The 2016 MotoGP Season Preview: Best Ever Season Or Bust?

The 2015 MotoGP season will go down in history as one of the best and most memorable of all time. The title was tightly contested between two of the best motorcycle racers of all time, while two more of the best motorcycle racers of all time won races and helped make the championship exciting. It saw a resurgence of Ducati, bringing the grand total of competitive manufacturers back up to three, along with a solid return to the fold of Suzuki. It saw rising young stars join the class, showing promise of becoming possible future greats.

Above all, 2015 offered fantastic racing, with the results going all the way down to the wire. We were treated to triumph and tragedy, the title battle ebbing and flowing between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo almost week to week. We saw races decided by fractions of a second, brave passing maneuvers rewarded, while hubris was punished mercilessly. We saw controversy, including one of the most controversial incidents in many, many years, where a clash between riders looked like deciding the championship. The title went down to the wire, decided only at the final race, in another event which was filled with controversy. It was eerily reminiscent of the 2006 season, the first year I started writing about MotoGP.

The aftermath of the 2006 season also has valuable lessons for 2016. There were major changes to the technical regulations for 2007, just as there are for this year. In 2007, MotoGP went from 990cc bikes to 800cc, with restrictions on tires and fuel. 2016 sees the introduction of spec electronics – the so-called common or unified software – and the switch from Bridgestone to Michelin tires. Unfortunately for the new fans who were captivated by the spectacle of 2006, the 2007 championship saw the combination of Ducati, Bridgestone and Casey Stoner get the rules right to devastating effect, and the Australian run away with the championship. It shook MotoGP to its core, and marked a pivotal point in MotoGP history.

2006 or 2007?

Could history repeat itself? There are certainly plenty of parallels. Once again, Ducati look like having adapted to the new regulations much better than others. There are some surprise names up at the sharp end of testing – Maverick Viñales for one, Scott Redding perhaps another. Changes to tires have disrupted existing strengths and weaknesses, and expected patterns. Of only one thing can we be sure: the 2016 season is unlikely to unfold as we expect. Surprises lurk around every corner.

Chief culprit behind many of those surprises? The switch to Michelin tires. The French tire maker has had ups and downs on their return to the premier class. The bikes have changed more than anticipated, braking later and harder, cornering faster, with a radically different weight distribution than when Michelin left at the end of 2008. That change took some time for Michelin to adapt to, with rider after rider washing out the front end and crashing. A major change over the winter fixed most of those issues, as did changes to bike set up. Implementing mandatory tire pressures then corrected the mistake that led to Loris Baz' rear Michelin exploding at Sepang.

What testing made clear, however, is just how differently tires behave at different tracks. Jorge Lorenzo dominated at Sepang, was mediocre at Phillip Island, then was fastest again in Qatar. The sudden drop in temperature which is a regular feature of Phillip Island afternoons saw riders crash out again and again. Changing conditions and changing tracks will catch Michelin out throughout the season, as they add to the data they already have at each track. Sometimes, the tires Michelin brings will suit a particular rider at a particular track, while at the next, they will find themselves cursing the French tire maker. This is a curve ball that every rider on the grid will have to be wary off. It will be great for the fans, however, as each team struggles to get a handle on the tires, and rider fortunes rise and fall week by week.

Electronic surprises, and the possibility of tire trouble

Could the electronics cause as many surprises at the tires? You would have put money on that after the first full test of the common software at Valencia. But the winter break was just what the data engineers and electronics boffins needed. With time to sit down and go through the data, they could overlay the new system against the old, and work out what the common software needed to get the best out of their machines. At Sepang, it was clear that Ducati were streets ahead, though Yamaha and Suzuki were rapidly gaining on them, while Honda and Aprilia struggled. At Phillip Island, Honda made a step forward, followed by another one at the final test in Qatar. There is still plenty of room for improvement, but the worst of the gremlins have been ironed out.

There will still be an effect from the electronics, however. And that effect has to do with tires, as former Bridgestone press officer and tire guru Carmine Moscaritolo explained in a post on LinkedIn. For the past ten years or so, starting from the switch to 800cc in 2007 and growing as the bikes got faster, the focus of electronics switched from merely controlling power and managing the bike to focus on tire degradation. The longer tires last, the faster a rider can go at the end of a race, and so the electronics were focused around keeping the rear tire in peak condition for as long as possible.

