6 storylines to watch in MotoGP for 2019

The new MotoGP season promises to be compelling, but what are the stories we can’t wait to see play out in 2019?


We’re around a month away from MotoGP testing beginning in earnest for the upcoming season in Malaysia, but the turn of the calendar to 2019 only heightened the anticipation for what’s ahead. It’s a 19-race campaign where the schedule mirrors the one that preceded it, but elsewhere, it’s all-change as the world’s premier two-wheel category gets set for what’s sure to be a compelling season.

Everywhere you look, there’s storylines we can’t wait to watch play out. With just two teams retaining the same rider line-ups year on year, it’ll take some time get accustomed to familiar names in unfamiliar colours, while several riders face career-defining (or perhaps career-breaking) seasons, and there’s a host of exciting new talents set to strut their stuff in the big-time for the first time.

But what are the most compelling storylines for 2019? What really moves the needle on the excitement meter, and what has us intrigued? There’s plenty to choose from, but we’ve picked out a top six. Let’s count them down.

6. Who’ll be the rookie to turn heads?

Last year’s battle for the best of the new boys was close (for the record, Honda’s Franco Morbidelli edged Yamaha’s Hafizh Syahrin by four points for the rookie of the year title after 19 races), but not enormously compelling, given Morbidelli won it with 50 points for the season and a best race result of eighth place. This year? There’s four gun graduates from Moto2 set to step up, and there’s legitimate reasons to think each will have their time to shine.

Spaniard Joan Mir makes the move to the top flight after just one intermediate-class season and looks set to be on the best bike after replacing Andrea Iannone at the factory Suzuki squad, while Pecco Bagnaia’s progress at the Alma Pramac Ducati team will be watched closely on Australian shores, as last year’s Moto2 champion rides a Ducati alongside Townsville tearaway Jack Miller.

Elsewhere, a pair of new riders for ‘new’ teams will surely make their mark; Fabio Quartararo had a pre-world championship career so glittering that he was spoken of as the next Marc Marquez, and after breaking through for his maiden Moto2 win last year, joins Morbidelli in an all-new line-up for the start-up Petronas Yamaha SRT squad. Also in a ‘new’ team, of sorts; perennial Moto2 front-runner Miguel Oliveira, who’ll ride for Tech3 as the French team switches from Yamaha to KTM machinery alongside Syahrin.

You’d back Mir to be the best debutant if you were down to your last dollar, but not with any great conviction – which points to an intriguing battle within a battle on the 2019 grid.

5. 2019 has to be Miller time

No MotoGP season is a small one for any rider, but 2019 shapes as a very big one for Miller, who goes into his fifth MotoGP campaign with a lengthy to-do list to check off. Item one is to see off Bagnaia, who’ll be riding a GP18 machine while Miller gets his first taste of current-spec Ducati machinery, riding the 2019 bike that will be campaigned by factory riders Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci. Two is to stay injury-free and on the bike more often, as Miller’s four years to date have seen momentum regularly interrupted by crashes that have led to squandered points or broken bones. Item three? Impress Ducati’s top brass to the extent that he’s considered for a promotion for 2020. Miller, who turns 24 later this month, isn’t the new kid on the block anymore, and while his speed isn’t in question, a top-10 championship finish has remained elusive so far. Can things change this season? Speaking of which …

4. Ducati’s big decision

What we know about Ducati’s factory team – Dovizioso is, quite appropriately, the Italian manufacturer’s main weapon in the fight against Honda and Yamaha, and the 32-year-old comes into 2019 off back-to-back runner-up finishes in the championship and 10 wins across the past two years. But with Jorge Lorenzo’s jump to Honda (more of which later), who is the best-placed rider to ride shotgun with ‘Dovi’ long-term? Is it Petrucci, who has a one-year deal with the team and is, as he said himself, betting on himself to earn a more lucrative payday by declining an option for 2020? Is it Miller, who has a race win (Assen 2016) and a pole position (Argentina last year) to his credit while not showing Petrucci’s consistency in their season together in 2018? Is it Bagnaia, who, at 21, won a world title in the lead-up to his premier-class career, something neither Petrucci nor Miller could manage? Or is it someone else entirely?

3. Which horse does Yamaha back?

Yamaha had, by its usual lofty standards, a tough 2018, where Maverick Vinales’ win in the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island was the only victory for the team all season. Yes, Valentino Rossi (third) and Vinales (fourth) featured prominently in the standings by season’s end, but their finishing positions were earned more through consistency and stealth in a campaign where Honda took 10 wins and Ducati seven to Yamaha’s sole success. Which means Yamaha needs to catch up – but how?

The past exploits of Rossi, who turns 40 in February, means he’s a legend of the sport. Vinales, 24 this month, is a junior-class champion who represents the future. On the basis of their post-season testing comments, both riders agree the bike needs improving to match it with the likes of Honda and Ducati, but have differing opinions on how; Vinales was happy with the consistency of the new 2019 engine, while Rossi felt the bike struggled to maintain pace as tyre wear became a factor, among other things.

Which rider will the team listen to most? Can Yamaha appease both while skewing its development direction more from one rider’s feedback than the other? Can whatever direction taken vault the team back into the fight for race wins and titles, rather than sporadic visits to the podium? There’ll be a lot of eyes on the blue-hued team in 2019.

