Trackside Tuesday: Growing Expectations

12/11/2012 @ 10:45 am, by Scott Jones29 COMMENTS

Valentino Rossi’s amazing run of nine world titles was aided, in some part, by the level of those whom he had to fight for wins. With all credit given to Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau, his two main rivals until the modern class of “aliens” arrived in MotoGP, neither of these two riders was on the same level as Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, and Jorge Lorenzo.

My colleague David Emmett has commented several times that these three riders came up through their development years knowing that to win they would have to beat Rossi. They alone managed to elevate their skills to a level that could challenge him over the course of a season, where as Biaggi and Gibernau, as good as they were, could not manage the same growth as mature riders.

I’ve often considered how, to win as many titles as Rossi and Agostini have done, you need some help in the opponent department. Agostini benefitted from Mike Hailwood’s career choices and own bad luck when it came to finding a good fit on a competitive bike.

Rossi benefitted from arriving in MotoGP long before riders as good as Stoner, Lorenzo, and Pedrosa were around to fight him. If those three had been present in 2001 and riding at their full potential, it’s a safe bet Rossi would not have seven premier class titles in his pocket.

As Rossi remounts the Yamaha M1 and hopes to be able to fight again for wins, he doesn’t have Casey Stoner to worry about. But the latest star to rise in the era of Rossi-beaters may be here to take Stoner’s place in the form of Marc Marquez.

It seems unlikely that Marquez will ride the Repsol Honda as effectively in his first season as Stoner did in the past two, so Rossi may have one season in which Lorenzo and Pedrosa are his main problems. But we are about to be able to make a very interesting comparison between Jorge Lorenzo’s rookie season on a factory Yamaha and Marquez’s rookie season on a factory Honda.

Lorenzo’s 2008 debut was remarkable and Marquez will be hard pressed to duplicate the way Lorenzo began his rookie season (pole and second place in his first MotoGP race, third place (having started from 16th) in his second race, pole and the victory in his third race). But thanks to the Rookie Rule’s demise, he may be the next rookie to step right into the fight as Lorenzo did.

From trackside at the Valencia test, there was no evidence that Marquez will have any difficulty with the pressures of entering the top class on a factory bike. Earlier in the day, I watched Bradley Smith take his first laps on a MotoGP bike, and while he did admirably well on the Tech 3 Yamaha, his body position and aggression with the throttle were nothing like Marquez’s when the Spaniard later took to the track for the first time.

Marquez was out of shape often as he explored the differences between his Moto2 machine and the 2013 Honda. He looked utterly un-intimidated by the more powerful bike, unconcerned with anything but the question of how to make it do what he wanted around corners.

At the age of 19, he appears to have arrived finally at the level of competition he was born for and, more to the point, he knows it. That he will be quick in 2013 seems certain. Whether his on-track immaturity, impatience, and other instances of poor judgement that have plagued him in the past will disappear, is much less so.

For 2013 we can expect Lorenzo to be reliable and quick on the Yamaha. We can hope that Pedrosa carries his new-found confidence, speed and reliability into the new season. (If he’d found it before Honda’s Brno update, things might’ve turned out very differently for Lorenzo in 2012.)

But the main mysteries to unfold will be Rossi’s reunification with the Yamaha and Marquez’s arrival on the factory Honda. If only Casey had stayed another season, we might’ve had five riders who could win races for the first time in many years. Wouldn’t that have been a season to enjoy?

Scott Jones is a professional photographer who covers MotoGP and WSBK for racing industry clients as well as racing websites and publications in the U.S. and Europe. His online archive is available at Photo.GP, and you can find him on his blogTwitter, & Facebook.

All images posted, shared, or sent for editorial use or review are registered for full copyright protection at the Library of Congress.

Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

  • Really looking forward to seeing what Marquez will do this year, and i will sorely miss watching Casey Stoner ride that Repsol Honda around. Watching him in person at Leguna Seca this year was incredible, there’s very few words to describe how he moved around the track. I think Rossi will do better this season on the M1, but i don’t think it’ll be enough to get passed Lorenzo. But no one knows for sure, the real reason i keep watching MotoGP is anything could happen.

