The final installment of this year’s diatribe should, one thinks, start with an examination of the season preview from back in February. Heading into Qatar, the conventional thinking was that Maverick Viñales, newly and firmly ensconced on the factory Yamaha, the best bike on earth of late, would challenge triple world champion Marc Marquez and his Repsol Honda – you remember, the one with the acceleration issues – for the world championship.

It didn’t work out that way, as the fight ended up being between Marquez and journeyman Ducati #2 (behind the newly signed Jorge Lorenzo), Andrea Dovizioso, with Marquez, as expected, taking home the hardware and Dovi displacing Lorenzo on the #1 Ducati, at a fraction of the price.

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While many expected Marc Marquez to challenge for the championship, few expected Andrea Dovizioso to become his chief protagonist this season.

Here are some pertinent snippets from the season preview eight months ago:

“The Big Three factory teams of Yamaha, Honda and Ducati will dominate much of the action, as they are home to the Aliens, those riders whose balance and instincts are a step above the rest of the field – Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and new Alien on the block, Maverick Viñales.”

We ended the season in virtually complete agreement that in 2017, Marquez is the only true Alien, with Rossi, Dovizioso, and Viñales chasing, Dani Pedrosa and Lorenzo hanging onto relevance by their fingernails. We discovered that the 2017 Yamaha M1 was sometimes inferior to the 2016 model, as the Tech 3 team of Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger pressed the factory boys all year, especially in the rain. Viñales disappointed many, especially given his sensational start to the season.

Recall, after Le Mans, the top seven looked like this:

  1. Maverick Viñales 85
  2. Dani Pedrosa 68
  3. Valentino Rossi 62
  4. Marc Marquez 58
  5. Johann Zarco 55
  6. Andrea Dovizioso 54
  7. Cal Crutchlow 40

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Before the season began, many were ready to put Maverick Viñales ahead of Marc Marquez. Looking back now, it seems odd that Marquez would ever be underestimated.

Viñales was clear of the field by 17 points with three wins in the first five rounds. Had it not been for a regrettable crash out of the points at Austin, his lead would have been even greater. Marquez had crashed out at Argentina and again at Le Mans, looking somewhat ragged early in the season. During the spring of 2017, it appeared the fans jocking Viñales might be right, that Marquez’s reign, like a 4th of July sparkler, would be retina-spotting bright and all too brief.

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Much was expected of Jorge Lorenzo when he signed with Ducati. Despite scoring three podium results, Lorenzo placed seventh overall for his lowest finish since 2003, his second season in the 125cc GP class.

Let’s just be done with the castigation thing as regards Jorge Lorenzo. Despite owning three premier class titles, he has a host of problems. He’s a narcissist, which means few people would be inclined to come to his rescue if, say, he found himself sitting in 18th place after two rounds, his season in tatters, his employers paying Triple World Champion salary prices and having gone public with their over-inflated expectations for 2017. If Lorenzo was on fire in the middle of the street, Valentino Rossi wouldn’t stop to piss on him. Lorenzo stood there, smirking, and watched Rossi suffer for two years on the Ducati, then went and did the exact same thing for the same reasons, money, and ego. I had expected him to be in the top five most rounds, which was not the case.

We’ll talk about Rossi later.

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Like Valentino Rossi did in 2011, Jorge Lorenzo finished seventh after switching from Yamaha to Ducati. The similarities run even deeper: before the switch, Lorenzo won the MotoGP championship in 2015 and finished third in 2016; in the two years before Rossi made the change, the Doctor also finished first and third.

“Keeping them honest will be the likes of Lorenzo’s teammate and wingman Andrea Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda, and Andrea Iannone on the factory Suzuki. Alex Rins, on the second factory Suzuki, and Johann Zarco on a Tech 3 satellite Yamaha are the Moto2 grads most likely to podium this year, with Rins looking, to me anyway, like the rookie of the year for 2017. Another Alien in the making.”

So we had Dovizioso ranked ahead of Lorenzo, about whom we had serious doubts heading into the season. We missed on Cal Crutchlow, who had a forgettable year after a solid 2016 but will happily show you pictures of his daughter. We missed on Andrea Iannone, Alex Rins and the whole Suzuki project, which we expected to take another step forward and which, instead, went the other way, moonwalking for the first half of the season. Rins got hurt, missed a bunch of races, but came back looking stronger at the end of the season than he had early. Iannone waited until the last few rounds to awaken from his season-long stupor and do some racing.