2. Is Marquez beatable?

With five titles in six MotoGP seasons to date, Marquez casts an imposing shadow over the rest of the MotoGP grid. Qualifying speed, race craft, ability in flag-to-flag races, an appetite for the fight, gravity-defying saves … the Spaniard has the lot, and a consistency that means that, even on his off-days, he’s likely to finish on the podium. Yes, he crashes (Marquez fell 23 times last year, more than any other rider), but he rarely bites the dust in races; his first DNF last season came in round 17 in Australia, the race after he’d won the title in Japan a week earlier. Can anyone topple the 25-year-old from the summit?

1. Can Lorenzo beat Marquez?

If anyone can, could Lorenzo? After all, he’s on the same bike as MotoGP’s unstoppable force, ditching Ducati after a stuttering season last year where he barely scored points in the opening batch of races, rattled off three race wins and beating Marquez in a breathtaking head-to-head fight in Austria, and then spent most of the season half of the year absent or compromised with injury after huge offs in Aragon and Thailand. Lorenzo concedes he isn’t sure if can win a fourth MotoGP title in his first year on a Honda alongside Marquez, but you know he won’t be intimidated by the enormity of the task at hand, given he’s the only other rider to lift the championship trophy in the Marquez era after he won in 2015.

Season 2019 is Lorenzo’s biggest challenge yet, and his partnership with Marquez is, by some distance, THE storyline to watch.


Who won the MotoGP teammate battles in 2018?

Who ended up as the alpha dog in all 12 MotoGP garages this year? We’ve crunched the numbers.


Some pairings of MotoGP teammates just work; each rider knows their place, they share information to make the bike better and their teams more competitive, and they operate for the greater good rather than individual glory. And some ‘teammates’ are that in name only, vying for the attention of their manufacturer, angling for a technical direction they prefer with their machinery, and doing anything they can to finish ahead of their stablemate with the same equipment.

There was evidence of both extremes in the MotoGP paddock this year (and you can come to your own conclusions as to who fits where), but while the approaches taken to tackle the season can vary, the stats (usually) show one clear outcome.

We’ve run the numbers for all 12 teams and 24 regular riders (not considering wildcards, one-offs or injury replacements) to work out who was top dog in each MotoGP garage over 18 races, and who will need to rebuild their reputations as we enter the 2019 campaign, where (remarkably) just two of the squads below will retain the same riders year-on-year.

In teams’ championship order, let’s go.

Repsol Honda Team

Dani Pedrosa spent six years as teammate to Marc Marquez at Honda’s factory squad before retiring at the end of the season, and while there were some high points (he won nine races in that time), 2018 wasn’t one of them. Marquez won his fifth world title in six seasons this year, but the size of the gap to his compatriot was bigger than ever; in the five previous years, Marquez out-scored Pedrosa by an average of 83 points a season, while this year, the gap was 204 points and 10 spots in the riders’ standings. Few pairings were more one-sided than this high-profile duo.

Qualifying H2H: Marquez 17, Pedrosa 2
Race H2H (both finished): Marquez 12, Pedrosa 0
Best result: Marquez 1st (nine times), Pedrosa 5th (four times)
Points: Marquez 321 (1st), Pedrosa 117 (11th)
Podiums: Marquez 14, Pedrosa 0
Avg. grid position: Marquez 3rd, Pedrosa 10th
Avg. race finish: Marquez 3rd, Pedrosa 7th

Ducati Team

Remember we said the numbers don’t always tell the story? Context is everything when trying to separate Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo at Ducati, the Spaniard’s final season in red before heading to Honda as Pedrosa’s replacement. Lorenzo’s two years alongside Dovizioso were tricky to manage, and the stats are just as hard to analyse. Lorenzo’s high points were arguably higher, but from the mid-point of the season, where he was either injured, compromised or absent altogether, meaningful comparisons between the two are impossible. It’s only fitting that a complicated fit between these two comes with a set of numbers that could be read both ways. Neither of them would be wrong.

Qualifying H2H: Lorenzo 8, Dovizioso 7
Race H2H (both finished): Dovizioso 6, Lorenzo 3
Best result: Dovizioso 1st (four times), Lorenzo 1st (three times)
Points: Dovizioso 245 (2nd), Lorenzo 134 (9th)
Podiums: Dovizioso 9, Lorenzo 4
Avg grid position: Dovizioso 4th, Lorenzo 6th
Avg. race finish: Dovizioso 4th, Lorenzo 6th

Movistar Yamaha MotoGP

Speaking of complicated … how do you split Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales? Rossi finished higher in the standings, but Vinales took Yamaha’s only win for the year in a disappointing season. Vinales had the one-lap advantage, but Rossi had unerring consistency. Both had the same number of podiums. Rossi seemingly always moved forwards in races, Vinales had to fight back after routinely dropping back in the early laps. At gunpoint, you’d say Rossi … just.

Qualifying H2H: Vinales 12, Rossi 7
Races H2H (both finished): Rossi 9, Vinales 7
Best result: Vinales 1st, Rossi 2nd
Points: Rossi 198 (3rd), Vinales 193 (4th)
Podiums: Rossi 5, Vinales 5
Avg. grid position: Vinales 7th, Rossi 8th
Avg. race finish: Vinales 6th, Rossi 7th

Team Suzuki Ecstar

If races were held over one lap, this head-to-head belongs to Andrea Iannone, and it wouldn’t be close. At the mid-point of the season, the Italian held sway at Suzuki, even against the backdrop of his departure to Aprilia for 2019. But Alex Rins finished the season with a rush, ending it with three podiums in the final four Grands Prix. Rins still falls off too much – five non-finishes were as many as Rossi, Marquez and Dovizioso combined – but the Spaniard’s Sunday scorecard against Iannone says plenty.

