2018 MotoGP season preview

The 2018 MotoGP season kicks off this weekend under the lights in Qatar, so it is time to look ahead to the oncoming season and assess the chances of the contenders.

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How the riders will line up for the 2018 MotoGP season. Image: BT Sport MotoGP

The front-runners

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Marc Marquez celebrated his sixth world title, and his fourth MotoGP title, at the final race in Valencia last season. Image: Motorsport.com

World Champion Marc Marquez has had a rather understated pre-season as he prepares to aim for his fifth MotoGP title. Despite topping the charts in the first test in Valencia back in November, Marquez has recorded an eighth in Sepang, a third in Thailand and a seventh in Qatar.

The Spaniard has won just once in the premier class at Losail, so he may have to wait to launch his bid for the title.

Andrea Dovizioso ran Marquez close last season, and has offered a slightly more consistent pre-season than his rival. After a sluggish start in Valencia, Dovi has recorded a fourth place in Sepang, a seventh in Thailand and a third in Qatar.

The Yamahas had a disappointing year in 2017, especially considering Maverick Vinales’ dominant form in testing. This year he was slightly more off the pace. The Spaniard, who finished third last season, has placed seventh, eighth and fifth in the three 2018 tests.

His teammate, the experienced Valentino Rossi, has said that he will continue racing for at least the next two years. Rossi finished second in the Qatar test at the beginning of the month, but finished twelfth in Thailand and ninth in Sepang.

Jorge Lorenzo is clearly still trying to get to grips with the Ducati, having finished on the rostrum three times last year. Lorenzo topped the charts in Sepang, but has struggled to match that pace in the subsequent tests, finishing fifteenth and tenth.

Could 2018 finally be the year that Dani Pedrosa makes his mark on the championship. The 32-year-old continues to be one of the best riders to never win the MotoGP title, but his pre-season form has been impressive. He has recorded two second places and topped the standings in Thailand. However, the Spaniard has also finished twelfth in Qatar and eleventh on the first day in Valencia, so it could go either way once the season gets underway.

 

The outsiders

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Cal Crutchlow has praised Honda for the improvements they have made this winter. Image: Autosport.com

Johann Zarco was the top performing rookie last season, with the Frenchman finishing the year in sixth. The Yamaha rider topped the timing charts in the final test in Qatar, finishing almost a quarter of a second ahead of Valentino Rossi.

Zarco finished second in Thailand, and also recorded top three finishes in both days of the Valencia test.

Danilo Petrucci finished on the podium four times season, and finished just 13 points behind Jorge Lorenzo. The giant Italian will be looking to build on his strong showing, especially in the first half of the season. Petrucci has been consistently in the middle of the pack during testing, but will hope that he can steer his Ducati in to the top half of the grid.

Cal Crutchlow will be disappointed with his 2017 season. The Brit finished ninth overall and failed to finish five times. A third place in Argentina was the highlight of a pretty sub-standard campaign, but Crutchlow will be hoping that he can recover this year.

He has performed well in testing, finishing fourth in Qatar and Thailand and third in Sepang. Crutchlow has praised the improvements that have been made to his Honda, saying that Honda have given their riders all that they wanted.

Andrea Iannone always has the potential to cause an upset, however his aggressive riding style has led to a number of crashes. He has been off the pace in testing but tends to perform much better on a raceday.

The Brits

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Scott Redding will be hoping that he can improve on last season after his move to Aprilia. Image: Motorcycle Sports

Bradley Smith managed to keep his ride at KTM this year but his performance will be under close scrutiny this year. Smith managed to up his performances at the end of last year, but his KTM still looks unlikely to let Smith challenge the top 10.

Scott Redding has moved to Aprilia, with his spot at Pramac Ducati being taken by Jack Miller. Redding had a solid season last year, scoring four top 10 finishes, including in the season opener in Qatar. Testing has shown that Redding is still getting used to his new bike, and he may have to wait until he is able to challenge for a top 10 place.

The rookies

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Franco Morbidelli has won back-to-back Moto2 titles before he stepped up to the premier class. Image: Motorsport.com

Two-time Moto2 champion Franco Morbidelli has stepped to challenge himself in the top class. Morbidelli will race for the Marc VDS Honda team alongside Thomas Luthi, who came runner-up to Morbidelli last season.

