Who crashes the MotoGP podium party?

Five experts assess who will break through for a maiden podium in 2016.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Quick quiz: just nine riders have won MotoGP races since the start of the 2007 season. Reckon you know them all? After you’ve read our story (no cheating), check the bottom of the page for the full list. We’ll even give you a clue …

The fact that just nine riders have seen the view from the top step of a MotoGP podium in close to a decade is testament to a few phenomena: the longevity of Valentino Rossi, the ability of Casey Stoner to make the Ducati do things that nobody else has managed, and the sheer difficulty of taking on the world’s best on two wheels and beating them. Even making it onto a podium is tough with the dominance and reliability of the Repsol Honda and Movistar Yamaha factory squads, who have annexed every world championship since Stoner bulldozed the field for Ducati in that 2007 season.

Every year, fans debate who’ll come up from Moto2 to make it into the top three in a race, which established rider could have made the right move at the right time to join a MotoGP team in podium contention, and which race will offer the mix of crazy weather and a rider taking their chances to gatecrash the top trio.

So who’ll emerge from the shadows to spray the champagne of success this season? Can Suzuki get back on the rostrum? Can a non-factory rider muscle in? Who is most likely to come from nowhere and achieve that one-off freak result? Luckily, help is at hand.

In the final instalment of our ‘Burning Questions’ series, we quizzed our panel of assembled MotoGP insiders.

Our experts:

Nick Harris: the voice of MotoGP on the world TV feed, and a hugely experienced authority on the sport for more than three decades.
Matt Birt: Nick’s offsider on the MotoGP world feed coverage, and a journalist with more than 20 years of experience in the paddock.
Chris Vermeulen: the MotoGP race-winner now excels in his off-track role as a MotoGP analyst for Fox Sports in his native Australia.
Dylan Gray: MotoGP’s premier pit-lane reporter and on-the-ground newshound.
David Emmett: editor of motomatters.com and one of the sport’s most prolific and authoritative voices.

The Burning Question: Which rider do you see being the biggest surprise visitor to the podium this season?

Chris Vermeulen: At the moment, when you get anyone outside of the top four – the two Repsol Hondas and the two factory Yamahas – on the podium, it’s a surprise and makes headlines. Of those riders, we may see Cal Crutchlow up there – he’s got speed but just doesn’t seem to have it consistently – and we may see Bradley Smith, as he’s very consistent and could be there when things aren’t going right for other people. And Danilo Petrucci – he’s another one.

Dylan Gray: I’m going to go completely out there, and say Hector Barbera. He’s always been one of those guys who has been underrated and has generally been using machinery that’s been below par. He’s said the electronics that every rider has to use now are a major step up from what he’s had before. There’s lots of people who are stepping back, but he’s really enjoying them. His bike has tons of horsepower, so for me, he could be one of the surprises out there.

Matt Birt: I’m going to say Maverick Vinales, and that’s based purely on the equipment underneath him rather than any judgement based on his talent. I don’t think there is any shadow of doubt that if Vinales were on a Honda or a Yamaha this year that he would be joining that elite group at the front. When Valentino Rossi identifies Vinales as the next big star of MotoGP, you’d better stand up and take notice. Suzuki seems to have upped its game with a more powerful engine and seamless shift gearbox for the GSX-RR this season. The big question is whether it will be enough to get Suzuki only its second win in the modern four-stroke era. Vinales is definitely going to be hot property in the rider market and Suzuki’s biggest challenge of the season could be off the track and convincing him to stay – his name is being linked with moves to Honda and Yamaha next year. If Suzuki has got it right, then I think there’s no doubt that Vinales will be breaking his podium duck.

David Emmett: To be frank, predicting surprises is hard. We all expect Vinales to make it onto the podium. Danilo Petrucci and Scott Redding look to have a good shot at a podium, as do Bradley Smith and maybe Cal Crutchlow. But the biggest surprise will be Loris Baz. He is a lot more competitive than he was, and is using the stings of ‘too tall’ to motivate him.

Nick Harris: If it remains dry I don’t envisage too many surprises – but in mixed weather, Vinales will be close.

(Your nine MotoGP race-winners since 2007: Loris Capirossi, Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, Ben Spies, Casey Stoner and our very own panellist, Chris Vermeulen).

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