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How the regulation changes could shake up the MotoGP™ field

How the regulation changes could shake up the MotoGP™ field

The introduction of controlled software has also been a big benefit in leveling the playing field...

With 21 years of experience reporting on MotoGP™, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2016 season he remains with the team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.

It’s August 17, 2008, and Valentino Rossi cruises to an embarrassingly one-sided victory in Brno.

Twenty-one seconds behind Rossi in a lonely third place is fellow Italian Loris Capirossi on the factory Suzuki.

Nearly eight years later, Suzuki is still waiting to return to the rostrum.

Personally, I don’t think they’ll have to wait much longer. The new GSX-RR has looked a real weapon in testing.

Suzuki has found more crucial horsepower and the arrival of a long overdue seamless shift gearbox has drastically reduced the performance gap to Honda, Yamaha and Ducati.

The gains in engine performance haven’t compromised Suzuki’s much-lauded nimble handling and stable chassis.

And the introduction of controlled software has also been a big benefit in leveling the playing field. Dorna’s blueprint for the unified software was to keep costs and development under control while creating increased competition and closer racing.

Suzuki now seems ready to grasp its opportunity having not had the financial muscle or manpower to seriously challenge Honda and Yamaha.

At times in the past, Suzuki has had the riding talent but not the machinery to match. Then they’ve had a competitive bike but insufficient skill on board to show it.

Now they appear to have both.

Maverick Vinales is a super gifted talent and my money is on him to end that podium drought. He’s already at the top of every factory’s shopping list for 2017 and I think he’s ready to take that step to challenging Rossi, Marquez, Pedrosa and Lorenzo. He believes he can beat those guys and there’s nothing I’ve seen or heard in the pre-season to suggest he won’t be right there in a few races. If Vinales was on a Honda or Yamaha this year I think he’d be fighting for the title. That sounds crazy when he hasn’t even finished on the podium yet, but I genuinely think he is that good.

Time for another trip down memory lane now; so let’s go back to October 15, 2006. If you mention to most people that the Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril took place on that day, then their immediate recollection is likely to be the controversial collision between Repsol Honda duo Dani Pedrosa and Nicky Hayden.

That race was actually won by Toni Elias for Gresini Honda after a photo finish with Rossi.

It remains a milestone race in MotoGP™ because since that day a decade ago, no other rider has won a premier class battle while riding for a satellite team. In fact, such has been the dominance of the major factories of late that only nine riders have won in MotoGP™ since 2006.

Rossi, Casey Stoner, Chris Vermeulen, Loris Capirossi  Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso, Ben Spies and Marc Marquez form that elite group.

There have been near misses since. Cal Crutchlow’s brilliant chase of Marc Marquez at the Sachsenring in 2013 is one that immediately springs to mind.

I think if there is a season to buck the trend it will be 2016.

The introduction of controlled software certainly balances out the machinery performance, but can Scott Redding, Bradley Smith, Crutchlow or Pol Espargaro break the mould?

I agree wholeheartedly with Smith, who believes if it is to happen it will be early in the season. The factories will have development parts ready to test immediately after round four in Jerez. And it as after that point that the gap tends to widen between the factory and satellite machinery.

A factory team still has a far superior budget and greater human resources to keep it on top. And most significantly they have the pick of the talent.

I always loved Crutchlow’s frank assessment when at Yamaha when he used to say that his results wouldn’t change if he rode Lorenzo’s bike. And Lorenzo would still be winning races if he rode Crutchlow’s YZR-M1.

Riding close to Lorenzo, Rossi, Marquez and Pedrosa can be done. Beating them is a totally different proposition.

I’m an old romantic though and performances like Redding’s second place in the recent Qatar test fill me with optimism that the new technical revolution might offer a glimmer of hope to those looking to emulate Elias.

If winning for a satellite rider is unattainable in 2016, I’ll settle for a few surprise podium results for the likes of Redding, Crutchlow and Smith.

Hey, after Danny Kent’s Moto3™ World Championship success in 2015, nothing wrong with us Brits getting greedy!


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