Unlike football, tennis and many other sports, there are always many more losers than winners in bike racing. So, out of the many defeated riders and factories in MotoGP, who were the biggest losers of 2013?
Apart from the lowly souls who finished last every weekend, or Indonesian Moto2 rider Rafid Topan Sucipto who crashed 26 times without scoring a single world championship point, those who came out of the year the worst were Ben Spies, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and Ducati.
Spies’ career was brought to a crashing halt by a bizarre catalogue of disasters that began in 2012 and continued into 2013. The former World Superbike champ was unable to shake off the voodoo that had first latched onto him at the start of his final season with Yamaha and was finally forced into retirement by his wrecked left shoulder.
During 2011, when Spies won at Assen (above), it seemed like he had many years ahead of him, possibly as a world championship challenger. Shows how quickly things can change and how luck can play a huge part in a bike racer’s career.
Pedrosa, at least, is still racing, but his ill luck goes way beyond last season when crashes in Germany (his fault, though Bridgestone should bear some of the guilt), where he broke a collarbone while leading the points chase, and at Aragón (not his fault, below), lost him any real chance of the title. The poor man has never bounced well – his championship hopes were also dashed by injury in 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007.
Only Dani Boy (in Spies’ absence) could have his team-mate’s clutch lever nick his swingarm, severing the traction-control system’s rear-wheel speed-sensor cable and causing him to crash. Paddock wags, of course, suggested that Marc Márquez is such a genius that he did it on purpose: aimed his clutch lever at the cable and, hey presto.
At least Pedrosa’s failure to win the title yet again didn’t result in abject embarrassment, as did Ducati’s ever-worsening plight with its Desmosedici. How many times during 2013 did we watch Aleix Espargaro on a glorified superbike harry Ducati’s priceless prototypes? During the season the factory didn’t get any closer to the leaders, in fact they slipped further behind. At the season-ending Valencia GP, Andrea Dovizioso’s average pace was 1.7 seconds off the winner’s. A year ago they were around one to 1.2 seconds off the pace.
Ducati’s failure to get to grips with MotoGP is one of the great mysteries of the modern age. Hopefully, for Cal Crutchlow’s sake, new Ducati Corse chief Gigi Dall’Igna can unlock the secret.
2013 calendar and winners
April 7 Grand Prix of Qatar (Losail Circuit) Jorge Lorenzo
April 21 Grand Prix of the Americas (Circuit of the Americas) Marc Márquez
May 5 Gran Premio de España (Jerez) Dani Pedrosa
May 19 Grand Prix de France (Le Mans) Dani Pedrosa
June 2 Gran Premio d’Italia (Mugello) Jorge Lorenzo
June 16 Gran Premi de Catalunya (Catalunya) Jorge Lorenzo
June 29 TT Assen (Assen) Valentino Rossi
July 14 Grand Prix Deutschland (Sachsenring) Marc Márquez
July 21 U.S. Grand Prix (Mazda Raceway) Marc Márquez
August 18 Indianapolis Grand Prix (Indianapolis) Marc Márquez
August 25 Grand Prix České Republiky (Brno) Marc Márquez
September 1 British Grand Prix (Silverstone) Jorge Lorenzo
September 12 Grand Prix di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini (Misano) Jorge Lorenzo
September 29 Gran Premio de Aragón (MotorLand Aragón) Marc Márquez
October 13 Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix (Sepang) Dani Pedrosa
October 20 Australian Grand Prix (Phillip Island) Jorge Lorenzo
October 27 Grand Prix of Japan (Motegi) Jorge Lorenzo
November 10 Gran Premio de la Comunitat Valenciana (Valencia) Jorge Lorenzo
There was only one moment all year that suggested Valentino Rossi was again going to be a winner in MotoGP: the opening round in Qatar, where he charged through the pack to grab second place. On that night it really seemed like he had lost none of his magic.
In fact, Rossi probably hasn’t lost much of his magic, but you need more magic than that to win now, just like Max Biaggi needed more magic when Rossi arrived in 500s. Riding technique has moved on during the last few seasons, firstly when Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo were winning while Rossi was wobbling around on the Ducati. And it moved on again during 2013 when Márquez took things to another level.
Yes, Rossi won at Assen, and a win is a win is a win, and to finish first, first you must finish, but even he knows that he wouldn’t have won that race if Lorenzo hadn’t just gone under the knife to fix a collarbone, if Márquez hadn’t been badly beaten in a practice highside and if Pedrosa hadn’t suffered serious tyre issues that day. Likewise, after his rousing ride at Qatar, his three other podium finishes – at the Sachsenring, Laguna, Aragón and Phillip Island – all occurred at races where one or more of the three Spaniards was in trouble.
Rossi fans, please don’t get on my case for highlighting these facts. Rossi is great, but he’s had his best years. And he always knew – as anyone must – that this time would come. I sincerely hope he does better with his new crew chief in 2014, but I’d be surprised if he’s any faster, unless he somehow rouses himself into one last charge. Scott Redding said it all a few weeks back when he surmised that Rossi is too old and too successful to be prepared to keep taking the risks required. And as Mick Doohan says: very few athletes in any sport have more than ten years at the top.
So, rather than just moaning about Rossi’s not winning any more, we should remember the great days when he was a winner, not a loser. If he never wins another race, he will always be a legend. Some say the nine-time champ should retire now, but most racers have to get beaten an awful lot before they can bring themselves to leave the sport they love so much. Only Rossi knows when he will have had enough of defeat.