Qualifying H2H: Iannone 13, Rins 6
Race H2H (both finished): Rins 5, Iannone 4
Best result: Rins 2nd (three times), Iannone 2nd
Points: Rins 169 (5th), Iannone 133 (10th)
Podiums: Rins 5, Iannone 4
Avg. grid position: Iannone 7th, Rins 9th
Avg. race finish: Rins 5th, Iannone 8th

Alma Pramac Racing

Jack Miller himself will tell you he should have scored more points this season, with several strong qualifying showings in the back-half of the year going to waste with early-race crashes on Sundays. Danilo Petrucci scored more points, had a better best race result and started closer to the front on average than his Australian teammate, but how much of that was down to the rider and not what the riders rode, given Miller was on a 2017-spec Ducati while Petrucci rode a full factory ’18 bike for 18 races? Miller’s stronger second half narrowed the gap, but not by enough.

Qualifying H2H: Petrucci 14, Miller 5
Race H2H (both finished): Petrucci 9, Miller 4
Best result: Petrucci 2nd, Miller 4th (twice)
Points: Petrucci 144 (8th), Miller 91 (13th)
Podiums: Petrucci 1, Miller 0
Avg. grid position: Petrucci 7th, Miller 10th
Avg. race finish: Petrucci 8th, Miller 10th

Monster Yamaha Tech 3

This wasn’t supposed to be close, and wasn’t – Johann Zarco came into 2018 as one of the sport’s rising stars and delivered on that promise in the early part of the season, while Hafizh Syahrin was a rookie who came in late after 2017 Tech 3 rider Jonas Folger had to withdraw with illness. Zarco’s reputation as a demon qualifier produced an enormous gap between two riders at very different stages of their careers; the Malaysian was one of three riders never to beat their teammate on a Saturday, and one of four not to finish ahead of the rider on the other side of their garage on race day.

Qualifying H2H: Zarco 19, Syahrin 0
Race H2H (both finished): Zarco 14, Syahrin 0
Best result: Zarco 2nd (twice), Syahrin 9th
Points: Zarco 158 (6th), Syahrin 46 (16th)
Podiums: Zarco 3, Syahrin 0
Avg. grid position: Zarco 6th, Syahrin 18th
Avg. race finish: Zarco 7th, Syahrin 13th

LCR Honda

This pairing will go around again in 2019 (as will Rossi and Vinales at the factory Yamaha squad), and while the numbers predictably have Cal Crutchlow well ahead of Takaaki Nakagami, there’s reasons to be optimistic for both. Crutchlow would have been on for a second top-five championship finish were it not for injury on his factory 2018 RC213V, while satellite bike-riding rookie Nakagami saved his best to last with a sixth-place finish in the Valencia finale, and then led the timesheets on the final day of testing for the season at Jerez. With good respect between the two, this is as close to an ideal pairing at a satellite squad as you can get.

Qualifying H2H: Crutchlow 16, Nakagami 0
Race H2H (both finished): Crutchlow 10, Nakagami 1
Best result: Crutchlow 1st, Nakagami 6th
Points: Crutchlow 148 (7th), Nakagami 33 (20th)
Podiums: Crutchlow 1, Nakagami 0
Avg. grid position: Crutchlow 6th, Nakagami 16th
Avg. race finish: Crutchlow 6th, Nakagami 15th

Angel Nieto Team

Karel Abraham never beat teammate Alvaro Bautista in a race where both riders finished. Abraham never managed a top-10 result all season; Bautista had 11 of them, including a season-best fourth filling in for the absent Lorenzo at Ducati’s factory outfit in Australia. Abraham will still be on the grid, albeit at the lowly Reale Avintia Ducati team, in 2019, while Bautista found all avenues closed for him and jumped to World Superbikes after his best season for five years. Funding, as ever from the middle of the grid backwards, can prolong a career, or curtail one in an instant.

Qualifying H2H: Bautista 13, Abraham 5
Race H2H (both finished): Bautista 9, Abraham 0
Best result: Bautista 5th* (twice), Abraham 11th
Points: Bautista 92 (12th), Abraham 12 (23rd)
Avg. grid position: Bautista 15th, Abraham 20th
Avg. race finish: Bautista 9th, Abraham 17th
(* Note: Bautista finished fourth riding Lorenzo’s bike in Australia)

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro spent more than 2018 as teammates; the former Moto2 rivals were together at Tech 3 Yamaha from Espargaro’s rookie premier-class season in 2014, where Smith was already entrenched, and moved together to KTM for the Austrian manufacturer’s debut MotoGP season in 2017. It took until the last race of their five years together for either (Espargaro) to make the podium (third in Valencia), and while both struggled with injury this year, the Spaniard’s top-three finish specifically and his Sunday ascendancy generally gives him the nod.

Qualifying H2H: Espargaro 8, Smith 8
Race H2H (both finished): Espargaro 6, Smith 2
Best result: Espargaro 3rd, Smith 8th
Points: Espargaro 51 (14th), Smith 38 (18th)
Podiums: Espargaro 1, Smith 0
Avg. grid position: Espargaro 17th, Smith 17th
Avg. race finish: Espargaro 10th, Smith 14th

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini

Don’t let the finishing positions of Aleix Espargaro (17th in the standings) and Scott Redding (21st) fool you into thinking the battle at Aprilia was tight this year. The Spaniard had double the DNF’s of his British teammate (six to three) but still scored more than twice the number of points, one-quarter of Redding’s tally coming in the final rain-affected race in Valencia. Summing up Redding’s final MotoGP season; the only GP where he out-qualified Espargaro was his home race at Silverstone … the race that never happened after rain caused its cancellation.

