Archive - Opinion
February 20th, 2014
As the 2013 World Superbike season ended, the question was how the series, now owned by Dorna, could once more fill the grids. With some races rewarding every finisher with points, while the cheaper Supersport and Superstock championships raced with full grids, it was clear that more seats were needed.
One part of the solution was the new EVO class. Essentially Superbikes with Superstock engines, EVO bikes are much cheaper and, from 2015, will be the standard specification of all bikes, and over a third of the full-time entries in 2014 are EVO bikes, with familiar riders taking some of the seats. Another part of the solution was the addition of several new and returning manufacturers to the series. Alongside Ducati, Aprilia, Honda, BMW, Suzuki and Kawasaki, we now have MV Agusta, Buell and, hopefully, Bimota bringing the number of marques to nine.
In the final part of our look back at 2013, we review the performance of the factories. How did Honda, Yamaha and Ducati stack up last season? What were their strong points, and how did they go about tackling their weaknesses? Above all, what does this mean for 2014? Here's our rating of MotoGP's manufacturers.
|Manufacturer's Championship Standing:||1st|
It seemed as if every technical rule change and tire decision swung against Honda in 2012. First, they found themselves outfoxed over the minimum weight by Ducati, after the MSMA first told the Grand Prix Commission that they had unanimously rejected a proposal to raise it from 153kg to 160kg. It turned out that only Honda and Yamaha had rejected it, with Ducati voting in favor, which meant the rule should have been adopted and not rejected. As a concession to the manufacturers, the weight was raised in two stages, to 157kg in 2012, and 160kg in 2013. Then, after being tested at Jerez, the riders voted to adopt the new, softer construction front tires, despite complaints from the Repsol Honda riders.
Honda struggled for much of 2012, first working out where to place an extra 4kg (a problem the other factories did not have, as they had struggled to get anywhere near the previous minimum of 153kg), and then running through chassis and suspension options in search of the braking stability they had lost with the introduction of the softer front tire. After the test at the Mugello round, they had most of the problems solved, and Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa went on to win eight of the last nine rounds.
Come the 2013 season, and Honda were well-prepared. They already had their braking stability issues under control, and the only point left was the extra 3kg they had to carry. Having had all of 2012 to prepare for the extra weight, they arrived at the start of the season with few issues. Dani Pedrosa took a little while to get used to the extra weight, his slight frame a disadvantage when it comes to flinging the extra bulk around, but he soon had the situation under control.
In the last of our series looking back at the riders of 2013, we come to the unluckiest man on the grid. Ben Spies' season was a thing of nightmares, ending with his decision to retire. Here's a review of his year.
|Ben Spies||Ignite Pramac Ducati|
|Score||Attitude 9/10, Luck 1/10|
Up until Qatar 2012, Ben Spies' career had been something of a fairytale. Talent spotted by his later crew chief Tom Houseworth, he took the fight to Mat Mladin in the AMA and beat him fair and square. He won the World Superbike title at his first attempt, on tracks he hadn't seen until Friday morning practice. He grabbed two podiums in his rookie MotoGP season, then a win in his second season after moving up to the factory Yamaha team. And then it all went horribly wrong.
After a series of bizarre mechanical mishaps throughout the 2012 season, Spies suffered major shoulder damage in a crash at Sepang. He had already decided to leave the factory Yamaha team, signing with Ducati to race at Pramac. After surgery to fix the damaged tendons in his shoulder, Spies turned up at Sepang in February 2013 only to find the going tougher than expected. He skipped one day of testing, then tried to make a return three weeks later, but found himself struggling once again.
After rating the top ten finishers in the championship, it is time to turn our gaze to those outside the top ten worthy of note. Here is a view of Colin Edwards and Danilo Petrucci, two riders who both exceeded expectations in 2013.
|Colin Edwards||NGM Mobile Forward Racing|
Colin Edwards was thirty-nine years of age when he lined up on the grid for the first race of 2013, and facing questions over his ability to keep competing. His performance had been slipping since losing his spot in the factory Yamaha team, reaching a low point in his first year with the NGM Forward team on the Suter BMW. Was he perhaps too old? Did he really have the motivation to compete at this level?
After rating the top ten finishers in the championship, it is time to turn our gaze to those outside the top ten worthy of note. Below is a look at the seasons of Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone, in the news in 2013 for very different reasons.
|Aleix Espargaro||Power Electronics Aspar|
Aleix Espargaro became the poster boy for the CRT class in 2012, beating out his teammate Randy De Puniet. The two Aspar riders showed that even with less than a year of development, a slightly modified Superbike could compete with the slower of the satellite prototypes. 2013 saw the Aprilia ART take another step forward, but it was a step only Espargaro could follow, De Puniet complaining of a lack of feeling all year, his performance plummeting.
