The final part of our review of the 2015 season, takes a look at the riders at the bottom end of the championship. Though they finished well behind the leaders, the list still contains some big names and interesting stories. Near the top are the Aprilias of Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl, as well as the surprising Loris Baz. There is the tough times faced by the Open class Honda riders, including Nicky Hayden and Jack Miller. And at the bottom, the men gritting their teeth through injury, including Alex De Angelis and Karel Abraham.
If you missed the first four parts of our season review, you can catch up with part 1, on the Movistar Yamaha men, part 2, on two Repsol Hondas, part 3, covering Andrea Iannone to Cal Crutchlow, and part 4, from Pol Espargaro to Hector Barbera.
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.
Alvaro Bautista, Gresini Aprilia, 16th, 31 points
Alvaro Bautista started the 2015 season full of hope. Finally back as a factory rider, he hoped to help steer the development of the factory's RS-GP bike ahead of the new prototype to be rolled out in 2016. Bautista had expected a tough season, but he hadn't expected it to be this tough. There was little sign of progress throughout 2015, with new developments rolled out only slowly, and the Aprilia still losing out in too many areas to be competitive. Still very closely related to the Aprilia RSV4R from which it stems, the bike is heavy, underpowered, doesn't turn well, and suffers both in top speed and acceleration.
Bautista soldiered on, put his head down and worked. In the first half of the season, he was on double duty, as then teammate Marco Melandri was painfully and embarrassingly underperforming on a bike he never wanted to be on. Bautista got some help in the second half of the year, after Stefan Bradl replaced the dead weight of Melandri. But it was a year of treading water for Bautista, waiting for 2016. Now he has to wait and see whether Romano Albesiano can pull off the same trick as Gigi Dall'Igna at Ducati, building a brand new prototype from the ground up for 2016.
Loris Baz, Yamaha Forward, 17th, 28 points
Loris Baz had originally signed to race with Aspar Honda for 2015 in MotoGP, until that team suddenly, and rather bizarrely, decided that he was too tall to be racing a MotoGP machine. The Forward Yamaha team disagreed, and took Baz on, in part at the behest of Dorna, who wanted a competitive Frenchman in the class.
Aspar's rejection became a prominent and sometimes hilarious feature of Baz' 2015 campaign, the Forward team using the hashtag #nottootall every time he posted a good result. The Frenchman adapted to a MotoGP bike much better than expected, often setting a pace comparable to his vastly more experienced teammate Stefan Bradl. Baz even came close to scoring a podium in his rookie season, just missing out amid the strangeness of Misano. But Baz showed that he could ride, and even surprise the regulars. Next year, he partners Hector Barbera at Avintia, where he gets another chance to prove himself.
Stefan Bradl, Gresini Aprilia/Yamaha Forward, 18th, 17 points
Stefan Brad's 2015 season is really two separate seasons. The first half of the year, he spent struggling with the Forward Yamaha, finding it hard to adapt to the Open class electronics. With some justification: the spec Magneti Marelli software spat him off at Assen, breaking a bone in his hand, and forcing him to miss his home race.
When Forward boss Giovanni Cuzari was arrested – he was later released, and the charges dropped – and the future of the team was in doubt, Bradl seized his opportunity, and jumped at the chance to switch to Aprilia. There he did a solid job of assisting Alvaro Bautista develop the RS-GP, providing good feedback for the factory to use for their 2016 prototype. Bradl has another year with Aprilia for 2016, and has another chance to shine. He showed he has the ability with his podium in 2013. In 2015, he showed he has the grit and determination to put in the work. Now he needs help from Aprilia, and a competitive bike.
Jack Miller, LCR Honda, 19th, 17 points
As with Stefan Bradl, Jack Miller's 2015 was a season of two halves. But where the split in Bradl's season was a matter of team and machinery, Miller's dichotomous year was all down to the Australian himself.
Coming off a hard year in Moto3, where he had struggled to keep his weight down to be competitive, Miller let himself go over the off-season. Bulking up in part through weight training, and in part through a lack of dietary discipline, Miller put on almost as much weight as Danilo Petrucci had lost. His three-year contract with HRC made the Japanese factory take a long, hard look at their Australian asset, and then decide to assign Alberto Puig to mentor him.
From that point, Miller started to turn his season around. He worked harder, got fitter, and improved his riding. His results remained rather inconsistent, but that was more down to the Honda RC213V-RS Open class Honda, rather than Miller. His upward progress resumed, putting in some solid performances, and ending as the fastest man on an Open class Honda. He will need to carry that on through 2016, now that he is on the same bike as the other Honda satellite riders.
Nicky Hayden, Aspar Honda, 20th, 16 points
It has been a tough few years for Nicky Hayden. Since losing his factory ride at Ducati, things have gone badly downhill. He was hampered by a chronic wrist injury, which only started to sort itself out in 2014, after radical surgery to remove a row of bones from his right hand. That same year, he was also hampered by the performance of the Honda RCV1000R.
