The start of the year is traditionally a chance to look ahead, and make predictions for what is to come. But as an old Danish proverb, sometimes ascribed to the brilliant Danish physicist Niels Bohr, says, it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future. To demonstrate just how hard, we will kick off the year taking a look back at predictions I made last year, and what I got wrong.
I started last year with an article in which I made three predictions for the 2018 season:
1. Marc Márquez wins more on his way to title number seven
He's going to win a lot of races in 2018 – my best guess would be eight or nine of the nineteen – and the way you win championships is by winning races.
This one, I got right. Marc Márquez did indeed go on to win the 2018 MotoGP championship by a comfortable margin, wrapping up the title at Motegi, in front of Honda's biggest bosses. And – more by luck than judgment – my guess for how many races Márquez would win was right on the money, the Repsol Honda rider racking up a total of 9 victories last year.
Of course all those race wins helped, but the real key to Marc Márquez' 2018 championship was not the wins, but the results he scored when he couldn't win. Of the 18 races completed in 2018, Márquez won 9, finished 4 in second place, and another in third. That incredible podium rate meant he could easily absorb the three no-scores of last year: the penalty at Argentina, the crash and remount at Mugello, and the incident with Johann Zarco at Phillip Island. Where others struggled, finishing out of the top five, Márquez was always on the podium.
2. Valentino Rossi will sign another contract with Yamaha
Officially, Valentino Rossi will wait until the first few races have passed to make a decision on extending his contract with Yamaha. But it is likely that Rossi will have made up his mind after the Sepang test at the end of January. If he can be competitive with Márquez and Viñales there, then he will be confident of being in the hunt for 2018, and beyond. The announcement probably won't come until later in the season, but there is no doubt in my mind that Rossi will sign on for another year. My guess is that he will sign a one-year deal with an option to extend for a year after that.
I was mostly right and a little bit wrong with this one. Perhaps partly pressured by the insanely early signing of Maverick Viñales, who had re-upped his contract with Yamaha at the team launch in January, Rossi ended up announcing he had signed a new two-year contract before the first race of 2018 at Qatar. I was right about Rossi signing a new contract, but he signed earlier, and for longer, than I expected.
If I had only followed my own reasoning more carefully, I could have foreseen how this would have played out. "If he is competitive, he will keep racing for at least another year," I wrote. Valentino Rossi won a race and had five more podiums in 2017, finishing not far behind his teammate Maverick Viñales. He nearly won a race in 2018, crashing out at Sepang, and finished ahead of his teammate last season. He is still competitive. And while he is competitive, he races.
3. The Silly Season will not live up to its name
I fear that the Silly Season will not live up to expectations. Indeed, it probably won't even live up to its name. The most likely outcome of the contract shenanigans coming this year is that most people stay where they are for 2019. The MotoGP Silly Season looks like being eminently sensible.
With all the factory contracts up for grabs in 2018, this seemed like a pretty adventurous guess. As it happened, I would say I was only half right with this prediction. At times, MotoGP's silly season looked tame and predictable. At others, it looked wild and beyond what we had imagined. And it was topped off with Jorge Lorenzo signing for the Repsol Honda team, a genuine bolt from the blue which nobody had expected. Perhaps not even either Honda or Lorenzo himself.
Things started off tamely, with both Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi staying on at the Movistar (now Monster) Yamaha team, followed by Marc Márquez staying put at Repsol Honda. So far, all very much as predicted. It took a while, but eventually Andrea Dovizioso decided to stay put with Ducati, as I predicted he would. Johann Zarco moved to the factory KTM team, as had been rumored as early as Valencia 2017. He replaced Bradley Smith there, as expected.
But the MotoGP Silly Season got a whole lot wilder than I had expected. Yes, KTM decided to field a satellite team, exactly as I believed they would, with one of those seats going to Miguel Oliveira, the Portuguese rider who has been so strong in Moto2. What I didn't expect – and I was far from alone in this – was that it would be Hervé Poncharal's Tech3 squad who would make the switch, ditching Yamaha after a relationship of 20 years to throw in their lot with KTM.
There was an early surprise too: the Italian media reported that Pecco Bagnaia signed with Ducati to race with Pramac before the 2018 team launch even took place. Bagnaia was highly rated, but few expected him to be signed so early.
Tech3's switch to KTM, and the implosion of the Marc VDS squad – team manager Michael Bartholémy resigned after accusations of financial malfeasance, later retracted, by team owner Marc van der Straten – made for some wild speculation over the future of a satellite Yamaha team. In the end, the Sepang circuit and Malaysian oil firm Petronas stepped up to take over the satellite M1s. These are indicative of the perils of prediction: I certainly never expected either of those things to happen.
Two big misses
At the time of writing my 2018 predictions back in January last year, I was most wrong about Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo. I expected them both to stay put, and was utterly wrong on both counts.
In mitigation, I was not wrong about Dani Pedrosa for very long. A couple of weeks after making these predictions, and with the benefit of some insider briefing, it became clear to me that Dani Pedrosa would not be staying on at Honda:
At Repsol Honda, Dani Pedrosa's time may be coming to an end. There is a spate of young talent available, with Franco Morbidelli moving into the Marc VDS team with Honda, and Joan Mir making his debut in Moto2.
The paddock sewing circle was ablaze with rumors that Repsol Honda team boss Alberto Puig had already decided he would not be signing a new contract with Pedrosa. The question was then where would Pedrosa go, and who would take his place? Later in the year, I predicted that Pedrosa would move to the Petronas Yamaha team, but I underestimated how ready Pedrosa was to retire, and how little he wanted to be outside of a factory team. By the time Pedrosa finally announced his retirement at the Sachsenring, it hardly came as a surprise. But even as late as Assen, two weeks before, I was certain that Pedrosa would sign with Petronas Yamaha.
Perhaps my biggest failed prediction concerned Jorge Lorenzo, but I was far from alone in that. Lorenzo's signing with Repsol Honda came as a shock to almost everyone in the paddock, almost including Alberto Puig and Jorge Lorenzo. The deal had been done quickly and in secret between Le Mans and Mugello, as Lorenzo's failure to win on the Ducati extended further, and as Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali was starting to go public with his loss of faith in Lorenzo. If, indeed, he had ever had any.
We were all convinced that Jorge Lorenzo was out at Ducati after a dismal start to 2018. Lorenzo was publicly being linked to both the second seat at Suzuki, and a potential satellite Yamaha ride very early on. There were rumors as early as the Buriram test in February that Lorenzo was close to a deal with Suzuki, but that deal fell short when Suzuki top management decided to go for youth, rather than a veteran, their fingers having been badly burned with Andrea Iannone.
But nobody had even a hint of Jorge Lorenzo signing with Repsol Honda until Sunday night at Mugello, when the Gazzetta dello Sport's Paolo Ianieri first picked up reports that the deal was done. The word bombshell is overused in sports journalism, but this time, it was a truly accurate description. Especially as it came on the back of Jorge Lorenzo's first, utterly convincing win on the Desmosedici, at Ducati's home race at Mugello.
Then again, perhaps we should not be surprised that the Lorenzo-to-Honda deal was kept under wraps. It seems that it only came about in the week after Le Mans, when Lorenzo called Repsol Honda team boss Alberto Puig directly, and made the deal himself, leaving only the details for his management team to sort out. The fewer people who know, the better.
Will I learn to not make predictions for 2019? Of course I won't. Coming up tomorrow, a few predictions for the 2019 season and beyond.
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