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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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.

Vinales Qatar

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.

Rossi wins despite Ducati revival

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Valentino Rossi took his first win in Qatar since 2010

An enthralling battle in the opening race of the season saw an all-Italian podium, with Valentino Rossi taking the chequered flag for his 109th race victory. Ducati established themselves as a dark horse for the season with Dovizioso and Iannone completing the podium, leaving world champion Marc Marquez to settle for fifth.

Dovizioso had taken pole position, but many still doubted the Ducati’s ability to last race distance. Both Repsol Hondas started poorly. Marquez was forced wide at turn one, having to play catch-up from the back, whilst Pedrosa was swallowed up by the pack in the first turn.

Both Iannone and Dovizioso started strongly, split by Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo continued to dual with the Ducatis whilst Rossi edged his way past a bright Yonny Hernandez further down the field. The Yamaha had the pace throughout the track, but the sheer power of the Ducati meant that down the longest start/finish straight in the GP circuit, it entered turn one in the lead.

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Andrea Dovizioso narrowly missed out on his second Grand Prix victory

As Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Iannone tripped over each other Rossi closed the gap with consistently quick times, before passing and gapping Iannone. The leading group were four seconds clear of Dani Pedrosa and Marquez, who had shaken off the challenge of Cal Crutchlow, Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro. With five laps to go it looked as if it could have been a Yamaha one-two, but Lorenzo dropped off after being passed by Rossi. Dovizioso stuck on Rossi’s back tyre, pipping him to the line consistently despite trailing into the last corner. However the Ducati ran wide on turn one of the last lap, letting Rossi retake the lead. Rossi stretched his lead on the back side of the track, giving him enough of a lead into the last straight to hold of Dovizioso’s challenge by 0.174 seconds. Iannone pipped Lorenzo to third whilst Marquez finished ahead of his team-mate for fifth.

Cal Crutchlow finished his opening race on the LCR Honda as the top Brit in seventh, whilst Hector Barbera finished as the top Open class rider in 15th. On their return to MotoGP, Suzuki finished in 11th (Aleix Espargaro) and 14th (Maverick Vinales), whilst Aprilia returned in slightly less style, with Alvaro Bautista retiring early on and Marco Melandri finishing 21st.


Standings:

1. Valentino Rossi 42m 35.717s

2. Andrea Dovizioso +0.174s

3. Andrea Iannone +2.250s

4. Jorge Lorenzo +2.707s

5. Marc Marquez +7.036s

6. Dani Pedrosa +10.755s

7. Cal Crutchlow +12.384s

8. Bradley Smith +12.914s

9. Pol Espargaro +13.031s

10. Yonny Hernandez +17.435s

13. Scott Redding +32.032s

18. Eugene Laverty +46.570s

The Doctor is back in business

The opening round of the 2013 MotoGP season saw the prolific return to form of Valentino Rossi. The Italian, 34, started from seventh on the grid, and appeared to get stuck behind Stefan Bradl before passing the German after 8 laps. Bradl then crashed out a lap later trying to retake 5th place as he strayed on the the dusty part of the track. Rossi the made up a 3.737 second gap to overtake Britain’s Cal Crutchlow at the first corner on lap 19, forcing the Satellite Yamaha rider to run off the track. The nine-time world champion the passed Dani Pedrosa and rookie Marc Marquez in the next two laps, setting up an enthralling duel that set up a battle which has rarely been seen since Rossi’s nightmare switch to Ducati. The rookie Marquez, who is tipped by many to fight for the title this year, jostled with Rossi for the next 3 laps, in a contest fitting of the madness of Moto2. He finished second, almost 6 seconds behind run-away leader Jorge Lorenzo, who led the race from start to finish. Marc Marquez rounded off the podium in third whilst last season’s championship runner up Dani Pedrosa dropped to 4th. Britain’s Cal Crutchlow came 5th, whilst other Brits fared poorly, with Bradley Smith, Crutchlow’s team-mate, crashing out of 11th place 5 laps in to his debut, and Michael Laverty finished 17th on his Paul Bird Motorcycle. Aleix Espargaro finished the leading CRT in 11th place. Aleix’s brother Pol won the Moto2 race and Luis Salom won in Moto3.