5 things to expect from the 2016 MotoGP season
Racing season is almost upon us, and soon petrolheads will come out of hibernation and have something to look forward to.If the 2015 MotoGP season wasn’t exciting enough, then the new regulations, the new tire supplier and even a new rider in the form of Tito Rabat who recently graduated from the Moto2 class. the main stalwarts are Honda, Yamaha and Ducati, but Suzuki might have a few things to say about that.
#5 Casey Stoner (Enough Said)
This was possibly the biggest piece of news since the Malaysian GP saga. After retiring in 2012 he continued to be associated with Honda as a development rider. In 2015 Stoner participated in the Suzuka 8 hours endurance race but a throttle malfunction put paid to his triumphant return to racing.
Stoner sooner split from the Japanese marquee and was lured out of retirement albeit as a test rider, but according to some sources there is a certain clause in his contract that allows him to enter as a wildcard rider, but even before that Stoner was extremely close to returning behind the wheel of a MotoGP bike when he offered to step in as a replacement for his former teammate Pedrosa when the latter was sidelined due to hi arm pump operation, sadly his offer was tabled and Hiroshi Aoyama was chosen instead.
Although Stoner remains adamant that he won’t be racing this season, his fellow countryman and MotoGP legend Wayne Gardner reckons that that decision rests on the performance of the bike. Stoner has so far participated in the Sepang test for 2 sessions and has certainly proven that age has not affected his speed.
Well there’s just a little more than a week left before asphalt meets rubber and those red lights go out. This season cannot come soon enough.
#4 Dani Pedrosa\'s Revival
Before his arm pump surgery many would have asked the all-important question “Does Dani Pedrosa still have it in him to win a world championship?” Pedrosa was what one could call… an injury magnet.
Throughout his career he has sustained injuries on various parts of his body including his toes, his knees, his hands, his right femur, collarbones and right hand arm pump. But from the 2015 Italian GP onwards, in just his second race after recovering he straightaway put the bike in P4 and snatched a podium in the very next race in Catalunya.
Needless to say he has not looked back since and consistently parked the bike in the top 10 and that includes 2 wins. Is this a sign that his injury days are over? One can only hope that he carries forward this momentum into 2016 and mount a fierce challenge to the Yamahas and his teammate.
#3 Maverick Vinales\' Dream Journey Continues
When this Maverick Vinales debuted back in 2012, I predicted that he would be a rider to watch. 4 years later he is still exceeding everyone else’s expectations and mine. In the final preseason test, the young Spaniard topped the session even beating the more established manufacturers in the slightly underpowered Suzuki. In his debut MotoGP season he had finished in the points in all but one race, not bad for a rookie.
His older and more experienced teammate Aleix Espargaro is just as talented and the 2016 season will be something special for the team. After a solid debut season being in the points consistently will be a big boost and they will be working towards step 2: the podium.
Vinales has certainly shown his raw pace and level of maturity that proves that he has what it takes to be up front, but the big question is “Can he take on the likes of Lorenzo, Rossi and Marquez?” Suzuki’s upgrades include a new and more powerful engine and a seamless gearbox that is capable of changing gears within a hundredth of a second. So that adds one more team and two more competent riders to the championship equation.
#2 Ducati Is Not Too Far Behind Either
Back in 2015 the Ducati all Italian pair of Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone proved that they were a force to be reckoned with. Even the satellite team Pramac Ducati was the occasional dark horse.
To further emphasize my point, Danilo Petrucci’s shock podium in Silverstone against all odds ought to silence his critics. Under Paolo Ciabatti’s leadership the Italian marquee seems to be undergoing a renaissance. As of the 2016 testing sessions the score is as follows, 8th and 15th for Iannone and Dovizioso in Valencia, repeating the same feat in Sepang, 10th and 11th in Phillip Island and 6th and 8th in Qatar.
Clearly, the factory team has their work cut out for them, particularly if the satellite teams are finishing ahead of them. But according to sources the team still has not gone into “time attack mode” as the riders put it.
They are obviously keeping their cards close to their chests. with Casey Stoner also on board to help test and develop the bike the Ducati team will not be a good team to mess with. Stoner’s inputs have always been crucial when it came to the bike’s performance because no one knows the bike better that the rider himself.
#1 Another Yamaha vs Honda slugfest
As if the 2015 season wasn’t exciting enough, the 2016 season has big shoes to fill. Last year Yamaha stepped up their game while Honda struggled with a few issues that even forced Marc Marquez to revert to the 2014 chassis because he found a number of issues, which he could not adapt to.
Meanwhile, in the other Honda garage, Dani Pedrosa was having his own problems, which meant that he was sidelined for 3 races because he had to deal with his shoulder injury.
By the time both the Repsol boys got their bearings, it was too late to catch the Movistar Yamaha duo, that were locked in their own personal civil war. By civil war I really mean Civil War! It’s a miracle that there was no concrete wall dividing the garage, such was the animosity between Rossi and Lorenzo. Things got to an ugly end once the Australian GP ended (I’d rather not talk about that again so you can read all about elsewhere).
Not everyone has wiped the slate clean (well, most of them) but the battles will be fiercer than ever. Winter testing has yielded no clear leader because Honda and Yamaha have evened up the score while still trying to adjust to the Michelin tires. Marquez drew first blood in the Valencia test with Pedrosa in P3. Lorenzo and Rossi could only finish as high as 5th and 7th respectively (combining the practice times of Day 1 and Day 2).
The 3-day Sepang test tipped the scales in Yamaha’s favor with Lorenzo and Rossi in 1st and 4th respectively and the 2 Hondas were 5th and 11th with Marquez ahead of Dani. The Phillip Island test yielded surprising results as neither Honda nor Yamaha topped the overall charts.
It was the Suzuki of Maverick Vinales whereas the Hondas were 2nd and 8th; meanwhile, the Yamahas were 4th and 6th. When the final test in Qatar had convened it was status quo as Lorenzo topped to combined timesheets with Marc in 4th, Valentino 5th and Dani 10th.
But despite the respectable results for Honda, they are far from finding the sweet spot to pose a serious threat to Yamaha, the bike obviously hasn’t adapted to the new electronics or the Michelin tires and time is running out.