In the final chapter of our series running down the top ten finishers of the 2013 MotoGP season, we come to Bradley Smith. Here's a look at how his first year in the premier class went. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; part 6, Alvaro Bautista; part 7, Stefan Bradl; part 8, Andrea Dovizioso; and part 9, Nicky Hayden.
|Bradley Smith||Monster Tech 3 Yamaha|
Pity poor Bradley Smith. The young Englishman came in to MotoGP as a rookie, and did exactly what he was supposed to do: learn slowly, not crash too much, see his times and results improve gradually throughout the season. In any other year, Smith would have received quiet praise for the steady job he did.
But this was not any other year. This was the year that Marc Marquez moved up to MotoGP, destroying records and utterly redefining what is expected of a rookie. While Smith was steadily improving to go from finishing in the top ten to ending in the top six, Marquez was amassing podiums, wins, and well on his way to taking the title at the first attempt. Smith found himself being compared to the phenomenon that was Marquez, rather than the more realistic comparison with the rookie seasons of other MotoGP riders.
In the penultimate part of our restrospective on the season just past, we look back at Nicky Hayden. Here is our view of his final season with Ducati, and his move to Aspar for 2014. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; part 6, Alvaro Bautista; part 7, Stefan Bradl; and part 8, Andrea Dovizioso.
|Nicky Hayden||Ducati Factory|
It's been a tough few years for Nicky Hayden. Since joining Ducati in 2009, his results have been in steady decline, along with the performance of the Desmosedici. The 2013 season was the second season in a row where the American did not score a single podium, Hayden finishing in the same position as 2012, with four more points than last year.
This year was probably his toughest with the Italian manufacturer. Hayden found himself battling with teammate Andrea Dovizioso just about all year long, starting from the first race in Qatar. The Ducatis were a match only for each other, not for the other prototypes. In twelve of the eighteen races, Dovizioso and Hayden finished behind each other, the only other rider they regularly tangled with being Bradley Smith, a MotoGP rookie. More times than not, Hayden emerged as loser of the intra Ducati battles, finishing behind Dovizioso nine times, and ahead of him only seven times.
In the eighth instalment of our series looking at 2013, we come to Andrea Dovizioso. This is how the Italian got on in his first year at Ducati. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; part 6, Alvaro Bautista; and part 7, Stefan Bradl.
|Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Factory|
After losing his factory Honda ride at the end of 2011, Dovizioso made the switch to Yamaha, joining Cal Crutchlow in the Tech 3 team. A strong year with six podiums saw him win the slot in the factory Ducati team vacated by Valentino Rossi. Dovizioso felt he deserved a factory ride, and he had got what he wanted.
That proved to be something of a poisoned chalice. The year after Ducati was taken over by Audi proved to be a year of stagnation, with new head of Ducati Corse Bernhard Gobmeier never really able to impose his authority on the race department. A lot of work was done with chassis stiffness, a new aerodynamics package was unveiled, the engine received a minor upgrade with improved throttle bodies. It all helped, a little, but the bike still had understeer, still wouldn't turn.
Continuing our look back at 2013, we come to seventh place man Stefan Bradl. Here's how he fared in 2013. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; and part 6, Alvaro Bautista.
|Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda|
In his first season of MotoGP, Stefan Bradl did exactly what was expected of him, learning slowly, building speed, and getting better week after week. He impressed his team, crew chief Christophe 'Beefy' Bourguignon expressing admiration at his calm and intelligent approach after the first test on the bike. He did not crash too often, finished inside the top six on a regular basis, and even got close to his first podium.
After such a strong start, he was expected to do even better in year two. The target was the occasional podium, and to be the best of the satellite riders. Strong support from Honda meant that Bradl had the tools to do the job, though starting the season using Nissin brakes instead of Brembo put him at a slight disadvantage, the Nissins offering fractionally inferior brake release.
In part six of our series looking back at 2013, we reach Alvaro Bautista. Below is our view on Bautista's season in MotoGP. You can catch up with the rest of this series here: part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; and part 5, Cal Crutchlow.
|Alvaro Bautista||Go&Fun Gresini Honda|
Alvaro Bautista is arguably MotoGP's most underappreciated rider. A former 250cc champion, the Spaniard has been on a downward trajectory since moving to MotoGP, through no real fault of his own. First, he signed with Suzuki, making him a factory rider with MotoGP's weakest factory. After Suzuki left, Bautista moved to Gresini, where he rides for a pittance, and is forced to earn his keep as a test rider for Showa and Nissin. Left to fight against the industry standard Ohlins and Brembo on his own, Bautista does not get the recognition he deserves even when he is punching above his weight.
The fifth part of our series looking back at 2013 sees us turn to Cal Crutchlow. Here's a perspective on his 2013 season. You can catch up with this series here: part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; and part 4, Valentino Rossi.
|Cal Crutchlow||Monster Tech 3 Yamaha|
In 2011, Monster Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal cursed the day he signed Cal Crutchlow to a two-year contract. The 2010 World Supersport champion was struggling to get to grips with MotoGP, finding the tires harder to deal with and the level of competition higher than he expected. In 2012, Poncharal's took back most of what he said about the Englishman, and in 2013, Crutchlow rewarded Poncharal's patience in spades.