Qualifying H2H: Espargaro 18, Redding 1
Race H2H (both finished): Espargaro 9, Redding 0
Best result: Espargaro 6th, Redding 11th
Points: Espargaro 44 (17th), Redding 20 (21st)
Avg. grid position: Espargaro 15th, Redding 21st
Avg. race finish: Espargaro 12th, Redding 16th

EG 0,0 Marc VDS

Both Franco Morbidelli and Thomas Luthi came into 2018 as MotoGP rookies, but that’s where the comparisons end. Morbidelli, the 2017 Moto2 champion, adapted well to the bigger bikes and scored 50 points to be named rookie of the year. Luthi, beaten by his 2018 MotoGP teammate to the 2017 intermediate-class crown, was the only full-time rider not to score a point this year, although he couldn’t have come much closer given his best results (note: plural).

Qualifying H2H: Morbidelli 15, Luthi 2
Race H2H (both finished): Morbidelli 12, Luthi 1
Best result: Morbidelli 8th, Luthi 16th (five times)
Points: Morbidelli 50 (15th), Luthi 0 (29th)
Avg. grid position: Morbidelli 16th, Luthi 20th
Avg. race finish: Morbidelli 13th, Luthi 18th

Reale Avintia Racing

The Ducati satellite squad fell from 10th in the teams’ standings at the halfway stage of 2018 to last at year’s end, which has everything to do with Tito Rabat’s season ending after 11 races when the Spaniard was hit by Morbidelli’s crashed Honda in British GP qualifying and suffered a horrendous triple fracture to his right leg. Teammate Xavier Simeon was nowhere near Rabat’s pace when they lined up together (although, in reality, far apart) on the grid, but at least the Belgian didn’t suffer Luthi’s fate, scoring his sole point for the season by coming 15th in Australia.

Qualifying head-to-head: Rabat 11, Simeon 0
Races head-to-head: Rabat 6, Simeon 0
Best result: Rabat 7th, Simeon 15th
Points: Rabat 35 (19th), Simeon 1 (27th)
Average grid position: Rabat 12th, Simeon 21st
Average race finish: Rabat 12th, Simeon 18th

MotoGP 2018: Who was best in class?

Who shone and who stumbled? Who exceeded expectations or underwhelmed? It’s time for our top 10 riders of the MotoGP season.


Change, the saying goes, is as good as a holiday – but why should you have to choose one or the other? While the MotoGP riders and teams take a well-earned off-season holiday after a packed 19-round schedule for 2018, we’re going to change how we rank their seasons here at Last year in this space, we ran the rule over the grid to come up with our top five riders of 2017. This year, at the halfway mark (or as close to as we could), we donned our school headmaster’s hat and handed out the mid-term grades. This time? Something different again.

A cast of 24 riders (in their ‘school’ photo above; nice hat, Jack …) began the 2018 season under lights at Losail in Qatar, and by season’s end in Valencia (counting wildcards and injury replacements), 33 riders appeared on the entry list and 32 of them raced (Loris Baz, drafted in as an injury replacement for Pol Espargaro at the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing outfit for Silverstone, never got the chance to race after that GP was washed out). But, with respect to 23 others, we’re whittling things down to a top 10 for the season that wrapped up earlier this month.

In conquering the tough task to come up with a top 10, we considered the expectations for each rider before and during the season, the competitiveness of the equipment they were riding, how they performed relative to their teammates or riders on the same machinery at other teams, and (of course) the points standings.

Three who didn’t make the cut: Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, who, in his final year of a glittering top-flight career, couldn’t finish on the podium once where teammate Marc Marquez was the world champion, and ended 18 races 204 points behind his compatriot on the same bike.

Aussie Jack Miller, who had searing qualifying speed at times (five top-six starts and a brilliant pole in Argentina), but finished 13th overall after several costly crashes he admitted cost him “probably 40 points” in races, also misses. As does his Alma Pramac Ducati teammate Danilo Petrucci, who was the toughest omission; eighth in the championship for a second year running, Petrucci’s podium tally dwindled (four in 2017, just one this season), and riders who finished behind the Italian had higher high points.

From 10 to 1, let’s count them down – the best riders in MotoGP in 2018, and why.

10. Alvaro Bautista

2018 summary
12th in world championship (105 points), best result 4th (Australia), 15 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Bautista’s qualifying efforts were fairly blah – he made Q2 just seven times all season – but the Spanish veteran knew that points were paid on Sundays, and he mostly delivered on race days relative to riders on the same-spec GP17 Ducati; he finished 14 points and one place ahead of Miller, for example. A ride deputising for the injured Jorge Lorenzo at the factory Ducati team in Australia was a reward for effort, and Bautista took his best result for the season at Phillip Island on a bike he barely knew, a strong way to sign off on a nine-year MotoGP stint before heading to World Superbikes.

