The 2016 MotoGP season is about to get officially underway, with the first test set to start Sunday at Sepang.
Even though the riders haven’t started racing yet, there’s plenty to talk about this year. Perhaps the biggest story is the ongoing bad blood between Honda’s Marc Marquez and Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo; from what we’ve seen, the animosity between the three frontrunners hasn’t gone away; we’re not likely to see the on-track interference we saw last year, but expect that squabble to dominate the MotoGP scene.
The other big story is the new spec electronics system, and the switch from Bridgestone to Michelin tires. Some teams are going to struggle to adapt their bikes to the new electronic rider’s aids, and some teams are likely going to try to figure out a way to cheat around the systems. Some teams have fought the changeover to spec electronics for years, and if their riders suffer in the early races, expect lots of complaining. Likewise for the tires — Bridgestone is leaving after years of perfecting their MotoGP rubber, and many racers are going to miss that familiar equipment; there’ll be complaining about this as well. Other riders (most likely the newest faces, and the oldest faces) will quickly surge past the racers who are stuck in the Bridgestone mindset.
Manufacturers Honda and Yamaha have been strongest in recent years, but even their staff are saying some of the competition will likely make significant steps forward this year, particularly Suzuki. Their bike seemed sound enough last year, and they’ve added a seamless gearbox. If they can add more speed this summer, they may take a few podiums.
Expect Ducati to perform better this year, especially with Casey Stoner back on the team. For now, Stoner is just a test rider, but he’s basically said he wants some wildcard entries, and it’s hard to see Ducati saying no. Stoner himself is the ultimate wildcard; if he snags a few key victories away from Honda or Yamaha, or even podium spots, he could influence the season significantly without even competing full-time. Whether or not Stoner would want to play the spoiler role is another question entirely, but it certainly appears he wants to race.
Aprilia’s factory team won’t be at the Sepang test. The Gresini crew struggled greatly last year, and this year they’re bringing an all-new bike, not a development of the 2015 machine. As a result, they don’t think the machine is ready for Sepang; they’re going to undergo a private test at the Qatar track, skipping the circus’s second test at Phillip Island. Then they’ll test again at Qatar with the rest of MotoGP.
“Other riders (most likely the newest faces, and the oldest faces) will quickly surge past the racers who are stuck in the Bridgestone mindset.”
Nobody will quickly surge past. Absolutely zero suspension tuning data exists for the Michelin rubber and its 17″ hoops. This is Ground Zero for everybody.