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.

All You Need To Know From Sepang Testing

The first official MotoGP testing of the new year has been completed at Sepang. It was the first time that riders have been seen in their new colours for the upcoming year, and has offered a look at who will be going strong this season, as well as showing how well the rookies will adapt.

The Movers

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Image: autosport.com

Maverick Vinales was the most successful of all the riders who have moved teams. The Spaniard seemed to adapt very quickly to his new Yamaha, topping the overall testing times by 0.084 seconds. He finished in the top three on each day, before leading the standings on day three. The man that he replaced, Jorge Lorenzo, is still getting used to his new Ducati. The three time world champion had to settle for tenth, 0.2 seconds behind his team mate, Andrea Dovizioso, and a tenth behind Ducati test rider Casey Stoner.

Andre Iannone enjoyed a strong showing on his Suzuki, after topping the standings on day two and finishing second overall. Alvaro Bautista also had a strong test, including a third place on day 2. Following his step up from Aprilia to the Aspar team, the Spaniard finished seventh overall, above Jorge Lorenzo. Aleix Espargaro, who has replaced Bautista at Aprilia, had a solid test, finishing in thirteenth place, 0.74 seconds off of Vinales’ time. His Brother, Pol Espargaro, and Bradley Smith have moved from the Tech 3 Yamaha team to the new KTM team. They both struggled, but for a new team in MotoGP, you can expect their results to improve as the season goes on.

The Rookies

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Image: Cycle World

The double Moto2 world champion Johann Zarco had the most attention on him, but ended up with an eleventh place. The highlight of his outing on his new Tech 3 Yamaha was a fifth place on day 2. His new team mate will be Jonas Folger, and the German was unable to break the 2 minute barrier, but still recorded top ten finishes on the first two days. After finishing third in Moto2 last season, Alex Rins finished twelfth overall. The Suzuki rider also failed to finish under 2 minutes, but was only outside the top ten by 0.29 seconds. There will be another British rider in the Premier Class this season, with Sam Lowes joining Aprilia. It looks like the bike will need some improvement though, as Lowes was unable to break in the top 20, only finishing above Tito Rabat, excluding test riders.

 

The Challengers

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Image: Crash.net

As previously mentioned, Maverick Vinales is looking like a serious contender for this year’s title. His team mate, Valentino Rossi, will no doubt be trying to prevent that as he searches for a record equalling eighth Premier Class title. Rossi finished sixth overall in testing, but his real strengths lie on a race day.

The reigning world champion, Marc Marquez, is looking strong again this time around. Finishing the Sepang test 0.138 seconds behind Vinales, it is clear that the Repsol Honda rider is well in the hunt for his fourth title in five years. Honda’s chances at a Constructors’ title look good this season, as Dani Pedrosa put in a strong showing throughout testing (fifth place, 0.21 seconds from Vinales) and Cal Crutchlow came ninth, 0.36 seconds from the top.


Who do you think will win the 2017 World Championship? Will there be a surprise package? Have your say in the comments below.

Lorenzo takes win on final Yamaha outing

Jorge Lorenzo signed off at Yamaha by claiming victory at the final race of the season in Valencia. The Spaniard, who will move to Ducati for the 2017 season, enjoyed a dominant weekend, leading the race from start to finish. World Champion Marc Marquez finished second, whilst Andrea Iannone, who Lorenzo replaces at Ducati, rounded off the podium.

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Image: crash.net

Having broken the lap record in a blistering qualifying session, it was no surprise that Lorenzo started well. Within a few laps the Yamaha man had escaped the pack, leaving teammate Valentino Rossi to challenge with Maverick Vinales and Iannone for second place.

Marc Marquez suffered from a poor start, getting swallowed up going in to the first corner, but put in a strong display to battle his way back up to second. With Lorenzo struggling in the final laps with his front tyre, it looked as though Marquez would be able to take a remarkable win. But the Repsol Honda rider left himself with too much to do, with Lorenzo taking the win by just over a second.