    In the back of my mind i can’t help but think of Marco Simoncelli, if he was still in the line up we would really have quite a few riders all fighting for podium. What i really hope for from 2013 is the CRT’s to catch up, really disappointing to feel like you’re watching two separate races.

  • Cord

    Maybe Gibernau was not the most amazing rider ever to have thrown his leg over a top tier bike, but i think you are doing Biaggi a disservice. And is it only me that hates the “alien” monicker?????????????????????????????????

  • smiler

    I was looking at the stats.
    Since 2001 the numbers competed and earned over 50 points has been consistent. The number of points distributed between the top 5 consistent except 2012.
    Rossi’s margin of victory; 106, 140, 80, 47, 147, 93, 45
    Hayden 5
    Stoner 125, 90
    Lorenzo 138, 18

    Doohan’s wins were by the same sorts of margin as Rossi. And the losers were Beattie, Cadalora, Criville, Okada. Biaggi. Between them they had 1 championship.
    The only people to beat a champion into 2 place (not 3rd) are Rossi with Stoner. Stoner with Rossi and Lorenzo and Hayden with Rossi. So to get to the title Stoner beat a former champion twice into 2nd place.

  • Smiler,

    I agree with you on that… You can go back to many multi-champs and find what you want, but the stats never really line up perfectly. Rossi is champion, because at the time… no one darred offer a challenge that was consistent.

    Now you have one of those rare seasons where 3-5 riders could take mulitple wins and consistency actually helps you win the title now… It’s just that period of time; nothing more…

    Bikes seem closer together, riders are trained like race horses and there is alot of talent to be had… Enjoy the show!!!

  • All in all, 2013 should be a positively EPIC season. I, for one, can hardly wait.

  • wasiF1

    2013 MotoGP season will be something to watch out for.

  • Ron

    It might have been good bikes, inadequate competition or what else you could throw in, but Rossi has been winning since he was coming up the ranks pushing aside the Rossi’s of his time. It evens out everything and I feel that the comments are disrespectful to the quality The Doctor has brought to MotoGP. He made the modern MotoGP what it is today and I believe that the Lorenzos, Stoners and Marquezs still believe that he is the one to beat and will only have it their way when he finally retires.

  • I agree that Ross’s accomplishments are being somewhat diminished here. Rossi is no longer 20 years old, his stats vs the current aliens are based on old Rossi. Michael Jordan on the wizards was not the awe inspiring greatest basketball player of all time. That shouldn’t diminish his exploits in his prime. I would imaging that Young Rossi in his prime was talented enough, and psychologically intimidating enough that he would have still been devastingly effective against stoner, Lorenzo and the rest.

  • Stevenk27

    IMO, without Stoner, 2013 will be decidedly unspectacular.
    I think Lorenzo will win again with Pedrosa close behind.
    I just don’t see Rosii being able to challenge for the title but perhaps I’m wrong, who knows.
    Marquez should be a factor in 2014, give him a season to settle down first although he is looking fast straight away so who knows……

  • Geezer Jay

    I agree that the level of competition wasn’t what it is now, but there has always been a degree of aliens in the past.
    Pedrosa was on a factory bike for a long time before he even got close to Rossi…
    It would be interesting to see what would happen if they take away all the gizmo’s gadgets and electronic aids and then lets see who is the king of them all. !!!!
    Take a look at BSB in the UK with no electronics now and see who prevails….

  • Gerry

    I think that the disrespect shown to Rossi is Alien. I might be sentimental but I still believe Rossi now back on a animal he understands will make a big difference in the points. The mind and body is far from finished and to be consistent in the points is what will count in the end and I think that he has it. It will be a “Season To Remember”

  • pooch

    I think, more or less, races will go like this. With the top 2 placings swapping around.