Hayden had high hopes of 2015, but again, the performance of the Open class Honda let him down. Sure, it was fast, but the engine simply did not work with the spec electronics and software, and unlike Jack Miller, Hayden did not have the backing of HRC to try and make it work. Hayden soldiered bravely on, in relative anonymity.
His perseverance paid off in the end, though. He lost his spot in the MotoGP paddock, but was drafted into the Ten Kate Honda World Superbike squad. He has been strong in testing on the underpowered CBR1000RR, but this time, there are solid promises from Honda of a much faster bike in 2017. It may take a while, but Hayden may finally get back to fighting for podiums again soon.
Hayden's move may be a minor defeat for the American, but it is a huge gain for the World Superbike series. Hayden was always a gentleman, and great with the media. He always had a quote we could use, was unfailingly polite, and always willing to answer even the stupidest question. MotoGP will miss him.
Michele Pirro, Ducati Test Team, 21st, 12 points
Why is a test rider in the annual review of the performance of the MotoGP regulars? Because in 2015, Michele Pirro demonstrated the benefit of having a genuinely fast racer as a test rider, just as he had done last year. Pirro only rode in three MotoGP rounds, but he scored an eighth and a twelfth in the two dry round he raced in (Mugello and Valencia), and was generally very quick. He also won the Italian CIV Superbike championship, an important feather in Ducati's cap. And he ground out the miles on the Desmosedici GP15 (and GP14), doing the hard miles required of a tester. Michele Pirro is worthy of our respect.
Eugene Laverty, Aspar Honda, 22nd, 9 points
Eugene Laverty came to MotoGP knowing he faced a tough first year. He had signed a two-year deal with the Aspar team understanding that the first year, he would be on an uncompetitive bike, but hoping that he would be able to shine in his second season. The first year turned out to be tougher than he thought, the Honda RC213V-RS proving to be a lot less competitive than anyone had expected. Laverty gritted his teeth, dug in, and got on with the job. A change of crew chief at the end of the year helped a little, but he was still not where he needed to be.
For 2016, Aspar have made the switch to Ducati. Laverty's first contact with the bike was positive, his second contact, less so. A big crash at Jerez during testing saw him fracture his radius and dislocate his shoulder. New Michelin tires should help solve that problem, and then it is all down to the Irishman. Laverty has a good relationship with Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna, and Ducati are providing Aspar with much more support than Honda ever did. 2016 should be a much better year.
Mike Di Meglio, Avintia Ducati, 24th, 8 points
Mike Di Meglio's 2015 season was passed largely in anonymity. The Frenchman partnered Hector Barbera at Avintia, but could never match his teammate on the Ducati. The low point of his season came at his home Grand Prix: Di Meglio qualified relatively well at Le Mans, but then crashed out on the second lap. He racked up a handful of points, his best result a thirteenth place at Misano, but it was not enough to secure him a ride for 2016. He switches to a testing role at Aprilia, where he should provide some value.
Alex De Angelis, Ioda Racing ART, 28th, 2 points
Alex De Angelis' season is characterized above all by courage and fortitude. It takes a special kind of moral fiber to keep plugging away on a bike that is the least competitive by a ridiculous margin, Ioda Racing's Aprilia ART machine the 2014 version of a bike that was underpowered even then. Despite the challenges, De Angelis raced, even picking up a couple of points.
His fortitude was demonstrated most by his crash at Motegi, a bizarre incident in which the rear of his bike came round, then bit, launching him straight at a wall. The man from San Marino suffered serious injuries to neck, back, and lungs, and spent a week in a Japanese hospital, too ill to be returned to Italy. By Valencia, he was back in the paddock, and training again in preparation for the 2016 season. He has a contract with Ioda again, but Ioda will not receive a subsidy for tires and transport, making their slot in MotoGP uncertain. De Angelis deserves better.
Karel Abraham, AB Racing Honda, not classified, 0 points
Karel Abraham is an intelligent, articulate and driven young man, but in 2015, everything worked against him. He struggled with the Open class Honda RC213V-RS, just as Miller, Hayden and Laverty did, but Abraham badly damaged his ankle when he was spat off by the bike during practice at Barcelona. That effectively ended his season, the Czech rider never really regaining his fitness again, making the situation worse by trying to return at his home race in Brno. His courage could be lauded, but it was not a sensible decision, and Abraham paid the price by further exacerbating the injury. He struggled on for three more races, before understanding that there was no point in trying to race until his foot was fully healed.
Abraham departs MotoGP, joining Nicky Hayden in World Superbikes. There he will race a BMW, alongside BSB champion Josh Brookes. If he stays fit, he should be able to show a little more of what he is capable of.
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