Marc Márquez claimed his fourth premier class title in five years, and the sixth championship of his career, as he added more dizzying statistics to his repertoire, having beaten unlikely challenger Andrea Dovizioso, as some thrived and others struggled. GPUpdate.net reviews the captivating 2017 MotoGP season.
Márquez the magnificent
Márquez was once more he was sublime in 2017, picking up victories where he could, and lessening the damage when he could not. Early falls in Argentina and France rekindled his focus, and from Barcelona onwards he was off the podium just twice – and one of those was when he suffered a rare Honda engine failure. Márquez displayed stunning racecraft to triumph in San Marino and Australia, earned victory in Brno through an inspired strategy call, and almost defied the laws of physics in his last-corner scraps with Dovizioso in Austria and Japan. Then there were the saves, none more so than in Valencia, with the Spaniard adopting ‘Márquez style’ to keep his bike upright. In crashing 27 times in one year, he was perhaps fortunate to avoid injury, but his exploits are a joy to behold. We are potentially in the era of the greatest motorcycle racer of them all.
The people’s champion
After Ducati’s perennial strong Qatar display, Dovizioso was caught up in an accident, put in three solid finishes, and held sixth overall. Solid Dovizioso. The perennial nice guy – a good rider, but not a great one. Then he won on home soil, and followed it up a week later in Barcelona. Dovizioso frequently played down his title ambitions but carried the flag for Ducati, taking four more wins, staying calm to beat Márquez in epics in Austria and Japan, demonstrating his nous in the thick of fierce battles. Dovizioso remained coy about his improvements but self-belief played a big factor, and he proved he can mix it in a title scrap. He ultimately fell short, his prospects hurt by sub-par results when Ducati struggled, none more so than Aragón and Australia, but he emerged from 2017 with his reputation enhanced, as years of hard work and loyalty were validated.
Viñales, and Yamaha, plunge rearwards
Maverick Viñales took to the YZR-M1 like a duck to water, dominated testing, wrapped up the first two races, and defeated Valentino Rossi in a last-lap duel in France. Five races in, and Viñales held a comfortable buffer, ostensibly cruising towards the title. He did not win again. Only four more podiums followed amid one of Yamaha’s worst seasons in the premier class, hampered by development problems, uncertainty over its chassis, and a chronic lack of rear-end grip in low-grip conditions. Viñales, still, does not know whether the 2016 or 2017 bike has more potential, with post-season Valencia test results leading to more uncertainty. Rossi, meanwhile, had his worst season since 2012, though still picked up a win at a damp Assen, and performed heroics in his swift comeback from a broken leg. This was comfortably the factory squad’s least impressive campaign in a long while, and the big question is whether they have all the tools and understanding to arrest the slump.
You don’t mess with the Johann
Johann Zarco stepped up to MotoGP with Tech 3, and simply cruised away from the field on his debut in Qatar. He may have fallen, but the notice of intention had been served. The quiet Zarco consequently caused upset with his aggressive style, earning the ire of Rossi, who admonished him for his Moto2-style. Evidently, Zarco was doing something right. His speed netted him pole in the Netherlands and Japan, and he was among the leading group in the final trio of races, only narrowly missing out on victory in two of those events. Compared to some, 27-year-old Zarco had to be patient before earning his premier class graduation, but in 2017 he grabbed it with both hands, marrying his experience and ultra-smooth riding style to the user-friendly 2016-spec M1, and causing headaches for the factory squad in the process.
Million Dollar baby
Jorge Lorenzo’s signing by Ducati was a statement, but it was Dovizioso who led the team’s charge, as its newest recruit endured his first win-less campaign since 2005. In a championship where the margins are more acute than ever, Lorenzo had to adapt to new machinery after nine years in the same environment, accentuated by his strength – mid-corner speed – being Ducati’s main weakness. Lorenzo, though, did make progress, gradually reducing his gap to the leader, and mid-season onwards was regularly back among the front group. Becoming distracted by mapping settings threw him off while comfortably leading at a wet Misano – thus scuppering a strong chance of a first win in red – while at Sepang a well-timed mistake enabled Dovizioso to win. Tactics in Valencia finale were eye-raising, though ultimately his refusal to move aside was not the influencing factor. Three podiums, P7, and 124 fewer points than his less-illustrious team-mate was not what Ducati wanted, but progress is still being made.
For the third time in four years Dani Pedrosa finished fourth in the standings, and continued to pick up the results, without the flamboyance or showmanship of some competitors. Pedrosa’s continued presence at Repsol Honda attracts criticism in some quarters, but on his day he remains unbeatable – such as at Jerez – and he proved his worth in the Valencia finale, backing up Márquez for much of the race, before defeating Zarco with a perfectly-timed manoeuvre. Pedrosa’s stature, and natural style, means generating tyre heat in wet conditions remains a weakness (Assen and Misano results were terrible), but the affable Spaniard finished the season with fewer podiums than only Márquez, and played the support role to ensure Honda clinched the lucrative Teams’ and Manufacturers’ championship.
Like a Satellite
Zarco was the standout satellite rider but several others had their moments. Pramac’s Danilo Petrucci took four podiums – more than Lorenzo – and was spectacular in the wet at Assen, Misano and Motegi, narrowly missing victory in the first instance. However, it was his dry-weather performance at Mugello that was hugely impressive, finishing just two seconds shy of Dovi. Cal Crutchlow was unable to match the double-win highs of 2016 but still logged a podium finish, as did Tech 3’s Jonas Folger, who battled Márquez for victory on home soil. Folger occasionally out-shone even Zarco, but a hefty crash at Silverstone, followed by his diagnosis of Gilbert’s Syndrome, derailed his season. Marc VDS’ Jack Miller escaped unarguably the crash of the year in France, and was a regular top 10 finisher, brilliantly leading in Australia, ahead of his switch to Ducati machinery in 2018, while Álvaro Bautista took standout results early doors but faded later on.
Any other business
Suzuki lost Viñales and gained Andrea Iannone – not the fairest of trades – and failed to record a podium, though made late-season gains, aided by rookie Álex Rins getting accustomed to the premier class, after an injury-affected start. KTM began at the back and gradually worked forwards with an impressive development rate, as it introduced an array of new chassis and engines, with Pol Espargaró frequently in front of Bradley Smith, and Mika Kallio impressive on his wildcard runs. Scott Redding and Tito Rabat lagged behind their team-mates and have sought pastures new for 2018, while Héctor Barberá knew from his 2016 runs on the Ducati that he would struggle in 2017 – and his fears were realised, with both he and Loris Baz ousted from Avintia. Aleix Espargaró brilliantly grappled with the Aprilia, as rookie team-mate Sam Lowes lacked pace and regularly hit the deck, albeit his prospects hampered by a lack of support from some divisions of the squad.