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We expected more of Andrea Iannone and the Suzuki team this season. His teammate Alex Rins impressed when he was healthy, but Iannone looked little like the rider that finished fifth overall just two years ago.

Rookie of the Year Johann Zarco stole the show in 2017, coming up from Moto2 with a trophy in each hand – the only rider ever to do so – and immediately taking to the 2016 M1 for the Monster Tech 3 team. The early part of his season was extraordinary, capped by a front-row start and podium in front of his homeys at Le Mans. He then went into a bit of a funk during the middle of the season, but finished strong, with brilliant performances on the Pacific swing and in Valencia – started and finished second – that have him itching for 2018 to start tomorrow. Stories are emerging that suggest Yamaha wants him to take Rossi’s seat in 2019. He’s a hot property, but a little long in the tooth to be Alien material (he turns 28 in July.)

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With three podiums, including two in the last two rounds, 2017 Rookie of the Year Johann Zarco is drawing interest from the factory squads for 2019 ownards.

“Pramac, Aspar and Avintia Reale get new old Ducati hardware, which could improve prospects for Hectic Hector Barbera and Alvaro Bautista.”

We suggested Danilo Petrucci, aboard the Pramac Ducati GP17 would likely be in the mix for some wet rounds, which he was until tailing off late in the season. Hector Barbera was perhaps the single biggest bust of the year, injured during the last pre-season test and never finding his rhythm ever after an encouraging 2016 and offseason. Punched his ticket back to Moto2, his career no longer in what one might call the ascendant stage. And Alvaro Bautista wasn’t much better, although he gets to stick around for at least another year. Loris Baz lost his ride, while Scott Redding trudged off to Aprilia in a headscratcher.

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Danilo Petrucci finished 13 points back of Jorge Lorenzo but he finished with more podiums, taking a pair of seconds and a pair of third-place finishes.

So, as regards the Ducati contingent, we were mostly wrong about Lorenzo, Dovizioso, and Petrucci. True, we were also wrong about Barbera, Bautista, and Baz. And we were surprised by Karel Abraham, who showed more this season than he has thus far in his entire career. Undeterred, we will point out that we expected next to nothing from Redding and he delivered. He will now take his Stiff Upper Lip to Aprilia with his customary high expectations, although, having ridden the RS-GP in Valencia for two days, he spoke during an interview of the need for Aprilia to “make the bike more user-friendly.”

That didn’t take long.

Sure, Scott. Given the choice between redesigning the entire frigging bike or directing a mediocre rider to lose 20 pounds, Aprilia is probably more inclined to go back to the drawing board. You wanker.

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After three seasons as a Honda Racing Corporation rider despite being on a satellite team, Jack Miller will ride a Ducati next season for Pramac Racing.

“It would take another Assen-type miracle for either of the Marc VDS riders, Jack Miller and Tito Rabat, to win this year.”

Just sayin’. Jack Miller earned a promotion to the Octo Pramac Ducati team for his efforts, while Tito Rabat somehow managed to talk the Reale Avintia team into taking a chance on him. It will be interesting to see if Miller can wheedle a GP18 out of Ducati boss Gigi Dall’Igna or whether he will have to pay his dues on a 17. Rabat, showing nothing of the greatness he possessed in Moto2, is lucky to still be employed. Okay, the second half of this 2017 was better than the first. There.

Let’s Take a Closer Look

We need to talk about Valentino Rossi. Before we do, let’s tip our hats to the 2017 riders who have escaped mention thus far.

