This is going to sound corny as hell – I believe the biggest winners of the 2013 MotoGP World Championship were the fans. MotoGP had had a dark few years of tedious racing, working itself into a technical tangle, just like Formula 1.
A combination of engineering changes and 250-derived riding styles had developed beautifully balanced bikes, which, when ridden by inch-perfect ex-250 riders, could do the same lap times from lights-out to chequered flag. Valentino Rossi’s former crew chief Jeremy Burgess referred to these races as “procession races”, and he was right (as he usually is).
The biggest change in 2013
So what was the difference in 2013? Just one man: history-maker Marc Márquez. The other big winner of the year was rarely less than spellbinding throughout the 18-race series.
Anyone who doesn’t get worked up watching Márquez fight his RCV to the death every other weekend is missing something. By being prepared (and, more importantly, able) to ride every corner at the absolute limit, Márquez is unmissable entertainment and has left the others wondering how to keep up.
Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa have all admitted that the young rookie has moved riding technique onward. For years, they’ve been winning races by riding their bikes as smoothly as possible, then suddenly someone comes along who gets more out of his motorcycle, asking so much from it that it’s constantly trying to break free from his grip. Márquez blew the status quo to smithereens.
Sure, he’s a bit of a maniac, but MotoGP badly needed someone to come in and shake things up. The previous few seasons – despite the riding genius of Casey Stoner, Lorenzo and others – had been mostly purgatory for anyone who prefers a race to a procession.
Maniac, yes, but the only really bad thing Márquez did all year was crash during morning warm-up at Silverstone. Ignoring yellow flags, he continued at full speed and fell, nearly taking out a group of marshals who were already in the gravel trap, rescuing Cal Crutchlow’s fallen bike.
Of course, he did bump and barge into his rivals, but so do most Moto2 and Moto3 racers without ever a thought that anything untoward is going on. Men like former 500 world champions Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz can’t believe the amount of fuss made over Márquez’s moves. Likewise Crutchlow, who insists that what the champ’s biggest critics hate most is getting beaten, not the manner in which they’re beaten.
Márquez’s employer Honda had also brooked no compromise to reclaim the title from Yamaha. Last season was the first time since the company’s 990cc RC211V (winner of the 2002, 2003 and 2006 MotoGP crowns) that Honda had consistently the best bike on the track. Not only that, they deserved the title if for nothing else than the fact that it was them who had lobbied Dorna to get rid of the rather daft no-rookies-on-factory-bikes rule.
Márquez’s biggest challenger
Lorenzo made the best job of trying to beat Márquez to the title and might have done so if he hadn’t re-broken his already broken and pinned left collarbone at the Sachsenring in July. But – as Stoner once said after Rossi crashed and hurt himself – no one told him to crash. Although, Lorenzo’s Assen accident and injury were unlucky, his Sachsenring fall the following weekend was of his own making.
As Márquez raised the bar on riding, so did Lorenzo raise the bar on heroics. His Assen comeback, just 34 hours after having a broken collarbone pinned and plated, was agony to watch and prompted a spate of similarly miraculous comebacks by others, including the perennially luckless Dani Pedrosa.
Once over the injury, Lorenzo became faster and even more inch-perfect and robot-like consistent, assisted somewhat by the late arrival of Yamaha’s seamless gearbox (on the grid a mere two and a half years after Honda’s). He won eight races to Márquez’s six, though the youngster was defending a points lead in the final few races and had become unwilling to risk it all.
1 Marc MARQUEZ Honda SPA 334
2 Jorge LORENZO Yamaha SPA 330
3 Dani PEDROSA Honda SPA 300
4 Valentino ROSSI Yamaha ITA 237
5 Cal CRUTCHLOW Yamaha GBR 188
6 Alvaro BAUTISTA Honda SPA 171
7 Stefan BRADL Honda GER 156
8 Andrea DOVIZIOSO Ducati ITA 140
9 Nicky HAYDEN Ducati USA 126
10 Bradley SMITH Yamaha GBR 116
11 Aleix ESPARGARO ART SPA 93
12 Andrea IANNONE Ducati ITA 57
13 Michele PIRRO Ducati ITA 56
14 Colin EDWARDS FTR Kawasaki USA 41
15 Randy DE PUNIET ART FRA 36
16 Hector BARBERA FTR SPA 35
17 Danilo PETRUCCI Ioda-Suter ITA 26
18 Yonny HERNANDEZ Ducati COL 21
19 Claudio CORTI FTR Kawasaki ITA 14
20 Hiroshi AOYAMA FTR JPN 13
21 Ben SPIES Ducati USA 9
22 Katsuyuki NAKASUGA Yamaha JPN 5
23 Alex DE ANGELIS Ducati RSM 5
24 Karel ABRAHAM ART CZE 5
25 Michael LAVERTY PBM GBR 3
26 Bryan STARING FTR Honda AUS 2
27 Javier DEL AMOR FTR SPA 1
Crutchlow didn’t win a race, but he was a winner in 2013, with four podiums in just five races, including Germany, where he was closing fast on winner Márquez. He rode brilliantly for the first half of the season, then struggled in the second half. Crutchlow said that his Yamaha had mysteriously lost power after he had signed his 2014 deal with Ducati, others suggested said that he had already got what he wanted, a factory deal.
There might have been a bit of truth in all of that, but his disastrous Silverstone GP was another a factor – three big crashes left him unfit for several races. Also, the riders and bikes at the front were getting faster and faster as the title battle reached its climax.
If Honda won the official rider’s and constructor’s titles, then Aprilia won the underdog constructor’s crown, with their streetbike-powered CRT machine often harrying Ducati’s priceless prototype.
That was PR gold for the little Noale factory – no wonder Ducati had to tempt Aprilia’s chief engineer Gigi Dall-Igna to Bologna.
Crutchlow’s Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team-mate Bradley Smith would have been Rookie of the Year if it wasn’t for Márquez. The former 125 GP winner is one of those riders who chips away at the limit, rather than charging towards it and inevitably tipping over it.
Smith ended the season by putting in the second-fastest lap at the post-Valencia tests. Next season could be the making of him – he has Moto2 champ Pol Espargaro alongside him and will need to keep taking steps forward if he’s to beat his new team-mate and keep his ride for the following year.
Next week: the losers
Read more from Mat Oxley
A changing of the guard in MotoGP
What might happen at Valencia
A grand farce at Phillip Island
Lorenzo vs Márquez