By the end of the electronics war which this triggered, the ECU software being used by Yamaha, Honda and Ducati had become predictive, assessing tire wear as the race went on, extrapolating that wear, and preemptively adjusting the electronics lap by lap as the race went on. The advent of the common software means this capability is gone: it is still possible to set up the electronics to be different in every corner, but they no longer adjust themselves automatically each lap. Instead, the rider leaves pit lane with two or three different software settings, which they can switch manually as tires start to wear. The rest, they have to do themselves, using the throttle, body position, and sheer ability.

Who wins from the new rules?

Who will this favor? For a start, it will help riders who are better at tire management than others. That doesn't thin the field out that much, given that riders coming up through all classes have extensive experience with that. If you think the MotoGP spec software is dumbed down for 2016, you should see what the Moto2 software is like.

It may benefit riders who are smarter, calmer, and have more experience, however. Riders who race with the red mist descending are more likely to simply forget to switch to a softer map in time, and burn them up before the race is over. Smart riders will be able to juggle three maps instead of two, allowing them to manage tire wear more closely. Experienced riders will be able to better judge the exact moment at which they will extract maximum benefit from switching maps. Talent, judgment, intelligence: three key attributes which separate the great motorcycle racers from the merely good.

Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord

Tires and electronics may change, but one thing will remain the same. The intense rivalry created between Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez is set to continue unabated. There is little desire on the part of either man to let it lie, though Márquez has been much quieter about it in public than Rossi. Rossi's public pronouncements have been both bitter and fierce, declaring roundly that he was cheated out of the 2015 MotoGP title by the actions of Márquez, and referring obliquely (though prompted) to the actions of Ayrton Senna at Suzuka in 1990, when Senna deliberately took out Alain Prost in the final race of that F1 season to secure the title.

Márquez has been far more circumspect in his statements to the press, expressing regret that the situation continues. His actions, though, are a lot less conciliatory. In the latest episode of the Paddock Pass Podcast, Steve English told us a story from the Phillip Island test, of Marc Márquez pulling up alongside Valentino Rossi as Rossi was doing a test start, looking across at Rossi and giving him a long and hard stare. As one team member who has worked with both Rossi and Márquez said to me after Valencia, the two biggest egos in the paddock were always destined to clash. That conflict will continue throughout 2016, and probably until one or the other retires from MotoGP.

In it to win it

It is going to be hard for Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez to avoid running across each other. Both start 2016 with a good shot at the title. Not as good as reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo, judging by testing, and better than Dani Pedrosa, but the top four remain fairly intact. Of MotoGP's four Aliens, it has been Pedrosa around whose head the clouds of doubt have begun to gather. The Spaniard only finished inside the top ten overall in one of the three preseason tests, at Phillip Island.

Before the winter test break, there had been speculation Pedrosa could benefit from the switch to Michelin tires. They could suit his style, the reasoning went, and as the rear Michelin had so much more grip than the rear Bridgestone, he would not struggle as much to generate traction. That theory may still be sound, but it ran into a much bigger obstacle in the form of the spec electronics. Honda have consistently struggled to figure out the common software and get it to work with the RC213V. There has been progress, with big steps made between each test. It has also depended very much on the track, with the lack of grip much more of a problem in the tighter turns at Sepang and Qatar than the fast sweeping corners at Phillip Island. All of this has left Pedrosa frustrated, calling for rapid improvement.

Marc Márquez has shown that improvement is possible. It has been Márquez who has consistently been the fastest Honda rider, though Cal Crutchlow has occasionally got the better of him on the LCR Honda. There were small steps at Sepang, a bigger step between Sepang and Phillip Island, then a step back between Australia and Qatar. In the end, it took a crash and a radical experiment to obtain some kind of improvement. At the suggestion of his crew chief, Santi Hernandez, they turned Márquez' bike upside down, and it worked. For the first time, Márquez left a test confident. That offers hope for Márquez, but also for his teammate, if the solutions found for Márquez work for Pedrosa.