    1. Pedrosa
    2. Lorenzo
    3. Rossi/Marquez/Crutchlow

    I think Dani learned how to win, and win often in 2013. Dani will be a Major Force in 2013 and he will be the one I’m cheering for.

  • Mark

    While I agree mostly with Scott’s assessment, I think there’s one factor which hasn’t been mentioned here and that is how Rossi managed to dodge serious injury during his reign (apart from 2010). Too often we’ve seen championships decided by an injury or illness and there’s a lot to be said for having a little bit of luck on your side in this regard.

  • Dave

    This article doesn’t factor in a lot of important variables.

    Competition was strong enough throughout Rossi’s heyday. Rossi had good luck in the development timing of the bikes he rode (until Ducati). That had a lot to do with his success.

    I often wonder what would have become of Hayden had Honda not decided to turn his bike into a mini-moto, leaving him no choice but to leave for Ducati (which was unfortunate). …talk about Rossi losing two years at Ducati, what about Hayden? Nicky seems to like it there though…must be Ducati’s hot runway models from Ducati Island.

    …and ya, like someone else said–enough with the “aliens” moniker already.

  • Dave

    While the debate is on–I don’t think Pedrosa or Lorenzo could be Schwantz or Rainey if you could magically put those guys, in their prime, on these modern gizzmo bikes.

  • Jazzy

    You can always over analyze the “What if” scenarios. Bottom line… If you’re a winner you count “Championships.” The rest make excuses.

  • Dave


  • sideswipe

    Casey said it best himself when people tried to rate him in history by saying you can’t compare riders and careers of different eras, there are too many variables to make direct comparisons. To diminish one era’s dominant competitor (and all of his competition) by comparing him against the emerging leaders is surely revisionist history in action. Judging Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson against those who beat them in the latter part of their career or current champions would be similar in unfairly reducing their greatness. Rossi had almost total domination for most of his career. He’s been world champion in 9 out of 17 years competing including 5 consecutive years owning the title in the premier class. That shows a level of talent and consistency that really can’t be disputed. Has he been the beneficiary of the best machines, crew, and teams? Certainly, just as Marquez is now but those are due to results and perceived potential that has been met time after time. All the same maintaining that edge requires another aspect of a champion, a canny intuition to marshall opportunities and resources to ensure that they line up on the grid with the means to be competitive. Apart from the Ducati misstep he’s done that very well. I’m not flag waving for VR46 here out of fandom. Just recognizing why he is who and where he is and also giving respect to his competition. Biaggi as well deserves some recognition. He failed to clinch a premier title himself but his career introduction was against Doohan at his prime and the introduction and ascendance of Rossi. Tough place to make your mark. The most recent trio of Lorenzo, Stoner, and Pedrosa are surely as great as any who’ve raced and have earned that status. Time and new blood will mark a day when they struggle to be competitive themselves but that should not diminish their greatness.

  • I disagree, not totally, but at some parts. You can not mix Pedrosa with the other guys… Pedrosa did not win any championship after seven try’s with the better Honda available. And, you can’t compare the final part of the 2012 campaign, because Lorenzo was just waiting for the results. No one had so many chances with Honda, Pedrosa is a big failure and not a favorite, again, for 2013. It is a shame. The next thing I disagree is “the total Rossi domination” over Biaggi and others. We all know how he did it. First with a RCV 5 cil much better/faster than all others. When Honda give the same bike to Barros, he immediately fight back, winning the first race over Rossi. Later, on Yamahas, using very very special tires from Michelin, transported by helis overnigt from Clermont Ferrand. Lorenzo and Stoner won their champs in a different way. Lorenzo as number 2 and Stoner with a “strange” Ducati. I’m really waiting for the Marquez… let’s see if he will do the same absurd things he did in Moto2, but that time over Rossi, Lorenzo and any other big dog at MotoGP.

  • Chris

    Rossi and Schumacher are the gods of racing ! You don’t win that many championships by luck or lack of competion. I would like to see any of these young guns get on a 500 big bang GP bike with no electronics !! Rossi came up when we had the most diverse changes to GP rules and mechanical motor and chassis configuration. Even Stoner was amazed when Rossi lapped the competiton at Phillip Island back in his prime. Electronics have made both F1 and MOTOGP become less man and more machine.

