instagram than he did producing results.
In 2016, Iannone was the perfect fit on the grid. Racing on the Ducati, he was feisty and not afraid to put himself into a gap that didn’t really exist. He ruffled feathers, caused outrage and got himself into a whole lot of trouble but above all, he was a good racer. If Iannone wants to secure his future in MotoGP, he needs to put down his phone and start producing results, quickly.
Alex Rins, the other half of Team Suzuki Ecstar, has been far more impressive than his team mate. Coming up from Moto2 at the start of last season, he was quickly out with injury. But once he’d recovered, he was like a new rider. He was always pushing, and after Silverstone he was becoming more consistent. His best finish was fourth at the Valencian finale and he particularly impressed at the Buriram test where he finished in the top ten in all three sessions. He might not be a title contender in 2018, but he’ll certainly be fighting in the top ten and potentially for podium places. Watch out for him as we head to Buriram, as he seemed to hit it off with the Thai track instantly.
LCR Honda have broadened their team to run two bikes this season. Takaaki Nakagami will be making the move from Moto2 to partner Cal Crutchlow, and the two appear to have hit it off as team mates already.
Crutchlow will be factory backed this season which will play to his advantage as he gets the best parts first, allowing him to really make the RC213V his own. We can expect to see Crutchlow consistently within the top 10, but with so many other riders looking good already, he’ll have to work hard to keep up. Testing has been impressive for the Isle of Man based former world supersport champion.
Nakagami will still need time to adjust to the class, and we can’t expect brilliant things from him straight away. We’re not expecting podiums, but some point scoring positions will certainly be on the cards.
Aleix Espargaro spearheads Aprilia and has been joined by Scott Redding. Espargaro obtained a handful of top 10 in 2017 and really brought out the best in the RS-GP, and we can expect that he’ll do the same this season. Redding’s 2017 was incredibly hit and miss, but it seems that Aprilia is last chance saloon for the Brit. To secure his future in the paddock, he has to start producing results on a regular basis.
Last but by no means least stand Marc VDS, Avintia Ducati, KTM and the newly named Angel Nieto Team (formerly Aspar). We’re not expecting podiums and race wins from these teams, there’ll certainly be top 10s.
Marc VDS take on two rookies – Thomas Lüthi and current Moto2 Champion Franco Morbidelli, while Tito Rabat and Xavier Simeon contest with Avintia. The Angel Nieto Team keep Alvaro Bautista and Karel Abraham while KTM retain the services of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith – two riders who have developed the RC16 incredibly well over the past season to become a top 10 running bike.
With the first round of the season just days away, it’s now time to start getting excited. So clear your weekends, it’s time to go racing.