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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Marquez makes it eight in a row in Germany

Marc Marquez’s impressive record in Germany continues as the Spaniard has now won eight consecutive races at the Sachsenring across all classes. He fought off a strong challenge from Jonas Folger, who secured his first MotoGP podium at his home Grand Prix.

Marquez Germany

Image: BT Sport (@btsportmotogp)

Marquez started on pole and took the lead early on, but he was soon challenged by teammate Dani Pedrosa and home favourite Folger, who had started back on the second row. Folger passed Pedrosa and the front two soon moved clear.

The home crowd erupted as Folger took the lead on the penultimate corner on lap six. The German looked comfortable as he held off Marquez, but ran wide at turn one on lap eleven, allowing the world champion back in to the lead.

The front two were now well clear of Dani Pedrosa in third. Marquez never really looked in too much danger, as Folger again ran wide trying to make up for his earlier mistake. In the final few laps Marquez extended his lead to just over 3 seconds as he looked more comfortable on wearing tyres. Pedrosa completed the podium after a lonely ride in third, a further 7 seconds back.

Maverick Vinales recovered from his fall in Assen and eleventh place on the grid to pick his way past Aleix Espargaro and Danilo Petrucci in quick succession. It then took the Spaniard five laps to catch and pass Andrea Dovizioso, before passing Valentino Rossi just one lap later. Vinales saw out the race in fourth, one place ahead of his teammate.

Alvaro Bautista completed a fantastic ride by clawing his way up to sixth, ahead of Espargaro and Dovizioso, who dropped to eighth. Johann Zarco passed Cal Crutchlow late on to take ninth, with the Brit rounding off the top ten.

Ducati riders Jorge Lorenzo and Danilo Petrucci slipped back from their sixth and second places in qualifying to eleventh and twelfth respectively.

The British riders did not fare particularly well, despite Bradley Smith’s fourteenth place. Scott Redding finished back in twentieth, whilst Sam Lowes crashed out.

The win takes Marquez clear at the top of the championship over the summer, five points clear of Maverick Vinales. The top four riders are covered by just ten points, with Andrea Dovizioso just a further point behind Vinales, and Valentino Rossi in fourth.

Franco Morbidelli rescued his sixth win of the season in Moto2 after appearing to blow his lead over Miguel Oliveira going in to the last lap. Joan Mir confirmed that he will be leading the championship over the summer break after passing Romano Fenati on the last lap to take the win.

 

Vinales Takes Win In France After Bumper Last Lap

Maverick Vinales took advantage of a disastrous last lap for Valentino Rossi to win the French GP. The Spaniard moves to the top of the championship standings with the win, whilst Dani Pedrosa moves up to second after his third place finish. Johann Zarco secured his first MotoGP podium at his home Grand Prix with his second place finish.

Vinales Le Mans

Image: Crash.net

After Zarco’s strong start from the front row, Maverick Vinales soon took over the lead and looked in control of the race. Vinales led the group of Yamahas who broke free, with Johann Zarco and Valentino Rossi following.

Marc Marquez managed to catch up with the leading group, but crashed out with 11 laps remaining. That left the top three well clear of the rest of the field, with Rossi and Zarco trailing Vinales. But with six laps remaining, Rossi slipped underneath Zarco at turn 2 and began to hunt down Vinales.

Rossi recorded consecutive lap records as he chased down his team-mate, and then passed him in a repeat of his pass of Zarco. But it was a disaster of a final lap for the Italian, who first ran wide, allowing Vinales to retake the lead, and then lost the front as he attempted to regain top spot.

This left the door open for Zarco to secure a second place at his home Grand Prix, whilst Dani Pedrosa picked up third after a lonely ride.

Andrea Dovizioso managed to edge out Cal Crutchlow in the latter stages, whilst Jorge Lorenzo finished sixth, ten seconds back. Jonas Folger overcame the challenge of Jack Miller, whilst Loris Baz finished ninth in his home Grand Prix. Andrea Iannone rounded off the top ten.

Among the British riders, Bradley Smith and Sam Lowes both picked up points, finishing thirteenth and fourteenth respectively. Scott Redding was forced to retire early on.

Joan Mir took the win in a shortened Moto3 race, after an oil spill caused half the field to crash out on lap two. Danny Kent secured tenth on his return to Moto3 after his split with Kiefer Racing in Moto2. John McPhee came just behind Kent in twelfth place. Franco Morbidelli continued his run of winning every race that he has finished this season, securing his fourth win of the season in Moto2.

Marquez Continues American Dominance

Marc Marquez extended his winning run on American soil to nine races after securing a comfortable victory at the Grand Prix of the Americas in Texas. The world champion saw off early pressure from his team-mate, Dani Pedrosa, who ended the race in third, with Valentino Rossi splitting the two Repsol Hondas.

Marquez Texas

Image: Crash.net

After qualifying on the second row, it was Dani Pedrosa who made the strongest start, with pole sitter Marquez following him closely. It wasn’t long before the first incident of note, as the so far infallible Maverick Vinales slipped off of his Yamaha on a long right hander.

