Maybe not, because this season’s thrillingly unpredictable racing has much to do with the moment of transformation in MotoGP’s technical environment
Nine different winners in one season – something that’s never happened before in a championship that started shortly after the end of the Second World War. Amazing stuff.
But do the historic successes of Cal Crutchlow, Andrea Dovizioso, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez, Jack Miller, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales prove that we are now in a new era of enjoyably chaotic MotoGP racing that will continue for the foreseeable future?
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin after a soaking Malaysian round:
Andrea Dovizioso scores a superb win in the Shell Malaysia Grand Prix at Sepang. DNF for Andrea Iannone who crashes out on lap 13
2016 has been a weird season. Eight different winners in MotoGP, in eight consecutive races. Tire issues in Argentina causing the race to be split into two parts. A mass false start in Moto2 at the first race of the year in Qatar. Torrential rain at Assen causing the race to be abandoned. Bike swap shenanigans at the Sachsenring, and wet tire degradation at Brno. With all that happening, why would anyone expect the Sepang round of MotoGP to be any less weird?
The expectation of weirdness has also meant that everyone has half expected there to be a ninth winner in MotoGP. Fans and journalists have come to accept this as the new normal, that every race throws up a new surprise. A ninth winner would fit in perfectly with the string of surprises we have seen this year. The question is, of course, who might it be?
With six of the ten factory riders on the grid already having won a race, and the Aprilia RS-GP still too far off the pace to compete for victory, it came down to two realistic candidates: Suzuki's Aleix Espargaro, and Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso. With the Ducati being the faster bike, and already having racked up a win and several podiums, Dovizioso was the betting favorite. But both were regarded as long shots.
The riders may have been complaining that the new surface of the Sepang circuit takes too long to dry out, but about one thing, they are all agreed. It has fantastic grip. "We have this problem of the track drying up, it's very difficult," Jorge Lorenzo told the press conference, agreeing with his teammate. "But the grip is perfect, it's amazing the grip."
That was obvious in the afternoon, when the MotoGP riders took to a track still soaking after the tropical downpour which had caused the preceding Moto3 qualifying session to be red flagged. The lean angle the riders were still getting despite standing water was remarkable. That was even true after the Moto3 downpour had ended, and the track was awash. The top Moto3 riders were still improving their times on a track which was wetter than at the start of the session.
The same grip had helped in the morning, when there were still a few wet patches on the track. As the sun started to burn the water off, Maverick Viñales dipped under the two minute mark, posting two laps of 1'59.9. That was on a track which was still not completely dry, the riders able to power through almost as if it had never rained.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after a wet qualifying at Sepang:
Andrea Dovizioso powers to a superb pole position for the Shell Malaysia Grand Prix at Sepang. Andrea Iannone qualifies sixth and starts the race from row 2
At the beginning of the year, much was made of the addition of rules governing rider behavior to the Sporting Regulations section of the FIM MotoGP rulebook. That gave the newly instituted panel of FIM Stewards, who oversee all disciplinary measures, the power to punish riders and teams for a range of activities related to the promotion of the series. The biggest worry was caused by section 184.108.40.206, which threatened punishment of riders who made public pronouncements considered harmful to the championship.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after practice on Friday:
Marquez sits out FP2 due to gastroenteritis after setting the quickest time in the morning
Gastroenteritis caused Marc Marquez to miss the FP2 session of the Malaysian Grand Prix today, as the 2016 World Champion returned to his hotel to rest and try to completely recover ahead of tomorrow’s qualifying day.
Two down, one to go. The last of the flyaways is always the hardest, in many ways. Three races on three consecutive weekends means that riders never have time to heal from even the small injuries they receive each weekend, from minor falls, or the blisters on their hands. Spending many hours cloistered in aircraft flying long distance makes catching colds or flu or other respiratory diseases inevitable. Team members being cooped up together for nearly four weeks means relationships are at best strained, at worst verging on violent.
Then there's the contrast in climate. Even at its best, Phillip Island can be chilly, so traveling from there to the sweltering tropical heat of Malaysia is a physical shock. To step on a plane in the freezing cold, then step off it to be drenched in sweat is tough for people already drained from so much travel and racing. Then to race for 45 minutes in punishing heat and humidity, at a track which is physically very challenging, because of the heavy braking zones around the track. The stress, mental and physical, is enormous.
Perhaps it was that stress that caused the MotoGP series to explode at Sepang last year. Smarting from being beaten into fourth place at Phillip Island by Marc Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo, and Andrea Iannone, Valentino Rossi seized upon the theory apparently put forward by his friend and business partner Alessio 'Uccio' Salucci, that Márquez had decided to conspire against Rossi to hand Jorge Lorenzo the 2015 MotoGP title. Márquez had attempted to accomplish this by beating Lorenzo in Australia. And in the press conference at Sepang, he launched his accusations against the Repsol Honda rider.