What Márquez has to wonder is if he can match the pace of the factory Yamahas. His final runs after the transmogrification of his Repsol Honda must leave him confident. His long run was significantly faster than anyone else at the test, and he did more laps at a faster pace as well. Though the headline times have Jorge Lorenzo ahead, the Yamaha man trails Márquez on average pace. If this is indicative of Márquez' real position ahead of 2016, then he is back in with a chance of the title. If it is just a blip, a result of the peculiar conditions at Qatar, then Márquez may be in for another year of disappointment down the stretch.

Blue on blue again

As far as that is concerned, 2016 bears an eerie resemblance to 2015. Two Yamahas, both strong, with Jorge Lorenzo once again better in outright speed, while Valentino Rossi rules again on consistency. Lorenzo dominated Sepang and Qatar, but had a much tougher time at Phillip Island. Rossi didn't dominate anywhere, but was always roughly at the same place. Here again, headline times may deceive: while Lorenzo struggled with tires and worked on set up, much of the grunt work of testing was handed to Rossi, assessing new parts on run after run. Rossi is definitely better than he looks on the timesheets. But will he be good enough to beat Lorenzo consistently?

So who does testing leave as favorite? The Yamaha M1 is clearly the superior motorcycle, despite the fact that it has changed little since last year. In a sense, Yamaha have been helped by Michelin, the improved front tire meaning that the more radical version of the YZR-M1 with the fuel tank filler at the rear is no longer necessary. The Yamaha was a fantastic motorcycle in 2015, with an engine that produced usable power and not too much in the way of electronic intervention to manage it. Different tires, two more liters of fuel, and spec electronics have not affected it much, and the bike is as good as it ever was.

Yamaha have found a little more power, in part through reductions in friction. That had been a factor in the choice of ENEOS, as sponsor and oil supplier. The oil ENEOS developed for Yamaha gave the M1 a handful of badly needed extra horsepower. Though the M1 remains down on power compared to the Honda and Ducati, they are close enough to stay in the slipstream, and so much better through the corners that it is an unbeatable package. It still does best in the hands of Jorge Lorenzo, but Lorenzo will have problems at some tracks, where the tires do not suit him. Valentino Rossi will have to capitalize in those moments, and try to pull as much of a gap as possible.

He will be assisted – irony of ironies – by Marc Márquez in that endeavor. It is still unclear whether the Honda can win consistently, though you can be sure the Spaniard will be trying. Not quite as hard as last season – the biggest lesson from 2015 for Márquez, he keeps telling the media, is that he has learned that it is better to settle for points when you can't win than to try pushing for a win that you are simply not capable of, crashing out and scoring zero. If Márquez' set up gains also transfer to Pedrosa, then the championship could get really complicated once again.

A mob of dark horses

The best thing about the 2016 season is that there are a host of new names ready to insert themselves into every podium race and cause headaches for the championship candidates in the title chase. The switch to spec electronics has given a massive boost to Ducati, with the two factory riders and the men at Pramac regularly featuring at the front of the pack. They were joined there at Sepang by Casey Stoner: on the one hand, an embarrassment, given that Stoner was just a test rider. On the other, a hopeful sign indeed. The bike is clearly good enough to win.

Much of their great leap forward has come from the common software. Ducati are reaping the benefits of their investment in their Open class teams in 2015. They have a very solid handle on how the electronics work with their engine, and how to get the best out of it. All of the Ducatis – GP16 (or Desmosedici GP, as we must call it), GP15 and GP14.2 – have featured near the top of the timesheets, demonstrating that the underlying concept of the bike is strong. The switch to Michelins may also have helped, added rear grip given them much more drive out of corners and the ability to exploit more of the abundant horsepower of the motor.

The weaker Michelin front may also have helped. It is no longer possible for the Hondas to brake well after seeing God, pivot the bike on a dime around the front wheel, then try to get some grip on corner exit. Already weaker than their rivals, Ducati have probably lost less in turning than Yamaha and Honda. The Michelin doesn't support the same level of extreme trail braking all the way to the corner either, moving braking back to the point where the bike is still in a straight line. That helps the Ducati GP15 especially, the bike suffering in braking stability. It also helps the racing: having to brake earlier means more opportunity to try to pass other riders on the brakes.

