Analysis

Rating The Riders, 2015, Part 4: The Espargaros, The Suzukis, Petrucci, Redding and Hernandez

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
Score: 5

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.

Rating The Riders, 2015, Part 3: 5th to 8th, Iannone, Smith, Dovizioso and Crutchlow

In part 3 of our review of the 2015 season, we look a little further down the MotoGP grid, at places five to eight. Though much of the focus was on the Movistar Yamaha riders (covered in part 1) and Repsol Honda riders (covered in part 2), there was much to admire behind them. An impressive Andrea Iannone, who grew stronger throughout the season. A transformed Bradley Smith, who had a genuine shot at fourth in the championship for much of the season. Andrea Dovizioso, who did not benefit from the Ducati Desmosedici GP15 as his teammate. And Cal Crutchlow, how found the Honda RC213V a much harder bike to ride than he expected.

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.

Andrea Iannone, Factory Ducati, 5th, 188 points
Score: 9

Crazy Joe, they used to call him. That was a particularly unsuitable moniker for Andrea Iannone in 2015. If anything, this was the year that Iannone turned out to be calm, measured, and calculating. Iannone had earned his earlier nickname through his propensity to make wildly optimistic moves, which, given his prodigious talent, he pulled off more often than not. When he didn't pull them off, he would crash out.

The 2015 version of the Maniac Joe – a nickname adopted a couple of years back – was very different. He reined himself in, and reaped the benefits. The difference was borne out by number of race crashes between last season and this season. In 2014, Iannone crashed out of four races. In 2015, he only crashed out of a single race, the last one at Valencia, when he had very little left to lose. Even Iannone's madness was calculated.

Rating The Riders, 2015, Part 2: Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa

In part 1 of our review of the 2015 season for the MotoGP grid, we looked back at the season of the two men who fought for the championship, Movistar Yamaha teammates Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi. In part 2, we continue with third place in the championship and beyond. If the battle for the championship was thrilling and tense, what happened to the riders behind the leaders was even more intriguing.

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.

Marc Márquez, Repsol Honda, 3rd, 242 points
Score: 8

This was Marc Márquez' worst season in Grand Prix racing since 2009. From 2010 onwards, in 125s, Moto2 or MotoGP, Márquez has finished as either champion or runner up. Not only did Márquez finish outside the top two for the first time since finishing eighth in 2009, but this was also his worst championship points total since that year. You could say this was a very bad year for the Repsol Honda rider.

Rating The Riders, 2015, Part 1: Jorge Lorenzo And Valentino Rossi

As the year winds to a conclusion, now is a good time to look back at the 2016 MotoGP season, and assess how the riders have done this year. It has been a fantastic season for MotoGP. The fans have been treated to some of the best and closest racing in years. Several races became instant classics, such as the tight battle at Assen decided in the final chicane, the bizarre rain-hit and incident-packed race at Misano, the scintillating four-way fight at Phillip Island.

The championship went all the way down to the final race, decided in the end by just five points. There was controversy and scandal, with the clash between Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez at Sepang following Rossi's accusations of collusion between Márquez and Jorge Lorenzo at Phillip Island. There were last minute appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, in an attempt to get the penalty imposed at Sepang lifted.

New bikes, new factories and the resurgence of Ducati thrilled fans as well. Gigi Dall'Igna's ability to get a racing department to work smarter, not harder, paid off for Ducati with the Desmosedici GP15, perhaps the most competitive motorcycle Ducati have built since the GP7, or even the GP6. Suzuki brought the GSX-RR, a brilliant bike with bags of potential but lacking a seamless gearbox and a stableful of ponies. The M1 was the best bike which Yamaha have ever brought to MotoGP, while Honda's RC213V was probably their worst since 2007. Even Aprilia turned up and took it seriously, though 2015 was more of a data-gathering year than an attempt to challenge. We will be talking about this season for a very long time to come.

So how did each rider do? 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.

Jerez MotoGP Test Round Up: Redding Reveals Ducati Dominance, And Where Honda Is Going Wrong

So, testing is over and the winter test ban can start. Riders who intend to race in 2016 are banned from testing between 1st December 2015 and 31st January 2016. Engineers now have a long winter ahead of them to try to make sense of the data gathered at the test at Valencia and Jerez, or else send their test riders out in the chill of winter, as Aprilia intend to do at Jerez in a few weeks. Those engineers have an awful lot of work ahead of them.

