The end of the year is of course a time for reflection, so here follows some of my standout moments of the MotoGP season just passed:
Rider of the year
Not a difficult choice. Casey Stoner (below) was way ahead of the rest. Released from the shackles of Ducati’s evil Desmosedici, he flew like a bird on Honda’s fast but demanding RC212V. Ten victories from 17 races is proper domination.
Stoner was awesome to behold on the Honda, even more so than he was on the Ducati. He rides the RCV like a true dirt tracker: he opens the throttle, lets the bike move around beneath him and then does whatever he needs to do to keep it pointing in the right direction.
The Aussie has always been a brilliant rider but he’s been tricky to get along with when he’s off the bike. Not so now. He has grown up in the last few years and seems happier – though still not entirely comfortable – in the spotlight.
Until he tires of the hassle of the racing lifestyle, it’s hard to see anyone beating him. He has already said he won’t stick around long enough to match the five consecutive crowns won by his childhood hero Mick Doohan.
Mistake of the year
When you are fighting Stoner for the World Championship, you don’t go head to head with a crazy young Italian halfway through the fourth race of the season. This is what Dani Pedrosa did at Le Mans, while trying to resist Marco Simoncelli who was hell-bent on scoring his first MotoGP podium.
Simoncelli had been catching Pedrosa at quite a rate, so the clever thing to have done would have been to let the youngster through, try to follow him, then see what transpires at the end of the race. Pedrosa was quite aware of Simoncelli’s reputation and didn’t need to argue with him over the same piece of Tarmac at that point of the race/season. Rule number one in racing: know your enemy.
Pedrosa blames Simoncelli for spoiling his chances of taking the title. I blame Pedrosa just as much for putting himself in that position. I also think Pedrosa was wrong to refuse Simoncelli’s proffered hand when the Italian tried to make up two months later, especially considering the fact that Pedrosa had taken out team-mate Nicky Hayden in similar fashion at Estoril in 2006. Hayden took just a couple of weeks to forgive Pedrosa.
Bike of the year
Engineers will probably hate me for saying this – but the most important MotoGP bikes of 2011 were the CRT machines that began their testing programmes during the summer. MotoGP has been struggling along with a half-empty grid for several years, so as much as it would be wonderful to allow engineers to continue indulging themselves in exotic factory prototypes, the sad fact is that the sport cannot afford them.
Many top engineers hate CRT bikes – powered by tuned 1000cc streetbike engines like BMW’s S1000RR (which makes 193bhp at the real wheel, straight out of the crate) – because they believe they will ‘dumb down’ MotoGP. But most of these engineers live in their business-class ivory towers, unaware of how most teams are struggling to survive.
I’ll explain all about CRT bikes in a later post.
PR disaster of the year
They called it the Dream Team when superstar Valentino Rossi signed to race Ducati (above) for the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Instead it has turned into a nightmare of a relationship. Rossi had a disastrous 2011, unable to find a way to get the best out of the Desmosedici, despite Ducati delivering three entirely new chassis. Indeed things got worse as the season went on.
At the last race Rossi sadly announced that Ducati seemed no closer to solving the bike’s fickle handling than it had been at the beginning of the season. During 2011 the nine-time World Champion suffered 12 crashes, just one less than he had suffered in his previous three seasons with Yamaha.
Stoner revelled in their disappointment, explaining that during his four years with the Italian factory he was blessed with only a fraction of the technical updates that Rossi received during 2011.
Ducati had hoped – still do, of course – that Rossi’s association with the marque will boost its brand image, but so far the marriage has only sullied its image, with the cognoscenti at least.
Company CEO Gabriel Del Torchio always knew that the dream might not become reality. “If we will win, we will win together, if we will lose, we will lose together,” he said soon after securing Rossi’s signature. But I bet he never expected to lose so badly.