Who is the greatest MotoGP rider of the past decade? Followers of the sport will all have their own answers to this question, based on their own criteria. One way of trying to answer the question objectively is by using numbers to quantify performance. Sure, the numbers may overlook certain factors. But going over the numbers from 180 races held over the space of 10 years helps eliminate outliers, and separate the signal from the noise.
To qualify for consideration, you have to win races. The 180 races held between 2010 and 2019 have seen 13 different winners: Cal Crutchlow, Andrea Dovizioso, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Márquez, Jack Miller, Dani Pedrosa, Danilo Petrucci, Alex Rins, Valentino Rossi, Ben Spies, Casey Stoner, and Maverick Viñales. Of that group, Iannone, Miller, Petrucci, and Spies have all won only a single race, ruling them out of contention. Alex Rins has won two races, but the Suzuki rider has only been active for three seasons, meaning he made little impact over the full decade.
That left eight riders who have won multiple races this decade: Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Márquez, Pedrosa, Rossi, Stoner, and Viñales. Of those eight, Andrea Dovizioso is the only rider to have started in all 180 races (he actually started 181 races, but the 2011 race in Sepang was red-flagged after Marco Simoncelli's tragic death, and would have started in Silverstone last year, had the race not been canceled due to the weather). Two other riders have started every MotoGP race held while they were in the class: Marc Márquez has competed in all 127 races held since 2013, and Maverick Viñales has started all 91 races held since 2015.
Whichever way you run the numbers, one rider stands head and shoulders above the rest.
If Valencia is an important test, the Jerez test is even more significant. At Valencia, the riders are tired, and the teams know that they cannot burden them too much. The Valencia circuit is also not well suited to test duties, too tight and contorted to give the new bikes a proper workout.
At Jerez, after a few days off to relax and absorb the lessons of Valencia, the teams and riders are back on the track again. The test program for most factories looks to be bigger and more comprehensive than at Valencia.
Maverick Viñales finished the day as fastest, quick and comfortable on the new 2020 prototype of the Yamaha M1. That Viñales had a clear advantage over the rest of the field is plain, but the gaps on the timesheet do not represent the real relative strengths between the riders. A mixture of drizzle and red flags caused by crashes meant that anyone going out on fresh soft rubber was likely to have their attempt at chasing a time stymied by conditions, or forced back into the pits due to a red flag. The teams got plenty of work done, but events conspired to prevent the usual battle of egos which ends each day at the test.
Yamaha: Frame and engine
The point of the post-season test at Valencia is to give the new parts the racing departments have cooked up based on the data collected during the year their first run out. The hope is that the new parts – engines, chassis, electronic packages, etc – will provide improvements, make the bikes faster, and help drop the lap times even further.
There was plenty of good news for the MotoGP factories from the two days of testing at Valencia. Their work has been successful, judging by the initial results at the test. The new engines which have been brought are all quicker, the chassis which have been tested are all an improvement.
The bad news is that all of this applies to just about every manufacturer in MotoGP. Yamaha, Honda, Ducati, Suzuki, KTM, even Aprilia, they have all made steps forward. The trouble is, that if everyone makes a step forward, they all end up still left in the same place.
So who comes out of the Valencia test ahead? It is still way too early to tell. At Valencia, the factories bring their new concepts, in a fairly raw format. Engines need adapting to electronics, chassis need adapting to engines, the setups the factories start the test with are based on data from last year's bikes, and still need tweaking to refine.
In these subscriber notes:
- The dangers of motorcycle racing
- Marc Márquez' remarkable season
- Andrea Dovizioso's remarkable season
- Jack Miller rides again
- Why Danilo Petrucci is staying in factory Ducati
- What riders think of Johann Zarco
- Yamahas lacking grip, with one exception
- Joan Mir on why being a rookie at Suzuki is harder than on a Yamaha
The last race of 2019 was a demonstration of just how dangerous motorcycle racing can be (although footage from the crashes at the Macau Grand Prix puts that into some perspective). The cold, the wind, and to be frank, allowing a rider who should have been black flagged for spewing liquids all over the track on three separate occasions this week to start a race created a host of situations which could have turned out really badly. But we got lucky.
Let's start with Aron Canet. The Moto3 rider had white smoke leaking from his Sterilgarda KTM during FP1 on Friday. He had white smoke leaking from his bike on the sighting lap before the race, which caused him and then Ayumu Sasaki to crash at Turn 6, and the race to be delayed. Despite the problem with Canet's KTM, the Spaniard was allowed to start the race, and more white smoke emerged from the bike, the KTM containing a seemingly endless supply.
This was supposed to be a quiet weekend. Winding down at the last race of the season, with only the most symbolic of prizes still on the line: the team championship; third overall in MotoGP. But the final round of MotoGP at Valencia has exploded into a frenzy of rabid rumor, wild speculation, and bizarre conspiracy theories.
It all started off with Jorge Lorenzo announcing he would be retiring at the end of 2019. Though the rumor had been floating around the paddock since the summer, it still came as a surprise. The rumor mill had calmed down a little since LCR Honda had first announced that Johann Zarco would be stepping in to replace Takaaki Nakagami for the last three races of the season. There had been a lot of talk of whether that meant Honda would sack Lorenzo, or Lorenzo would leave Honda for another team, with no satisfactory outcome.
Lorenzo's retirement was the sort of surprise which you half expect. After an evening of digesting the idea of MotoGP without Jorge Lorenzo, the hive mind of the paddock turned to thoughts of who might replace the Spaniard. On Friday, it didn't seem like it would be settled any time soon, rumor suggesting that Honda would not make a decision before the Jerez test.
Valencia is a fine place to celebrate the end of the MotoGP season. For the vast majority of the paddock it is close to home, at most a couple of hours by airplane, car, or train. It has a fine building in which to host the end of season awards ceremony, the Palacio de Congresos, designed by renowned architect Norman Foster. And it draws a massive crowd, over 100,000 fans turning up on Sunday to watch a race which usually doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things, beyond rider pride (and there is little much grander than rider pride).
But it also has its downsides. The track is neatly folded inside a tight little bowl, but at the cost of having a lot of left-hand corners, and only a couple of rights. And with the season at its current length, the race is in mid November, and even when the sun is shining, temperatures can be Baltic, something the winter winds don't do much to help.
Caution is advised in these conditions. With the track temperature in the mid teens, even very soft rubber on the right hand side of the tire is not enough to save you at Turn 4 if you try pushing too hard, too early. As Valentino Rossi found to his cost. In FP1, the Italian entered the first right hander of the circuit a little too fast with a new tire, and found it wasn't quite up to temperature. "Sincerely, I made a mistake, a stupid mistake, because I had the soft front, but I pushed a little bit too much already in the first lap, and I crashed."