Ducati dreamers

Having so many technical changes has actually helped the Pramac team more than the factory squad. Scott Redding and Danilo Petrucci had nothing much to test during the preseason, and could instead focus on chasing the best base set up for the Ducati Desmosedici GP15. That has paid off for the pair of them, though Petrucci's crash at Phillip Island, where he broke his hand, worked against him. Redding, on the other hand (to coin a phrase), has been straight up impressive, posting strong times at all three tests and finishing second in Qatar. Above all, Redding's race pace has impressed. He has shown himself capable of not just posting a quick lap, but also of pounding out the fast times lap after lap.

Redding's gain in speed has not just come from the bike, however, a good deal of it is also down to the nut between the handlebars, as the saying has it. After spending his first year in MotoGP bemoaning the fact he did not have a full factory RC213V with which to compete against the top riders – and more specifically, Marc Márquez, who he had raced against in Moto2 – he had a shock when he finally climbed aboard one in 2015. Redding and the bike never got on, the Englishman bemoaning his fate at Assen and wondering wistfully how things would have fared if he had joined Pramac Ducati. Going by his results in testing so far, you would have to say incredibly well. The bike fits Redding's lanky frame better, the additional horsepower – usable now, as the bike actually has grip – helps overcome his weight disadvantage, and Redding just feels more comfortable on the bike. If testing is anything to go by, the Pramac Ducati man could be a regular site on the podium. Though Danilo Petrucci has only had limited time during testing, he too could be at the front more often than not.

That might end up being something of an embarrassment for the factory Ducati riders. So far, the two Andreas, Dovizioso and Iannone, have been unable to match the pace of the Pramacs. That, however, is somewhat illusory, as the two factory men have been engaged on working out the finer details of the 2016 version of the Ducati Desmosedici. They have had contrasting fates during the 2016 preseason, Iannone taking to the new tires and electronics like a duck to water and finishing inside the top four on a couple of occasions.

Dovizioso has had a harder time of things, struggling to work out what to do with the new Michelins. The elder of the two Andreas had a specific problem: known as the last of the late brakers, the weaker front Michelin took away his strength. Shorn like Samson, Dovizioso had to figure out an alternative, and it took him most of the preseason to find out how to go faster. The Italian made a big step forward at Phillip Island, and was happier overall at Qatar. If Dovizioso is to retain a factory ride for 2017, he needs a strong 2016. Motivation will take you a long way.

The next Alien?

If the Ducatis look to be crowding out the podium, they could well be joined on a regular basis by the Suzuki of Maverick Viñales. The improvements to the Suzuki GSX-RR – more power, a different chassis (though one which is yet to convince him), and a seamless gearbox – have transformed the bike from an also-ran to a tool capable of competing. Was this all that was missing for Viñales to turn into the next Alien? It's a little early to tell, but the results of testing are promising. Fastest at Phillip Island, third quickest at Sepang, and constantly in among the front runners. Viñales will be chasing podiums all year.

Yet there is a question mark hanging over the Spanish sensation. Time after time, Viñales proved himself capable putting in a fast lap. Look at his longer runs, however, and Viñales' performance is less impressive. At Qatar, the pace of Viñales' long runs put him a lowly seventh, ten seconds slower than Marc Márquez over race distance and roughly half a second a lap behind the Repsol Honda. Comparing lap times during testing can be difficult – everyone is on different programs, at different times – but Viñales may still need a little bit of help to make the next step. It still looks like a safe bet that we will regularly see the blue of his Suzuki in among the red of the Ducatis up on the podium this year.

Chasing podiums

Chasing the Ducatis are a gang of four, the group which has shown itself to be the best of the rest for the past couple of years. The Tech 3 riders Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro, LCR Honda's Cal Crutchlow, and the second Suzuki of Aleix Espargaro have all be close during testing, but still missing that certain something. Cal Crutchlow has put in the best times, finishing close behind Marc Márquez in all three preseason tests so far. Crutchlow's race pace has not been so strong, however, leaving doubts over where he will be able to finish in races. Whether those doubts are justified is the question: Crutchlow's times are often erratic during free practice, yet he pulls it together in the race and manages to string together lots of fast laps. Given the depth of competition, grabbing podiums will be tough in 2016. Yet there is every reason to believe that Crutchlow is capable of it.