Xavier Simeon will race on a Ducati this season. Simeon finished 23rd in Moto2 last season, and will partner Tito Rabat, who has moved to the Reale Avintia Racing team from from the Marc VDS team.

Takaaki Nakagami showed some promise last season in Moto2, collecting three third places and a win. Nakagami will partner Cal Crutchlow as LCR Honda will enter a second rider this year.

Hafizh Syahrin will become the first Malaysian rider to compete in MotoGP after he was drafted in to replace Jonas Folger, who has to miss the season due to suffering from Gilbert’s syndrome. The German missed the last four races of the 2017 season due to the rare illness, which forces the body to shut down.

 

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Title race taken to Valencia after Dovi win

Andrea Dovizioso’s win in Malaysia means that the MotoGP title will be decided in the final round at Valencia. Dovizioso is 21 points behind championship leader Marc Marquez, after the Honda rider could only manage fourth at Sepang.

The Spaniard went in to this weekend knowing that the title was in his hands, but he started back on the third row. This did not stop Marquez from making a strong start, and he was already amongst the leaders at the first turn.

Johann Zarco started strongest, but as the race wore on, his soft rear tyre allowed both Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso though on turns nine and fourteen on lap nine.

The Ducatis quickly managed to gap the Frenchman, and soon the question of team orders came up. Would Jorge Lorenzo give up the chance of his first win on a Ducati to aid his teammate’s title chances?

With six laps to go, Lorenzo received a message through on his dashboard saying: “suggested mapping 8”. The next couple of laps saw Dovizioso close the gap on his teammate, but he was unable to get past.

On the final corner of lap 16, Lorenzo lost the front and ran wide, allowing Dovizioso past. From there, the Italian cruised home to take the win, with Lorenzo following him into second.

Johann Zarco completed the podium, nine seconds back, whilst Marquez came fourth, a further eight seconds behind.

Dani Pedrosa finished fifth, and Danilo Petrucci, who started at the back of the grid after breaking down on the sighting lap, came sixth.

After being sucked into the pack at the start of the race, Valentino Rossi recovered to finish ahead of Jack Miller and Maverick Vinales in seventh. Pol Espargaro rounded off the top ten.

It was another disappointing weekend for the British riders, the top of which was Bradley Smith in twelfth. He came in four seconds clear of Scott Redding, whilst Cal Crutchlow gained a single point in fifteenth. Sam Lowes crashed out with 16 laps to go, but got back on to his second bike. Unfortunately for Lowes, he crashed his second bike as well.

The Moto3 championship had already been decided, with Joan Mir being crowned at Phillip Island. Mir celebrated by securing his tenth win of the season, whilst John McPhee managed to climb back up to fifth after he was forced to run off to avoid a collision.

In Moto2, the title race was concluded in anti-climatic fashion. A crash in qualifying left Thomas Luthi with a broken ankle and unable to race. That handed the title to Franco Morbidelli. The Italian was unable to celebrate with a victory though, as Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder completed a KTM 1-2, as in Phillip Island.

Dovi keeps title hopes alive in Motegi

Andrea Dovizioso blew the title race wide open as he snatched a thrilling win at a soaking wet Japanese Grand Prix. The Italian overturned a half-second gap from title rival Marc Marquez to take the win in dramatic fashion, closing the gap in the championship to just 11 points.

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Dovizioso now has five wins this season, after having just one victory in MotoGP before the start of this year. Image: dawn.com

Dovizioso had gone fairly under the radar, allowing teammates Jorge Lorenzo and Danilo Petrucci lead early on. As the laps progressed though, the Italian found himself as part of a break-away front three. As Marquez tangled with Petrucci, Dovizioso sat back, before eventually passing Petrucci, who looked to have just run out of steam.

For Dovizioso though, his race was just beginning. After passing his fellow Ducati rider, he was straight on to the back of Marquez.

With three laps to go, Dovizioso made his move, hitting the front and looking the more comfortable in the wet conditions. But in true Marquez fashion he fought his way back past the Ducati. Marquez extended his lead to just under half a second going into the last lap, but a mistake by the world champion allowed Dovizioso to catch him in the final sector.