9. Andrea Iannone

2018 summary
10th in world championship (133 points), best result 2nd (Australia), 4 podiums, 14 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Like your riders to be more mercurial than metronomic? Iannone’s your man; the combative Italian is just as likely to qualify nowhere as he is to pull off a spectacular result like Australia, where he finished second. Ahead of Suzuki teammate Alex Rins at the mid-point of the season, Iannone finished 36 points behind the Spaniard by year’s end, and Rins finished one fewer race. Next year is likely to be tougher for Iannone as he heads to Aprilia, his third manufacturer in seven MotoGP seasons.

8. Johann Zarco

2018 summary
6th in world championship (158 points), best result 2nd (Argentina, Spain), 2 poles, 3 podiums, 16 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
If this list was being compiled on the Saturday of the French GP weekend, where he sent Le Mans into delirium after qualifying on pole, we might have had Zarco in the top three; in the opening five races, the Yamaha rider had two poles, a pair of podiums and 58 points to be the standout satellite rider in the championship. After that? Crashing from his home race seemed to knock the wind out of the Frenchman, and he managed just 100 more points and a single podium (Malaysia) the rest of the way, only winning the independent team rider title because Honda’s Cal Crutchlow missed the final three races with injury.

7. Cal Crutchlow

2018 summary
7th in world championship (148 points), 1 win (Argentina), 1 pole, 3 podiums, 12 finishes in 15 races.

The verdict
We agree with the final standings here for Crutchlow, the combative Briton who likely would have enjoyed a top-five championship finish for the second time in his career had he not crashed and smashed his right tibia and ankle in a high-speed off in practice at Phillip Island in October. The Honda rider missed the final three races of the year, but was ever-present when he was onboard, making Q2 in every race bar France, finishing in the top 10 in all but one of the races when he saw the chequered flag (USA), and winning the chaotic GP in Argentina, keeping his head when plenty who should have known better lost theirs. Just five riders won races in 2018, and he was one of them.

6. Alex Rins

2018 summary
5th in world championship (169 points), best result 2nd (Netherlands, Malaysia, Valencia), 5 podiums, 1 fastest lap, 13 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
In our mid-season review, we hinted that there was nothing wrong with Rins’ speed; he just rarely stayed on his Suzuki long enough to show it, crashing out five times in the first nine races. From there on, the Spaniard was close to faultless, given what he was riding and who (Iannone) was on the other side the garage. Nine races, eight top-10 finishes and a pair of second places to round out the year in Malaysia and Valencia could arguably have him higher on this list, but those non-finishes and his qualifying speed (he beat Iannone on Saturday only six times in 19 attempts) have to be taken into account. It would surprise nobody if Rins wins a race, and soon, in 2019.

5. Valentino Rossi

2018 summary
3rd in world championship (198 points), best result 2nd (Germany), 1 pole, 5 podiums, 18 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Leaving a living legend in fifth place when he finished third overall? Hard to do, but easier to explain. It was Rossi’s first winless season since the dark Ducati days of 2011-12, and – remarkably – his first winless season ever on a Yamaha in 13 campaigns across two stints. That – and crashing out of the lead when a win looked in the bag in Malaysia – was the bad, but ‘The Doctor’ was the only rider to finish all 18 races, and his pole position at Mugello prompted the kind of spontaneous spectator joy only one rider at one Grand Prix could muster.

4. Maverick Vinales

2018 summary
4th in world championship (193 points), 1 win (Australia), 1 pole, 2 fastest laps, 5 podiums, 16 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Vinales fourth and Rossi fifth? Shouldn’t these places be swapped? Yes and perhaps; the Spaniard gets extra marks for snapping Yamaha’s historically barren run with an emotional victory in Australia, and having Rossi’s measure in qualifying more often than not. Too often, Vinales would squander those strong Saturdays with poor starts on Sundays as he struggled for grip with a full fuel load, and the vast majority of his top-10 results came from fighting rearguard missions where he came on strong the longer the races went. Watching what direction Yamaha takes with its bike for 2019 for two riders who typically want different things from their machinery will be, again, an intriguing subplot given the age and stage of their respective careers; Rossi turns 40 next February, a month after Vinales celebrates his 24th birthday.

3. Jorge Lorenzo

2018 summary
9th in world championship (134 points), 3 wins (Italy, Catalunya, Austria), 4 poles, 2 fastest laps, 4 podiums, 11 finishes in 14 races.

The verdict
Reading a graph of Lorenzo’s results in 2018 should come with a health warning; you could put your neck out coping with the peaks and troughs of the Spaniard’s results over 14 races. It was a year of extremes for the three-time world champion; he managed just 16 points in five miserable races to start the season to sit 14th in the championship after Le Mans, and then won three of the next six races, running rings around the rest of the field in Italy before staring down and beating Marquez in a straight fight at the Red Bull Ring. Forty points behind Ducati teammate Dovizioso in the standings after France, he was ahead following Austria … and then scored just four points across the final eight races of the season, missing four of them altogether after a brutal practice crash in Thailand left him with right ankle and left wrist injuries. Joining Honda as Marquez’s new teammate couldn’t be more difficult than 2018 was … could it?

2. Andrea Dovizioso

2018 summary
2nd in world championship (245 points), 4 wins (Qatar, Czech Republic, San Marino, Valencia), 2 poles, 5 fastest laps, 9 podiums, 15 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Dovizioso was the runner-up last year too, but this time, the gap between the Ducati man and world champion Marquez was seismic, peaking at 102 points when Marquez won the title in Japan with three races remaining. Dovizioso crashing out of contention at Motegi on the second-last lap when locked in a one-to-one fight with Marquez sums up the past two years in MotoGP; the Italian is the only rider who has been able to consistently go with the Spaniard, but even that has its limits. Four victories and 245 points were two and 16 fewer than 2017 in those respective categories, while three DNFs and that crash in Japan (where he remounted and finished a crestfallen 18th) were most unlike a rider whom, until the past two years, was known more for his consistency and late braking than his speed.