The one rider we have been expecting to see on the podium this year is Bradley Smith. The Tech 3 rider was deeply impressive in 2015, learning how to be fast and consistent when it counted during races, rather than chasing one-off fast times during practice and qualifying. That has been his approach to preseason testing as well, his modest spots on the timesheets disguising what he has actually been working on. How that translates to races remains to be seen, but Smith's intelligence could well assist him here. If there is one rider capable of managing different engine maps, and working out how best to mollycoddle his tire to get the best out of it, it is Bradley Smith. The Englishman stands to be one of those who gains most from the switch to spec electronics.

On paper, the Espargaro brothers should be challenging for podiums every week. Yet Pol on the Tech 3 Yamaha, and Aleix on the ECSTAR Suzuki both suffer from the same problem: chasing speed they override the bike and go slower than they are capable of. That cost both men good results in 2015, and it is something they need to address in 2016 if they are to progress. At Suzuki, Aleix suffers a similar fate to both Rossi at Yamaha and Dovizioso at Ducati: being the most experienced of the rider pairing, he is lumbered with the test work. There may be more to come from Aleix Espargaro, but we will not know until it is time to go racing.

Playing the joker

That Ducati have benefited from the change of regulation is all too obvious. That has allowed the Avintia Ducati riders especially to punch well above their weight. Last year, the Avintia Ducatis were GP14.1s, using the spec software, and the experience with those bikes is translating directly to 2016, which sees Hector Barbera and Loris Baz on GP14.2s. Both men are quick, but they are quick in different ways. Barbera is fast on a single lap – and in a change from previous years, he is quick without needing a tow off other riders. Baz, on the other hand, has posted decent lap times, but his race runs have been extremely impressive. Once the season gets underway, both Baz and Barbera could form a real threat, should others slip up. Baz, in particular, promises to take the label of "too tall to race" and rub it in others faces.

In the Aspar garage, Yonny Hernandez is also benefiting from a year on the Ducati in 2015. Hernandez' problem is that he has moved to Aspar, where the bikes are new, and a severe lack of resources means he will not get much help to go quick. He is clearly capable of doing so, as he showed in testing. Now he just needs to reproduce that during the race.

Make or break

The lack of familiarity with the Ducati Desmosedici GP14.2 and the lack of resources in the garage are the biggest obstacle to success for Eugene Laverty. The Irishman signed a two-year deal with the team on the understanding that he would get a competitive bike in the second year of the contract. The Desmosedici GP14.2 is competitive, but Laverty still needs help from an experienced mechanic to make the next step up in MotoGP. After health issues with his original crew chief, Laverty's regular mechanic Phil Marron has taken over the reins. That has left the day-to-day maintenance of the bike in the hands of young, inexperienced mechanics. Laverty has paid the price for that with a series of crashes during the preseason.

Laverty will have to impress if he is to remain in MotoGP for another year. But expectations for the Irishman are a good deal lower than they are for Jack Miller. After a difficult rookie season, which was partly down to being lumbered with an unwilling Open class Honda RC213V-RS, and partly down to a lack of physical preparation on the part of Miller, the Australian will have to turn his results around if he is to serve out the third year of his three-year contract with HRC. Honda were less than impressed that he turned up at Sepang last year overweight and out of shape, and brought in Alberto Puig to help turn Miller around. So far, he has done relatively well. If he does not continue on that path, he will be out on his ear.

Room for improvement

Jack Miller's Marc VDS Racing teammate has it a good deal easier. Tito Rabat is guaranteed of being the 2016 MotoGP Rookie of the Year – easy when you are in a class of one. So far, Rabat has failed to impress, but then again, Rabat has always been a slow learner. Team owner – and financial power behind the team – Marc van der Straten is still grateful to Rabat for securing the first championship for the team in Moto2. The Belgian beer baron will have patience enough with Rabat to keep him long enough to learn the ropes in MotoGP.

Patience is exactly what the factory men at Aprilia will need. The brand new Aprilia RS-GP made its first appearance at Qatar, then its first public outing a week later at the official MotoGP tests. There was little difference in times between the new bike and the old bike, but that probably had more to do with the newness of the RS-GP than anything else. Until the RS-GP has had its teething problems sorted out, there is nothing more for Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl to do than to grin and bear it.

