MotoGP Losail Preview

© Bruce Allen

It’s Marquez’ Title to Lose in 2019 

Welcome to MotoGP 2019, brought to you by Motorcycle.com and, well, me. I will be publishing everything I do here, and MO will, in turn, publish race results (only the results; no previews) on Sundays. My editor at MO worked hard to make this happen, and I’m happy to start my 11th season working for the friendly Canucks in Toronto and with the bozos in California.

MotoGP 2019 dawns on the heels of another Marc Marquez and Repsol Honda masterpiece last year. Despite extreme efforts from the likes of Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso, the ageless Yamaha wonder Valentino Rossi, his teammate Maverick Vinales and Suzuki newcomer Alex Rins, Marquez sailed to his fifth premier class championship in six years, utterly dominant amongst the yachting class. He took the championship lead in Jerez and never looked back, winning nine times, on the podium for five others, going 14 for 18 with Silverstone rained out.

Although there have been a number of changes—riders leaving, moving up from Moto2, switching from, say, Ducati to Honda—there is no denying that Marquez will have to crash out of the championship, a rather unlikely outcome given the fact that he practices crashing and generally avoids the whole over-the-handlebars scene. His surgically-repaired shoulder should be close to 100% by the time the red lights go out in Qatar. His shoulder became such a mess last year that a congratulatory slap from Scott Redding at Motegi caused it to dislocate again. The thought that he was able to demolish the field in that condition makes the notion of his improving this year more palatable. Not. The bike is generally unchanged, unruly and good everywhere. Having Lorenzo in the garage will increase the testosterone quotient on both sides. One expects Lorenzo to start off as a top tenner and improve from there as the season progresses.

The times are a-changin’ at the factory Monster Yamaha garage, with the torch on its way to being passed from ageless wonder Valentino Rossi to the future of Yamaha racing, at least for now, Maverick Vinales. Both riders should make consistent appearances in the top six this season as the 2019 YZR-M1 appears improved over the 2018 version (currently being ridden well by Fabio Quartararo at the Petronas SIC Yamaha satellite team.) Rossi fans are outraged by the assertion that Rossi has lost a step when, in fact, he has remained somewhat static for the past five years, constrained over and over by a steadily improving Marquez, who will officially enter The Prime of his career this year and for the next four or five.

Great.

With Rossi still selling a lot of gear and Vinales poking around podia on a regular basis, the factory team must have as its goal for 2019 to show significant improvement over last year’s bike, which neither rider liked. It has gone from the best ride on the grid on Bridgestones to the third-best on Michelins. Neither rider is likely to win a title in 2019, but the show must go on. Data harvesting, y’know.

Recent History at Losail

The 2016 iteration of the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar marked the beginning of the newest era in MotoGP, that of Michelin tires and a standard ECU across the grid.  In the run-up to the race, hopes that some new faces would emerge from the pack and find their way to the podium were building.  Under the lights of Losail, however, defending champion Lorenzo held serve for Yamaha against a strong challenge from Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez; the Usual Suspects once again asserted their dominance.  At the time, a wager that nine different riders would ultimately win races that year would have seemed deranged. 

Movistar Yamaha’s new kid on the block, Maverick Viñales, did to the field of the 2017 Grand Prix of Qatar what he had done ever since he first placed his bum on the saddle of the YZR-M1 the previous November.  He ended the day at the top of the podium, having outdueled Dovizioso over the last eight laps of the race.  Rossi finished third that night, with Marquez fourth, keeping his powder dry, coloring between the lines. Aleix Espargaro flogged his Aprilia RS-GP to an encouraging sixth place which would, unfortunately, stand as the high water mark of his season.

The 2018 season opener at Losail went mostly according to expectations, which is to say it was crowded up front. At one point I counted nine bikes in the lead group, a sight normally seen in Moto3. French sophomore Johann Zarco led from pole most of the day, fueling a lot of premature trash talk in the Tech 3 garage. Once his tires went up, though, it came down to Dovizioso and Marquez for early bragging rights. Round One goes to the Italian by hundredths. No TKO.

Returning to your Previously Scheduled Programming

The new satellite Petronas team features Franco Morbidelli, moving from a 2017 Honda to a 2019 Yamaha, and apparently thrilled by the difference. Rookie French teenage teammate, heartthrob Fabio Quartararo is riding, I believe, 2018 equipment, learning the premier class game on a less-valuable bike of which, it is expected, he will destroy a dozen or so as he makes his way up the learning curve at 200 mph. One of these guys will likely take over for Rossi on the factory team when he retires, possibly as early as the end of this year, no later than the end of next year. Makes for a no-shit intra-team rivalry for the year which, in turn, suggests they will consistently fight to be in the points, perhaps the top ten, over a long season, with the Frenchman recording his share of DNFs and the Italian prevailing, himself a VR46 Academy grad. Rossi, I believe, will need to finish the season in the top six in order to honor the second year of his contract. Anything less would, I sense, be unacceptable, clear evidence that the time to retire has arrived.

