Ever since Casey Stoner left Ducati no rider has been able to get the Ducati to the heights the Australian scaled and seriously challenge for the title.
Signing Valentino Rossi in 2011 was the dream ticket the Bologna factory wanted and they believed it would give everyone what they wanted – an Italian on an Italian bike winning the MotoGP World Championship. But it never happened and two dismal years followed for all concerned. And whilst the 2017 season may only be three races old, Jorge Lorenzo finds himself languishing down the order so is it a case of history repeating itself?
The talents of Rossi and Lorenzo don’t need explaining – they’re two of the best riders ever to grace the planet and in Rossi’s case arguably the greatest ever – but something is clearly preventing anyone doing what Stoner did. Initially, it could be argued the bike was built around him and it handled and behaved just how he wanted a motorbike to handle and behave. But he left seven years ago and the bike has undergone a number of significant design changes since then.
Andrea Dovizioso has recorded numerous podiums on the bike in his near five years with the team but only one win. And seeing Lorenzo struggle to crack the top ten, it doesn’t look like he’s about to give them another. Indeed, he celebrated his sixth place in qualifying at the last round at Austin like he’d won the race which highlights the struggles he’s having.
He hasn’t forgotten how to ride and if he was still Yamaha-mounted, he’d have been challenging for the race wins at the first three rounds. But a major turnaround is needed – and fast – because, if it doesn’t, history will definitely be repeated.
Marc versus Maverick:
After winning the first two rounds, the first Yamaha rider to do so since Wayne Rainey in 1990, a prediction that Maverick Vinales was going to do the same at Austin would have been seen as a safe bet. But an early race crash brought him back down to earth literally and showed he is human after all and maybe, just maybe, not quite at alien-status yet.
The crash left many bewildered as it didn’t look like he’d done anything wrong and whilst it would be wrong to say he buckled under the pressure of trying to beat Marc Marquez at a circuit he’d made his home, there’s no denying it can’t be easy for a 23-year old with so much expectation and focus upon him.
Marquez has been through the cycle before and with just a fourth place finish to his name after the first two rounds, he was under his own kind of pressure. Four straight wins at Austin meant he was expected to make it five but already 37 points behind Vinales he had to ride the perfect race, which, of course, is what he did.
The end result has bunched the leading pack up and whilst we’ve experienced many duals before, Sheene v Roberts, Lawson v Gardner, Rainey v Schwantz or Rossi v Biaggi, for example, we can expect the one between Marquez and Vinales to run and run.
The GOAT continues to excel:
At 38 years of age, and in his 22nd year of Grand Prix competition, one could be forgiven for expecting Valentino Rossi, aka the GOAT, to be winding down and looking forward to retirement rather than travelling round the world for seven months and contesting the MotoGP World Championship. The truth is the complete opposite and the fire is burning as brightly as ever as he seeks a tenth crown.
Pre-season testing and, indeed, some of his qualifying performances this year, have suggested a few struggles but the Italian is a racer and, at the end of the day, it’s what happens on Sunday that counts.
To have the appetite to still be competing after those 22 years is unheard of and no other rider’s career comes close to that longevity. He’s had battles with so many riders over the years, disputing the titles with the likes of Max Biaggi, Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner and even when new, young upstarts arrive such as Lorenzo, Marquez and now Vinales, he’s more than ready for the fight.
Only time will tell whether he has the steam to maintain his challenge for the entire duration of the season but whichever way you look at it, it’s a remarkable story and one that certainly has a few more chapters to tell.
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.