Duncan Bishop

Season review part 4: From Sic to Stoner

Duncan Bishop

Here is the final part of our review of 2011. Next week we take a look ahead to the resumption of testing for the premier class.

Marco Simoncelli

Three months on from his untimely death, it is still hard to believe that Marco Simoncelli is gone. The fact that riders typically keep a low profile during the testing ban adds to the surreal nature of the situation. The Valencia GP was undertaken in a state of shock and it will only be when testing resumes and the season kicks off at Qatar that it will really sink in. Marco is definitely going to be missed.

His 2011 was a season of potential and polemic rather than results, although he did manage to end the year level on points with close friend Valentino Rossi. This was certainly a season in which Simoncelli - on the factory spec Honda for the first time - had to come up with the goods, bringing with it increased attention on his battles with other riders as they occurred further up the field.

We can remember the crash whilst out in the lead at Jerez (his fall a mistake that could have happened to anyone in such treacherous conditions), the first-lap offs on the cold Bridgestone tyres or the controversial collision with Dani Pedrosa at Le Mans, but memory of such incidents will fade with time. We will be left with what could have been in 2012 - and the image of the oversized hairstyle propping up an undersized cap in his two podium visits this past year.

What happens now?

The impact of the Malaysia incident will live on for many a season. A frequent campaigner for a minimum weight limit and a change in regulations to allow the taller rider to compensate for a reduction in speed, Simoncelli would have suited the 1000cc bikes perfectly. It would have been his 25th birthday this past weekend and he would surely have taken a race win before he turned 26. Sadly, we will never know.

Ben Spies

Likewise, Ben Spies was meant to take a step up in 2011 with promotion to the Yamaha factory team from Tech 3. It is easy to forget now, but looking back at the early races of the season it was not shaping up to be a successful campaign for 'Elbowz': sixth place at Qatar and double DNFs at Jerez and Spain, plus another sixth at Le Mans, left Spies off the pace with four races down.

The American joked in the Barcelona pre-race press conference that it was nice to be talking to people, seeing as interest in his activities and opinions had tailed off along with his results. That very race was the revival of his season and he placed third for his first podium of 2011, then followed it up two races later with the highlight of his year.

A win in Assen - the first of any 'non-alien' in dry conditions since Troy Bayliss at Valencia 2006 - showed that Spies had what it takes to be a serious contender in MotoGP, yet his season returned to the unspectacular around summer time. A podium at Indianapolis was accompanied by top-six finishes that, whilst solid, were not the challenges to the Repsol Honda riders that had been expected.

Thankfully for the 27-year-old, he put concussions and a spell off the rostrum behind him with a very close second place at Valencia - albeit pickpocketed out of the victory by Casey Stoner.

What happens now?

Spies shows us if all that big bike experience comes in handy and whether he can retain a factory ride with another top competitor looking for an official Yamaha...

Dani Pedrosa

It seems as if every year Dani Pedrosa gets into a position in which he can push for the title and every year an injury comes along to spoil things. A genuine contender for the final 800cc World Championship one minute, the next he was contemplating not just another season without the MotoGP trophy but perhaps retirement from the sport altogether.

He missed three races then came back and won two GPs, showing that there is definitely more in the tank. Despite so many absences, he was still only nine points off third place in the overall standings.

What happens now?

IF he keeps fit, expect another assault on the title for number 26. He is in the best position to do so by all accounts, as the only rider on the same machinery as Casey Stoner for the entirety of 2012 and as someone who has won on 990cc bikes as well as the 800ccs.

Andrea Dovizioso

He's steady but he certainly isn't slow: Andrea Dovizioso needed an exceptional season if he was going to see out the Honda squeeze, having forced the factory to run a three-man team with his firm belief in contract law. In the end, it wasn't quite good enough from the Italian.

So often overlooked, it is easy to forget Dovizioso. He finished second at four grands prix in 2011, but he didn't mount a serious challenge for the win in any of those races. A solid podium finisher but yet to win a dry race, he was sent on his way before the end of the season as Honda stuck to their two-rider team plan for the start of the 1000cc era.

What happens now?

A move to the Tech 3 satellite Yamaha outfit is a risky one for 'Dovi' - almost as risky as riding motocross for training. He is less likely to get a race win and will have to play things delicately to stack the deck for 2013, as Bradley Smith will be coming up to MotoGP with Herve Poncharal's outfit, Cal Crutchlow will be fighting for his spot in the premier class this year and the Italian needs to convince that he is ready to take either Ben Spies or Jorge Lorenzo's place in the factory team. If Dovizioso places well early on in the year, expect him to strike whilst the iron is hot and push for a quick decision from one of the manufacturers.

Jorge Lorenzo

It's one thing to win a title and another to defend it, but Jorge Lorenzo did a good job in 2011. The problem was that he was up against a Honda factory who threw all their available resources at their main team in order to bring home the 800cc crown - and a rider who was almost unbeatable last year.

There was frustration with Yamaha - which lost out big-time in the sponsorship stakes with the loss of FIAT in a counterbalance to freeing up the wages of Valentino Rossi - for their inability to provide more horsepower in the first half of the season and we saw Lorenzo wringing all that he could out of the M1. He led the standings after Portugal, helped by Stoner's DNF at Jerez in the previous race, but Le Mans has to be seen as the turning point for the 2010 titlist. That run of just one podium from four races, with a retirement, a fourth place and a sixth place to his name, allowed Stoner to pull away with three wins on the bounce plus a second place for good measure. From then on, there was no catching him.

That's not to say that the Spaniard gave up - far from it - but any hopes of a grandstand finale were ended when he got bashed up in the warm-up for the Australian GP. Some criticised him for not returning for the last two scheduled races, but anything that allows him to be at full fitness for testing and the 2012 season is a savvy decision to my way of thinking, with the 2011 title already gone.

What happens now?

We haven't seen Lorenzo in action since Stoner won the title. Early 2012 will be his response. Then it will be either contract negotiation time with Yamaha or a shop around to look for the best machinery with which to defeat the Australian.

Casey Stoner

Enough has been said about Casey Stoner's 2011 season, but it bears repeating that it was a truly exceptional year for the world champion. Breaking records along the way, nobody could keep up with him in a title chase even more impressive than that of 2007. There is still plenty more to be written about the reigning champ.

What happens now?

Expect crying, tantrums and toys being thrown out of the pram in 2012. No, not from the Australian coming up against the 'Casey Roadblock Team' CRT riders on a hot qualifying lap, but rather Stoner becoming a father for the first time. Expect Lorenzo and Pedrosa to add to his sleepless nights, although it is difficult to see anyone stopping the man with the number one plate on his Repsol Honda.

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