2016 is shaping up as a classic, but could next year be even better?
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU
MotoGP in 2016 has already been compelling. Just four races in, we’ve had Jorge Lorenzo dominating, Marc Marquez winning madcap flag-to-flag races, and Valentino Rossi continuing to break new ground at Jerez, where he won from pole after leading every lap for the first time in his storied career. There’s still so, so much to look forward to this season. But next year has the potential to be even better. Maybe the best year yet.
We’re not wishing the rest of ’16 away by any means, but here’s five reasons why ’17 might be even sweeter.
1. Three ways to chase No.1
Lorenzo’s announcement that he’ll leave the only MotoGP outfit he’s ever known to jump from Yamaha to Ducati next year set off the silly season earlier than anyone can remember, and while the wisdom of such a dramatic move will only be measured down the track, what we do know is that there’s something compelling about having the three biggest names in three different teams on three different bikes, with three different ways of going racing for the one goal. Rossi as the undisputed number one at Yamaha regardless of whoever is on the sister bike, Marquez bending a Honda to his will, Lorenzo in red as Ducati make a serious play at reprising their Casey Stoner-led glory days … even thinking about the start of next year’s Qatar GP is enough to evoke goosebumps.
2. Lorenzo’s chance to do what Rossi couldn’t
Lorenzo’s title last year seemed in some ways to be a footnote to the Rossi v Marquez spat that cast an enormous shadow over the season finale in Valencia – in Malaysia one round prior, Lorenzo was clearly agitated about being booed on the podium, perhaps the one time he publicly lost his composure as the Rossi/Marquez firestorm engulfed everything in its wake. That moment was perhaps when Lorenzo realised that the next phase of his career couldn’t wait – and what better way to exact the ultimate revenge for last year by going to Ducati and doing what Rossi couldn’t do in 2011-12 by taking the Italian team back to the top? The list of riders who haven’t made it work dressed in red is long, but Lorenzo has an old friend in Ducati team boss Gigi Dall’igna in his corner, and a bike that’s crying out to be ridden by someone with that little extra something. If he could succeed where Rossi failed, the taste of victory would be all the sweeter. Motivation will not be an issue.
3. Could the Rossi legend grow?
In re-signing with Yamaha until the end of the 2018 season, ‘The Doctor’ has committed to leading the fight against the best of the next generation (Lorenzo) and next-next generation (Marquez) riders who have come on the scene since his world championship debut way back in 1996. Think about that for a minute … is there a more enduring athlete who has stayed at or near the top of their global sport for that long while arguably being more relevant than ever? Rossi’s return to Yamaha in 2013 after his Ducati debacle seemed to be the start of the end of his career, but last year’s title near-miss proved that it wouldn’t take much for him to secure the eighth premier class crown he so covets. It’s a big call, but winning the ’17 or ’18 titles as his 40th birthday looms would go down as his crowning glory in a glittering career.
4. Familiar faces in new places
There’s been very little change in the rider market at the top teams in recent years, but Lorenzo’s early-season announcement of his Ducati move will have a ripple effect on the rest of the grid that will take shape over the coming months for next year. Stories circulating in the British press this week from credible sources have Dani Pedrosa in the frame to replace Lorenzo at Yamaha; it would be a shock to see Pedrosa in anything other than orange after 11 seasons at Repsol Honda, but as we’ve seen already this season, anything is in play. What does a Pedrosa/Yamaha alignment do for the Yamaha men in waiting like Pol Espargaro? Is Maverick Vinales wedded to (or stuck with) Suzuki for the time being, or at least until Rossi stops? Which Andrea, Dovizioso or Iannone, gets cut loose by Ducati to make way for Lorenzo, and where do they end up? Who takes the coveted Repsol Honda seat to be number two to Marquez? Is 30-year-old Cal Crutchlow part of the future at Honda’s signature squad, or merely a stop-gap to the next Spanish prodigy to stake their claim? However it all shakes out, the ’17 grid will look largely the same, but very different.
5. The Australian GP will be one of the final four rounds
There’s a lot we don’t know about next year, but we do (more or less) know this. Which means Aussie MotoGP fans could see some or all of the storylines above in their own backyard at one of the world’s signature circuits, with the tension of the looming end of the season only adding to the excitement. All we need now is to convince Stoner to do a one-off wildcard …