This was the year of the great British motorcycle racing revival. Cal Crutchlow looked like being the first Brit to win a premier class race since Barry Sheene in 1981, and Scott Redding looked like being the first British Grand Prix champion since Sheene in 1977. Neither man would succeed in their objective, but they generated a surge of enthusiasm for the sport back in their home country.
In the fourth part of our series looking back at 2013, we take a look at Valentino Rossi's season. To catch up with previous instalments, you can read part 1 on Marc Marquez, part 2 on Jorge Lorenzo, and part 3 on Dani Pedrosa.
|Valentino Rossi||Yamaha Factory Racing|
Valentino Rossi left Ducati at the end of 2012 with a palpable sense of relief. At last he would be back on a bike with a front end he could trust, and could get back to being competitive. The goal was to test himself, to see if he could still run at the front with the Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, he repeatedly told reporters in the preseason.
Testing looked promising. Rossi was a little way behind the Hondas, but so was his teammate Jorge Lorenzo, and that was the man he had to measure himself against. At the first race, Rossi was straight onto the podium, dishing out a lesson in racecraft to Marc Marquez along the way. It looked like he was finally back in business.
In part three of our series looking back at 2013, we review the performance of Dani Pedrosa last season. If you missed the first two instalments, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez, and part 2, Jorge Lorenzo.
|Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda|
At the end of the 2013 season, some sections of the media took great delight in writing off Dani Pedrosa, after he failed yet again to secure a MotoGP title at his eighth time of trying. Surely Pedrosa's days at the Repsol Honda team were numbered, as he consistently fails to deliver on the promise he showed in the 125 and 250 classes?
It is easy to dismiss Pedrosa as MotoGP's 'nearly man', and consign him to the dustbin of history, but to do so is to ignore Pedrosa's actual results. Dani Pedrosa won three races in 2013, was on the podium a further ten times, moved ahead of Kevin Schwantz, Wayne Rainey and Kenny Roberts in the all-time MotoGP rankings, and now has the same number of second- and third-place finishes as Valentino Rossi. After Assen, Pedrosa was leading the championship by 9 points.
Continuing our look back at 2013, here is the second part of our rating of rider performances last season, covering championship runner up Jorge Lorenzo. If you missed part 1, on Marc Marquez, you can catch up here.
|Jorge Lorenzo||Yamaha Factory Racing|
After as close to a perfect year as you can get in 2012, Jorge Lorenzo faced a major challenge in 2013. Defending his 2010 title, Lorenzo found himself pushing right at the limit to try to match the pace of Casey Stoner. He had hoped defending his 2012 title would be a little easier, but that would prove not to be the case.
Ironically, Lorenzo ran up against the same problems in 2013 that he had faced in 2011: a game-changing newcomer at Honda, on a bike developed specifically to beat the Yamaha. In 2011, the game-changer had been Casey Stoner; in 2013, it was Marc Marquez.
Lorenzo started the year well at Qatar, but raced at Austin knowing he could not beat the Hondas. At Jerez, he got a rude awakening, when Marc Marquez barged him aside in the final corner. His worst finish since his rookie year at Le Mans was followed by two wins, Lorenzo regaining his confidence and feeling he had the championship back under control.
As 2014 gets underway, we start our build up towards the upcoming MotoGP season. This starts all this week with a look back at the performance of the riders in 2013, rating the top ten in the championship, as well as exceptional performers last year. Later this month, we will start to look forward, highlighting what we can expect of the season to come, both in terms of riders and the new regulations for 2014. The new season starts here.
|Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda|
How would Marc Marquez fare in MotoGP? It was the question on everybody's lips at the start of 2013, as the young Spaniard left the class he had dominated to play with the big boys. It would be Marquez' moment of truth: throughout his career in the junior classes, he had always been in the best teams. Many outside observers also claimed he had been on the best bike in Moto2. In 2013, Moto2 teams who had competed against him were free to concede that Marquez had won despite his Suter, not because of it.
Their words were backed by Marquez' action. Accepted wisdom holds that a rookie year is for learning, for getting to grips with a MotoGP bike, having a few big crashes, chasing the odd podium and maybe even a win. Marquez did all that and more, but how he did it marked him out as one of a kind. His first podium came in his first race, the Spaniard benefiting from problems Dani Pedrosa suffered with the dusty Qatar surface. His first win came a race later, smashing what would be one of many records in MotoGP. Youngest race winner, youngest champion, youngest rider to set a fastest lap, youngest polesitter, youngest back-to-back winner, youngest to win four races in a row, most wins as a rookie, most poles as a rookie, highest points total for a rookie; the list goes on and on. Marquez broke records held by Freddie Spencer, Kenny Roberts, Mike Hailwood. These are very big boots to fill, yet fill them he did.