  • L2C

    My bet is that it will take Rossi half of 2013 to settle well into the M1. It’s 2014 that I’m really looking forward to. And while I’ll be rooting 100% for Pedrosa, my feeling is that Rossi is going be squarely at the front in 2014. Stoner was great. I have a lot of respect for him, and am also a fan, but I have yet to see any rider on the grid who races – and I do mean races like Rossi does when given the opportunity to be competitive for the win. No one.

    Rossi doesn’t just go fast, he races. And what I mean by that is Rossi knows how to finesse opponents out of their own game. Given the opportunity to be competitive, Rossi has so many tools and tricks to achieve what he wants at any given time, it’s not a wonder to me that he has won so many championships. With the notable exception of Pedrosa, all of the other riders who make up the so-called new breed, they seem to only know how to win through the sheer brute force of being faster than everybody else. And that’s pretty much the only tool and tactic that they put on display week in and week out. None of them have the cunning or inventiveness of Valentino. Rossi does a whole lot more: he measures and studies his opponents, plays with them, and then unceremoniously slays them. This is not mythological bullshit. Laguna Seca 2008 was not the only true-life example others. There are others, but the one most relevant to this discussion is Catalunya 2009. Do you really think that Rossi doesn’t have that in him anymore?

    The biggest weakness of the new breed is that they don’t know how to play. Period. They know how to use a blunt instrument – speed – but they lack other essentials that separate Rossi from all others. And that is why Rossi is going to be a huge factor for the second half of 2013 and all of 2014.

    I feel sorry for any rider or team manger who underestimates what Rossi can do when he has any circumstance that’s even in the same ballpark as an ideal circumstance, never mind what he can do when he’s in a situation that’s close to being ideal. Again, Rossi’s more than just a go-fast rider. He has the ability to create situations wherein his opponents think – not just believe, but think they are the ones in control. And then he just drops them in a way that leaves a lasting impression. Casey Stoner would like to forget, but can’t. And Lorenzo is going to come face to face with it all over again – on a regular basis. That’s Rossi’s trademark. He’s leaves impressions on his opponents that last a lifetime, but you will notice that Rossi himself is unfazed by his losses and shortcomings. Regardless of the circumstances, he just pulls on his leathers and moves forward to the next race with a winning attitude while his opponents try not to brood too much.

    And as for mental elasticity, you can tell that Ducati is already a distant memory to Rossi. Oh, he’s dealing with the interviews because he has to, but his experience at Ducati is not even a functional component of his thinking and feeling right now. And the 2012 season is just barely over!

    But, you know what, as soon as Rossi got the deal with Yamaha, he began to put Ducati behind him. He remained dedicated to Ducati, but he began to make peace with himself about his experience with Ducati, even as it was still in progress. Who can not be impressed by that?

    Rossi will prove himself. And all the rest are going to have to deal with it.

    That aside: GO PEDROSA! He’s the best on the grid and I want to see him rewarded for it.

  • L2C

    Haha! Everybody has a different opinion. This is good. This is entertainment!

  • And about Biaggi… MotoGP is all about politcs. How many here was luck enough to follow Biaggi at GP’s? In a short… Biaggi won 3 titles in a row, with Aprilia. At the end he had a discuss about money. Aprilia toughs the bike is the main factor, Biaggi disagreed. He changed to Honda with Kanemoto, clearly under-everything compared with Aprilia Works Squad and he won his fourth champ in a row, at the last race. Incredible racer Biaggi is/was. As a award, and as contracted, he received a Honda 500 and he win at first race, over Doohan. He was leader until the champ break at the middle of the year… Returning from the break the Doohan Honda was much better (the right Honda) and Doohan finally wins the championship. MotoGP is all about politics, I said. He did wonderful races with Yamaha 2T and 4T, but that’s Yamahas are simple not good enough. Not so good at real lost Hondas when Rossi leave them. The Honda feel’s very deeply when Rossi won with Yamaha… Banned from the GP’s, he won 2 champs at much more disputed SBK races, against a bunch of younger’s pilots. Biaggi has 6 World Class titles and he is one of the biggest riders of all times.

