More factories racing means more factories testing. The usual one or two day shakedown test ahead of the first official MotoGP test of the year organized by IRTA has expanded this year to become much more than that. All six MotoGP factories are present with test riders – Aprilia, Ducati, Honda, KTM, Suzuki, Yamaha – as well as a couple of factories testing Superbike machines ahead of the 2017 season. The reason? The more factory teams there are, the cheaper the cost per factory to rent the circuit, and the more time they get preparing for next week's test.
It's been a turbulent 12 months for Shaun Muir Racing. Their much touted move to WorldSBK in 2016, as reigning British Superbike champions, proved to be an exceptionally trying campaign that ended with infighting between the team and their lead rider, Josh Brookes. Armed with the BMW S1000RR, expectations were high for the British squad but ultimately they struggled to find a consistent balance, and the season and their relations with the German manufacturer petered out.
From one presentation to another. Having the Movistar Yamaha and Ducati Factory team launches on consecutive days made it a little too easy to make comparisons between the two. There was much complaining on social media about the fact that large parts of the Yamaha presentation were in Spanish only, causing the international audience watching the live streaming to lose interest.
Ducati's approach was better: while everything in the presentation was in Italian, there was simultaneous translation available on the live stream, so those following could hear it in English. That was no good to us in the hall, of course, though we would find out later that there had been headsets available with the live translation available. But nobody had thought to tell us about that, of course. Still, we got to practice our racing Italian, a necessity (along with racing Spanish) for those who work in MotoGP.
There was not much to complain about the location. Just as last year, the launch took place at the Ducati factory in Borgo Panigale, just west of Bologna. The auditorium is not much to write home about – a dark room with a stage – but journalists and guests were welcomed in the Ducati museum, a glorious place filled with Ducati history and a lot of racing past. If you are heading to Mugello or Misano, a visit to the museum is highly recommended.
Yamaha have kicked off the 2017 MotoGP season. The Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team were the first to present their bike, their riders, their team, and most importantly, their sponsors and color scheme to the world.
Launches being what they are – a show primarily put on for the benefit of their sponsors – there was nothing radical to see. The bikes on display had been painted in the correct colors – the Yamaha blue a little darker, the Movistar M a lot bigger, Monster's sponsorship being visually demoted a little further, the green claw M looking a little too much like Movistar's M – but they were not the actual 2017 bikes, the eagle-eyed MotoGP technical blogger Manziana spotted.
That is unsurprising, if a little disappointing. It makes little sense for Yamaha to fly new bikes halfway around the world from Japan to Spain just to put them on display, then pack them up again to fly them back to Sepang for the tests. More disappointing is the news broken by GPOne.com, that Ducati are to present what is basically a GP16 in 2017 colors.
The next rider to go under the microscope in our retrospective of 2016 is one of the most interesting of the year. Cal Crutchlow had a season of two halves, but up and down. Here's how we rate the LCR Honda rider's performance last year:
Cal Crutchlow – Honda – 8.5
7th - 141 points
By the time Cal Crutchlow left Le Mans, after the fifth race of the 2016 MotoGP season, his future in MotoGP was being openly questioned. He had just five points from five races, and was twentieth in the championship. He had crashed out of three races, and crashed and remounted in a fourth, in Austin. Things were looking rather bleak.
His results were in stark contrast to the talk of him possibly taking the place of Dani Pedrosa in the Repsol Honda team. Fans responded to such rumors – like Pedrosa's switch to Yamaha – with a great deal of skepticism. Why would HRC want to sign a man who couldn't even finish a race?
The next rider under the microscope in our series examining the 2016 season is Dani Pedrosa. The Repsol Honda rider had been heavily tipped before the 2016 season, but things didn't quite work out the way he had hoped. Here's our assessment of Pedrosa.
Dani Pedrosa – Honda – 7
6th - 155 points
Dani Pedrosa was everybody's dark horse for MotoGP champion before the 2016 season began. In early testing Pedrosa was often near the front, able to exploit the additional grip of the Michelins. Rear grip had always been an issue for Pedrosa. As the lightest rider on the grid, it had been almost impossible for him to generate mechanical grip in the Bridgestone rear tire. The Michelin naturally had more rear grip, offering Pedrosa a chance to exploit all of the tricks he had learned over the years to get the rear to dig in and drive.
As the start of the season neared, Pedrosa started going backwards. After finishing third fastest at Valencia and on the first day of the strange Sepang test, he was much slower in difficult conditions at Phillip Island, then again at the Qatar test. In the opening race, he finished nearly 11 seconds behind the winner, Jorge Lorenzo. Results started to improve after that, with a podium in Argentina, then crashing out of the podium fight in Austin.
We continue our review of 2016 with a look at the man Ducati decided to keep. Here is how we saw Andrea Dovizioso's performance last season, and why Ducati preferred him to Andrea Iannone:
Andrea Dovizioso – Ducati – 8
5th - 171 points
The rumors that Ducati would be signing Jorge Lorenzo immediately sparked debate among fans over which Andrea the Italian factory should keep alongside the Spaniard. Early signs were that it would be Iannone who would stay. There was talk that Ducati had a contract ready for Iannone to sign at Austin. The fans were almost unanimous: keeping Iannone was the right thing to do.
The next rider to be put under the microscope over his 2016 performance is Maverick Viñales. Just how did the Spanish youngster fare last year?
Maverick Viñales – Suzuki – 9
4th - 202 points
It was the million dollar question before the 2016 season: just how good is Maverick Viñales? His pedigree was impeccable: wins in every year in Grand Prix, in every class he raced in. Until he got to MotoGP, that is. In his first year in MotoGP, Viñales' best result was a pair of sixth places. Was Viñales a bust, or was he restricted by the performance of the Suzuki in its first year back in the class?
Next up in our review of how the MotoGP riders performed in 2016 is Jorge Lorenzo. Here is our look at how the 2015 champion did last season:
Jorge Lorenzo – Yamaha – 8
3rd - 233 points
Jorge Lorenzo is arguably the fastest rider in the world on his day. Lorenzo's throttle control, physical control of his body, sensitivity to the movement of the bike, and ability to sense and exploit edge grip is second to none. To quote Cal Crutchlow for the umpteenth time when he was riding a Tech 3 Yamaha, "the only time we reach the lean angles that Jorge achieves is just before we fall off."