In the final part of our look back at 2013, we review the performance of the factories. How did Honda, Yamaha and Ducati stack up last season? What were their strong points, and how did they go about tackling their weaknesses? Above all, what does this mean for 2014? Here’s our rating of MotoGP’s manufacturers.
Honda – Championship Standing: 1st – Rating: 10/10
It seemed as if every technical rule change and tire decision swung against Honda in 2012. First, they found themselves outfoxed over the minimum weight by Ducati, after the MSMA first told the Grand Prix Commission that they had unanimously rejected a proposal to raise it from 153kg to 160kg.
It turned out that only Honda and Yamaha had rejected it, with Ducati voting in favor, which meant the rule should have been adopted and not rejected. As a concession to the manufacturers, the weight was raised in two stages, to 157kg in 2012, and 160kg in 2013.
Then, after being tested at Jerez, the riders voted to adopt the new, softer construction front tires, despite complaints from the Repsol Honda riders.
Honda struggled for much of 2012, first working out where to place an extra 4kg (a problem the other factories did not have, as they had struggled to get anywhere near the previous minimum of 153kg), and then running through chassis and suspension options in search of the braking stability they had lost with the introduction of the softer front tire.
After the test at the Mugello round, they had most of the problems solved, and Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa went on to win eight of the last nine rounds.
Come the 2013 season, and Honda was well-prepared. The factory already had its braking stability issues under control, and the only point left was the extra 3kg it had to carry. Having had all of 2012 to prepare for the extra weight, Honda arrived at the start of the season with few issues.
In the last of our series looking back at the riders of 2013, we come to the unluckiest man on the grid. Ben Spies’ season was a thing of nightmares, ending with his decision to retire. Here’s a review of his year.
Ben Spies – Championship Position: 21st – Rating: Attitude 9/10, Luck 1/10
Up until Qatar 2012, Ben Spies’ career had been something of a fairytale. Talent spotted by his later crew chief Tom Houseworth, he took the fight to Mat Mladin in the AMA and beat him fair and square.
He won the World Superbike title at his first attempt, on tracks he hadn’t seen until Friday morning practice. He grabbed two podiums in his rookie MotoGP season, then a win in his second season after moving up to the factory Yamaha team. And then it all went horribly wrong.
After a series of bizarre mechanical mishaps throughout the 2012 season, Spies suffered major shoulder damage in a crash at Sepang. He had already decided to leave the factory Yamaha team, signing with Ducati to race at Pramac.
After rating the top ten finishers in the championship, it is time to turn our gaze to those outside the top ten worthy of note. Here is a view of Colin Edwards and Danilo Petrucci, two riders who both exceeded expectations in 2013.
Colin Edwards – Championship Position: 14th – Rating: 7/10
Colin Edwards was thirty-nine years of age when he lined up on the grid for the first race of 2013, and facing questions over his ability to keep competing.
His performance had been slipping since losing his spot in the factory Yamaha team, reaching a low point in his first year with the NGM Forward team on the Suter BMW. Was he perhaps too old? Did he really have the motivation to compete at this level?
The former question is still open, but the switch to the FTR Kawasaki gave Edwards the chance to show that he still cared enough to keep racing. Much better handling and above all, being freed from the shackles of the BMW’s electronics made the FTR Kawasaki a much easier package to ride.
Edwards looked much more at home on the bike, regularly making it into Q2 in the second half of the season. The Kawasaki CRT bike was still lacking too much power to take the fight to the factory prototypes, but Edwards was the only rider to challenge the outright dominance of Aleix Espargaro among the CRT riders.
After rating the top ten finishers in the championship, it is time to turn our gaze to those outside the top ten worthy of note. Below is a look at the seasons of Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone, in the news in 2013 for very different reasons.
Aleix Espargaro – Championship Position: 11th – Rating: 8/10
Aleix Espargaro became the poster boy for the CRT class in 2012, beating out his teammate Randy De Puniet. The two Aspar riders showed that even with less than a year of development, a slightly modified Superbike could compete with the slower of the satellite prototypes. 2013 saw the Aprilia ART take another step forward, but it was a step only Espargaro could follow, De Puniet complaining of a lack of feeling all year, his performance plummeting.