The factory Ducati team, whose title sponsor I can never remember other than it is weak—Minnie Willow?—has two strong Italian contenders on brand new Desmosedicis with high motivation and proven skills. Factory crew for Danilo Petrucci, which is a first. Andrea Dovizioso, who had his career year in 2017, should still win a few races, but his championship aspirations are largely past tense. Both are, however, amongst the favorites for the Forget Marquez and His 350 Points championship fight, featuring Lorenzo, Rossi, Vinales and Suzuki’s Alex Rins.

The Pramac Ducati duo of Australian Jack Miller and rookie Italian VR46 rider Pecco Bagnaia will be wildcards at some venues especially, I suspect, at wet or flag-to-flag outings. Bagnaia is the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo, cutting his teeth on the Ducati, while Miller will need a bunch of top ten finishes to stay #1 on the #2 team. The #3 team, Avintia UnReale, fronts a recovering Tito Rabat alongside journeyman Karel Abraham, with only Rabat expected to find himself in the top ten on occasion. Dovizioso should win the intra-manufacturer trophy, but little else. (This, by the way, is the team Suzuki should look to buy out and pave the way for their satellite team.)

Speaking of Suzuki, the Ecstar team performed well enough to lose its previous concessions, forced this year to wear their big boy pants and slug it out with everyone else, same playing field. No sweat. Alex Rins is an Alien in the making and rookie teammate Joan Mir likewise, although he is a year or two behind Rins. Both are flogging improving bikes, a handful of horsepower from being consistently on the podium on a bike cognizant of Rossi’s famous words, “The front tire’s job is to inform me. The rear tire’s job is to obey me.” Suzuki gets that, and I believe a number of riders would be interested in their #2 team.

KTM, Austria’s gift to motorcycle racing, isn’t happening. Just getting that out there. The apologists are in full rant, defending performance which has been, at best, disappointing over two full years. Which, with the addition of the Tech 3 satellite operation, raised expectations amongst the PR types if few others. The factory team of Johann Zarco and Pol Espargaro are, I sense, being asked to make bricks without straw, and the satellite team of Miguel Oliveira and Hafizh Syahrin, also on 2019 equipment, is suffering likewise. The factory is throwing massive resources into a segment of the market in which it makes very little, leading some to believe that executives may be starting to use the term “or else” in their fantasy conversations with corporate rivals.

As for the intrepid, ever-optimistic Aprilia congregation, whose riders Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone are keeping a stiff upper lip, Iannone suffering with his third bike in four years, his once-bright career in visible decline. Ducati to Suzuki to Aprilia. I suspect Suzuki would take him back if they did produce a #2 team, as he improved late in his previous tenure and folks say they canned him too soon.

Finally, before I forget, here are the preseason tranche projections, published previously in a separate article and cut/pasted for internal consistency:

Tranche 1:   Marc Marquez, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 2:   Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jorge Lorenzo

Tranche 3:   Jack Miller, Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Cal Crutchlow, Tito Rabat, Franco  Morbidelli, Johann Zarco

Tranche 4:   Fabio Quartararo, Pol and Aleix Espargaro, Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone

Tranche 5:   Miguel Oliveira, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin

I don’t expect the final standings to look too much like this, as this is a moving target during the year owing to injuries, mostly. But, heading in, rather than being a complete jerk and allotting Marquez Tranche 1 by himself, I decided to be gracious and at least tip my hat to the other riders, as if this were going to be a real race season and no one knows who’s going to win.

Predicting the outcome of the first race of the season, under the lights in The Persian Gulf, sand and glare everywhere, a surreal shakedown cruise for everyone, is commonly referred to as “a fool’s errand.” This foolish errand boy will therefore throw out four names, three of which will, I suspect, end up on the podium (drum roll, please):  Marquez  Vinales  Petrucci  Bagnaia.

Whatever. Let the games begin. 2019 is upon us.

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9 Responses to “MotoGP Losail Preview”

  1. Old MOron Says:

    Zarco seems to go well at Losail. In 2017 he blew the world away by leading for about six laps during his very first Moto GP race. Last year he finishes fifth. This year, I hope he will flare with brilliance before crashing out like he did in 2017.

  2. Dale Mensch Says:

    Excellent news about motorcycle.com! Can’t disagree with any of your prognostications but I do hope there’s a surprise or two during the season. Watching Lorenzo’s progress might be the most interesting story line for me.

  3. Vrooom Says:

    Great write up Bruce. I’m not convinced Vinales will displace Rossi this year, though I’m sure he will in qualifying points, and that helps, but I’m also not convinced he won’t, 50/50. Rins, yes. Aprilia one podium, maybe, Iannone could go nuts, not maniac.

  4. Prakasit Says:

    Hey! what’s with the swipe on my fellow Californians? Are you Canadian or something?
    Welcome back Bruce. I am just glad I know how to google. Otherwise, I would never find your site.

  5. Old MOron Says:

    http://disq.us/p/209nkdj

  6. Old MOron Says:

    Here’s looking at FP2
    http://resources.motogp.com/files/results/2019/QAT/MotoGP/FP2/Analysis.pdf

    Seems like several guys can do low-to-mid 1:55’s when the tires drop off after six or seven laps. But Marquez can be quicker than that when the tires are new. I hope he doesn’t break away in the early part of the race.

  7. Old MOron Says:

    Hey Bruce, what’s all this about Iannone having (more) plastic surgery? If you can’t make fun of this situation, no one can!

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