1. Marc Marquez

2018 summary
World champion (321 points), 9 wins (USA, Spain, France, Netherlands, Germany, Aragon, Thailand, Japan, Malaysia), 7 poles, 7 fastest laps, 14 podiums, 16 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
It could hardly be anyone else, could it? (Virtual) forests have been felled in the reporting of Marquez’s fifth title in his six premier-class seasons to date, so we’ll hit you with three numbers of note. One, he didn’t fail to finish a race until Australia, after he’d secured the title. Two, he had as many podiums as second (Dovizioso) and third (Rossi) in the standings combined. And lastly, no MotoGP rider crashed more than Marquez (23 falls in 2018, not to mention the seemingly weekly saves that defied logic and gravity, Catalunya the best of them). It’s a proven formula; spend Friday and Saturday finding the limit, occasionally step over it, and then dance as close as you dare to that line on Sundays without crossing it. The numbers – and the optics of how Marquez achieves them – suggests that it’s working.

Miller Time: There’s no reward without risk

Jack Miller writes about a Malaysian GP tyre gamble that could have been a masterstroke, but instead produced a familiar result at a scorching Sepang.


Hi everyone,

It’s hard to know how to feel about my Malaysian GP, other than pretty bloody hot. I’m flying back to Europe in a couple of hours, so I’d better get a shower in first … But that’s now three years in a row that I’ve been eighth here, so you look for small victories. In 2016 and ’17, I was more than half a minute behind the winner; this time, it was 19 seconds. So, progress to some extent, but it’s hard not to feel a bit flat after being less than seven seconds from the front at Phillip Island last weekend.

It’d be hard to find two more different places than Phillip Island and Sepang, and that’s not just because of the conditions – the big jacket and beanie that I had last week at the Island never left the hotel here. It’s just a very different race track, a bit of fast and flowing stuff but mostly straights and heavy braking, at least at the start and the end of the lap. That’s normally a good sign for the Ducati and I was looking forward to the race as ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso) had won the last two times at Sepang, including last year on the bike I’m riding at the moment. But it just never happened on Sunday.

All through the weekend I felt good, I was up there on the timesheets and made it into Q2 in third on the practice times, so I knew we had decent pace. Qualifying was a bit compromised because the rain delayed us for ages, and it was OK except for that I was a bit annoyed with the second row of the grid, I thought I had the pace for the top three but missed it by about two-tenths.

For the race, you have to get 20 laps right here and not just one, so we went for the medium-compound rear tyre, and I was the only one of us on the entire grid to race it, everyone else used the soft. We had a warm-up session on Sunday on a damp track still, so we didn’t do any laps on slicks on Sunday before the race. It was a bit of an educated guess for all of us with tyre choice, and mine didn’t work. I wanted to do something different because it was the hottest it had been all week, the track temps were up around 54 degrees before the race.

I got a good start again, up to third at the first corner and was able to run some good laps early, but I had to spin the tyre too much too early to stay with the front guys, and the tyre actually spun on the rim and it went out of balance, so I had this mad vibration for half the race. It got worse as the race went on. I had a big save at the last corner on one lap, I wore right through my leathers on my arm, not even the elbow slider, so it was a lucky save, for sure.

When you’re racing the factory guys, doing the same as them with tyres means you’re going to probably finish behind them because of the equipment they have. It’d become a game of follow the leader where you know where you’ll finish, more or less. If the medium tyre had have paid off for me today, it would have looked like a masterstroke. You have to try to do something different to come up with a different outcome. I’m not under any pressure from behind in the championship, there’s nothing to lose, so I thought I’d give the medium a go.

The only place I gained in the last 10 laps was when Vale (Valentino Rossi) crashed out from the lead near the end, which was a bit a surprise. So, the margin to Marc (Marquez, the race-winner) was better than the last few years, but I wasn’t really that happy with how it went.

We raced two hours earlier than we were supposed to after the start got brought forward because of qualifying being delayed for so long on Saturday, and it was the right decision because of the way it rains here. I don’t mind the conditions when it’s a bit mixed as you all know, but there’s not really such a thing in Malaysia as anyone who has been here knows, the rain comes down at a pretty crazy rate when it comes down. It goes from completely dry to unrideable in about two minutes. You can almost set your watch that it’ll rain in the middle of the afternoon here, so running the race earlier was the right way, it’s always been the right way. Maybe the Silverstone situation this year when we couldn’t race was a factor, you wouldn’t want to have too many delayed or cancelled races in one season. We got away with it fine and dry, so it was the right call.

It’s been a pretty massive three weeks with races each weekend, a lot of travel and of course my home GP, so I’m looking forward to getting back to Europe for Valencia in a couple of weeks, get some rest and then try to crack 100 points; if I can finish seventh or better (which is where I finished last year at that race), I’m there. And then I get to try my new Ducati for next season, the GP19, for the first time in the two-day test afterwards, which I’m really looking forward to. I’ll speak to you after that.

Cheers, Jack

Different, but same: Miller secures seventh at home


Different year, different approach, same result; that was Jack Miller’s assessment of his seventh-place finish in Sunday’s Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, which came 12 months after he finished in the same position at Phillip Island after dramatically leading for the opening four laps of the race.

