We are lucky enough to be witnessing the golden era of MotoGP. The 2017 season was packed full of highs and lows, twists and turns and was incredibly unpredictable.
Under the floodlights of Qatar back in March, all eyes turned to Maverick Viñales who had been dubbed “the alien” just weeks before, after positive winter test sessions saw him rise to the top on the new-to-him factory Yamaha M1.
From the get go he seemed determined not to be just “Valentino Rossi’s team mate”, and opened the season with a race win.
Trailing behind him in second was the ever-experienced Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati Desmosedici he knows so well, with nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi a second and a half behind him. Little did we know, Dovizioso was just setting out his path to becoming a serious title contender.
The eyes that weren’t on Viñales were on reigning champion Marc Marquez, who only picked up a fourth place finish as he couldn’t find the pace on his Honda RC213V to keep up with the front runners.
MotoGP rookie Johann Zarco really came of age in the first round. As soon as he swung his leg over the satellite Monster Yamaha, it was all too obvious that he was destined for great things. The double Moto2 world champion easily fought his way to the front of the pack, but perhaps became a little too confident on his debut and slid out of the race.
As the championship moved into the second round in Argentina, Vinales picked up an easy victory, almost three seconds clear of teammate Rossi with Britain’s Cal Crutchlow rounding out the podium.
The action packed Grand Prix at the Termas De Rio Hondo track saw four of the top names left in the dirt. As he struggled to get to grips with the new Ducati after switching from Yamaha, Jorge Lorenzo slid into the gravel on the first corner bringing his second GP on the Desmo to a premature end. In fact, the Argentinian Grand Prix wasn’t great for either Ducati rider as Dovizioso also failed to make the line. For the second year in a row, the Italian was taken out by another rider, but this time it wasn’t by his own teammate.
Unusually, Marquez also didn’t make the finish. After securing pole position he got a great start off the line but with 22 laps to go, he succumbed to the gravel, handing the lead to Viñales. Just a few laps later, his teammate Dani Pedrosa followed suit, and the Repsol Honda team left Argentina with a bitter taste in their mouths.
Team Suzuki Ecstar had it bad too, with Andrea Iannone receiving a ride through penalty for a jump start and his teammate Alex Rins suffering a crash. A weekend to forget for everyone, bar the factory Yamaha team.
And then came Marquez territory; Circuit of the Americas, Texas. The Spaniard has an impeccable record at the American track, winning every race from pole position since it returned to the calendar. It looked as if Viñales could be the one to shake his record but he crashed out early on, killing his one chance at ending Marquez’s winning streak.
Zarco impressed once more, but managed to ruffle some feathers in the process. The Frenchman forced his way past Rossi for third, running the Italian out wide and onto the gravel. Rossi rejoined in front of Zarco but was later given a 0.3 second penalty for the advantage he gained in doing so. It didn’t seem to bother “The Doctor” too much, as he worked his way up to second place and left Texas with the championship lead.
Lorenzo started to show improvement in America, qualifying in sixth on the notoriously difficult to handle Desmosedici and ending the weekend in ninth. Pedrosa also managed to make amends for Argentina, bringing home third for the Repsol Honda team and giving them their first double podium of the year.
After Texas came the first of the Spanish rounds in Jerez, where Pedrosa obliterated the field after topping the first three practice sessions and putting his RCV on pole position.
He crossed the line six seconds ahead of his team mate, who had to settle for second when Pedrosa opened a gap he could not close. Lorenzo finally took his first Ducati podium on home soil, finishing third after qualifying eighth.
Australian Jack Miller had a promising weekend on his EG 0,0 Marc VDS machine, ending every session in the top ten. However his race was brought to a premature end as he attempted a move on Alvaro Bautista, who crashed out and took the Aussie with him.
But Miller couldn’t (and wouldn’t) let sleeping ducks lie, and after he picked himself up out of the gravel he stormed into Bautista and shoved him back into the dirt before kicking the tank of the innocent Aspar Ducati and storming off. Race direction put the incident under investigation, and Miller was fined 1000 €.
Viñales returned to peak form when the grid rolled into Le Mans, as he put the M1 on pole and followed up with a win. But where he succeeded, Rossi failed. The Italian pushed to the limit and then some, running wide with three laps to go while challenging for the lead and subsequently dumping his Yamaha in the gravel as he chased his first victory in France since 2008. Zarco followed up with second in front of his home crowd, while Pedrosa continued to impress in third.
Mugello was where Dovizioso really started to show just how much he wanted the title. He took his third premier class win in front of his home crowd and became the first Italian to win an Italian GP on an Italian bike since 1974. He worked hard to keep Viñales and Danilo Petrucci at bay but ultimately came home just over a second ahead of pole man Viñales in second.
Marquez had an extremely testing weekend, especially as he ran around in sixth place struggling to get past Bautista’s satellite Ducati. In fact, it was a testing weekend for both Honda riders as Pedrosa crashed into the satellite Honda of Crutchlow, sending them both into the gravel and bringing their race to a premature end.
From then on wins swapped between Marquez and Dovizioso, with only Rossi in Assen and Pedrosa in Valencia providing relief. The title went down to the final round in Valencia, in a tense battle between both Marquez and Dovizioso that ended in heartbreak for the latter.
Although Pedrosa won the race, Marquez won the war as he clinched his sixth world title at just twenty four years old. The chances of Dovizioso taking title honours were slim, and they were demolished completely as he crashed out of a frustrating race. Team orders told Lorenzo to let Dovizioso past, and when “suggested mapping 8” - which clearly meant “let him through” as there aren’t 8 engine maps on a GP bike - popped up on his dashboard, he should’ve done exactly that. But Lorenzo knows best, apparently. He continued to push on in front, but a small mistake sat him upright which let Dovizioso through with minimal effort. The Ducatis didn’t finish the final race of the season, but judging by their overall performance and progression they’ll be a force to be reckoned with next year.
The 2018 grid is now fully formed, with no real changes as most riders still have one year left on their contracts. There will be four rookies - Xavier Simeon on the Avintia Ducati taking the place of the departed Loris Baz, Takaaki Nakagami on the second LCR Honda machine and an all rookie Honda Marc VDS squad, formed of Moto2 runner-up Thomas Luthi and 2017 Moto2 world champion Franco Morbidelli.
Jack Miller will move to the Pramac Ducati team to replace Brit Scott Redding, who moves to Aprilia at the expense of fellow Brit Sam Lowes, who will move back down to Moto2. Factory KTM test rider Mika Kallio has been confirmed as a wildcard for four rounds; Sachsenring, Red Bull Ring, Aragon and Valencia as he fights for a permanent spot on the grid in 2019.
It is impossible to predict what next season will bring, but if it’s anything like this season you can expect thrills, spills and quite possibly some falling out between riders. Marc Marquez will be aiming to clinch title number seven, while Jorge Lorenzo will be searching for that desperately wanted first victory on the Ducati. Andrea Dovizioso will want to make up for his mistake in Valencia, and Dani Pedrosa will probably want to become the bride, rather than the bridesmaid he has been so far. Maverick Viñales will surely pick up the pieces of a broken second half of the season and Valentino Rossi? You can never rule out The Doctor.