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I’m willing to predict that 2016 will be the most unpredictable campaign for a long time…
With 21 years of experience reporting on MotoGP™, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2016 season he remains with the motogp.com team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.
My 21st season in the MotoGP™ World Championship is about to get underway and one of the few things I’m willing to predict is 2016 will be the most unpredictable campaign for a long time.
The world’s gone wonderfully mad in a fascinating pre-season, as the introduction of unified electronics and a switch from Bridgestone to Michelin tyres has for now at least threatened to upset the status quo.
We’ve had a Suzuki fastest at a pre-season test and a three-year-old Ducati mixing it inside the top six.
A first dry race win for Suzuki in the modern four-stroke era, or first satellite rider victory for a decade, now no longer seems farfetched fantasy.
Honestly, I can’t call it, but under duress I’d say Jorge Lorenzo is my pre-season favourite.
He was the fastest rider in 2015 by a mile and I see a big motivation in him to prove it again after the drama and controversy surrounding his success last season.
It is my personal opinion, but Lorenzo didn’t get the credit he deserved last year. Success on track doesn’t win any popularity contests off it.
But when a rider wins more races, has more poles, fastest laps and leads more laps than any other rider, those accomplishments should be respected.
Lorenzo has never successfully defended a MotoGP™ title and I think that will be a big motivation for him. And if he does take the crown this season, he will tie with Valentino Rossi on four titles for Yamaha. I’m sure that has crossed his mind too.
What of Rossi? Can he rebound from that demoralising defeat to Lorenzo in Valencia? I’ve nothing but huge admiration for Rossi. He would have gone through some bleak moments in the winter, but he looks as hungry and motivated as ever to go again. Despite the crushing disappointment of 2015, he still loves nothing more than riding motorcycles and the technical changes might work in his favour.
I think the dynamics of a race will change, particularly in the latter stages with the controlled software. The rider aids are less sophisticated, so tyre management will be more prevalent than ever with less advanced traction control. More emphasis will be on rider input and skill to cope with tyre wear.
With more importance placed in the right hand of a rider, it could play into both hands of a rider with Rossi’s talent and experience.
I really hope he comes out all guns blazing at the start of the season and he’s competitive enough to convince himself to race on beyond 2016 because MotoGP™ will be a poorer place without him.
I can’t write this column without touching on the renewal of hostilities between Rossi and Marc Marquez.
The tension between them is always going to be bubbling just under the surface and you can never rule out the prospect of it boiling over again.
We are dealing with two of the fastest riders in history and two of the biggest personalities we have ever seen and neither is used to losing on or off the track.
There is going to come a point very soon where they will be side-by-side in a press conference or fighting for the same piece of Tarmac.
Only then we will know if cool heads can calm the tension or whether the red mist will descend again and we will be hurtled back into a state of all-out war.
It could definitely get explosive again but I don’t think we will see it get as hostile and acrimonious as it did at the back end of last season.
But there’s no doubt it’s a broken relationship that’s gone way beyond repairing. We’ve seen Rossi and Sete Gibernau reconciled after their bitter falling out a few years ago, but it got so personal last year between these two that there are wounds that will never fully heal.
And how their rivalry unfolds this season is going to be THE intriguing sub-plot of the whole year.
I certainly anticipate Marquez being a potent force again in the title chase. I can’t see him crashing out of six races again. But what I’m most curious to see is if Marquez can curtail his natural instinct to go for the jugular when the bike underneath him isn’t ready to be pushed to the limit.
Honda appears to be lagging behind Yamaha and Ducati at the moment, and Marquez may have to defend in the early part of the season while HRC continues to understand the controlled software while trying to manage a brutally aggressive RC213V engine at the same time.
Will Marquez learn from Mugello, Catalunya and Aragon or will he give in to temptation and adopt the gung-ho approach again? At least we don’t have to wait long to find out.
Honda’s struggle to adapt to the new electronics and its inability to successfully tame an aggressive motor is the reason why Dani Pedrosa is no longer my pick for the title. His riding style seemed tailor made for Michelin. Smooth on the brakes, he puts less stress on the front than Rossi and Marquez and is less at risk to the plethora of front-end crashes that have dominated the new Michelin era.
Pedrosa is also the master of picking the bike up fast to avoid generating too much wheelspin on corner exit. Michelin’s rear tyre has been universally praised for its drive grip, and Pedrosa’s style was perfect to exploit it under acceleration.
I think Dani is probably more ready to win than the RC213V underneath him right now.
I agree with most people in thinking this year’s title race is wide open but I still think an alien will prevail. I wouldn’t be surprised though to see Suzuki and Ducati win at least one race and we’ll see a few different names on the podium.
You can read more on that later this week in my second pre-season column.