The 2018 MotoGP World Championship heads to Assen, Holland this weekend for round 8 and whilst the redoubtable Marc Marquez is again leading the way, recent rounds have seen the wild old guard of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo featuring regularly at the front.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for them or, indeed others, and we’re certainly witnessing another exciting, unpredictable and close fought season.
A maiden season with Ducati in 2017 yielded three podiums, but not much more for Lorenzo, and it looked like he’d fallen foul to the ‘curse’ previously experienced by the likes of Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow and Marco Melandri in being unable to master the Desmosedici. His second year started in an even worse fashion but, all of a sudden, he’s had the most remarkable of turnarounds.
Stunning and, it has to be said, comfortable victories at both Mugello and Catalunya saw a return of the Lorenzo of old as he grabbed the holeshot and controlled the race from the front just as he had done so many times with the Yamaha M1.
Taking full advantage of the clear track in front of him, the Spaniard was able to take his trademark, sweeping lines, fully utilising his corner speed. He dominated both races and it will be interesting to see if he can continue with his renaissance over the next few rounds.
It’s come too late to save his Ducati career with the decision already having been made to move teams for 2019 and 2020. In a move that surprised everyone, Lorenzo will line up as team-mate to Marc Marquez at Repsol Honda as he tries to master his third MotoGP machine.
Having won the opening round at Qatar, Andrea Dovizioso would have had high hopes of challenging for the title, just as he had done in 2017 where he took the fight to Marquez right to the final round. But with only one podium to his name since then, he’s slipped down the rankings to an unfamiliar eighth overall.
Worryingly for the Italian, he’s suffered three crashes in the last four rounds to currently lie 49 points behind the pace-setting Marquez. Admittedly, one of those falls, at Jerez, wasn’t his fault but he needs to stop the rot and get back to the race winning form of twelve months ago if he’s to stand any chance of hauling himself back up the table.
The issues have come at a time of contract discussions for 2019, when he, rightly so, expected to be on a similar salary to what Lorenzo had been offered. Whether the off-track negotiations have played their part, only he knows, but with Lorenzo now seemingly back to his best, he won’t want to be upstaged any longer even if the Spaniard will no longer be his team-mate next year.
When Maverick Vinales moved to Movistar Yamaha at the beginning of 2017 he was expected to challenge for the title and two wins at the first two rounds suggested he would do exactly that. But his title challenge soon fell away and the Spaniard has been unable to find that form since, often languishing at the bottom end of the top ten.
In a strange occurrence, the 23-year old is nearly always at the top of the timesheets at official tests but when it comes to race weekend, he simply cannot string it together, qualifying down the pack which, naturally, enhances the problems on race day. With only one podium so far in 2018, Vinales has been quite vocal in his comments saying he simply cannot find an answer to his problems.
Even more exasperating for his team is that he’s way down the field during the race, only to set his fastest lap right at the very end – if he can do it then, when the tyres are way past their best, why can’t he do it sooner?
Somehow, he still sits in third overall in the Championship but unless he finds an answer to his problems, he won’t be there for much longer.
Last year saw no less than four British riders line up in MotoGP – Cal Crutchlow, Bradley Smith, Scott Redding and Sam Lowes – but that figure was cut to three for 2018 with the termination of Lowes’ Aprilia contract and, at present, it looks highly likely that Crutchlow will be flying the flag single handed next year.
The Honda rider continues to feature regularly in the top six, enjoying his third GP win of his career earlier this year, but Smith and Redding are struggling this time around with both of them already being informed they need to find new rides in 2019.
Their results have been below par, regularly outscored by their respective team-mates, and with limited seats in MotoGP, their futures in the series are, unfortunately, in serious doubt. A move to Superbikes next season, or a drop back down to Moto2, appears to be the only options.
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.