Espargaro shone in 2013, regularly making it into Q2 under the new two-part qualification system, and even starting from the second row at the Sachsenring and Misano.
The race was always a different matter, the underpowered Aprilia no match for the prototypes, and even after the great start he got in German, running in the top three in the first few laps, Espargaro dropped back through the field as the race progressed.
Despite his disadvantages, he still bagged a bunch of top tens, consistently finishing ahead of the Ducatis. Espargaro demonstrated that the rider is still a key part of the equation in motorcycle racing.
In the final chapter of our series running down the top ten finishers of the 2013 MotoGP season, we come to Bradley Smith. Here’s a look at how his first year in the premier class went. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; part 6, Alvaro Bautista; part 7, Stefan Bradl; part 8, Andrea Dovizioso; and part 9, Nicky Hayden.
Pity poor Bradley Smith. The young Englishman came in to MotoGP as a rookie, and did exactly what he was supposed to do: learn slowly, not crash too much, see his times and results improve gradually throughout the season. In any other year, Smith would have received quiet praise for the steady job he did.
But this was not any other year. This was the year that Marc Marquez moved up to MotoGP, destroying records and utterly redefining what is expected of a rookie. While Smith was steadily improving to go from finishing in the top ten to ending in the top six, Marquez was amassing podiums, wins, and well on his way to taking the title at the first attempt.
Smith found himself being compared to the phenomenon that was Marquez, rather than the more realistic comparison with the rookie seasons of other MotoGP riders.
Take Marquez out of the equation – an almost impossible exercise, admittedly – and Smith looks a lot better. Map Smith’s season against that of Stefan Bradl in 2012, and the Englishman’s performance looks much better. Smith finished his year with 116 points, while Bradl took 135 in his first year.
In the penultimate part of our restrospective on the season just past, we look back at Nicky Hayden. Here is our view of his final season with Ducati, and his move to Aspar for 2014. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; part 6, Alvaro Bautista; part 7, Stefan Bradl; and part 8, Andrea Dovizioso.
It’s been a tough few years for Nicky Hayden. Since joining Ducati in 2009, his results have been in steady decline, along with the performance of the Desmosedici. The 2013 season was the second season in a row where the American did not score a single podium, Hayden finishing in the same position as 2012, with four more points than last year.
This year was probably his toughest with the Italian manufacturer. Hayden found himself battling with teammate Andrea Dovizioso just about all year long, starting from the first race in Qatar. The Ducatis were a match only for each other, not for the other prototypes.
In twelve of the eighteen races, Dovizioso and Hayden finished behind each other, the only other rider they regularly tangled with being Bradley Smith, a MotoGP rookie. More times than not, Hayden emerged as loser of the intra-Ducati battles, finishing behind Dovizioso nine times, and ahead of him only seven times.
The fact that Hayden was not beating his teammate would end up costing him his job. The American was left waiting for a long time for word from Ducati, though by the time the circus rolled up in Assen, Hayden could see the writing on the wall. “I’m not feeling it,” he said, Ducati not even approaching him about a renewal.
At the Sachsenring, he was told there was no place in the factory team for him, though Ducati were keen to keep him in the family, trying to persuade him to switch to World Superbikes to race the Panigale, or else line up in the Pramac team with factory backing.
In the eighth instalment of our series looking at 2013, we come to Andrea Dovizioso. This is how the Italian got on in his first year at Ducati. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; part 6, Alvaro Bautista; and part 7, Stefan Bradl.
After losing his factory Honda ride at the end of 2011, Dovizioso made the switch to Yamaha, joining Cal Crutchlow in the Tech 3 team. A strong year with six podiums saw him win the slot in the factory Ducati team vacated by Valentino Rossi. Dovizioso felt he deserved a factory ride, and he had got what he wanted.
That proved to be something of a poisoned chalice. The year after Ducati was taken over by Audi proved to be a year of stagnation, with new head of Ducati Corse Bernhard Gobmeier never really able to impose his authority on the race department.
A lot of work was done with chassis stiffness, a new aerodynamics package was unveiled, the engine received a minor upgrade with improved throttle bodies. It all helped, a little, but the bike still had understeer — still wouldn’t turn.
Dovizioso started the season with some hope, racing with real determination and guts. Early in the season, he had some good results, getting close to the podium at Le Mans in the pouring rain, and then following on with strong race at Mugello, aided no doubt by the amount of testing Ducati does at the circuit.
