[Note: The half-baked opinions, mis-statements of fact and otherwise actionable slurs below do not represent the views of Motorcycle.com. In fact, we are surprised if they represent the views of anyone at all.]
MotoGP, the fastest sport on two wheels in the known universe, is back for what promises to be one of the most competitive seasons in history. Twelve well-financed teams. 24 riders, of whom only a handful can be excluded from consideration for multiple podium appearances during a 21-round campaign stretching from the streets of Indonesia to the jungles of South America to the Gulf of Finland. And the machines, hand-built to inconceivable tolerances, with power-to-weight ratios comparable to strapping a pair of big Evinrude outboards on the back end of a dinghy.
In the past ten seasons, only four men have claimed the title of MotoGP world champion. Jorge Lorenzo, gone but not forgotten, won it all during his Yamaha days in 2012 and 2015. Joan Mir, the young Spanish speedster with the girl’s name, claimed his win in 2020*, winning a single race in a season decimated by Covid. French heartthrob Fabio Quartararo became a world champion in 2021*.
*The asterisks signify seasons in which Spanish king of kings, Marc Marquez, who won the other six titles during the period, was injured or trying to return from injury. It doesn’t require much imagination to suggest that, had Marquez been healthy, both Mir and Quartararo would have watched him claim his seventh and eighth premier class crowns. For those of you new to the sport, he is the Michael Jordan, the Tom Brady, of grand prix motorcycle racing. Those of us who watched him during those years remain unworthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
In 2022, having returned to full health (or close to it) Marquez will have his work cut out for him. There is more talent on the grid today than there was in 2013, and, despite his boyish good looks, he has a lot of miles on his odometer and is now a veteran rider. Not a grizzled veteran like my boy Cal Crutchlow, but a veteran nonetheless. He turned 29 in February, in a sport where eyebrows begin to raise at anyone over 30.
When Last Seen
The 2021 calendar was goofed up, again due to the Covid pandemic. There were a full 18 rounds, but it was cobbled together, with two each at Losail, Red Bull Ring, Portimao, and Misano. Quartararo won five rounds – Losail II, Portimao I, Mugello, Assen and Silverstone, coasting to the championship at season’s end. Italian upstart Pecco Bagnaia, the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo, captured four of the last six rounds to make the final standings look closer than they were. Ducati pilot Jack Miller won two early rounds, at Jerez and Le Mans, but failed to launch thereafter, going winless over the final 13 rounds.
Other winners included KTM’s Brad Binder at his home gym in Spielberg, and the wounded Marquez, who, riding with one arm, managed wins at the Sachsenring and COTA, both of which he basically owns, and Misano II. In a harbinger of great things yet to come, rookie Jorge Martin, the second coming of Dani Pedrosa, recorded a great win at Austria I. And, in a footnote, the bedraggled Maverick Viñales, once considered the next great thing, won Round One in the desert and was hardly heard from thereafter. He switched teams mid-season, falling out of grace from the factory Yamaha team and landing in a heap with Aprilia. He has gone from the next great thing to a trivia question, due to the massive size of his ego.
Since the final 2021 round at Valencia up until this week, teams have been plugging in new riders and scrambling to come to terms with the 2022 iterations of their bikes. Rules governing what goes on in the off-season have been tightened drastically in recent years in an effort, I guess, to cut costs. Personally, what I learn each year from testing and the race at Losail is essentially nothing. IMO Losail marks the end of pre-season testing, but with the riders allowed to score points. Winning at Losail in March counts for about as much as the Cincinnati Reds winning their opening game in March. It has no predictive value.
The Grand Prix of Qatar has always been a strange choice for the season opener. They run it at night under gigantic lights, with sand blowing across the track. The racing surface is wide enough to tow a fifth-wheel trailer. March is one of the few months where local air temperatures are under 150 degrees. And attendance usually runs to about 1500 fans, most of whom are oil sheiks, crypto miners and political assassins. Not normal.
