Though the date has already clicked over to 2017, the world of motorcycle racing is still wreathed in silence. Riders train, factories develop, teams prepare. All of that is done in relative silence, little news of any significance emerging from workshops or factories.
To fill the void until the first of the team launches, when the season starts to ramp up in earnest, we have time to take a look back at 2016, and cast an eye over how the riders fared last season. So it is time to rate the riders’ performance in 2016, and award them points out of ten for how they did last year.
Running through the MotoGP riders in order of how they finished in the championship, we start with the man who lifted the 2016 crown.
Marc Marquez – Honda – 9.5
1st – 298 points
We saw a very different Marc Márquez in 2016. A calmer, more mature Márquez. A rider who, struggling to suppress his more aggressive instincts, learned to accept finishing on the podium – and even off the podium – rather than going for the win and crashing out.
It often seemed to cause him actual physical pain, to have to back off and ride within himself, watching any chance of victory slip away.
He was willing to accept such suffering only because 2015 had taught him that he needed to. At the end of the season he had understood that if he hadn’t crashed out so often trying to win races, he still would have been in the chase for the title. He mended his ways in 2016, and was immediately rewarded.
His achievement is doubly praiseworthy because of the problems the Honda had at the start of the year. HRC reversed the engine rotation on the RC213V in a bid to make it turn more easily. That worked, but the engine was just as vicious in acceleration, just as prone to wheelying as last year’s bike.
Márquez realized he was in trouble at the Sepang test in February, but he sat down with the HRC engineers, and made a deal with them: “I will do my job in the first half of the year, but in the second half, I need you to do yours.”
Both parties made good on the deal. Márquez rode within his limits in the first part of the season, racking up points and always finishing, winning races when he could, but settling for points when he couldn’t.
In the second half of the season, Honda brought a major software update – or more accurately, a set of software maps for the spec software more suited to the RC213V’s characteristics – and some minor chassis modifications to match the 2014 frame he had been using through 2015.
The bike was easier to manage and Márquez could drive home his advantage, wrapping up the title early. At Motegi, the Japanese Grand Prix, and the home of Honda. A perfect reward for HRC.
But 2016 was not a perfect season for Marc Márquez. With the title under his belt, he could be “the old Marc” as he put it. He went on to crash out of the next two races, first at Phillip Island, then at Sepang. He redeemed himself at Valencia, ending the year on the podium, but unable to match the pace of Jorge Lorenzo.
2016 was the year that Marc Márquez pieced together all of the pieces of the jigsaw that goes into making a complete motorcycle racer. He was already capable of exploiting his greatest strength, but this year, he learned to overcome his weaknesses.
That bodes well for the reigning champion for next year. And must leave his rivals worried.
Photos: © 2016 Tony Goldsmith / www.tonygoldsmith.net – All Rights Reserved
This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.