Starting from sixth on the grid on Sunday, Miller made his customary jack-rabbit getaway when the lights went out to start the 27-lap race, storming past world champion Marc Marquez (Honda) into turn four on the opening lap to take the lead. Mindful of how his race pace faded after trying to break away from the front early last year, the Australian elected to pace himself on his Ducati, looking to preserve the life of his tyres for a late-race charge towards the podium. But it was a charge that never came.

Miller dropped back to fourth on the second lap of the race, prepared to bide his time in a front-running freight train of 2018-spec Honda, Yamaha and Ducati machines as he punched above his weight on his year-old bike. It was a planned strategy after “spinning the tyre off its head” a year ago, but he finished five seconds from the podium finishers and 6.7secs adrift of Spain’s Maverick Vinales, who broke Yamaha’s 25-race winless streak with his maiden Phillip Island victory.

“I didn’t lead as long as last year, but that was planned,” Miller said.

“I didn’t expect to be leading that early, but the opportunity arose and I put myself there, but really I was trying to save the tyre. For the first three-quarters of the race, the bike was really slow off the corners, and I was actually happy with that. I had a really dull (engine) map, the softest map known to man, and tried to preserve the tyre as much as I could. But it wasn’t enough, and I didn’t have anything to push with in the last laps.”

Miller looked set to pounce in the closing stages as Alex Rins (Suzuki) battled with Vinales’ teammate Valentino Rossi for fifth place, but ran out of laps to achieve his best premier-class finish at his home race.

“To have Rossi and Rins, the factory Yamaha and the factory Suzuki, right in front of me, that’s a good result,” he said.

“I expected a little bit more. It’s still seventh position like last year, so I’m not too happy, but on a bike that wasn’t in the top 10 here last year, I’ll take it.”

Miller was a constant presence near the sharp end of the timesheets throughout the Phillip Island weekend at a track where Ducati traditionally struggles. Andrea Dovizioso’s third place on Sunday was just the second rostrum result for the Italian manufacturer in Australia since Casey Stoner won his home Grand Prix four times in succession from 2007-10, leaving Miller in an optimistic frame of mind before next Sunday’s penultimate race of the season at Sepang in Malaysia, which features two lengthy straights and numerous hard braking zones that play more to his bike’s strengths than the swoops and sweeps of Phillip Island.

“It’s nice to get back into the top 10 after my crash in Japan, which was my fault,” Miller said.

“It’s some momentum to take to Malaysia, a track where we’ve been in testing. I’m looking forward to comparing where we were in testing to now on the Ducati, because I think we’ve made a lot of progress.”

Top gun: Vinales ends Yamaha’s lengthy drought


It took Maverick Vinales four attempts to win the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, but the Spaniard has finally become Phillip Island’s top gun – and snapped Yamaha’s most barren run in the MotoGP world championship in the process.

The 23-year-old Vinales, teammate to seven-time premier class world champion Valentino Rossi, has endured a difficult season at Yamaha’s signature squad, both riders unable to cope with the metronomic speed and consistency of Honda’s Marc Marquez, who annexed his fifth MotoGP title in last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix. But with Marquez out of the picture after an early incident in Sunday’s 27-lap race, it was time for his fellow Spaniard to shine.

Vinales took Yamaha’s first race win for 25 Grands Prix when he passed the chequered flag 1.543 seconds ahead of pre-race favourite Andrea Iannone (Suzuki), while Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso rounded out the podium in third.

Australia’s Jack Miller matched his Phillip Island-best result of last year with another seventh place after dramatically taking the lead on the opening lap, the 23-year-old Ducati rider finishing 6.7secs behind Vinales.

Vinales, who won three of the first five races of last year before fading in the championship as Yamaha struggled to cope with Dovizioso’s surging Ducati and Marquez’s brilliance, was overcome with emotion after his fifth MotoGP victory, and his third podium in succession at Phillip Island after back-to-back third-place finishes in 2016 and 2017.

“When I crossed the line, there were tears on my face,” he said.

“It feels amazing. It has been such a difficult year for me, I could not realise that I win. The bike was perfect today, and I just pushed my best.

“Winning in Australia, a place I love to be …. I don’t know tonight if I will catch my flight.”

Marquez, starting from pole for the fifth straight year in Australia, was demoted to second by Miller at turn four on the opening lap of the race, the Australian scything through under brakes to repeat his early surge at the Island a year ago, when he led for the first four laps.

The Spaniard regrouped and looked to have the race pace to add to his victories in Australia in 2015 and 2017 before a terrifying crash with Yamaha rider Johann Zarco on lap six, the Frenchman misjudging his braking point into the fearsome 270km/h Doohan Corner, clattering into the back of Marquez’s Honda at over 280km/h.

Zarco skittled through the gravel trap after being pitched from his bike, which broke the seat and suspension on Marquez’s machine and forced the world champion into the pits and an early retirement.

The non-finish continued Marquez’s hot-cold relationship with Australia, where he’s never finished the race the week after he’s been crowned champion in Japan a week earlier. He crashed out of the lead at Phillip Island in 2014 and 2016, and while Sunday’s non-finish wasn’t of his own doing, he was counting his lucky stars that both he and Zarco escaped with little more than bruised pride.

“It was one more time in Phillip Island with zero points, but this time it was not my mistake,” Marquez said.

