With Taka Nakagami and Karel Abraham signing contracts for 2018 over the weekend, and another announcement due at Silverstone, we can update the 2018 MotoGP rider line up. Just three seats remain open: the second seat at Marc VDS Honda, and both seats at Avintia Ducati. A single question mark behind the name of a rider indicates a very strong rumor. An asterisk indicates an alternative rumor for a signed contract.
Press releases from the teams and Michelin after the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring:
Andrea Dovizioso scores a fantastic win in the Austrian Grand Prix to move into second place in the championship. Jorge Lorenzo had a good race to finish fourth
We were promised a storm on Friday, and we got one. But it was a media storm, rather than a thunderstorm, with riders finally free to speak about the situation at Aprilia. That's not to say the weather wasn't an issue: rain fell during Moto2, wreaking havoc on the field. That would have as many repercussions as the fallout from Aprilia's decision to dump Sam Lowes. It was an eventful day indeed.
First, to get the Aprilia story out of the way. Last night, it emerged that Aprilia had finally made a decision on Sam Lowes. The Italian factory had decided to drop the Englishman after just a single season, rather than keeping him for the full two years of his contract. It was a move which had been telegraphed at the Barcelona test, when Aprilia Corse boss Romano Albesiano admitted that dropping Lowes was a possibility they were considering. So for it to be announced in Austria was hardly a surprise. In part because Lowes' contract stated that Aprilia had until 15th August to make up their minds.
There was little surprise at Aprilia's move. Sam Lowes and Alex Rins have been vastly outclassed in their rookie years by Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger. Rins has had an excuse, having spent so much of his first year in MotoGP being injured. But viewed from the outside, Lowes has no such excuses. He is on a factory team, and his teammate is showing him up badly. Aleix Espargaro is regularly in Q2, and has shown pace to challenge for the top 5 on occasion. Lowes has been in Q2 only once, and has just two points to his name.
The riders will have been off the bikes for about 80 hours before they take to the track again at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Back-to-back races are always tough, but doing back-to-backs with a test in between can be pretty brutal. At least everyone will be sharp when practice starts on Friday.
The Red Bull Ring is a unique track, though how you interpret the word "unique" is very much up to you. In one respect, the Spielberg circuit is just a few straights connected by sharp corners, with a replica of the Sachsenring's Omega curve thrown in for good measure.
On paper, it looks pretty dull, yet it is surprisingly popular among the riders. This is in part because of the stunning setting, and elevation changes that add charm to the circuit. But mostly, it's because it's a very, very fast circuit. And there is nothing that a motorcycle racer likes more than going very, very fast on a motorcycle. Oddly enough.
Press release previews from the teams and Michelin:
The Repsol Honda Team head to the Red Bull Ring leading the standings
With no time to rest following their perfect 1-2 at the Brno Grand Prix (the fifth double-podium finish for the Repsol Honda Team out of 10 races this season), Championship leader Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa are focused on this Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin after the tenth round of the championship:
Master-class win for Marquez at Brno with Pedrosa second to complete a Repsol Honda Team 1-2
Marc Marquez took a back-to-back victory at Brno today in challenging conditions, his third this year and the 58th in his career, extending his championship lead to 14 points over his closest follower.
Preview press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin:
Repsol Honda Team resumes action following summer break
The Repsol Honda Team heads to Brno in the Czech Republic with Marc Marquez leading the Championship on 129 points and Dani Pedrosa in fifth place on 103 points, just 26 off the top after nine races in one of the closest seasons ever.
Marc and Dani are ready for the second half of the season following a four-week break that was interrupted only by a two-day private test at the same track on July 17 and 18.
Can part two of the (melo)drama which is the 2017 MotoGP season live up to part one? It has been a wild ride so far, but like any great fairground ride, we have ended up more or less back where we started. Just five points separate Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales at the top of the championship, and Valentino Rossi in fourth is only ten points behind Márquez, with Andrea Dovizioso in between a point behind Viñales. If Márquez does not win the Czech Grand Prix at Brno on Sunday, there is every chance the championship will have a new leader. If there is, it would be the fifth time the title lead had changed hands so far this year. It has been a wild ride indeed.
So how did we get here? Through a mixture of rider swaps, tire changes, weird weather, and changing track conditions. Add in a healthy dose of spec electronics, the loss of winglets for this season, and a brace of astonishing rookies, and you have an explosive mixture. At Mugello, perhaps the nearest thing we have had to a normal MotoGP weekend this year, the gap from the winner, Andrea Dovizioso, to Jack Miller in fifteenth was 30.7 seconds, with 50 seconds covering all 20 finishers. In 2015, 30 seconds covered just the first eight riders. In 2013, only five other bikes finished within half a minute of the winner. Those kinds of gaps have been the rule for most of the modern era. But the old rules no longer apply.
Michelin can take much of the credit, or shoulder much of the blame, depending on your perspective. In their second year back in MotoGP, the French tire manufacturer have been a much more stable force in the series, the tires changing less this year than in 2016. But that has not stemmed the complaints: there have been a string of riders muttering that the Michelins are not up to scratch, that they change too much from one race to the next, and even from one day to the next. Are their concerns valid? Michelin deny it, of course, and give a long list of entirely plausible reasons for the tires to react differently from day to day.
With one or two contracts signed over the past couple of weeks, it's time to update what we know of the 2018 MotoGP rider line up. A single question mark behind the name of a rider indicates a very strong rumor. Three question marks indicates a complete unknown.
Another piece in the 2018 rider puzzle has fallen into place. On Monday, the Aspar Team announced that Alvaro Bautista has extended his contract to stay on with the team for another season, and will be riding for them in 2018.