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Just when you thought he was starting to decline, Dani Pedrosa came back with two wins and nine total podiums to finish fourth for the third time in four years.
  • Dani Pedrosa: Another competitive season, two more wins on Spanish soil. Low maintenance and a serviceable wingman for Marquez. I just keep thinking that there is a lot of young talent on its way up and that sooner or later Honda will make a change. I thought they would last year. I think they will after 2018. But that’s just me.
  • Cal Crutchlow: Ninth for the year, no wins, another year older – 33 next year – appears to have reached the high-water mark of his career last season. His body is beaten up and older than he is. Will have a rookie teammate next year to corrupt. He gets quoted in the press way too often for a mid-pack rider. Probably because he gets to speak in his first language, unlike most of the contenders. I imagine he’s not the hot interview target on Telemundo that he is on BBC Sports.
  • Jonas Folger: Zarco’s rookie J&J Tech 3 buddy, he podiumed in Germany before his season was ended prematurely by injury and illness. Folger showed way more than I expected early in the year, possibly because he, too, was piloting the 2016 Yamaha M1, perhaps best bike on the grid. If he improves a little and can stay healthy, his bank account could get laced in 2019, too, along with Johann.
  • Aleix Espargaro: He brought his “win or die trying” spirit to Aprilia, and paid the price. Though showing moments of brilliance, he failed to finish eight races and failed to start another due to crashing out, getting hurt, and suffering a number of mechanical letdowns. His 2017 bike was better than his 2016, and 2018 should be better yet. But the dude needs to stay on the bike. Next year he’ll have Scott Redding instead of the departed Sam Lowes to make him look good.

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KTM’s Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith had a relatively low-key year. For a manufacturer’s first year in MotoGP, KTM showed some potential, but we’ll see if the team can improve next year.
  • Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith: The rookie KTM tandem had an encouraging year, despite accumulating 8 DNFs and no podiums, with top-10 finishes hard to come by. Espargaro had the better of Smith most of the year, crashing out more often but finishing on top for the season. KTM, according to rumor, covets Zarco for 2019, too, and is said to be over Bradley Smith.
  • Finally, Sad Sam Lowes: Sam failed to accumulate the required 10 points during an entire 18 round season, for God’s sake, necessary to qualify for a final disparagement in this column, and so we simply wish Sam good luck and Godspeed in Moto2.

Last but not least, Valentino Rossi. I seem to be something of a rare breed in that I neither love nor despise The Doctor. He went into the 2017 season as a dark horse for the title and sat grinning in first place during those halcyon days after Jerez and before Le Mans, where things started going downhill for the nine-time world champion. Crashing out of the front row at Le Mans, then breaking his leg later in the year, and it was all she wrote. He was never comfortable on the 2017 Yamaha and was uncompetitive in the rain. Objectively speaking, despite having some brilliant moments, he was not the Rossi we have watched over the years, even as recently as 2015.

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How much more does Valentino Rossi have left in him?

There are people out there – smart, otherwise-lucid folks – who sit in delirious anticipation of Rossi’s triumphant exit from MotoGP on the heels of his 10th world championship in 2018. Seriously, there are. But it’s simply not going to happen. He is old enough to have fathered most of the riders in Moto2 and all of the riders in Moto3. He is accumulating scar tissue at an accelerating rate. Yamaha needs to give him and Viñales a better bike for 2018. Even if they do, it won’t be Rossi hoisting the 2018 trophy, although it could be his teammate. Which would really piss him off. I believe next season will be his last as a full-time rider. One could easily see him as a wildcard at Mugello and Misano in 2019 and beyond.

The 2017 Season in One Paragraph

The opening third of the season was owned and operated by the factory Yamaha team, which held first place for the first seven rounds. During the middle of the season, Rossi and Viñales began to falter somewhat, while Marquez started finding his breathtaking rhythm and Andrea Dovizioso started winning races. By the last third of the year, it was a shootout between Marquez and Dovizioso, one which appeared to have been settled at Phillip Island but was, arguably, settled at Aragon, in that the standings of the top eight riders after Aragon matched the final 2017 standings.

Although we enjoyed the drama of the Pacific swing and Valencia, in hindsight those four rounds ended up having little to do with the final results. Which is not to say that a number of us weren’t pretty geeked up at Motegi and Phillip Island. It was nerve-wrenching to watch Marquez playing defense and Dovizioso on offense. In the end, the title was decided at Valencia, just not in the manner for which most of us had been hoping.

Final Tranches of 2017

Tranche 1: Marc Marquez
Tranche 2: Andrea Dovizioso, Maverick Viñales, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, Johann Zarco
Tranche 3: Jorge Lorenzo, Cal Crutchlow, Jonas Folger, Alex Rins, Pol Espargaro, Aleix Espargaro, Andrea Iannone, Jack Miller, Danilo Petrucci, Alvaro Bautista
Tranche 4: Bradley Smith, Scott Redding, Loris Baz
Tranche 5: Sam Lowes, Tito Rabat, Hector Barbera, Karel Abraham

The Last Word

MotoGP 2017 confirmed several pre-season predictions and missed on a few others.

