With nine races down and nine races to go, we’ve made it to the MotoGP summer break. The first nine races of the year were fun and surprising: Maverick Vinales winning the first two races of his first season on the Yamaha suggested that he’d made a good decision switching from the Suzuki. Outside of the traditional top four of Honda and Yamaha factory riders, Andrea Dovizioso has recorded two wins, the two satellite Yamahas have each earned impressive podiums, and Cal Crutchlow ended up third in Argentina.
Here’s a surprise: Repsol Honda rider Marc Marquez is leading the championship. He’s leading by a bare five points over Vinales, who has three wins and led the championship for most of the first half of the season. They’re followed by Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso, who won his first dry race at Mugello, and Valentino Rossi, who is somehow still winning races despite being 158 years old.
We wrote about the season way back in week 4, after Jerez, when Vinales was looking unstoppable and Marquez was looking decidedly mortal. The title odds have been flipped on their head since then, and we’re confident everything will change again when the riders get back from four weeks of rest and training at Brno.
Let’s look at the biggest storylines before we get to the updated odds.
Trouble at Yamaha
The factory Yamaha has been the best motorcycle on the grid for at least the last two years. When conditions are right, nobody could carry more corner speed or set laps quite as fast as Jorge Lorenzo on his Yamaha M1. But there are cracks showing in the Iwata factory’s armour. First was the loss of Jorge Lorenzo to Ducati, the Spaniard looking to do what his teammate Valentino Rossi could not. For his part, it’s unsurprisingly been a struggle, but his old employers have problems of their own. The new chassis that Yamaha developed for 2016 hasn’t been popular, and (somewhat embarrassingly) they’ve been bested by their satellite team. Rumour has it that the “new” chassis the team brought to the German Grand Prix is actually a redux of the 2016 chassis.
Marc Marquez thrives
Here’s a storyline that Formula 1 fans can relate to: Honda still haven’t fixed their engine, really. Fortunately, Marc Marquez is getting pretty good at managing a less-than-ideal bike, and while his teammate was struggling with a spinning rear wheel at the Sachsenring, Marquez won his eighth consecutive race at the German circuit.The old adage about Lorenzo being unbeatable when conditions are perfect and Marquez being unbeatable when they aren’t continues to be half-true, with Lorenzo failing to hold up his end on the Ducati.
As long as the inconsistencies with the Michelin tires persist, riders who need all the stars to line up are going to be left wanting, and guys like Marquez and Vinales, who appear to use MotoGP as a way of training for their offseason supermoto adventures, will continue to dominate. The rest of the schedule looks pretty good for Marquez: he’s won at seven of the tracks still to come, and has come pretty close at the other two.
Dovizioso in third?
The real surprise, looking at the standings sheet, is long-time Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso right there in third place. Dovi is six points behind Marquez, only one point behind Vinales, and has two race wins to his credit at the halfway point. Winning his home Grand Prix at Mugello, on an Italian bike, in front of Italian fans, was the stuff every little motorbike rider dreams of, but it’s particularly important for one reason: it was dry. All the Ducati’s previous wins have been in the wet, when advantages from one bike to the other all but disappear and tire gambles and weird crashes shake up the finishing order. Jack Miller won a race in the wet last year. Winning on a dry track shows that Ducati is ready to contend with Yamaha and Honda and, after years of struggling, are finally back near the top.
I don’t think that the Ducati is ready to compete for the championship yet, and I really don’t think that Marquez or Vinales can be beaten, but it’s encouraging for the sport to see a third bike be this competitive. Plus, who knows, this season has already been plenty weird.
Yamaha has the advantage here, and it’s mostly down to the riders. Vinales and Rossi are just so consistent, finishing in the top two spots in seven of the first nine races, and edging away from the still spectacular but less consistent Honda pairing of Marquez and Dani Pedrosa. Ducati is a step back from the two leaders, but is at least on a similar plane, while Suzuki, Aprilia, and KTM are a big step back. The KTM is doing surprisingly well in its first year, finishing in the points in five races, and the Suzuki effort, led by Andrea Iannone, is undoubtedly disappointing.
2017 Riders’ Championship
- Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda): 3/2
- Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha): 13/7
- Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha): 17/3
- Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati): 9/1
The top two have flipped since the beginning of the season, and for good reason. There’s also less room for the field, as it’s becoming increasingly clear that this title is going to one of the mercurial Spaniards.
2017 Manufacturers’ Championship
- Yamaha: 1/1
- Honda: 3/2
- Ducati: 9/1
Similar odds to before, just with less room for Ducati.