We’re four races and a handful of tests into the 2017 MotoGP season, and things are finally settling into place.
Updated odds for the 2017 champion and Constructor’s Title are below, but first: what we’ve learned so far.
VINALES MAKES GOOD CAREER DECISIONS
When time came last year for Vinales to decide between staying on the Suzuki and switching to the superior Yamaha, he opted to abandon the team that brought him to MotoGP and try to win immediately on the Yamaha. It was a somewhat controversial decision, but it’s paid off. Vinales won his first two races on a Yamaha and is currently two points away from leading the championship. The #1 ranked Suzuki is being ridden by Alex Rins in ninth place. For a kid who cares about winning, he seems to have found his opportunity.
Crashing out at Jerez was disappointing, but that probably had something to do with the either inconsistencies of the Michelin front tire or a poor set-up caused by the huge change in track temperature through the day. He’s still the favorite, if Honda continues to struggle.
STILL QUESTIONS ABOUT HONDA
Marc Marquez looked dominant in Austin, and Honda managed a 1-2 at Jerez, but don’t jump on the Big Red hype train just yet. The Honda still has serious problems with taming its engine, and while changing the firing order is supposed to have helped, you have to keep a few things in mind:
1: Don’t trust what Marc Marquez says about motorcycles. He could put a big wheel on the podium at most races on the calendar, and he doesn’t particularly notice when a bike is misbehaving. Marquez’s ability to win on a flawed motorcycle masks a lot of the problems Honda’s spent the last eighteen months trying to solve.
2: Even as a rookie, even on a bike every other rider in the paddock described as nearly unrideable, Marquez has never lost a motorcycle race at the Circuit of the Americas, so don’t chalk his victory there up to the resurgence of HRC. As for Jerez: with extreme track temperatures and a surface that hasn’t been replaced since the Bush administration, it is slippery enough on a hot day to almost qualify as a wet track.
If Honda can find a way to calm down the rear wheel, Marquez becomes the favorite. If they give him a moped and a bicycle helmet, you still can’t count him out. Dani Pedrosa winning at Jerez, while certainly testament to his remarkable talent, might-maybe-probably have something to do with the fact that he’s the lightest rider on the grid and therefore isn’t affected by tire degradation on a hot track in the same way as his competitors.
Nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi is gunning for his tenth title at the ripe old age of 38. He doesn’t have the all-out pace of the favorites, but he’s the most experienced rider in MotoGP history and is very good at getting to the finish line. To illustrate: Rossi has not won a race yet this year, but two second-place finishes and one third have him leading the championship. He’s always a threat, has been since the late 90s, and will continue to be for a couple more years. However, given that he’s come up short the last few seasons and is now riding the same bike as Vinales, he can’t be considered the favorite.
DUCATI AND LORENZO
Triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo has benefitted from riding the best bike on the grid for much of his career, so his switch to Ducati, and his attempt to do what Valentino Rossi could never do, was a bold one. In his first three races, the cautious Lorenzo came eleventh in Qatar, crashed in Argentina, and finished ninth in Austin. In tough conditions at Jerez, however, Lorenzo put the Ducati on the podium for third.
Switching to a higher seat, apparently, made a difference in the bike’s weight distribution and helped the GP17 turn more easily. Ducati is still trying to figure out their aerodynamic package, switching from the wild “hammerhead” fairing we saw early this year to an unadorned fairing. Aero has always been important to keeping the Ducati’s front wheel down (that’s why it was brought to MotoGP, after all) so it’s a little distressing to see the Bologna outfit come to Jerez empty handed. As Lorenzo comes to grips with a bike that isn’t the best-handling on the grid, he’ll start to compete for wins.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE TIRE
A distinct advantage will be decided this week during testing in Jerez. Tire supplier Michelin has brought a new front tire with a stiffer carcass to Spain, and a rider vote will decide whether it will be adopted for the remainder of the season. The new tire benefits riders who like to brake all the way into the apex (Marquez, Crutchlow, and Rossi, for example) whereas the older, softer tire gives more feel to those who get all their braking done in a straight line (Vinales, Lorenzo, and Pedrosa). It may not seem like a huge difference, but each factory’s development is centred around the tires as much, if not more, than their riders’ particular styles, and braking technique is perhaps the most important philosophical difference between the contenders.
THE UPDATED ODDS
2017 MotoGP World Champion
Maverick Vinales: 13/7
Marc Marquez: 3/1
Valentino Rossi: 4/1
Dani Pedrosa: 9/1
Jorge Lorenzo: 12/1
2017 Constructors Title