Without doubt, 2016 was a vintage year for the MotoGP World Championship with multiple winners, close racing and a title race that although comfortably won in the end by Marc Marquez, was wide open for much of the way.
No less than nine riders, a record total, won races during the course of the year and whilst Marquez took his third premier class crown, he only took five wins out of the 18 rounds. Still only 23, the Spaniard had to control some of his previous aggression to overcome the deficiencies of his Honda and he settled for fourth and fifth place finishes on more than one occasion.
This ensured he kept ahead in the title race and whilst his closest rivals, which were again the Yamaha pairing of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, made mistakes, Marquez kept his down to a minimum, unlike 2015, which ultimately paid dividends and saw him wrap up the title with three rounds to spare.
Missed opportunity for Yamaha:
Marquez only had one DNF all year but Lorenzo and Rossi paid for too many off days. Indeed, Rossi, who finished as runner-up, had four DNFs with Lorenzo having three and the latter completely lost his form in the wet taking disastrous finishes of 10th, 15th and 17th in Holland, Germany and the Czech Republic.
With Marquez not 100% happy with the RC-213V Honda, especially the front end, the Yamaha runners had a golden opportunity to take another 1-2 in the Championship but they missed out and should have been far closer, if not ahead, of Marquez come season’s end.
Suzuki and Vinales shine:
An undoubted success story in 2016 was the form of Maverick Vinales and Suzuki. The 21-year old was in just his second season of MotoGP whilst it was also year two for Suzuki after their absence from 2012-14 but the combination soared to great heights this year with a memorable and dominant victory coming at Silverstone.
Vinales only had one no-score all season and only once finished outside the top ten. With three more podiums on top of his Silverstone win he ended the season in fourth overall and a new Yamaha contract in his back pocket for 2017. Being team-mate to Rossi won’t be easy but early impressions are more than favourable and the youngster should be a major contender for the Championship next year.
Up and down year for Ducati:
Ducati again had a mixed year and it’s nine years now since they last won the premier class title with Casey Stoner. However, this year did see a more consistent season and they were in the mix for race wins throughout with both Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone finishing on the top step of the podium. Their presence in the leading pack was regular as opposed to occasional whilst the supporting cast of Ducati riders were also a lot more prominent.
The acid test comes next season with Lorenzo having jumped ship from Yamaha. Not since Stoner has the Bologna factory had a rider fully capable of challenging for the title so it will be extremely interesting to see how the three-time MotoGP Champion fares – he’ll be hoping to do a lot better than what Rossi did in 2011 and 2012.
Contrasting fortunes for Brits:
As in 2015, there were four British riders competing in MotoGP this season but whilst two of them, Cal Crutchlow and Eugene Laverty, enjoyed excellent seasons, it was a year-long battle for Bradley Smith and Scott Redding.
Crutchlow had a shocking start to the season on his LCR Honda, scoring just 10 points in the first six rounds, and he suffered far more crashes than he would have liked. He gradually got into a rhythm though and his maiden Grand Prix win – and Britain’s first since Barry Sheene in Sweden, 1981 – came at Brno in August. Tyre choice was crucial to that victory but he proved it was no fluke with a comprehensive victory in the dry coming two months later at Phillip Island, Australia and with second at Silverstone he took a strong seventh overall.
Laverty, meanwhile, rode a 2014-spec works Ducati so he was clearly up against it but his results were superb with a stunning fourth place in Argentina the undoubted highlight. He only missed out on points on three occasions, one of which he was taken out by another rider, with his performances in mixed conditions particularly impressive and he ended the season in a fine 13th overall. He also ended the year without a ride and whilst he’ll have a great chance of victories in the 2017 World Superbike Championship, he deserved another year, and a better bike, in MotoGP.
For Redding and Smith though, it was a tough season with Redding unable to challenge for top six positions except when it was wet. He was outshone by his Pramac Ducati team-mate, Danilo Petrucci, and will line up next year on a year old works bike once more which means it will be another uphill battle.
Smith too struggled in his fourth year on the Tech 3 Yamaha and he was unable to get anywhere near his 2015 form when he took a podium at San Marino and no less than ten top six finishes. His best result was seventh and when he crashed an R1 Yamaha in a World Endurance Championship round his season was ruined. Signing for the new KTM MotoGP team may see him riding direct for a factory in 2017, as opposed to a satellite team, but points will be hard to come by.
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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.