The final installment of this year’s diatribe should, one thinks, start with an examination of the season preview from back in February. Heading into Qatar, the conventional thinking was that Maverick Viñales, newly and firmly ensconced on the factory Yamaha, the best bike on earth of late, would challenge triple world champion Marc Marquez and his Repsol Honda – you remember, the one with the acceleration issues – for the world championship.
It didn’t work out that way, as the fight ended up being between Marquez and journeyman Ducati #2 (behind the newly signed Jorge Lorenzo), Andrea Dovizioso, with Marquez, as expected, taking home the hardware and Dovi displacing Lorenzo on the #1 Ducati, at a fraction of the price.
Here are some pertinent snippets from the season preview eight months ago:
“The Big Three factory teams of Yamaha, Honda and Ducati will dominate much of the action, as they are home to the Aliens, those riders whose balance and instincts are a step above the rest of the field – Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and new Alien on the block, Maverick Viñales.”
We ended the season in virtually complete agreement that in 2017, Marquez is the only true Alien, with Rossi, Dovizioso, and Viñales chasing, Dani Pedrosa and Lorenzo hanging onto relevance by their fingernails. We discovered that the 2017 Yamaha M1 was sometimes inferior to the 2016 model, as the Tech 3 team of Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger pressed the factory boys all year, especially in the rain. Viñales disappointed many, especially given his sensational start to the season.
Recall, after Le Mans, the top seven looked like this:
- Maverick Viñales 85
- Dani Pedrosa 68
- Valentino Rossi 62
- Marc Marquez 58
- Johann Zarco 55
- Andrea Dovizioso 54
- Cal Crutchlow 40
Viñales was clear of the field by 17 points with three wins in the first five rounds. Had it not been for a regrettable crash out of the points at Austin, his lead would have been even greater. Marquez had crashed out at Argentina and again at Le Mans, looking somewhat ragged early in the season. During the spring of 2017, it appeared the fans jocking Viñales might be right, that Marquez’s reign, like a 4th of July sparkler, would be retina-spotting bright and all too brief.
Let’s just be done with the castigation thing as regards Jorge Lorenzo. Despite owning three premier class titles, he has a host of problems. He’s a narcissist, which means few people would be inclined to come to his rescue if, say, he found himself sitting in 18th place after two rounds, his season in tatters, his employers paying Triple World Champion salary prices and having gone public with their over-inflated expectations for 2017. If Lorenzo was on fire in the middle of the street, Valentino Rossi wouldn’t stop to piss on him. Lorenzo stood there, smirking, and watched Rossi suffer for two years on the Ducati, then went and did the exact same thing for the same reasons, money, and ego. I had expected him to be in the top five most rounds, which was not the case.
We’ll talk about Rossi later.
“Keeping them honest will be the likes of Lorenzo’s teammate and wingman Andrea Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda, and Andrea Iannone on the factory Suzuki. Alex Rins, on the second factory Suzuki, and Johann Zarco on a Tech 3 satellite Yamaha are the Moto2 grads most likely to podium this year, with Rins looking, to me anyway, like the rookie of the year for 2017. Another Alien in the making.”
So we had Dovizioso ranked ahead of Lorenzo, about whom we had serious doubts heading into the season. We missed on Cal Crutchlow, who had a forgettable year after a solid 2016 but will happily show you pictures of his daughter. We missed on Andrea Iannone, Alex Rins and the whole Suzuki project, which we expected to take another step forward and which, instead, went the other way, moonwalking for the first half of the season. Rins got hurt, missed a bunch of races, but came back looking stronger at the end of the season than he had early. Iannone waited until the last few rounds to awaken from his season-long stupor and do some racing.
