My editor really doesn’t like me. It’s the truth – the absolute truth. He speaks to me harshly and makes me do things just because he pays me. Sometimes, I get very stressed and tearful – and it’s not fair.
I’ve tried counseling but my group found out that he’s best pals with a The Strong White Mountain Survivalist Group in Montana. These were the same lovely people who went to President Trump’s inauguration to complain about his limp wristed, pro-immigrant, left wing policies. The best thing, my counselor suggested, was to shut up and do what I was told and thus avoid a visit from a big, bearded chap carrying a 50-caliber machine gun, a family selection box of crystal meth -and a reprimand from my editor.
The reason for this preamble is that I have been asked to provide predictions about this season’s MotoGP – a subject of which I have, allegedly, a little knowledge. I am somewhat apprehensive because the last time that I did this job, under identical instructions from the very same editor, was last year and I received a comprehensive, and detailed, range of death threats for suggesting that Valentino Rossi was not going to win the 2016 MotoGP World Championship.
So, let’s start with what we know for 100% certain and then move on to the more fuzzy areas. For absolute, complete and total definitive fact, Valentino Rossi will not win this year’s World Championship. He will however, have remarkable rides for someone of his age and may well win three or so GPs. Equally, he will not deliver top five results race and after race.
(Really, I don’t believe this but my naughty editor made me write it. He did, honestly, and I know where he lives and so I’ll happily supply his address, and his car registration, so that all you Rossi fans can show him the road to goodness and virtue.)
Another rider who will not win a World Championship is Dani Pedrosa. Dani is fast but fragile – mentally and physically. His role is to be a quick second in the Repsol team but never to challenge the team leader, Marc Marquez. The team pivots, rightly, around Marquez and no-one wants to disrupt the harmony by having someone who provides a constant challenge to Marc. Why would you?
The situation is helped tremendously because Repsol insist on having an all-Spanish Team and €25 million buys you a lot of say regarding who rides what – even with Honda.
This brings us rather neatly to Cal Crutchlow. I know Cal a little bit socially and have worked with him professionally, and believe me he is the only MotoGP rider who could go for an interview as a Navy SEAL and NOT get the job because he was too tough. He could head butt a block of titanium and dent it. Come to think of it, he probably has head butted a block of titanium by way of light entertainment.
When Cal rides, it is only ever at 101%. On the right day, this is wonderful and he is capable of winning a GP – as he has done twice in the past. The problem is his fondness for keeping the LCR mechanics busy, as he crashes his works spec RC213V Honda in an ever more fascinating variety of ways.
However, Cal is now at his happiest. He is the star of the LCR team and, to be fair, has done a vast amount of good for Lucio Cecchinello’s outfit. Honda are also fond of him, and his satellite bike is probably the closest a second tier machine has ever been to the Repsol branded equipment of Marquez and Pedrosa.
Cal is also a lot more politically savvy than he was at one time and would now have no hesitation at riding shotgun for Marquez if Honda demanded this of him.
There may well be an interesting adjunct to being in favor with Honda. If Pedrosa is injured, which sadly seems almost inevitable, then Cal is the automatic candidate for taking the Repsol ride. Of course, Honda would have to bribe Cecchinello to keep the LCR sponsors sweet and on track but money always talks so if Honda deem this to be necessary, it will happen. Watch this space.
And what of the very, very expensive Jorge Lorenzo who has now banked a huge amount of Ducati’s money? Let me first declare a degree of bias in discussing the Mallorcan. If I could be a MotoGP rider, it would be Jorge Lorenzo. On the right day, with the right weather and the right bike and the right team and just the right amount of food on his plate in hospitality and his water at precisely the correct temperature, Jorge is the finest rider in the world. I saw him win at Valencia last year and he was so much better than every other rider in the race, it was embarrassing. At his best, Lorenzo is sublime.
The problem, like with Casey Stoner, is getting him in the sweet spot physically, intellectually and – critically – emotionally. Yes, Ducati will move heaven and earth for Jorge and yes, on occasions late in the season, he will disappear into the distance. But championships are a weekly grind. A win – great. Second or third – fine. But, race after race, whether the bike is good or bad, the weather perfect or horrendous, there has to be a haul of points – and this is where Lorenzo will fail.
So who else can win a GP? The truth is that there a lot of riders who could stand on the top step of the podium because every single MotoGP rider is a motorcycling deity. There is no one making up the numbers in this championship.