Controversy followed on lap seven, as rookie Johann Zarco tussled with Valentino Rossi. The Frenchman punted Rossi off the track through the chicanes, but it ultimately caused Rossi to actually gain ground on the leading Hondas. Race direction, perhaps harshly, awarded Rossi with a 0.3 second penalty for the incident, even though the Italian did everything in his power to avoid coming together with Zarco.

Marquez first hit the front on lap eight, but was pegged back immediately as Pedrosa blasted past him on the back straight. But Marquez had learnt his lesson, passing Pedrosa a few corners earlier on the next lap to ensure that his team-mate could not catch him on the straight.

From that point onward Marquez looked in complete control of the race. Pedrosa fell back, and Rossi was able to pass him on the final bend with two laps to go. With the 0.3 second penalty hanging over his head, Rossi continued relentlessly, opening up a two second gap in the final two laps.

The win is Marquez’s fifth consecutive victory in Texas, whilst Rossi’s second place takes him to the top of the championship, six points clear of Maverick Vinales.

Cal Crutchlow followed up his podium in Argentina with a fourth place, edging out Johann Zarco with a lap to go. Andrea Dovizioso finished as the top Ducati in sixth, whilst Andrea Iannone and Danilo Petrucci managed to finish ahead of Jorge Lorenzo. Jack Miller rounded up the top ten.

Scott Redding finished in twelfth, whilst Bradley Smith finished just outside the points in sixteenth. The last of the British riders, Sam Lowes, crashed out on his Aprilia.

After the initial Moto3 race was red flagged, Romano Fenati took the chequered flag. John McPhee’s seventh place sees him slip to third in the championship. Franco Morbidelli continued his dominance in Moto2, finishing over two seconds clear of the rest of the field to take his third win from three races.

The next race is at Jerez on 7 May.

Vinales Continues Pre-Season Form

Maverick Vinales is looking in top form ahead of the start of the 2017 MotoGP season. The Spaniard, who replaced Jorge Lorenzo at the factory Yamaha team, has topped the time sheets again after the three day test at Phillip Island.

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Vinales has now topped every test since his move to Yamaha (Valencia, the private test at Sepang, the Official Sepang test, and Phillip Island). Image: crash.net

Vinales was one of only two riders to record a lap time in the 1:28s, with world champion Marc Marquez also breaking the barrier. However it was the former Suzuki man that won out, topping the charts on both the second and third days and finishing 0.294s clear of the Repsol Honda rider.

It was a good test for Honda, as Dani Pedrosa, who missed the majority of day two due to a throat infection, finished third overall, and Cal Crutchlow was fifth. The LCR man was on form throughout the weekend, with a third place on day two and two fifth places.

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Jonas Folger finished the test as top rookie, less than half a second behind Vinales. Image: Motorsport.com

Rookies Jonas Folger and Alex Rins offered up some very promising performances, with Folger managing to shoot up to fourth on the final day. Rins managed to recover from a poor first day to best his Suzuki teammate Andrea Iannone, who struggled after a strong first day. The top rookie from the Sepang test, Johann Zarco, struggled in Australia, only recording a 1:29.67, putting him in fifteenth.

The title this year may be a two horse race between Marquez and Vinales. Valentino Rossi only finished in the middle of the pack, 0.921s behind his teammate. The Ducatis were improving though, as Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo finished seventh and eighth respectively.

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The KTM team unveiled their 2017 livery after the Australian test. Image: crash.net

It was a miserable test for the other Brits, as Bradley Smith, Scott Redding and Sam Lowes occupied three of the bottom four places. Smith and Pol Espargaro both showed signs of improvement on their KTMs, finishing half a second closer to the leader than they did at Sepang. Sam Lowes also improved on his Aprilia, despite not breaking the 1 minute 30 barrier, as he was 0.3 seconds closer to Vinales.

The final MotoGP test will be at Losail, Qatar, from the 10-12 March, with the season kicking off at the same track on 26 March.

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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Marquez makes it four in a row in Austin

Marc Marquez took his fourth consecutive Texan Grand Prix with a dominant display at the Circuit of the Americas. The Spaniard led the race from start to finish, with Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Iannone completing the podium.

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Marc Marquez’s dominace was shown by his 6 second margin of victory. Image: BT Sport

Valentino Rossi crashed out on lap three after he had slipped back from his front row start and was battling with Aleix Espargaro. Andrea Dovizioso will be wondering who he has upset, as for the second race in a row he was taken out. This time, Dani Pedrosa was unable to stop his Honda at turn one, skipping his bike in to the side of the Ducati rider. Dovi had been in third at the time, and this incident left the final podium place open for his team mate, Andrea Iannone.

Maverick Vinales overcame a tough battle with his Suzuki team mate to take fourth, whilst Scott Redding saw off fellow Brits Cal Crutchlow and Bradley Smith, who both crashed out within seconds of each other on lap eight. Michele Pirro, riding in place of the injured Danilo Petrucci, finished eighth, with Hector Barbera and Stefan Bradl rounding off the top ten.

In Moto2, Alex Rins dominated the race, whilst Sam Lowes’ second place takes him top of the championship. The Moto3 race saw Romano Fenati come out on top.