What a year?

Will 2016 be more like 2006, with a restricted role for electronics creating fantastic racing? Or will 2016 be more like 2007, when new regulations meant that one manufacturer got it right, and the rest struggled to play catch up? So far, the omens are good. Taking the best laps of a group of riders from the test at Qatar, there is nothing to choose between Lorenzo and Márquez over race distance, with both Redding and Rossi in close contention after that.

New electronics and new tires will cause a shake up, success one weekend no guarantee for the next. There is plenty of room for surprises in the upcoming season, and plenty of candidates to be the protagonists in those surprises. There are some strong riders, and there is the kind of intense and bitter rivalry that drives everyone on to much greater heights. This could well turn out to be a very good year in MotoGP. Perhaps even the best ever. The trouble is, we say that every year...


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Total votes: 99
Total votes: 154

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Comments

Somthing that has intrigued me is whether we would see the older Ducatis make a step up with the switch to Michelins.

These bikes are of the vintage that were intredibly stable and excelled in the rain becoming the fastest bikes on the grid under wet conditions.

Ducati having three posibilties of such varying degrees of weight balance and geometry I am surprised not to have seen Ducati take at least one of their riders, or their newest test rider, and go through the lot back to back to back in search for any gains that could be found in the prior models on Michelin rubber.

I know it is sacalidge to even for a moment consider going back, but if that is where the biggest gains are being seen on the Michelins than so be it. If nothing else it could help in direction for development for the newest versions. There seems to be enough anecdotal evidence that it may still be worth exploring.

Total votes: 122

my thoughts as well
especially since Yamaha seem to have ditched a new bike in favor of one more similar to the '15 bike.
Having different specs around in the paddock is at least worth looking at, but hey... Gigi is a clever man :)

Total votes: 109

Could 216 be a repeat of 2007?
if my memory serves me well Yamaha had one of the most impressive pre-season in 2007. I recall Edwards saying something to the effect of not seeing any reason why the factory Yamaha riders couldn't finish 1-2 at the end of the season. We all saw what happened in Qatar between Ducati and the Japanese. I thought it was a fluke since Rossi raced Stoner until the last lap, thinking that Yamaha would close the top speed deficit by the 2nd quarter of the season.

I am not making any prediction until after the 2nd race.
I won't be surprised if Ducati leaves the others in the dust.

Total votes: 132

... they had the fastest bike in the world...

if they raced in a circle.

Total votes: 121

I think that was 2006 that Edwards was talking about and then they suffered from chatter and chassis problems.

I don't remember much about 2007 pre-season just that Ducati came out and blew away the Japanese on the straights.

The only thing we know is that pre-season testing means nothing, to us.

Total votes: 119

The article almost seems to suggest that the podium has ten places rather than three. The factory Yamahas, the factory Hondas, the factory Ducatis, the Suzuki of Maverick, the Tech3 Yamaha of Smith, Crutchlow's Honda and the customer Ducatis of Redding and Petrucci can't possibly *all* consistently challenge for podiums throughout the year.

It's much more likely they'll end up contesting p5-p10 among eachother all year long, with only two or three of those guys rising above and nicking a podium or two. Who it'll be to join the factory bikes in the podium battles, that's an interesting question and could come down to any one of a handful of riders. But I highly doubt it's going to be all of them.

Total votes: 137

>>The factory Yamahas, the factory Hondas, the factory Ducatis, the Suzuki of Maverick, the Tech3 Yamaha of Smith, Crutchlow's Honda and the customer Ducatis of Redding and Petrucci can't possibly *all* consistently challenge for podiums throughout the year.

Actually, yes they can if they are fast enough. If the lead pack is 11 riders at the end of a race they all have a chance for a podium. After the flag only 3 will have achieved it but all were in with a chance.

Chris

Total votes: 117

A lead pack of eleven at the end of the race is the stuff of Moto3, not MotoGP. Let alone to have large lead packs at the end of the races, consistently. A top group of four to five riders can occasionally happen during a season, like Phillip Island last year, but it's much more likely that most of the season, you'll see the same four (not eleven) guys up at the sharp end with the rest five to ten seconds back.

