The 2018 MotoGP World Championship came to a somewhat soggy end at Valencia, Spain at the weekend and whilst Marc Marquez had the title wrapped up last month, a win for Andrea Dovizioso ensured that, just as he had been in 2017, he was best of the rest once more.
After finishing second last year, his most successful season in the premier class, Dovizioso’s challenge this time around was almost over before it had begun despite winning the opening round. It went downhill rapidly after that with fifth and sixth at the next two rounds followed by two uncharacteristic race crashes. And with Marquez winning three of those races, it would be ground he would never claw back.
Indeed, it was Brno in August before he won again but six podiums in the last ten races – with further wins at Misano and Valencia – cemented his name in second place overall once more. The Ducati now works well at all circuits as well as in both the wet and dry and he should be again at the forefront of Marquez’ challengers in 2019.
Rins lays down marker for 2019
It’s been a stellar end to the season for Suzuki’s Alex Rins with the Spaniard taking his fifth podium of 2018 at Valencia but this was, arguably, his most impressive as he not only led for half the race but looked completely comfortable in doing so.
Never out of the top six in the final six races, Rins was quick in both the wet and the dry and controlled the race impressively until the rain got heavier and he was caught by the chasing Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi. However, recognising they had quicker pace in the monsoon-like conditions, the 22-year old wisely let them by and continued at his own pace close behind in third.
He didn’t make a single mistake, when nearly everyone else around him did, and when the race was restarted, he immediately went to the front once more before taking second place and the fact he’s still only 22 will not be lost on his rivals. Rins failed to score in five of the first nine races but he still finished fifth overall which shows how strong he was in the second part of the year.
Suzuki should have a stronger package for 2019 when Rins will be the number one rider and it looks like it will be a position he’ll assume with consummate ease. Having now established himself as a consistent front runner in MotoGP, the key will be to ensure podiums become even more regular but, at this rate, it must surely be a question of when he’ll take his maiden MotoGP win, not if.
KTM deliver – finally
Austrian manufacturer KTM enjoyed a solid debut in 2017 with a number of top ten finishes recorded in the final third of the season so they were expected to advance further up the leaderboard this time around – but it didn’t happen. Instead, they found themselves battling for points at the bottom end of the top 15.
Their cause wasn’t aided by numerous injuries affecting Pol Espargaro as well as test rider Mika Kallio and with just Bradley Smith left to carry out rider duties, development slowed down. The Brit, whose services have been dispensed with for 2019 (see below), battled manfully with his own results picking up at the final few rounds but it was Espargaro who achieved a ground-breaking moment at Valencia as he recorded both his and the team’s first ever MotoGP podium.
Sixth place in qualifying – in the dry – was certainly a step in the right direction and despite falling in the first part of the race, the Spaniard remounted and came through to take third in the restart. True, the rain is a good leveller of the field and the tight and twisty Valencia circuit may have played into their hands but KTM will head into winter with a spring in their step.
Espargaro will be joined by Frenchman Johann Zarco in 2019 whilst two more KTM’s will be on the grid with the Tech 3 team. And with Dani Pedrosa joining as test rider, that strength in depth should see their progress considerably quicken next season with better results the outcome.
Smith and Redding bow out
The weekend saw the end, for now at least, of the full-time MotoGP careers of British riders Scott Redding and Bradley Smith who now embark on new and different stages of their career.
It was a happy end for both riders as they both scored season’s bests, Smith in eighth and Redding 15th but it brought to a conclusion a difficult year for both riders, particularly Redding who, despite of everything, remains hugely popular with fans and fellow riders alike.
Five years in MotoGP saw the Gloucestershire rider have spells on Honda, Ducati and Aprilia machinery but it only yielded two podiums and a best finish of 12th overall in 2014, his maiden season in the class. If truth be told, it’s been a constant battle for Redding and this year at Aprilia was a huge disappointment as he only scored points in seven races.
Redding struggled on a bike that has yet to truly impress in MotoGP with team-mate Aleix Espargaro only faring slightly better but, rather than drop back into Moto2, the class that saw him finish second overall in 2013, he’s opted instead the hurly burly of British Superbikes. Having never ridden a Superbike nor raced at half of the circuits on the calendar, he faces a challenge but he most conquer if he’s to reignite his career.
Smith, meanwhile, has been upstaged by Pol Espargaro for much of his two years at KTM in a not too dissimilar fashion to their three previous years together at Tech 3 Yamaha. Whilst dropping out of full-time competition, he will remain in the MotoGP paddock though having assumed the role of test rider for Aprilia.
All of the major teams now have riders with considerable MotoGP experience in such roles and Smith should help Aprilia make strides forward with his deal also seeing him make a number of wild-card appearances.
What was your highlight of the MotoGP 2018 season?
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.