Marc Marquez is the rider of the decade, discussion closed. The sun is setting on Valentino Rossi. Jorge Lorenzo made a huge mistake taking his game to Ducati. Maverick Viñales is going to be a premier-class champion, just not right away. Andrea Dovizioso still has plenty of gas in his tank. The KTM team is going to be nails in the near future. Johann Zarco is the class of the rookie class of 2017, with Folger and Rins not far behind. And MotoGP in 2017 is as good as it’s ever been.

See you next year.

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  • Starmag

    Great recap Bruce.

    First Surtees gets a knee down in the 50’s with his dad’s Black Shadow, ( it wasn’t King Kenny unfortunately ), then Ruggia gets an elbow down in ’88, now Marc”outriggers”Marquez gets a shoulder down. Have we reached the end of the road in riding styles? What could possibly be next? A roller blade wheel on his shoulder? Dragging one’s head wouldn’t help.

  • spiff

    You have one thing backwards. I have rectified the error below.

    Ducati made a huge mistake taking their game to Jorge Lorenzo.

    • I wasn’t the only one who thought Lorenzo ought to be the #1 guy at Ducati. The suits overpaid by a factor of 4.

      • spiff

        Your not the only one that expected Lorenzo to be the company man, so your off the hook for that one. My problem is you feel Lorenzo made a bad move. I think Ducati did.

        Lorenzo’s redeeming quality is he wins races. He didn’t win. He had a chance at Malaysia, and chose to be a good teammate. Then when he has no chance of victory he holds up a teammate. We have no idea what would have happened if he let Dovi through. At the end of the day he did not do as the boss asked. All fairness he would have won races on the Yamaha. It is also possible that development of the M1 would have gone smoother with him. He was a big part of what the M1 had become. Zarco did well on the last Lorenzo copy… Okay I don’t know, maybe it can be equally bad for both.

  • Old MOron

    Gee Bruce, you could have used the last story of the year to provoke us MOronic readers into a flame war that would sustain MO through the off-season. Instead you penned a balanced and satisfying season review. Good onya.

    But since you were such a good guy, I guess it’s up to me to provoke you!
    Let me see…

    “So we had Dovizioso ranked ahead of Lorenzo, about whom we had serious doubts heading into the season.”

    What? Bullshit! You were a Lorenzo lover until pretty recently. Even now the worse thing you can bring yourself to call him is a narcissist. What a crock of shit. Let’s just look back at what you wrote:

    The Big Three factory teams of Yamaha, Honda and Ducati will dominate much of the action, as they are home to the Aliens, those riders whose balance and instincts are a step above the rest of the field – Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and new Alien on the block, Maverick Viñales.

    So you expected Lorenzo to be a rider who would dominate much of the action, with balance and instincts a step above the rest. By contrast, you counted Dovi as merely a wingman to keep him honest:

    Keeping them honest will be the likes of Lorenzo’s teammate and wingman Andrea Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda, and Andrea Iannone on the factory Suzuki…

    To claim that you had Dovi ranked ahead of Lorenzo before the season started is disingenuous.

    • Rocky Stonepebble

      “Even now the worse thing you can bring …”

      It’s worst than that!

      • Old MOron

        Darn, I was off on such a good rant, too.
        Oh well, welcome back…
        I suppose you’re going to take Brucey’s side.

    • “So, as regards the Ducati contingent, we were mostly wrong about Lorenzo, Dovizioso, and Petrucci. True, we were also wrong about Barbera, Bautista, and Baz. And we were surprised by Karel Abraham, who showed more this season than he has thus far in his entire career. Undeterred, we will point out that we expected next to nothing from Redding and he delivered.” I believe I’ve already atoned for my sins by admitting I was mostly wrong about seven of the eight Ducati riders. But good ranting. You need to stay in practice for Burns and Brasfeld.

      • Old MOron

        After tuning up my chops on your unassailable prose, I should be ready to blast them to Kingdom Come.

        • No MOron does it better. I remind myself of a favorite old joke:
          Q:”What kind of fool do you take me for?”
          A:”First class.”

          • Old MOron

            That sounds very much like it came from something filmed in black-and-white.