This season starts with seven underclassmen, three sophomores and four freshmen. New to the premier class last year were Italian speedsters Luca Marini (half-brother of the legendary Valentino Rossi) and Enea Bastianini, along with rising Spanish star Martin. The 2022 crop of rookies includes a pair of KTM guys, apparently chained at the wrists and ankles – Australian Remy Gardner (son of 1987 500 class champion Wayne Gardner) and Spanish fast mover Raul Fernandez. These two don’t like each other, causing us to hope for a repeat of the hilarious scene back in the day when Lorenzo and Rossi shared a garage and had a wall built down the middle to keep them from gouging each other’s eyes out.
Two more Italians complete the 2022 grid, starting with Fabio di Giannantonio, repping the Gresini Ducati team. (We will be forced to refer to him this season as FDG in order to conserve our dwindling inventory of lower case N’s.) Last, and perhaps least, is young Marco Bezzecchi, filling the #2 seat on Rossi’s Mooney VR46 Racing Team. Marco’s coiffure suggests he thinks of himself as the second coming of the late Marco Simoncelli; to me, he resembles the MotoGP version of Sideshow Bob.
Oh, what a different couple of paragraphs this would be had motorcycle whisperer Gigi Dall’igna not defected from Aprilia to Ducati in 2013. Over the past ten years he has transformed the Ducati Desmosedici from a rocket sled into the best bike on the grid. Anyone who wishes to question this statement should probably seek counseling. At present, were we to tranche grand prix motorcycles, the ranking would look as follows:
Tranche 1: Ducati
Tranche 2: Your mama
Tranche 3: Honda
Tranche 4: Yamaha, Suzuki
Tranche 5: KTM
Tranche 6: Aprilia
This season there will be eight (8) Ducatis on the grid. Were it possible, there would probably be 18. Seems every rider wants a Desmo, wants to blow up his rivals on the long straights. It’s as fast as it’s always been, only now the riders can wrestle it through the turns without giving themselves colitis. And it appears to improve each year. By 2025 Ducati Corse could conceivably sweep the top three or four spots for the year. Wow.
Despite winning the 2021 championship, Yamaha appears to have slipped a bit; Quartararo is the only rider able to coax results out of the M1, with Morbidelli starting to smell like an underachiever. The aging Andrea Dovizioso and whippersnapper Darryn Binder, called up from Moto3 where he wasn’t all that, on the #2 team appear destined for the lower links of the food chain.
Honda appears to have similar issues. Clearly, the RC213V has been designed around Marc Marquez; what manufacturer in his right mind wouldn’t? Pol Espargaro, the #2 rider on the factory team, keeps talking a good game and keeps not winning races. Sure, he managed a second place finish last year at Misano II. Big whoop. The riders on the satellite team, Alex Marquez and Takaa Nakagami, show occasional flashes of mediocrity, but are second division contestants. The day either of them wins a grand prix I will buy all of you a good cigar. (How you split it up between youse is your problem.)
[We might get a chance to take Bruce up on this since, to our eye in preseason testing, Honda has looked pretty strong. – Ed.]
Suzuki, to my way of thinking, can’t really be taken seriously as a championship-level outfit without a second team to generate more data. Sure, someone is bound to point out that Joan Mir won the 2020 title for Suzuki, and most people I know were happy for him and them. But 2020 was a crazy, one-off year. And, in winning the title, he managed the top step of the podium exactly one (1) time. Nicky Hayden won the Taller Than Danny DiVito Award in 2006 for Honda with two wins. Just for the love of the game, allow me to compare Marc Marquez’ points haul in 2019 with Mir’s in 2020:
Marquez 2019: 420 pts (19 rounds)
Mir 2020: 171 pts (14 rounds)
Where was I? Right. KTM, which appeared to be an ascendant MotoGP organization in 2020, took a definite step backward last year, despite the rugged Binder having captured his maiden premier class win at Red Bull Ring, his home crib. In 2020 the two KTM teams managed 200 points in 14 rounds of racing. In 2021, over 18 outings, they scored only 205 points. There has been plenty of sturm und drang during the off season. Another year like last year and there’s going to be some serious Teutonic ass-kicking going on in Mattighofen. Just sayin’.
