Races aren't won in the first corner, unless you're Lorenzo
2013 was a big year for MotoGP; Rossi returned to the Factory Yamaha team and we saw some of the closest in years across all three classes, especially Moto3. Some things stayed the say, the Ducatis still struggled, Spaniards still dominated and the Espagaro brothers were as emotional as ever. There was also news and drama a plenty with a multitude of broken bones, rule changes and the usual paddock gossip coming with each race. Max Biaggi even made a brief return to the MotoGP paddock when he tested for Ducati. However, there were five events that stood out as not only critical in deciding this season’s results, but also how seasons to come will potentially play out.
Marquez Makes Magic
The first event started in July 2012 when it was announced Marc Marquez would be replacing Casey Stoner in the Repsol Honda team for 2013. The messiah was coming; the most anticipated step up to the premier class since Valentino Rossi in 2000. Everyone knew he would be fast, but they also thought he would crash and crash a lot. He did crash a lot, beaten only by Hernandez for most crashes, and he even broke some records with crashes like his Mugello Free Practice 2 175mph scare. But he managed to avoid any serious injury and limited his crashing antics to practice sessions, aside from Mugello, and was otherwise able to be on the podium in every race he finished. This sort of form is amazing from riders with years of MotoGP experience but from a rookie, it was almost unbelievable.
Marquez’ huge and obvious talent translated to him claiming his first Word Title and destroying almost every record that went along with it. The next few years look daunting from the perspective of a rider trying to beat Marquez. As a fan the future looks bright, Marquez favours racing behind his opponents, watching them for several laps before striking. This makes for extremely exciting racing and memorable moments such as the incident at Lorenzo corner in Jerez and the last laps of the Silverstone race. He is constantly learning from the riders he follows; an example of this is at Le Man for his first wet race. He essentially learnt how to race a MotoGP bike in the wet in just eight laps, then being confident enough to charge through the field. He can only get faster. How scary is that?
2013 was Lorenzo’s finest year of racing. He might not have won the title but he proved that he is truly one of the best riders in the world and one of the toughest human beings on the planet. No one will forget Assen, a broken collarbone on Thursday, trip to hospital for a bit of surgery and back to the track to race, and score decent points, on Saturday. Jorge even shook it off like it was nothing. When told he was a hero he responded with "No, heroes are those who work hard just to reach the end of each month. I get paid to do these things." Despite this humility he would suffer another re-break of the same collarbone at Sachsenring, something that should have ended his championship hopes.
The second half of the season saw a much-needed new gearbox grace Lorenzo’s M1 and the Mallorcan became even more determined and aggressive in his title defence. His riding hit a new level of consistency, Misano saw him stay within half of second of his laptime for all but the first and last laps. His tactics and riding also become more aggressive when the situation called for it, particularly at Valencia when everything was on the line. From Silverstone onwards Jorge rode like a man possessed, focusing on getting the start he needed to allow him to ride the Yamaha how it wanted to be ridden. The best riders adapt how they ride to the bike and situation they’re in and Jorge proved more than capable of evolving to keep up with the missile that is Marquez. Lorenzo has, and will always be, a threat.
Mahindra, Better Than Honda
Mahindra first came into the MotoGP world in 2010, taking over the Lambretta project in the last year of the 125s. It was an average season for a virgin team, a handful of points and a surprise pole position in the last ever 125cc race from Danny Webb. The change to the Moto3 class would give them equal footing on bike development with everyone starting from scratch. Mahindra partnered with Oral Engineering and had a torrid season full of crashes, broken engines and angry riders followed. Miguel Oliveira took a huge risk signing with the Indian manufacturer for the 2013 season, but the risk paid off. A new partnership with Suter-Engineering and an almost complete overhaul of the team saw the Mahindra become the second best bike on the Moto3 grid. More than that, they were better than the big and mighty Honda.
The point of Moto3 was to give a level playing field and draw in more factories to prevent the Aprilla cup that 125s became, it hasn’t quite done this but the success of Mahindra, especially in contrast to their first torrid year in the Moto3 class, is a huge boon for the lightweight class. It has also caused Honda to refocus their Moto3 effort and come back fighting. The success story that Mahindra has been will hopefully encourage more manufacturers to join in Moto3, or potentially help to bring in more interest from new markets. The number of MGP30s (Mahindra’s Moto3 bike) has more than tripled for 2014 and this will allow Mahindra to develop the bike more and close the gap to the KTMs even further.
Out With The Old, In With The New
The last round of the year is usually a quiet affair, championship often wrapped up and only a few i’s and t’s left on contracts. This year not only saw two championships go down to the wire but also saw one of the most controversial stories of the year. Rossi dumped mega experienced Jeremy Burgess in favour of Silvano Galbusera, Melandri’s old WSBK crew chief. Rossi goes into what is potentially his last season in MotoGP and needs ‘new motivation,’ resulting in the change. It’s a risky move to say the least. The rest of the Rossi’s loyal crew remains but a big question mark remains over how next season will go. It’s not going to be Ducati bad at its worst, but will it be enough to turn Rossi into a regular winner? It would be a surprise.
Rossi wasn’t the only rider to part with a long-term partner as Pedrosa and lifelong manager Puig parted ways. Puig remains within the HRC family, now talent scouting in the Asia Cup and Dani obviously remains on his beloved Repsol RCV213V. All those years and near triumphs, but no title, like Rossi; something needed changing to see if it could be what pushes Pedrosa to the next step. Is having grid girls hold his umbrella what is stopping from Pedrosa from winning the MotoGP crown? Doubtful. But, like Rossi, maybe a change after all these years will reinvigorate racing’s favourite bridesmaid.
Puig moving to the Asia Cup is also a huge boost for the series. The Spaniard is perhaps the best talent scout in the MotoGP paddock, guiding Pedrosa, Stoner, Chaz Davies and many more in their early years in the Spanish championship. Asia is seen as a potential solution for all the financial troubles currently facing MotoGP and the best way to get to that money is by bringing in the most talented riders from continent and putting them on a competitive package, even better if that bike is from a similar area, like Mahindra.
The Phillip Island Debacle
Tyres that couldn’t last more than 12 laps, mandatory pits stops with last second rule changes but one of the most dramatic races of the year. The Bridgestone tyres at Phillip Island this year, and to a lesser extent the Dunlops on the Moto2 bikes, were a joke. WSBK and ASBK had both run at the newly resurfaced Phillip Island and had both had huge problems with tyres. Testing is extremely limited but being able to do less than half race distance on the tyres when Bridgestone were fully aware of the issues was beyond comical. What if all the Michelin riders had been able to go full race distance? There would have been even more of a riot outside the Bridgestone tent at the back of the paddock.
The single tyre rule has cut costs and evened things out, no more rider specific tyres, no more overnight specials. But it has also slowed development, Bridgestone have no one to beat, no extra drive to prove that they’re the best. It’s impossible to say what would have happened had there been another company to choose from at Phillip, but it’s doubtful it would have resulted in a race day rule change. Phillip Island was exciting, but it was also a situation that should have never arisen. Hopefully this will cause Bridgestone to be more aggressive in their development and avoid situations such as this in the future.
The Jerez ‘No Soup for You! Finger Wag’