Our review of the 2015 MotoGP season continues, with a look at the riders who finished in places nine through fifteen. Part 4 covers Pol Espargaro, Danilo Petrucci, the Suzuki riders Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales, Scott Redding, Yonny Hernandez and Hector Barbera. If you missed the first three parts of our season review, you can catch up with part 1, on the Movistar Yamaha men, part 2, on two Repsol Hondas, and part 3, covering Andrea Iannone to Cal Crutchlow.
A reminder: we review the performance of each rider below, giving them a mark out of ten for their ability to live up to or exceed expectations. As every year, we cover the riders in the order they finished in the championship.
Pol Espargaro, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 9th, 114 points
This was not the year that Pol Espargaro had hoped for. After a strong rookie season in 2014, when he outclassed his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Bradley Smith, Espargaro took a big step backward in 2015. The Spaniard finished with fewer points – 114, vs 136 in 2014 – and never really looked like getting involved in the battle for the podium, something which many were predicting at the end of last season.
What happened? It is hard to pinpoint exactly where the younger Espargaro went wrong in 2015, but the issue almost certainly lay within himself. The success he experienced in 2014 left him hungry for more, and he tried to push as hard as possible to go faster in 2015. The trouble is, that doesn't work on a Bridgestone-shod Yamaha MotoGP bike. The harder you try, the slower you go. It is all about being as calm, smooth and precise as possible, as Bradley Smith demonstrated.
Pol Espargaro is now looking forward. One of the first riders to speak openly about the Michelins, and how he is looking forward to racing them, the French tires give him the grip he needs to go fast. A lot of ex-Moto2 riders have praised the Michelins, but Espargaro has been the most vocal. He was quick at Valencia on the new tires, though without the new electronics. The Michelins may give him the confidence he needs to find the extra couple of tenths which every rider keeps between his ears. Those couple of tenths are the hardest to extract, and the most fragile; one setback, and they are gone again. Espargaro will be trying to hang on to them for as long as possible in 2016.
Danilo Petrucci, Pramac Ducati, 10th, 113 points
Attitude adjustment was a running theme for 2015. The biggest surprise it threw up was Danilo Petrucci. Knowing that he would be getting off the dog-slow ART Aprilia run by Ioda Racing and not a Pramac Ducati, he lost 8kg in the off-season between 2014 and 2015, turning up in Sepang lighter and fitter than he had been since arriving in MotoGP. He saw the opportunity he had been given, and he grasped it.
Petrucci posted a solid string of results, constantly hovering around the top ten. He went from 17 points scored in 2014, to 113 in 2015. He outclassed his teammate Yonny Hernandez, who was in his second year on the Ducati. The high point of his season was at Silverstone, where he showed just how good he was in the wet by finishing second in atrocious weather. Then, in the press conference, he went on to make us all wish he was on the podium more often with a string of witty answers to questions.
Petrucci's problem, however, was that his performance plateaued around that tenth spot. His best result outside of Silverstone was a pair of sixth places, one at the bizarre weather-stricken Misano race, the other at Sepang, where attrition ahead of him moved him several places up the field. His season was good enough to win the favor of Ducati, though, and Petrucci retained his seat in Pramac with the promise of better equipment for next year. Danilo Petrucci showed a lot of promise in 2015. Now he has to make good on it.
Aleix Espargaro, ECSTAR Suzuki, 11th, 105 points
The return of Suzuki to MotoGP met with much excitement among fans and media. We were, however, mindful of the marque's history in the sport: Suzukis were always good, but never quite good enough to be truly competitive. Once the series switched from two strokes to four strokes, Suzuki's heyday definitively became a thing of the past.
The 2015 GSX-RR looked like being another typical Suzuki. The inline four is probably the best-handling bike on the MotoGP grid. But the bike was down on horsepower and lacked a seamless gearbox, making it impossible for Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales to really make a fist against the might of Yamaha, Honda and Ducati.
Aleix Espargaro had a good year in his first season as a factory Suzuki rider. But after the promise he showed in 2014 aboard the Open class Forward Yamaha, he must feel slightly disappointed. With Tom O'Kane, one of the best crew chiefs in the business, at his side, he got as much out of the Suzuki as he could. At Barcelona, that was good enough to secure pole. But the race mercilessly exposed the weaknesses of the bike again: Espargaro and Viñales started from first and second on the grid, but had been passed by six or seven riders by the time they entered the first corner.
The 2016 bike should be better. A seamless gearbox has already been tested, and yet more power is on the way. For the moment, Aleix Espargaro's position at Suzuki is secure, but with young talent on the way in 2017, he will have to maintain or even improve his results if he is to keep his seat in the long term.