Which brings us to Aprilia, the racing organization made famous by having allowed Gigi Dall’igna defect to Ducati. Just think about what this tranche might look like had they had the sense to pay him. But without a satellite team, their brave annual pronouncements about its finally being their year generate choruses of yawns from the racing press. Please don’t tell me what you’re going to do. Tell me what you’ve done.
Everyone’s Favorite Segment
At this point in the 2022 season, tranching the riders is a fool’s errand. And I’m just the fool to take it on. But I’m only willing to separate the riders into sheep and goats. If you have a problem with this, I suggest you write your congressman.
Tranche I – Pecco Bagnaia, Marc Marquez, Fabio Quartararo, Joan Mir, Jack Miller, Johann Zarco, Jorge Martin, Aleix Espargaro, Brad Binder, Pol Espargaro, Raul Fernandez, Enea Bastianini
Tranche II – Alex Rins, Miguel Oliveira, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Alex Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, FDG, Luca Marini, Remy Gardner, Maverick Vinales, Darryn Binder, Marco Bezzecchi
Our mid-season report will revert to the traditional format. Until then, I welcome your taunts and hoots.
Fabio Quartararo should have his leathers re-worked. Listening to him speak, he’s no more Spanish than I am. El Diablo needs to become Le Diable… Raul Fernandez is my pick for Rookie of the Year… the current world order in MotoGP will shift when teenager Pedro Acosta, The Next Really Great Rider, moves up next year. If he doesn’t title in Moto2 this year it will only be due to his having spent some serious time in traction… Concussion protocols in MotoGP are a joke. I heard that Danilo Petrucci was sent back out on the track after a crash last year and could not tell his crew chief what day of the week it was. This is 2022, Carmelo Ezpeleta. Fix this… Jorge Martin is a rider to keep one’s eye on. Fearless and fast. He needs to concentrate on spending a little less time getting launched over his handlebars… Between his right arm and his damaged vision, we may have already seen the best Marc Marquez has to offer this sport. His lizard brain, the part firing the synapses behind his “Oh, my!” saves, may be slightly hesitant on the heels of two serious accidents… Pecco Bagnaia is my pick as the 2022 world champion, in case anyone asks.
The American FAA lists 234 miles per hour as “takeoff speed,” the speed at which an airplane escapes terra firma and begins its ascent. This is equal to 376 kmh. During FP4 at last year’s opener in the desert, Johann Zarco recorded 362.4 kmh on the main straight. The Ducati contingent, with their various winglet designs, will probably approach takeoff speed in the next two seasons. This could mark the invention of a new term in motorcycle racing – the overpass…Two new tracks on the calendar this year, the dirty street track in Indonesia and the KymiRing in Finland. Nothing to say about them yet. I’m hereby volunteering to travel to Finland to cover the inaugural GP.
Finally, I’m seeking input as to which team features the best Spring & Fall rider pairing. Would you vote for Pramac Racing – Martin and Johann Zarco – or the WithU Yamaha RNF duo of Binder and Dovizioso? Laurel & Hardy? Cheech and Chong?
“Have a Take, and Don’t Suck”
This, for decades, has been the mantra of your boy Jim Rome. For internet journalists like myself (okay, internet hacks) our currency in trade is reader engagement. Motorcycle.com has, for years, hosted informed, civil conversations, without the vitriol, insults and foul language found in most online forums. You, the faithful reader, have the choice of simply consuming our work or helping to create it by sharing your opinions, insights and reactions.
We don’t need lurkers. We need full-throated voices from riders, whether you agree or disagree with the silly, semi-informed opinions you find here. Are you friends with a Saudi assassin? Defend him here. Are you okay with me talking about your mother? Take me down a peg. This stuff is not life and death. This is pure entertainment, offered to whet your appetite for MotoGP and to generate lots of requests to Motorcycle.com management to assign me more work. And trust me, I need work. So keep those cards and letters coming, kids.
I will return after Round 11 with some cheeky mid-season analysis. Until then.
In memory of Nancy P. Gillespie 3/19/1952 – 8/17/2021
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