  • TexusTim

    No doubt we have seen the top field of riders there has ever been in the modern era, including stoner, bayless,corser,hayden,rossi,lorenzo,pedrosa,…all these guys have or had staying power and kept improving, I think given a little luck hayden and rossi have something left and maybe spies can refocus and live up to his potential. For sure one thing helped end domination by one team or one rider going back to 500 and at the start of motogp and that one thing ?…..SPEC TIRES…. no more late saturday night super one offs to a ceratin rider who benifited greatly ?
    The new group about to start in moto gp and over the next couple of years may make this all a mute point……………..I wish we still had super sic, he was the next rossi. just my opinion.

  • FernandoARG

    All I have to say is, L2C is right Rossi races, remember, last turn pass on Gibernau, crockscrew pass on Stoner, outside inside passes on Loranzo at a couple of races, the only survival of this sport so far has been given by racers like the old dogs, Schwantz, Rainey, Doohan, and yes, Rossi, no one would’ve watched the robotic procession of laps and systematic riding of the likes of Stoner and Lorenzo, with that being said, great champions but I bet that without the best Trojan horses no of us would’ve ever dreamed of watching a motorcycle race. Think about it.

  • “Pedrosa is a big failure and not a favorite”

    ROTFLMAO – Such a failure that he kept the Honda seat over Dovi for this season and has the seat next season, too. Yeah, that has failure written ALL over it.

  • Dave

    Pedrosa is by no means a failure but let’s be honest, it certainly didn’t hurt that he is Spanish. If he were British, American, Italian, Australian, French, etc… he would be riding for a satelite Honda team or Tech III by now.

    Proof in the pudding is the poor kid from Germany, Bradl. The guy has a great rookie season and not even a passing thought of graduating him to the factory team.

    The Honda factory team has catered to Pedrosa’s every need throughout. …Pedrosa is a humble, great rider. No debate there. But he is afforded every single friggin chance and then some.

    We were watching Lorenzo working the mathmatics in points management in the second half of the season, not racing against Pedrosa (an excercise in accounting not racing).

    You’re going places in MotoGP if you’re Spanish.

  • nikhil

    rossi lost all the championship to hayden on the last race in 06 but if it had not been for the failure in france he would have wrapped it up in the previous rounds , he lost to stoner on a way inferior bike he put a fight but stoner on a fast bike with a advantage was unbeatable . Then he defeated stoner fair and square , and lorenzo on a similar bike . even after the injury in 2011 he came back won the races . yes he has been a disappointment on the ducati , no way his achievements can be down graded that he achieved because other riders were not that good .

  • NinjaMaster

    This article pretty much reflects my belief in comparing riders – that is that it is not a concrete science. Take everyone’s favourite comparison of Rossi vs Stoner. On one hand, Rossi has many more wins and titles so is surely the better rider. On the other hand Stoner has a superior record head-to-head against Vale so perhaps he was the greater talent. Rossi fans say Valentino is only ever beaten by superior equipment, Stoner fans say Rossi’s stats are inflated from racing “lesser” talents at the start of his career and he’s almost always had the best bike. It’s a fun but usually heated argument.
    Perhaps the most deciding factor is their record against each other from 2006 to 2012. Even then there are disputes brought up regarding injury, illness and machinery. All I know is they are both greats of the sport but given the difficulties is trying to split them, good luck trying to compare them to the greats of the past!
    Finally on Marquez, it will be hugely interesting to see how he goes. Is he the next big thing or the next Pedrosa (incidentally, I rate Pedrosa as the fastest in the world at the moment, he just hasn’t fully delivered at MotoGP level. Yet.). 2013 may yet be interesting.