As in Austria, Marquez went for broke, diving down the inside of Dovizioso on the final corner. It was almost as if Dovi knew that he was coming, however, allowing the Honda to dart through on the inside and run wide before the Ducati was able to power back past on the drag to the line.

Danilo Petrucci completed the podium, whilst Suzuki riders Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins finished fourth and fifth.

After initially leading the race, Jorge Lorenzo fell back into the middle of the pack, but rallied late on to rise to sixth. He overtook Aleix Espargaro in the final few laps, who had previously had a quiet race before falling to seventh.

Johann Zarco, who had also started brightly, dropped down to eighth, whilst Maverick Vinales and Loris Baz completed the top ten.

Valentino Rossi compounded his misery after a poor weekend all round, crashing out of the race early on.

It was a poor weekend for the British riders on the whole, except for Sam Lowes. Lowes just missed out on twelfth, running out of fuel on the last corner and just being overtaken by wildcard Katsuyuki Nakasuga. Scott Redding finished just outside the points in sixteenth, whilst Bradley Smith was unable to capitalise on his impressive qualifying performance, finishing eighteenth. Cal Crutchlow crashed out early on, and although he did re-enter the race, he crashed again later on.

In Moto2, it was a better afternoon for the Marquez family, as Alex Marquez took the victory by over a second. Championship leader Franco Morbedelli finished eighth, but still managed to extend his lead over Thomas Luthi to 24 points, after the Swiss rider finished 11th.

Romano Fenati managed to keep the Moto3 title race alive as he took the chequered flag. Championship leader Joan Mir, by contrast, failed to finish in the points after starting from 20th after a grid penalty. The result leaves Mir 56 points ahead of Fenati with three rounds remaining. John McPhee finished tenth, leaving him sixth in the championship.

Vinales Takes Season Opener

Maverick Vinales followed up his pre-season form with victory in the opening race of the season. The Spaniard was making his Yamaha debut in Qatar after his switch from Suzuki, and held off the Ducati of Andrea Dovizioso and his team-mate Valentino Rossi.

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Image: BT Sport MotoGP Twitter (@btsportmotogp)

The race was reduced to 20 laps due to a 40 minute delay caused by rain whilst the bikes came on to the grid. This came after qualifying had been washed out, meaning that the grid was based on the combined times from free practice.

But the inconvience of the rain was soon forgotten, as rookie Johann Zarco made a flying start and hit the front. The Frenchman looked comfortable as he led his more experienced competitors, but he crashed out on lap 7.

Andrea Dovizioso seized the opportunity to hit the front, leading world champion Marc Marquez and former team-mate Andrea Iannone. As Dovizioso controlled the race, Marquez and Iannone battled for second position, before Iannone slipped out on lap 11.

It was then when Maverick Vinales, who suffered from a poor start, and Valentino Rossi, who started back on the fourth row, made their way past Marquez and started hunting down Dovizioso.

Vinales managed to catch Dovizioso, but kept being frustrated as he was unable to escape from the Ducati’s superior horsepower down the front straight. But with only a few laps remaining Vinales was finally able to gain enough of a lead to consolidate his position and take the win by 0.461 seconds. Dovizioso took second, whilst Rossi crossed the line 1.467 seconds later.

Marc Marquez, who switched to a softer front tyre during the delays at the start of the race, slipped back, but was able to hold off his team-mate Dani Pedrosa, whilst Aleix Espargaro took sixth on his Aprilia debut.

Scott Redding finished as the top Brit, finishing in a lonely seventh place, two seconds behind Espargaro and five seconds clear of Jack Miller. None of the other Brits scored points, with Bradley Smith finishing seventeenth on his KTM debut, and Sam Lowes a further place back on his first appearance in MotoGP. Cal Crutchlow suffered a race to forget, falling twice early on.

Alex Rins finished as the top rookie in ninth, just beating Jonas Folger to that accolade. Both, however, finished ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, who looked uncertain on his Ducati debut, finishing eleventh.

Joan Mir took the opening race of the day, as the Spaniard held off a group of four riders, headed by Britain’s John McPhee, that finished within half a second of the Moto3 winner.

Franco Morbidelli secured a dominant win in Moto2. The Italian took his first Grand Prix victory, 2.681 seconds clear of Thomas Luthi. Britain’s Danny Kent finished thirteenth.

The next race is in Argentina, taking place on April 9.