  • spiff

    Yeah, Rossi is nearing the completion of his racing career, but I still have faith. Is a championship probable? No. Possible? Yes. I admit to drinking orange Kool-Aid (take a sip Zarco), but am still rooting for the Doctor to make the best of the opportunities ahead of him. WLF! Go Rossi!!! End transmission.

    • Old MOron

      I like Zarco. His riding seems to be a cross between Lorenzo’s and the Maniac Joe’s. But I don’t know where I’d like to see him more, on a KTM or an a factory Yamaha.

      What do you think? If Vale hangs it up after 2018 (like Crazy Bruce predicts), should Johann go for the factory Yamaha or the KTM?

      • spiff

        Only a fool would pass on a Factory Yamaha ride, but I want to see him on a KTM. They need a solid rider that can mix it up. Who else could fill the roll? Zarco is a perfect fit.

        • Old MOron

          I think Ben Spies is the only rider ever to graduate from the satellite team to the factory team, and that was due to special circumstances.
            • Rookie Rule
                ⋅ enacted just for Spies (probably Honda’s request)
                ⋅ repealed just for Marquez (definitely Honda’s request)
            • Vale had left for Ducati

          Just the same, the factory Yamaha team has been “full” for a long time:
            2005: Rossi, Edwards
            2006: Rossi, Edwards
            2007: Rossi, Edwards
            2008: Rossi, Lorenzo
            2009: Rossi, Lorenzo
            2010: Rossi, Lorenzo
            2011: Lorenzo, Spies
            2012: Lorenzo, Spies
            2013: Rossi, Lorenzo
            2014: Rossi, Lorenzo
            2015: Rossi, Lorenzo
            2016: Rossi, Lorenzo
            2017: Rossi, Lorenzo

          • spiff

            I know a guy… I really do. He circulates in the right circles, and he was told Spies was getting different tires to ensure his demise. Rossi wanted back with Yamaha, and Ben was in the way. If it is true it is too bad. He showed promise.

          • Old MOron

            FYI, I only believe conspiracy theories that involve Honda.

          • spiff

            Did you hear the one where they pretended they were gambling on ran. 🙂

  • Vrooom

    As always an entertaining write up Bruce. As you are the Tranche king I won’t dispute your analysis, but will say that Foger is probably moving up to 2 if he can get healthy, and Bautista is probably moving down to 4 in next years actions. Where do you see Morbidelli falling? 3? 4?

    • Old MOron

      It’s going to be very interesting to see which bikes Tech 3 gets next year, and what they can do with them. I think I saw somewhere that Zarco tested the 2017 bike and liked it, but this year showed that testing a bike and racing it can be very different.

      I have a feeling that Erve is going to tell Yamaha he doesn’t want the bikes that Vale and Vinnie had this year.

    • spiff

      Morbidelli, his progress will be interesting. Problem is if he has a bike capable of a top 10.

    • Morbidelli is probably going to spend two Miller-like years before he can get a competitive ride. Luthi, one guesses, will be there for data and wingman duties. Franco is going to have a hard time coming to grips with the idea of pedaling as hard as he can to break into the top ten each week.

      • spiff

        Marc VDS will become a KTM satellite in 2019, Morbidelli will replace Pol, and join Zarco in 2020 on the factory KTM.

        • You heard it here first, everyone. This is what I’m always telling The Powers That Be at MO, that we don’t just stand around gaping at the brolly girls, but we break huge news, months and, in some cases, YEARS before it happens. They need to pay me more–this staying on top of stuff is exhausting.

          • spiff

            Hell if I know. Lol

  • DeBee Corley

    When Marquez recovered from a low side crash by putting his knee down, I realized it was a miracle he didn’t win by 100 points.

    • spiff

      Which time are you speaking of. 🙂

  • Jens Vik

    If #93 continues like this he will be the rider of the century. He has totally unique skills on the bike and a winning head. He will break every Rossi record! What a rider!
    Your life is gonna suck if you hate him.

  • Mad4TheCrest

    Nice wrap-up, though it left me feeling wistful about the end of the Rossi era. Marquez has shown that he can find a way to win or at least podium whether his bike is good at a track or not, the tires are perfect or not, and never mind the weather. That’s what makes an ‘Alien’, or else nothing does. The same can no longer be said about The Doctor, but I still admire that the Old Man remains competitive when the bike is right and he stays away from motocross/enduro ‘training’. Onward to 2018!