“I feel very lucky … it was a racing incident. The most important thing is that both riders are OK.”

Vinales, who had a slow start from second on the grid and dropped to 10th on lap one, gradually clawed his way back into contention, and passed Dovizioso for the lead on lap seven and quickly broke away, his lead peaking at four seconds with five laps remaining.

Iannone, who Marquez felt was the pre-race favourite after showing fearsome long-run pace in the four practice sessions across Friday and Saturday, briefly threatened late, but Vinales steadied to banish Yamaha’s historically barren run.

Miller Time: Nearly, but not quite

Jack Miller writes about his second successive seventh place at his home GP, and a Phillip Island weekend that was close to being much more memorable.


Hi everyone,

Same result after a different approach this time … to be honest, not the way I was hoping my home GP at Phillip Island would work out. I was patient, didn’t overcook the tyres like last year, but I ran out of grip again. So, still seventh position. I’m not too happy, but on a bike that wasn’t in the top 10 here last year, I’ll take it.

I didn’t expect to be leading as early as I did when I passed Marc (Marquez) on the first lap, but the opportunity arose, so I put myself there. I was really just trying to save the tyre. For the first three-quarters of the race, the bike was really slow off the corners, and I was actually happy with that. I had a really dull (engine) map and tried to preserve the tyre as much as I could, but it wasn’t enough. I was on the softest map known to man, I think. So, happy enough with the result, but especially because of how conservative I was in the early laps, I expected a little bit more. But it was still a good weekend for me.

There’s nothing like racing at home for me. OK, there’s a lot of commitments and people pulling you this way and that way, but I remember what it was like when I was struggling to make a name for myself, the early 125cc days and when things weren’t going all that well when you were happy that some people even knew who you were … This is so much better. Some people get distracted by the crowds and family being here, the media and all of that, but I’m fine with it. Yes, it adds some pressure but I put plenty of pressure on myself each weekend anyway, so it’s not that much of a change. It’s mostly positive energy so I’ll take it. I always just hope that people have a good time and that the weather doesn’t ruin it for the fans, which is always a massive factor down here. The crowds were big this year too, I was told more than any year since Casey (Stoner) had his last race here in 2012, so that was awesome to see.

I’ve had good results at the Island in the past of course, and last year when I led the first four laps (and to be honest, had no idea how to play the race once I got up the front) was one of the best moments of my career. It’s such an awesome circuit and it can be a challenge with the wind and whatnot, but that’s the same for all us riders. I just feel comfortable here and it’s such a challenge that you’re locked in for every lap.

I was right up there from the first practice, although some of you would have seen my old mate Cal (Crutchlow) wasn’t all that happy with me after FP1 when I was second by about three-hundredths of a second to Maverick (Vinales). He and I were at a barbeque on Thursday night before the race and he decided he was putting a bet on me to lead FP1, I think I was paying $26 or something … I’d have been annoyed too!

It sucked for Cal to have his accident on Friday where he fractured his ankle, and it sounds like he might be in Melbourne for a while recovering as he has some more treatment to come after his surgery. Hs wife Lucy is down here now too. Cal and I are good mates as everyone knows so it was a shame he wasn’t racing on Sunday with us, and he’s handy around the Island as well. Cal being Cal, he was on the phone Saturday morning giving me tips on how I could race with the guys up the front … As soon as he stopped being the opposition, he was on my side. He seems to be in good spirits and you know him, he’ll do everything he can to get back on the bike as soon as possible. Whether that’s this year … it’s hard to say. There’s a lot of healing he needs to do first.

I went into the race still thinking a podium was achievable after qualifying … another second-row start here, but that qualifying was a scary one when it started spitting with rain just as it started. I’m not going to lie, it was heart-in-mouth stuff. There was a lot of mist, more mist than rain, sticking to your visor, so you didn’t really know how wet it was which is actually worse than it being full wet. At least you know what to expect when it’s properly wet. You were going into the darkness, you just didn’t know. So to bring it home in sixth position, with how the conditions were, I was happy to be in one piece. My elbow got a bit of a workout keeping me upright once or twice …

The other thing about this weekend? Who I rode for. I was a bit flat on Sunday after the Japan race when I arrived at the Island because I still thinking about a chance to ride something different that didn’t quite happen. When we were in Japan, Jorge (Lorenzo) pulled out with injury and was ruled out for the Island as well, so it looked like I may have an opportunity to have a ride of the factory bike alongside ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso) at my home GP. Before the race at Motegi, that was the plan we’d decided on with Ducati. But then it all went pear-shaped on Sunday in Japan for me; I crashed out of the race, and when ‘Dovi’ fell off and didn’t score any points, Ducati were more keen to me to stay on my usual bike for Australia so we could try to keep the lead in the independent teams’ championship with Alma Pramac Racing, because the manufacturers’ championship for Ducati was more or less out of reach after no points in Japan.

They put (Alvaro) Bautista on Jorge’s bike for the Island instead, so it probably wasn’t much of a surprise that I was a bit disappointed after Motegi when the plans changed and I’d ended up on my bum in the gravel and stuffed my own race. I got over it quickly enough, but you had to wonder what it would have been like. Aussies on red factory Ducatis tend to go alright at Phillip Island, don’t they …

Anyway, there’s no point looking backwards. It’s onwards and upwards, looking forward to getting my hands on the factory bike starting at Valencia in the last test of the year. But first comes Malaysia and next weekend. I’ll speak to you from there.

Cheers, Jack