Rossi got the better of his future teammate Vinales as they finished fourth and fifth respectively, and Pol Espargaro edged out both Andrea Dovizioso and his brother Aleix to finish sixth.

Bradley Smith finished as the top Brit in ninth, on his final ride for the Tech3 Yamaha team. Scott Redding finished fourteenth with Eugene Laverty sixteenth. Cal Crutchlow remained the top independent rider of 2016 despite crashing out.

Having already confirmed his second Moto2 title, Johann Zarco bid farewell to the class with another victory. Sam Lowes, who is also heading to MotoGP next season, came fourth whilst Danny Kent secured a ninth place finish. It was a similar story in Moto3, as the dominant Brad Binder recovered from an early mistake that saw him drop to 22nd to take the chequered flag.


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Pedrosa beats Rossi to Misano win

Dani Pedrosa became the eighth different Grand Prix winner as he stormed to the chequered flag at Misano. The Spaniard overcame a strong display from home favourite Valentino Rossi, whilst Jorge Lorenzo, who started from Pole, rounded off the podium.

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Dani Pedrosa became the eighth consecutive different winner in MotoGP this season with his win in Misano. Image: Crash.net

It was Lorenzo who made the best start, but Rossi wasted no time in hitting the front with a strong pass on the second lap. The two Yamahas broke away from the pack, along with championship leader Marc Marquez.

But Dani Pedrosa smashed the lap record three times as he caught the front group, passing Marquez and Lorenzo within three laps of each other. Pedrosa then set about closing the gap to Rossi, which stood at over a second.

The Honda rider was able to pass Rossi on lap 22, and quickly managed to gap the Italian. Pedrosa was able to extend his lead to over two seconds to take his first win since Sepang in 2015. Rossi’s second place was enough to take another seven points out of Marc Marquez’s championship lead, with Marquez finishing fourth.

Maverick Vinales followed up his Silverstone victory with a fifth in Misano, with Ducati duo Andrea Dovizioso and Michele Pirro, who was replacing Andrea Iannone, finishing sixth and seventh. Cal Crutchlow hung on to eighth, after initially being given a 1.5 second penalty for exceeding track limits, but that was later removed as he was deemed not to have gained an advantage.

Ireland’s Eugene Laverty finished 14th, just ahead of Scott Redding. Alex Lowes, who will continue to fill in for Bradley Smith at Aragon, crashed out.

Lorenzo Baldesarri overcame a last lap duel with Alex Rins to take the Moto2 win, but both Sam Lowes and Danny Kent crashed out. Brad Binder extended his championship lead in Moto3 as he took the win, with John McPhee finishing 20th.


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Lorenzo wins in last lap thriller

Jorge Lorenzo extended his championship lead with a victory at Mugello, snatching the win from Marc Marquez on the final straight. Home favourite Valentino Rossi was forced to retire after starting strongly from pole position.

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Lorenzo snatches victory from Marc Marquez on the final straight. Image: MotoGP.com

Lorenzo started strongly, leading his Yamaha team mate in the early exchanges. Rossi was just looking as if he would take the lead before his engine blew up. This left Lorenzo clear at the front, however Marquez closed the gap before eventually passing Lorenzo on the final lap. Lorenzo bit straight back but was unable to make his pass stick. It was Lorenzo who got the better drive out of the final corner and overtook Marquez, winning by 0.019 seconds.

Andrea Iannone made sure that there was an Italian on the podium, after seeing off Andrea Dovizioso and a late challenge from Dani Pedrosa, who took 4th. Maverick Vinales celebrated his move to Yamaha next season with a sixth position, with Bradley Smith and Danilo Petrucci rounding off the top eight.

Britain’s Cal Crutchlow finished 11th, whilst Scott Redding was forced to retire early on. Eugene Laverty continued his fine season with a 13th place.

The Moto2 race was disrupted after an air fence was damaged in a crash. Johann Zarco won the 10 lap restarted race with Britain’s Sam Lowes finishing third, taking him back to the top of the championship. Brad Binder cemented his lead in Moto3, taking a close fought victory in which the top six were covered by just over 1 second.