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Valentino Rossi, Movistar Yamaha, 2nd, 325 points – Score: 9.5

British MotoGP commentator Julian Ryder has one cliché he uses about Valentino Rossi all the time. “Never write Valentino Rossi off.” It may be a cliché, but in 2015, Rossi showed once again why clichés exist.

At the age of 36, he was past his physical prime, and not capable of keeping up at the front. Twenty seasons of top level racing had dulled his desire to compete.

Two seasons at Ducati and a poor return to Yamaha proved he was past his prime. With more money than he will ever need for the rest of his life and a fashion model girlfriend (who rides motorcycles), there was nothing to fire his motivation.

The VR46 racing team was proof Rossi was looking to his retirement, not another championship.

There was at least some truth in all of those statements, voiced by pundits and fans across the world. But they overlooked one crucial fact: you can never, ever, write Valentino Rossi off.

Jorge Lorenzo, Movistar Yamaha, 1st, 330 points – Score: 9.5

All year long, everyone – engineers, journalists, pundits, other riders (with the possible exception of Valentino Rossi, for obvious reasons) – said the same thing over and over again: “Jorge is faster, but Valentino is more consistent.”

The statistics bear that out: Jorge Lorenzo led for 274 of the 448 laps raced this year, a fraction over 61%. He also had five poles and six fastest race laps, second only to Marc Márquez. Jorge Lorenzo was just plain fast in 2015.

This should be no surprise. After a difficult 2014, Jorge Lorenzo took this season deadly seriously. Last year taught Lorenzo that the cost of not being fit at the start of the season was defeat, and he has no taste for that.

As the year winds to a conclusion, now is a good time to look back at the 2015 MotoGP season, and assess how the riders have done this year. It has been a fantastic season for MotoGP.

The fans have been treated to some of the best and closest racing in years. Several races became instant classics, such as the tight battle at Assen decided in the final chicane, the bizarre rain-hit and incident-packed race at Misano, the scintillating four-way fight at Phillip Island.

The championship went all the way down to the final race, decided in the end by just five points.

The prospect of a new MotoGP season always leaves fans giddy with anticipation. Their appetites keenly whetted by winter testing, and speculation over the times set at those tests, they boldly predict that this season is going to be the best MotoGP season ever. Though the racing is often good, all too often, it never quite lives up to the preseason hype.

There is every reason to believe that this year, it will be different. The bikes, the riders, the teams, the motivation, it all points to 2015 being an exceptionally exciting season in MotoGP.

At the last day of winter testing at Qatar just over a week ago, less than a second covered the top fourteen riders, and two seconds covered all but four of the MotoGP field.

A similar pattern emerged at Sepang: with the exception of the occasional hot lap by Marc Márquez, there were ten or more riders within a second of each other. Things haven’t been this close for a while.

In just two races, Jorge Lorenzo’s championship lead had been slashed from 23 to 13 points. From nearly a win, to a fourth place finish. Lorenzo was using his consistency – apart from Assen, he had never finished in anything other than first or second place – to grind out a path to the championship. But Pedrosa was clearly closing; Lorenzo’s Spanish rival had momentum behind him, and had become the favorite in every race he lined up at.

That pattern looked set to be repeated at Misano, with Pedrosa showing outstanding speed – once the track had dried up sufficiently to make it worth the riders’ time to actually go out – during qualifying, though Lorenzo was close behind. But the second Italian race would prove to be yet another turning point in the championship, this time through a series of bizarre incidents which started with a leaking clutch cylinder.

What does it take to be a world champion? A little bit of luck, certainly. A whole heap of talent, for sure. But above all, it takes preparation: physical, mental and mechanical. That, most of all, is the lesson of Jorge Lorenzo’s 2012 MotoGP championship. The 2010 champion came better prepared to the title chase, and ground down his opponents with his sheer consistency.

Lorenzo’s assault on the 2012 championship started in Yamaha’s racing department in 2011. The new 1000cc M1 may have been visually almost identical to the 800cc 2011 machine, but beneath the similarities was a very different machine. Yamaha’s engineers had made the bike longer to cope with the extra torque and horsepower, and completely redesigned the engine to cope with the new rules. Modified electronics improved traction, while better wheelie control meant the bike lost less time in acceleration. The improved wheelie control alone cut a tenth of a second from the lap times.

It was obvious to Lorenzo that the 2012 bike would be competitive as soon as he rode it for the first time during the post-race test at Brno in August 2011. Where on the 800cc bike, he had been nearly half a second slower than Casey Stoner during Sunday’s race, the day after, on the 1000cc M1, he was immediately within a tenth of the Australian on the Repsol Honda. Yamaha had done their homework, and Lorenzo knew that the rest was down to him.

Lorenzo’s own preparation began during the winter of 2011. Knowing that the additional power and weight of the 1000cc bikes would make different demands on the rider, he focused his training on coping with that. At the Sepang tests in February, while the rest of the grid sat in their garages waiting for the sweltering afternoon heat in the tropics to subside, Lorenzo was pounding out the laps, running full race simulations to test his endurance and the behavior of the bike. He wanted to be sure he was ready for the first race of the year in Qatar. He was not as fast as Casey Stoner during pre-season testing, but he knew he could be competitive.

Nobody in MotoGP has the Losail Circuit’s number better than Casey Stoner. The Australian rider has won the last three races at the Qatar track (read: has won half of all of the GP races at Qatar), and once again seems to be leading the field this year as Free Practice for the MotoGP opener has just concluded. Sitting down with a track diagram in hand, Stoner takes us through some of his notes on the track.

The subject as to where Valentino Rossi will race in the future and finish his career has been a subject of much speculation, and seems to endure through the seasons. As usual we’ve already seen the speculation that Rossi may drive a Formula 1 car for Ferrari, or join Ducati for a perfect storm of corse italiano. Rossi usually likes to fan the rumors by staying non-committal, but in a recent interview with Motosprint Magazine, the nine time World Champion Valentino Rossi revealed that he would like to stay in racing for another three years, likely ending his career with Yamaha.

In conjunction with the unveiling of the 2010 Fiat-Yamaha MotoGP team, a series of interviews with Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, and Lin Jarvis have been released for public consumption. Despite being released from the team’s PR firm, with cooperation from Fiat, the questions strike at the heart of many the issues that surround the Lorenzo/Rossi battle for supremacy. They’re quite long, but worth a watch, check them out after the jump.

Dorna and the MotoGP rider’s Safety Commission met in Sepang this past Friday before the Malaysian GP to talk about the upcoming 2010 season, and in particular the addition of the Hungarian Balatonring to the schedule. While Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta believes the track will be completed on-time for its MotoGP debute, Satefy Comission Founding Member, Loris Capirossi, disagrees. Putting his money where his mouth is, Capirossi has bet Ezpeleta on the Hungarian tracks completion.