But as promised upgrades failed to materialize, and the full seriousness of his situation started to sink in, Dovizioso’s mood took a dive. An air of despair hung around him, the Italian resigning himself to a lost season.
Continuing our look back at 2013, we come to seventh place man Stefan Bradl. Here’s how he fared in 2013. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; and part 6, Alvaro Bautista.
In his first season of MotoGP, Stefan Bradl did exactly what was expected of him, learning slowly, building speed, and getting better week after week. He impressed his team, crew chief Christophe ‘Beefy’ Bourguignon expressing admiration at his calm and intelligent approach after the first test on the bike.
He did not crash too often, finished inside the top six on a regular basis, and even got close to his first podium.
After such a strong start, he was expected to do even better in year two. The target was the occasional podium, and to be the best of the satellite riders.
Strong support from Honda meant that Bradl had the tools to do the job, though starting the season using Nissin brakes instead of Brembo put him at a slight disadvantage, the Nissins offering fractionally inferior brake release.
Though Bradl improved, consistently finishing inside the top six, it was not what he or Honda had hoped. The Aragon test in June gave Bradl a boost, trying the same forks which the factory riders had already been using, and switching to Brembo brakes, at least at the front.
In part six of our series looking back at 2013, we reach Alvaro Bautista. Below is our view on Bautista’s season in MotoGP. You can catch up with the rest of this series here: part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; and part 5, Cal Crutchlow.
Alvaro Bautista is arguably MotoGP’s most under-appreciated rider. A former 250cc champion, the Spaniard has been on a downward trajectory since moving to MotoGP, through no real fault of his own. First, he signed with Suzuki, making him a factory rider with MotoGP’s weakest factory.
After Suzuki left, Bautista moved to Gresini, where he rides for a pittance, and is forced to earn his keep as a test rider for Showa and Nissin. Left to fight against the industry standard Ohlins and Brembo on his own, Bautista does not get the recognition he deserves even when he is punching above his weight.
The fifth part of our series looking back at 2013 sees us turn to Cal Crutchlow. Here’s a perspective on his 2013 season. You can catch up with this series here: part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; and part 4, Valentino Rossi.
In 2011, Monster Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal cursed the day he signed Cal Crutchlow to a two-year contract. The 2010 World Supersport champion was struggling to get to grips with MotoGP, finding the tires harder to deal with and the level of competition higher than he expected.
In 2012, Poncharal’s took back most of what he said about the Englishman, and in 2013, Crutchlow rewarded Poncharal’s patience in spades.
This was the year of the great British motorcycle racing revival. Cal Crutchlow looked to be the first Brit to win a premier class race since Barry Sheene in 1981, and Scott Redding looked to be the first British Grand Prix champion since Sheene in 1977. Neither man would succeed in their objective, but they generated a surge of enthusiasm for the sport back in their home country.
In the fourth part of our series looking back at 2013, we take a look at Valentino Rossi’s season. To catch up with previous instalments, you can read part 1 on Marc Marquez, part 2 on Jorge Lorenzo, and part 3 on Dani Pedrosa.
Valentino Rossi left Ducati at the end of 2012 with a palpable sense of relief. At last he would be back on a bike with a front-end he could trust, and could get back to being competitive. The goal was to test himself, to see if he could still run at the front with the Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, he repeatedly told reporters in the preseason.
Testing looked promising. Rossi was a little way behind the Hondas, but so was his teammate Jorge Lorenzo, and that was the man he had to measure himself against. At the first race, Rossi was straight onto the podium, dishing out a lesson in racecraft to Marc Marquez along the way. It looked like he was finally back in business.
Qatar turned out to be something of a false dawn. Rossi struggled in Austin, and could only manage a distant fourth at Jerez. That was an omen of things to come, Rossi racking up a grand total of 8 fourth places during the season, only getting on to the podium when one or other of the top three were injured or otherwise struggling.
Despite the difficulty, the wily veteran still managed to bag himself a win at Assen, his first in nearly three years. It was a moment of release for the Italian, but even during the press conference, he conceded that his win was in no small part due to his teammate’s injured collarbone. Rossi cemented his place in the MotoGP hierarchy: the fourth best rider in the world.