With the thrilling 2016 MotoGP season now all done and dusted, a season that yielded a mightily impressive nine winners, thoughts have immediately turned to next season with the traditional winter test taking place at Valencia, just two days after the last Grand Prix was staged.
The test this time has seen perhaps more intrigue than it has done in a long time primarily due to Jorge Lorenzo’s high profile switch to Ducati and fellow Spaniard Maverick Vinales replacing him at Movistar Yamaha.
Can Lorenzo master the Ducati?
All nine of Lorenzo’s MotoGP seasons have been with the official Yamaha team and it’s given him three world titles, 44 GP wins and 107 GP podiums – not a bad return at all. So that makes his big money move to Ducati, arguably, the biggest gamble of his career so far. Not since Casey Stoney quit the Italian manufacturer at the end of 2010 have Ducati been in a position to challenge for the title with the great Valentino Rossi’s attempt in 2011 and 2012 falling under the ‘disappointing’ category, at best.
Of course, Rossi isn’t the only rider to have tried and failed on the Desmosedici with Britain’s Cal Crutchlow and Marco Melandri amongst them; indeed, the latter was a broken man when he left the team and suffered a similar fate at Aprilia.
However, Lorenzo’s move comes at a good time with the Ducati a far more user-friendly package that it once was. The myth that only Stoner could ride it is getting closer to being totally dismissed.
2016 riders Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone both enjoyed strong seasons on the bike, with the pair of them winning races. Neither of those two riders is in the same league as Lorenzo though and his ‘alien’ status could mean the red machines are a more permanent fixture on the top step of the podium.
Only time will tell but the early signs were promising as he ended the two days of testing at Valencia in eighth place overall and three quarters of a second adrift of the fastest time ironically set by Vinales. That will certainly give him cause for optimism but he’ll need to close that gap considerably if he’s to succeed – particularly as the man who’s replaced him at Yamaha is tipped to go all the way.
Vinales the man to beat?
Having excelled in the supporting Moto2 and Moto3 classes, a lot was expected of Vinales when he moved up to the premier MotoGP category in 2015 with Suzuki. The first season was a learning year for both but the second in 2016 saw them both step up to the plate with the still only 21-year old taking a stunning, and dominant, win at the British GP.
By then, Yamaha had already courted his services and he was soon announced as Lorenzo’s replacement. Fourth place overall was the outcome in 2016 with the aforementioned win and three more podiums recorded. It could be argued he over achieved on the Suzuki and that’s perhaps why his chances in 2017 are being talked up so much.
And whilst it might only be the beginning of the 2017 preparations, he was fast immediately on the Yamaha lapping considerably quicker than team-mate Rossi and sensationally ending the test at the top of the timesheets, a firing shot to the rest of the field if ever there was one.
With Stoner long since retired and Dani Pedrosa not quite the force he once was, there’s a good chance that Marc Marquez, Rossi and Lorenzo will have a new alien amidst their ranks in 2017.
Marquez still the benchmark:
With three MotoGP titles in the last four years, Marquez still has to be the benchmark for the rest of the opposition though. True, the advantage the Honda once had appears to have gone – which makes the Spaniard’s 2016 title all the more impressive – and it’s now a much more level playing field across the manufacturers.
Still only 23, Marquez had to work harder than ever to win in 2016 and had to settle for third and fourth place finishes on occasions. Having crashed a lot in 2015 that showed a new level of maturity and the fact he clinched this year’s title with rounds to spare and 49 points clear of runner-up Rossi demonstrates his consistency and, albeit to a lesser extent, his superiority.
Honda has a new model for 2017 with a different firing order in order to steal a march on their rivals whilst Rossi himself cannot, obviously, be ruled out of the equation. Whether or not he wins a tenth title, and eighth in the MotoGP class, remains to be seen but one thing’s for sure is that with a new team-mate in Vinales he has new motivation and is sure to play a significant role in the outcome this time next year.
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.