Maverick Viñales, ECSTAR Suzuki, 12th, 97 points
Did we witness the birth of a new alien in 2015? Maverick Viñales certainly ticked a lot of the boxes to qualify for that. Within half a season, he was matching his far more experienced teammate Aleix Espargaro, and starting to beat the Spaniard. At Phillip Island, a track where a rider can overcome many of the weaknesses of his machinery, Viñales finished in sixth, under seven seconds from the winner Marc Márquez, and under two seconds behind Dani Pedrosa in fifth. It was a clear sign that Viñales is something a bit special.
Viñales wasn't just impressive on the track – though ultimately, that is where he will be measured – but also in the way he handled himself off the track. The Spaniard was always professional, calm, mature for his years, answering questions thoughtfully and intelligently. Even in his private life he is something of a maverick, living up to his name. Where other riders often wind up with umbrella girls for girlfriends, Viñales is in a relationship with Kiara Fontanesi, the four-time women's world motocross champion.
Will Viñales develop into the next alien, and go on to challenge Márquez, Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa? The one thing all aliens have in common is that they immediately get results after switching categories, scoring poles and podiums. Viñales did not do this, but there is a legitimate reason to put this down largely to the fact that the Suzuki simply wasn't capable of delivering a podium. Viñales is now one of a very select group of riders who has won the Rookie of the Year title in all three classes, however. If Suzuki bring a better bike in 2016, podiums are surely within reach. If Suzuki do not bring a better bike, then either Honda or Yamaha will snatch Viñales up in a heartbeat.
Scott Redding, Estrella Galicia Marc VDS Honda, 13th, 84 points
Scott Redding had a very frustrating rookie season in MotoGP. He was immediately quick on the Honda RCV1000R Open class bike, finishing ahead of 2006 world champion Nicky Hayden on the same bike at the first race. His trouble was that he may have been fast compared to the other Open class Hondas, but he was nowhere near the riders on the factory and satellite bikes. Give me a full fat Honda RC213V, he said, and he would take the fight to the front runners.
Redding got a real shock when he was finally handed the bike he had asked for. This was not the sweet-handling RCV1000R, but with a bit more horsepower. This was a horrific, snarling, aggressive beast, that either wanted to spin up or wheelie, and was almost impossible to make progress on. The bike wasn't the only obstacle Redding faced: he had returned to the bosom of the Marc VDS Racing team, but as it was their first foray into MotoGP, they had to put together a new team, hiring top Honda World Superbike crew chief Chris Pike to lead them. It took a while to get everything working smoothly, but by that time, Redding had let his head hang, and lost his confidence.
For most of the season, Redding was a shadow of the racer he showed he was in the past. He looked stiff and tentative on the bike, not the way to ride a MotoGP machine, only occasionally finding a burst of pace, but never for long. The weird weather at Misano helped him to a podium (and winning a friend of his a five figure sum from the bookies), but it made no difference. In the last few races, it looked like Redding was just phoning it in. He had already signed for Pramac Ducati, and was desperate to get off the Honda and onto the GP15.
The results of testing so far have vindicated Redding's choice, the Englishman really flying on the Ducati at Jerez. Redding is still a highly competitive and fast racer. But he wasn't in 2015.
Yonny Hernandez, Pramac Ducati, 14th, 56 points
Yonny Hernandez started the season as the lead rider at Pramac Ducati, on a full-blown Ducati GP14.2, where Danilo Petrucci was stuck with a GP14.1 (actually, the bike used by Cal Crutchlow for most of 2014). But while Hernandez remained spectacular to watch, braking hard and sliding the rear of the Desmosedici, he was quickly outclassed by his teammate on inferior equipment. Though Hernandez often qualified well, and scored a number of top tens, he was not making the progression expected of him. The talent is there, but he is not developing as he should.
That lack of progression saw him moved out of the Pramac squad, effectively Ducati's junior squad. For 2016, he finds himself on a GP14.2 for yet another year, this time at Aspar Ducati. Hernandez has another shot at demonstrating real progression, but his chances in MotoGP are running out.
Hector Barbera, Avintia Ducati, 15th, 33 points
Every year, fans ask themselves how come Hector Barbera gets another year in MotoGP. And every year, Hector Barbera proves both that he is worthy of his place in MotoGP, but that he is never going to be a world champion in the class. In 2015, Barbera proved himself to be the best of the rest, by winning the Open class championship on the Avintia Ducati. The Spaniard put in another solid season, often fast in qualifying using the soft tire available to the Open class bikes, but only once finishing inside the top ten. It was a tough year for the Open class riders, but Barbera was deservedly the best of the bunch.
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