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 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.