Rookie of the Year Johann Zarco stole the show in 2017, coming up from Moto2 with a trophy in each hand – the only rider ever to do so – and immediately taking to the 2016 M1 for the Monster Tech 3 team. The early part of his season was extraordinary, capped by a front-row start and podium in front of his homeys at Le Mans. He then went into a bit of a funk during the middle of the season, but finished strong, with brilliant performances on the Pacific swing and in Valencia – started and finished second – that have him itching for 2018 to start tomorrow. Stories are emerging that suggest Yamaha wants him to take Rossi’s seat in 2019. He’s a hot property, but a little long in the tooth to be Alien material (he turns 28 in July.)
“Pramac, Aspar and Avintia Reale get new old Ducati hardware, which could improve prospects for Hectic Hector Barbera and Alvaro Bautista.”
We suggested Danilo Petrucci, aboard the Pramac Ducati GP17 would likely be in the mix for some wet rounds, which he was until tailing off late in the season. Hector Barbera was perhaps the single biggest bust of the year, injured during the last pre-season test and never finding his rhythm ever after an encouraging 2016 and offseason. Punched his ticket back to Moto2, his career no longer in what one might call the ascendant stage. And Alvaro Bautista wasn’t much better, although he gets to stick around for at least another year. Loris Baz lost his ride, while Scott Redding trudged off to Aprilia in a headscratcher.
So, as regards the Ducati contingent, we were mostly wrong about Lorenzo, Dovizioso, and Petrucci. True, we were also wrong about Barbera, Bautista, and Baz. And we were surprised by Karel Abraham, who showed more this season than he has thus far in his entire career. Undeterred, we will point out that we expected next to nothing from Redding and he delivered. He will now take his Stiff Upper Lip to Aprilia with his customary high expectations, although, having ridden the RS-GP in Valencia for two days, he spoke during an interview of the need for Aprilia to “make the bike more user-friendly.”
That didn’t take long.
Sure, Scott. Given the choice between redesigning the entire frigging bike or directing a mediocre rider to lose 20 pounds, Aprilia is probably more inclined to go back to the drawing board. You wanker.
“It would take another Assen-type miracle for either of the Marc VDS riders, Jack Miller and Tito Rabat, to win this year.”
Just sayin’. Jack Miller earned a promotion to the Octo Pramac Ducati team for his efforts, while Tito Rabat somehow managed to talk the Reale Avintia team into taking a chance on him. It will be interesting to see if Miller can wheedle a GP18 out of Ducati boss Gigi Dall’Igna or whether he will have to pay his dues on a 17. Rabat, showing nothing of the greatness he possessed in Moto2, is lucky to still be employed. Okay, the second half of this 2017 was better than the first. There.
Let’s Take a Closer Look
We need to talk about Valentino Rossi. Before we do, let’s tip our hats to the 2017 riders who have escaped mention thus far.
- Dani Pedrosa: Another competitive season, two more wins on Spanish soil. Low maintenance and a serviceable wingman for Marquez. I just keep thinking that there is a lot of young talent on its way up and that sooner or later Honda will make a change. I thought they would last year. I think they will after 2018. But that’s just me.
- Cal Crutchlow: Ninth for the year, no wins, another year older – 33 next year – appears to have reached the high-water mark of his career last season. His body is beaten up and older than he is. Will have a rookie teammate next year to corrupt. He gets quoted in the press way too often for a mid-pack rider. Probably because he gets to speak in his first language, unlike most of the contenders. I imagine he’s not the hot interview target on Telemundo that he is on BBC Sports.
- Jonas Folger: Zarco’s rookie J&J Tech 3 buddy, he podiumed in Germany before his season was ended prematurely by injury and illness. Folger showed way more than I expected early in the year, possibly because he, too, was piloting the 2016 Yamaha M1, perhaps best bike on the grid. If he improves a little and can stay healthy, his bank account could get laced in 2019, too, along with Johann.
- Aleix Espargaro: He brought his “win or die trying” spirit to Aprilia, and paid the price. Though showing moments of brilliance, he failed to finish eight races and failed to start another due to crashing out, getting hurt, and suffering a number of mechanical letdowns. His 2017 bike was better than his 2016, and 2018 should be better yet. But the dude needs to stay on the bike. Next year he’ll have Scott Redding instead of the departed Sam Lowes to make him look good.
- Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith: The rookie KTM tandem had an encouraging year, despite accumulating 8 DNFs and no podiums, with top-10 finishes hard to come by. Espargaro had the better of Smith most of the year, crashing out more often but finishing on top for the season. KTM, according to rumor, covets Zarco for 2019, too, and is said to be over Bradley Smith.
- Finally, Sad Sam Lowes: Sam failed to accumulate the required 10 points during an entire 18 round season, for God’s sake, necessary to qualify for a final disparagement in this column, and so we simply wish Sam good luck and Godspeed in Moto2.
Last but not least, Valentino Rossi. I seem to be something of a rare breed in that I neither love nor despise The Doctor. He went into the 2017 season as a dark horse for the title and sat grinning in first place during those halcyon days after Jerez and before Le Mans, where things started going downhill for the nine-time world champion. Crashing out of the front row at Le Mans, then breaking his leg later in the year, and it was all she wrote. He was never comfortable on the 2017 Yamaha and was uncompetitive in the rain. Objectively speaking, despite having some brilliant moments, he was not the Rossi we have watched over the years, even as recently as 2015.
There are people out there – smart, otherwise-lucid folks – who sit in delirious anticipation of Rossi’s triumphant exit from MotoGP on the heels of his 10th world championship in 2018. Seriously, there are. But it’s simply not going to happen. He is old enough to have fathered most of the riders in Moto2 and all of the riders in Moto3. He is accumulating scar tissue at an accelerating rate. Yamaha needs to give him and Viñales a better bike for 2018. Even if they do, it won’t be Rossi hoisting the 2018 trophy, although it could be his teammate. Which would really piss him off. I believe next season will be his last as a full-time rider. One could easily see him as a wildcard at Mugello and Misano in 2019 and beyond.
The 2017 Season in One Paragraph
The opening third of the season was owned and operated by the factory Yamaha team, which held first place for the first seven rounds. During the middle of the season, Rossi and Viñales began to falter somewhat, while Marquez started finding his breathtaking rhythm and Andrea Dovizioso started winning races. By the last third of the year, it was a shootout between Marquez and Dovizioso, one which appeared to have been settled at Phillip Island but was, arguably, settled at Aragon, in that the standings of the top eight riders after Aragon matched the final 2017 standings.
Although we enjoyed the drama of the Pacific swing and Valencia, in hindsight those four rounds ended up having little to do with the final results. Which is not to say that a number of us weren’t pretty geeked up at Motegi and Phillip Island. It was nerve-wrenching to watch Marquez playing defense and Dovizioso on offense. In the end, the title was decided at Valencia, just not in the manner for which most of us had been hoping.
Final Tranches of 2017
Tranche 1: Marc Marquez
Tranche 2: Andrea Dovizioso, Maverick Viñales, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, Johann Zarco
Tranche 3: Jorge Lorenzo, Cal Crutchlow, Jonas Folger, Alex Rins, Pol Espargaro, Aleix Espargaro, Andrea Iannone, Jack Miller, Danilo Petrucci, Alvaro Bautista
Tranche 4: Bradley Smith, Scott Redding, Loris Baz
Tranche 5: Sam Lowes, Tito Rabat, Hector Barbera, Karel Abraham
The Last Word
MotoGP 2017 confirmed several pre-season predictions and missed on a few others.
Marc Marquez is the rider of the decade, discussion closed. The sun is setting on Valentino Rossi. Jorge Lorenzo made a huge mistake taking his game to Ducati. Maverick Viñales is going to be a premier-class champion, just not right away. Andrea Dovizioso still has plenty of gas in his tank. The KTM team is going to be nails in the near future. Johann Zarco is the class of the rookie class of 2017, with Folger and Rins not far behind. And MotoGP in 2017 is as good as it’s ever been.
See you next year.
|2017 MotoGP Final Standings|