I rather fancy Andrea Iannone – “Maniac Joe” as he likes to be known – and the rather underrated Suzuki GSX-RR. His ultra-aggressive riding, and remember I make that comment fully aware that MotoGP is not a lace making club or a Pilates group, has cost him a lot of points in the past but, given the right set of circumstances in terms of tire choice and other riders having problems, I would have a $5 bet on Maniac Joe.
The same applies to Andrea Dovizioso who is a truly lovely rider to watch – smooth, elegant and ultra-fast. Can he win in the wet, the dry, with a head cold or fighting fit? The answer is no – but I do think he can take the occasional race.
One rider I really can’t comment on in detail, simply because I know so little about him, is Jonas Folger riding the satellite Yamaha for Hervé Poncheral’s Tech 3 team. The clue for us all should have been that he is riding for Tech 3, because Poncheral is an incredibly fine judge of talent.
So, that’s why Folger is in the Tech 3 Team and they really are brilliant at supporting up and coming riders. The YZR-M1 Yamaha is arguably, and very strongly so, the best package on the MotoGP grid and the easiest on which to go very fast. Even so, Folger has shown a tremendous level of skill and maturity – so much so that if all the planets line up perfectly then I would not be amazed to see him on the podium – surprised, yes, but not actually shocked into disbelief.
So now to the pointy end of the stick. Who’s going to be the 2017 World Champion? It’s a fascinating question and much more than a simple two horse race between Marquez and Viñales. I’m out of the MotoGP business now but everyone I know who is still in the paddock, and who has come into contact with Maverick Viñales, is full of respect for the 22 year old. Clearly, he is incredibly fast – but so is everyone else. What makes him stand out is his calmness and ability to get the best out of the factory Yamaha and, critically, the team. Rossi has probably realized by now that the mind games are well and truly over in terms of psyching out Viñales because the young Spaniard simply isn’t bothered – not in the slightest degree.
Maverick is winning hearts and minds from every part of MotoGP because of his almost scary maturity. He listens well, communicates well, is tantrum free and utterly focused. All these are traits that teams love.
As Maverick wins, and Valentino doesn’t, the emphasis will subtly shift to the future and away from the past. Rossi might well be the GOAT but factories are only interested in the current weekend’s results and this is why Viñales will be so actively supported.
Finally, he doesn’t crash and brings home the results in every test session and, I feel sure, will do so in every race.
Running head to head with Viñales will be Marc Marquez – who is quite simply a joy to watch racing a motorcycle. If ever you wanted a reason to either race, or watch motorcycle racing, it has to be Marquez. If he had a stage show in Las Vegas he would be the star magician in the town of dreams. You look at Marc sliding his Honda into a corner on the front wheel and feel good to be a part of the motorcycling brotherhood.
In short, on equal machinery I would back Marquez to beat any rider in the world – and in any conditions too.
The problem is that he isn’t on equal machinery. The 2016 World Champion did utterly remarkable things with last year’s Honda and it looks as if he is going to have to perform similar miracles with the 2017 bike. The all new “big bang” Honda engine, intended to make the RC213V easier to ride mid-corner, has not been a success and very soon Honda have to commit to the engine they will use for the whole season. This is disastrously bad news for Honda because, despite Marquez’s apparent speed in pre-season testing, the bike is clearly not as competitive a package as the two factory Yamahas. This is leading to a real problem for Marc and Honda.
The word is that he is currently over-riding the bike and this is leading to an excess of crashes. At the private Honda test at Jerez on February 25 he dislocated his right shoulder again. Dislocated shoulders are far more serious than they might appear because the more they happen, the weaker the shoulder area becomes and this increases the risk of further injury. Marc trains very hard to avoid this but he has dislocated both his left, and now right, shoulder on numerous occasions.
Ligament surgery can help – but not just days before the start of the 2017 season. The cure is not to crash and to do this and win, Honda need to give Marquez a better bike.
Having said this, Honda know all there is to know about winning World Championships. There is an aura of certainty about the Honda team where winning a GP is just a normal day at the office. This is hugely helpful to Marc and is why I am backing him to win this year’s World Championship – albeit not with my normal self-confidence.
A very close second will be Maverick Viñales.
And now to third place – and a real conundrum because the choice is very wide. In fact, it is so wide that I am allocating this slot to Cal Crutchlow just because I love his courage, his determination and the fact that he has a set of cojones bigger than a fit Hereford Bull. Okay, in terms of riding ability Cal is not #3 in the world but wouldn’t it be wonderful to see someone who rode with his heart get onto the podium?
So there we have it. The guaranteed first three places in this year’s MotoGP World Championship – and even before the first race has begun. You can see why my editor makes me write these pieces.