The men and women at Ducati will be getting the most time off over the holiday period. It is clear from the first two tests that the Italian factory has hit the ground running with the new unified software, and have the systems working relatively well. One Ducati engineer reckoned that they were already at about 50% of the potential of the software, far more than the 10% MotoGP's Director of Technology Corrado Cecchinelli had estimated at Valencia. The fact that Scott Redding topped the final day of testing at Jerez on the Pramac Ducati GP15, a couple of tenths faster than Marc Márquez and the only rider to crack into the 1'38s, is proof enough that Ducati have the situation under control. (For a full list of unofficial times, see below).

Redding's Rocket

Redding has been impressive throughout the test, and was a very happy rider after Friday. "The good thing for me is that I feel comfortable on the bike," Redding said. "I know what's going to happen. Today I nearly crashed at the last corner because I tried to force the front a bit but it didn’t want to. The bike was talking to me. When you have a good feeling like this you also have a bit of confidence. You know what’s going to happen." Last year on the Honda, the RC213V did anything but talk to him. Whenever he tried to go faster, he would go slower. Now, on the GP15, he was fast, knew he could go faster if he pushed harder.

Jerez MotoGP Test, Day 4 Round Up: Honda's Overpowered Engine Vs Ducati's Friendly Delivery

Have HRC made the same mistake again? In 2015, the Honda RC213V was a nasty beast to tame, suffering with an excessively aggressive engine. The engine was probably the single most important reason Marc Márquez could not mount a realistic defense of his second title, forcing him to try to make up in braking what he was losing in acceleration, and crashing out as a result. At the Valencia test, all eyes were on Honda's new engine, to see if they had finally fixed the problem.

Valencia turned out to be a little too complex to make a real judgment. The switch to spec electronics and Michelin tires introduced way too many variables to be able to filter out a single factor, Honda engineers taking a long time to extract some kind of consistency from the new unified software all MotoGP bikes must now use. The 2016 RC213V engine seemed a little less aggressive, but the new software made it hard to tell. The current test at Jerez was supposed to give a clearer indication, with HRC's engineers having a better handle on the unified software.

Though the verdict is not yet in, it is not looking good for the 2016 engine Honda brought for the tests in Spain. Both Dani Pedrosa and Marc Márquez have reported the engine as still being too aggressive, and difficult to manage, though the engine character has changed. "Last year's engine was aggressive in the top," Márquez told reporters after the second day of testing at Jerez. "Now we have more power in the bottom, but still we don't understand the way to deliver this torque. It looks like aggressive in the bottom, but then smoother in the top compared with last year." The key will be finding the right balance between the top and bottom end.

2015 Valencia Post-Race Day 2 Round Up: New Electronics, New Systems, And A Pleasant Distraction

The final day of testing at Valencia was a repeat of the first day: a lot of crashes on the Michelin tires, the factory Hondas, Yamahas and Ducatis working on the brand new spec electronics, the satellite bikes and the Suzukis working on their own 2015 electronics. For the Suzukis, that was not such a problem. The new electronics were likely to be an improvement on their own electronics, both Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaro said, so missing out now was not such a problem. Suzuki have another test planned at Sepang at the end November, at which they plan to switch the 2016 unified software. With two days of Michelin testing under the belt, testing the spec software should be easier.

Choosing to wait until Sepang could be a smart strategy. There, with more time and test riders to help, Suzuki will have the resources to make quicker progress with the spec software. Honda, but especially Yamaha, showed that progress was possible, both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi saying that their second day on the spec electronics had been much better than the first day. "Yesterday, the thing was it was just a check out of the system to understand how they work in which corner, but the power was not done to have the best performance," Jorge Lorenzo said. "We work on that for the next morning and I felt it was much better and I improved during all the day quite a bit." Valentino Rossi agreed. "From yesterday to today already the situation improved a lot. It is still not at the same level for sure, but it looks like we can improve I think quite quickly."

2015 Valencia Post-Race Tuesday Round Up: New Rules, New Tires, Difficult Electronics

The 2016 MotoGP season got underway this morning, as the sound of MotoGP bikes out on track echoed round the amphitheater of the Valencia circuit, chasing away much of the bitterness and recriminations left hanging there in the wake of the 2015 season showdown. With new bikes, new tires, new electronics, and new and old riders on new and old bikes, there was much to look forward to. It felt like MotoGP had a future again.

