Posted: 16 Mar 2014
New regulations for MotoGP have seen some controversy during winter testing but the fact of the matter is that in theory, the new ‘open class’ rules should bring the field closer and provide better racing. We’ve seen through the winter that Aleix Espargaro is incredibly fast on the open-class Forward Yamaha and not just on a single lap either, in the final pre-season test in Qatar Espargaro completed a race distance faster than Jorge Lorenzo’s race winning time from last year. Espargaro’s pace coupled with Ducati getting closer (despite regulations yet to be confirmed for the Bologna factory using a more advanced spec-ECU), could see the challenge for top five become interesting.
MARQUEZ vs LORENZO
That being said, while a strong challenge from Espargaro and Ducati should be expected towards the front it’s hard to imagine the top four ‘aliens’ being touched in terms of championship standing. Anybody who is anybody reckons we’ll be seeing a re-match of Marc Marquez vs Jorge Lorenzo this year and it’d be foolish to bet against this. As we saw in 2013, the Spanish duo fighting at the front were a cut above the rest, including their respective team mates Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi.
However both riders will start the 2014 season a little on the back foot. Marc Marquez broke his leg in between the two Sepang tests and hasn’t ridden since, missing out on two key testing opportunities while Jorge Lorenzo has reportedly been unhappy with Bridgestone’s new tyre option for 2014 and has struggled with the aggressiveness of the new M1, which has been adapted to manage the lower fuel limit (20 litres rather than the 21 of last year). These slight disadvantages could give leeway for a challenge at the front from the likes of Rossi and Pedrosa, or even Espargaro, the Ducatis or satellite bikes.
ROSSI’S LAST CHANCE
While like Lorenzo, Rossi has complained about Bridgestone’s new tyre offering the Italian seems less fazed by the new characteristics of the M1. The nine time world champion was on the pace in both Sepang tests, just behind Marc Marquez in the first and on top of the timesheets in the second with Marquez absent. At the Phillip Island tyre test, Rossi was happy with the times he put in although none of the MotoGP riders present set a particularly blistering pace. After the last three seasons, many have written off Rossi as a title contender but if he was ever to have a last crack at taking his tenth world crown, 2014 seems to be his best opportunity yet.
DUCATI IN STRONG POSITION?
Despite the palaver regarding which regulations they’ll have to adhere to, Ducati seem to be in the best position they’ve been in for a number of years. Neither Crutchlow nor Dovizioso are far off the pace. It would seem the Bologna factory is finally in a position to make progress in MotoGP, but in reality this year is a mere stepping stone ahead of new technical guru, GiGi Dall’Igna designing a brand new Desmosedici for 2015.
SATTELITE vs OPEN
In testing, the open Yamaha of Aleix Espargaro and the Ducati’s (once they’d decided to go open) appeared to be more competitive than the satellite factory bikes of Tech 3 Yamaha and the LCR and Gresini Honda teams. Last year, these satellite bikes were a whisper off the podium, often challenging Valentino Rossi for fourth place. Pre-season testing would suggest that this challenge for fourth will now include the open bikes, making it quite the spectacle. Pol Espargaro on the Tech 3 Yamaha has had a strong pre-season, running close to his brother’s times at the Qatar test before falling and breaking his collarbone. He’s expected to be fit for Qatar but it puts him at a significant disadvantage.
Satellite Honda riders, Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl will be looking to improve on some strong results last year. Both will be looking for podiums in order to progress their MotoGP career, particularly Bautista whose ride has already been promised to Scott Redding for 2015.
AND THE REST
There were promising murmurs about Honda’s production racer towards the end of last year. It was even claimed the bike was just 0.3 seconds from a time set on the factory version of the RCV, however it would seem that this was either made up, or the time set on the factory RCV was much slower than suggested. Fact of the matter is the closest RCV1000R has been well over a second off the pace, with only baby steps of improvement throughout the winter testing programme.
Honda believes the RCV1000R is the only bike to truly follow the idea behind the open category which the Japanese factory claims is to make racing cheaper. They seem to think that the factory Ducati bikes and Forward Yamaha’s go against this philosophy.
There’s no doubt the production Honda riders of Hayden, Aoyama and Redding will make progress through the season, the question will be how much progress can they make?
MotoGP has all the ingredients for a fantastic season in 2014, let’s hope it lives up to it!