Total votes: 115

I really don't think we'll have any idea of how the season will trend and eventually shake out, winners & losers wise, until we see how everyone gels with their bikes and all the changes over the first three or four races… That should give an indication of who is managing tires the best over a couple of different types of surfaces. Who gels with the spec ECU's… and who doesn't… over a few different track layouts, etc..

Coming off of last season, we knew who the really fast guys were… and I'm sure that they will be fast again… But who joins them? And not just for one race where they happen to have a set up that work there… and only there… But for a number of races...

Addressing the known aliens:

Rossi… Über adaptable… been there done that… for many years… among the very best ever, when it comes to race craft… If I were a betting man… this might be the one to I'd put my money on…

Marquez… Uber fast… and we all know that… Will he really be able to manage the "red mist" and the Honda's aggressive nature? Did he and Honda hit on a season long fix for the bike in that last test session…? Or did they just hit a set up that works only there in Qatar?

Pedrosa… man, after his recovery, beating the arm pump issue… and riding VERY fast, even at tracks that aren't his favorite (have you ever noticed that over his career, he's been REALLY fast at some circuits and slow at others)… I thought he might be at the pointy end of things.. for the season.. But after the testing season… He's looking like the one that is really miffed with all the changes… Can he sort them out?

Lorenzo… and up front, I'm a Lorenzo fan… so sue me if you don't like it… =;-) Running fast lap times in testing… no doubt… But I have some concerns with how the tire and ECU changes will affect him… and in a race, I fear it may be quite a lot really… Here's why… people complain that he "clears off" and makes races boring… Some also say that he can't "fight in a crowd"… what they aren't seeing or recognizing… is that he runs different, sweeping lines, carrying high corner speeds… which, obviously, works best if you get out front fast and don't have to alter those lines or corner speed fighting other riders in the corners… What has been a critical aspect to making it all work has been his ability to become one of the best, to coin a drag racing term, "leavers" off the start line and get right up to full speed in the first few corners… and away he goes… doing his smooth, metronomic laps… The questions that can affect him the most are right there on the starting line… Will the spec ECU allow the same hard launches that he's become so good at? Will the Michelin's allow him to hit the first corner fast and take off from there? If they don't, can he sit in there until the tires come up to temp., fight to the front and then get down to the business of turning those fast flowing laps? I'm not sure…

Again, that's why I think it's going to take three or four races to see how things shake out… and I wouldn't pin too much on just what we see in the Qatar race…

One thing for sure… I do think that it's going to be one REALLY excellent racing year… and I do think that there will be more than just the "known four aliens" fighting for wins and podiums… at least early on...

Total votes: 116

... I think Jorge alluded to this when asked if his strategy would still work...

The limit of the tyres may be lower when cold, but that still means that some can perhaps push harder than others.

Lorenzo has, I suspect a very, very good feeling with the limit of traction and whether the tyres are Bridgestones, Michelins or Shinkos I believe that he will still have a better feeling for grip than most of the field.

Recall that back in 08 he was running fairly close to Rossi on Michelins when Rossi had rejected them and switched to Bridgestone after a shocking season in 07 with them.

Where others were shredding the Michelins trying to keep up, Jorge fared a lot better with them.

I guess what I'm saying is this: they all have the same limit of grip, just like they all had the same limit of grip on the Bridgestones. The difference is that some riders are more sensitive to detecting the limit of grip in real-time than others, and those riders will continue to do so.

I suspect Lorenzo's ability to be fast off the line will not change. His outright lap time might be slower on the cold tyre than when it warms up now, but I suspect he will still be at the front - if not in the first few races in the season, definitely a few races in once he is more accustomed to the feel of the tyres.

Total votes: 118

I personally think Aprilia should've stayed out of MotoGP and instead kept focusing on wsbk. Kawasaki has the right idea. Better to rein in Hell than to serve in Heaven, so the saying goes. Running around at the back of the pack doesn't do much to sell street bikes.