With new tires and new electronics, many teams had chosen to forego too many changes to their bikes, but there were still some novelties out on track. Honda had brought a 2016 bike, complete with a new engine. Factory Yamaha had an intermediate version of their 2016 bike, complete with fuel tank moved to the rear of the bike. Despite Gigi Dall'Igna's assurances yesterday that they would be testing nothing new to concentrate on the Michelins, Andrea Dovizioso confirmed that he had tried a new chassis.

At Suzuki, they spend the day working on adapting to the tires, and gathering more data for the 2016 bike. Engineers in Hamamatsu are getting that ready for the Sepang test – at least, that is what Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaro are hoping – a bike that will produce more horsepower and have a fully seamless gearbox.

There was some shuffling of faces and equipment in the satellite teams, with bikes being wheeled from garage to garage, and a few riders moving along with them. The happiest moment of all for riders like Eugene Laverty and Jack Miller was to wave goodbye to the Honda RC213V-RS, a bike which one rider referred to as "a piece of ****". Miller jumped onto the standard RC213V, and was immediately delighted by Honda's electronics. Laverty, meanwhile traded his Honda Open bike for a Ducati GP14.2, and was immediately impressed by the red-shirted Ducati staff who had invaded the Aspar garage, a real contrast with the Honda. That had been a real customer bike: you paid your money, and you took your bike, and you were left to get on with it on your own.

2015 Valencia Sunday MotoGP Round Up: How Championships Are Won, Lost, And Destroyed

They say that truth is stranger than fiction. The more pressing question is how to distinguish between the two. Narratives are easily created – it is my stock in trade, and the trade which every sports writer plies – but where does stringing together a collection of related facts move from being a factual reconstruction into the realms of invented fantasy? When different individuals view the same facts and draw radically opposite conclusions, are we to believe that one is delusional and the other is sane and objective? Most of all, how much value should we attach to the opinions of each side? Do we change our opinion of the facts based on our sympathy or antipathy for the messenger?

That is the confusion which the final round of MotoGP has thrust the world of Grand Prix racing into. What should have been a celebration of the greatest season of racing in the premier class in recent years, and possibly ever, was rendered farcical, as two competing interpretations of a single set of facts clashed, exploded, then dragged the series down into the abyss. Bitterness, anger, suspicion, fear, all of these overshadowed some astonishing performances, by both winners and losers. Looked at impartially, the Valencia round of MotoGP was a great day of fantastic racing. But who now can look at it impartially?

2015 Valencia MotoGP Saturday Round Up: A Brilliant Pole Lap, And A Wide Open Championship

There is nowhere left to hide. On Sunday, it is time for the men and women of Grand Prix racing to stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, and lend their eyes a terrible aspect. Much is at stake: a Moto3 title that really should have been wrapped up by now; a MotoGP title rendered complicated by the impetuosity of youth and old age; and just sheer thirst for glory in Moto2. Glory is what is at stake in all three classes, what young men and women dedicate their lives and sacrifice their bodies and their time to chasing. Sweet victory is there for the lucky few, the bitter draught of defeat for the rest.

It looked like the cards had already been dealt ahead of Sunday's race when the Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected Valentino Rossi's request to have his three penalty points suspended. Then Rossi came out swinging on Friday and Saturday, not his usual eight or ninth times, and a struggle to make it through to Q2, but strong pace from the outset and competitive times. "I've been impressed with how fast he's going," Nicky Hayden said of Rossi after qualifying today. "He's looked very solid. We know he's a nine-time champion because he's fast on Sunday, but he's come out of the gate, might not be breaking track records, but compared to a normal Friday, Saturday, he's looking strong."

Then came qualifying. Rossi had earned passage to Q2 by right, and had told us on Friday he would be treating qualifying the same as he had every weekend, pushing hard for a fast lap. Rossi seemed to have the upper hand going into Q2, especially as Jorge Lorenzo was clearly suffering with nerves. He forgot to take off a tear off in the pits, then spent long seconds trying to sort it out with his assistant, before finally leaving the pits in a bit of a fluster. Not a good omen, we all thought.

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