Total votes: 132

Not having had the time to really pay close attention to the testing other than reading and re-reading these columns and streaming the Paddock Pass Podcasts, (thanks for those), I'm struck with how similar this year seems to last.
Except Ducati seem to be a good bit closer. Sure Marquez has simulated race distances with Lorenzo and if we look at that as preview then maybe a season resembling Lorenzo at the end of 2015. I really hope we don't see that. While it is fun to see Lorenzo bang out those inch perfect laps it gets real boring with nothing to watch gap grow.
I really want to see the Suzuki's in there early like the Ducati's used to be, shaking up the order and making that early escape by Jorge impossible. Could be great if these technical changes with the tires can get some guys up on the front rows who can trade some paint in those opening laps.

Though as usual we have to do the early fly-away races before we get back to Jerez and regular Euro tracks when we really get to see who is where when things are a little more equal. My heart still wants one more Rossi championship, but I'll settle for good racing. Dare we hope for a championship coming down to the last five laps of the last race in Valenciana between four or five riders?
So my streaming is set to No-Spoiler and I'm ready for the season to get underway.

Total votes: 116

I hear Bradley Smith is already open for horse trading. The guy did a great job for Tech 3 last season and I suspect he will do the same this year.
If I may reduce the article to nutshell level, it certainly appears that in support of David's in depth summation, it is going to be 'horses for course's' , at least for the first 6 races.
As much as I wish Ducati could have a 2007 season, it won't happen for a number of reasons. Chiefly because they do not have an ET in any saddle.
As an unrepentant Ducati afficianado, I will be rooting for them to at least provide severe interference in terms of the final outcome of the 2016 rider and manufacturer title chase and the hell with the established alien tantrums.
Having said that, from Sunday night I will be watching Aprilia closely and holding thumbs they go from strength to strength.
The more the merrier.
Are you all not sick of the established HRC/YAMAHA 1 & 2 in no particular order plus 4 rider status quo?
I sure am.

Total votes: 122

... has potential alien status IMHO.

Don't forget he spent much of 2015 injured, and still put on an impressive showing on a brand new bike. That move he pulled in PI was amazing.

In Moto2 he had his moments in between crashing, but I think 2015 and the necessity to be careful and reserved to avoid further breaking himself has helped smooth his riding out, enable him to take places other than first, and generally help him mature as a rider.

Total votes: 111

dave, would marc's camp actually share their data with the other?
i can't picture this.

on an unrelated issue, how good is marc's crew really? and rossi's?
pedrosa have had several grip issues in the past, and rarely seemed to have it fixed come sunday afternoon. he's light and all but still.
while marc could be struggling in fps and got it right by sunday morning, same with rossi.

Total votes: 115

Rossi's crew is AMAZING.
Marquez's crew has had a wobble or two in it but is great as well. Given the bike they have been working with they deserve praise.

Total votes: 111

My recollection is that Iannone had troubles towards the end of several Moto2 races due to tyre wear. I was initially concerned he would be spending a lot of time in MotoGP being scootered back to the pits and have been pleasantly surprised by his performance and his maturity and consistency.
Hopefully he has just got smarter now but his improvement in general and specifically his improvement in managing tyre wear might have been helped the more sophisticated MotoGP electronics.
Could his second half of the race problems reoccur for him with the newer less capable 2016 electronics software?

Total votes: 121

Ducati was limited to the softer end of the tyre spectrum last year. Most likely that's why Iannone's tires wore out mid-race. It's the price Ducati paid to get back to level (?) with Honda and Yamaha this year.

Total votes: 122

All the talk of "best ever 2015", and prospects for a reset of the MotoGP caste system is a little overblown for mine.

Amongst other things the decider at the last race of 2015 showed just how skewed the series has become. Starting from dead last on the grid Rossi had literally carved up all but 3 riders by mid-race, so the distance between the Factory Yamaha's and Honda's was HUGE.

The bastardising of the initial "spec" electronics proposal, at the behest of the Factories, may have thrown a kitten amongst the pigeons but has really only served to place a techological mountain in front of the teams that only well funded Factories are able to climb.

As much as my heart would like to see a more egalitarian competition In 2016, my head is telling me the gap between "Yamonda" elite and the plebes will be restored almost immediately.

The fact we have only seen minor revisions to the bikes, not clean sheet redesigns, indicates to me the Michies are likewise only going to cause minor revisions to the hierarchy. Crashes, as the riders adjust, may be the one disruptor.

Total votes: 114