2015 MotoGP Season Preview: Hat Trick Beckons?


In just two years, Marc Marquez has done plenty of things on a motorcycle that mere mortals simply cannot do. He is quickly making a career of doing the unthinkable, breaking records we thought were unbreakable. In 2015, he looks to do something only eight riders have ever done before, win three premier class titles on the trot.

Kenny Roberts currently stands alone as the only rider in Grand Prix history to win three consecutive premier class titles in his first three seasons, following his 1978 championship as a rookie with a successful defence in 1979 and 1980. That is the only time a rider has won the title in each of his first three premier class seasons and that is the scale of the challenge facing Marquez in 2015. Don’t expect it to faze him though.

Very little threw the world champion off his stride last year. Not even a broken leg in pre-season slowed him down as Marquez swept the board in the early months of the season, winning each of the first ten races before Dani Pedrosa finally defeated him at Brno. Marc bounced back with victory at Silverstone before Yamaha duo Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo clinched two wins apiece in the autumn. Marquez had already laid the ground work by this point though and second place in Japan saw him wrap up the title with three races to spare. With the pressure off, Marc eased to victory in Malaysia and Valencia to take his winning tally for the season to a record 13.

After a much improved 2014 under new crew chief Silvano Galbusera, Rossi secured the runner-up spot, beating Lorenzo for the first time since 2009. Pedrosa was fourth overall ahead of Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso with Pol Espargaro seeing off his brother Aleix and his teammate Bradley Smith for sixth, earning him the honour of top satellite rider.

No sooner had the dust settled on Marquez’s second championship success than preparations for the 2015 season had begun in Valencia. Marc spent the first day showing his brother around the Ricardo Tormo circuit on his Honda RC213V as reward for his Moto3 success but by the end of the week, he had reclaimed his place at the top of the timesheets, two thousandths quicker than Lorenzo.

Sepang was the venue for the first track action of 2015 with two three-day tests in February and the story of the first was Yamaha’s improvement, Rossi and Lorenzo speaking in glowing terms about the new YZR-M1 after panning it in the build-up to 2014. The narrative was changed completely on the third day though with Marquez setting the fastest ever lap of Sepang to leave the Yamaha camp in no doubt as to who the team to beat were. Repsol Honda meant business.

Sepang 2 started in similar fashion to the earlier test with Rossi making a bright start but Marquez would rise to the top once again before the week was over, Lorenzo the only man able to keep him in sight. A serious game changer looked to have arrived though in the shape of Ducati’s new GP15 which turned heads with its aggressive design. Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso were both encouraged by the initial performance but in the final test in Qatar, the Italian duo showed us what the new Desmosedici was really capable of.

Of the two days to beat the weather at Losail, Ducati were quickest on each of them with Iannone and Dovizioso setting a blistering pace, a pace only Marquez seemed capable of matching. What was particularly ominous about their dominance was the fact that neither Iannone nor Dovizioso had run the softer option tyre available to Ducati as a ‘Factory 2’ team. They were genuinely quickest with an extra pace advantage sitting in their back pocket courtesy of the softer rubber.

Softer rubber should make Ducati very difficult to beat in qualifying (Photo Credit: Ducati)
Softer rubber should make Ducati very difficult to beat in qualifying (Photo Credit: Ducati)

The re-emergence of the Bologna-based outfit as a serious threat adds another intriguing subplot ahead of an already-mouthwatering 2015 season. Marquez rightly starts as favourite but it would take a very brave man to predict the same level of dominance he enjoyed in the early part of last season.

The pace of the reigning champion and Ducati’s revival won’t have boosted morale at Movistar Yamaha but both riders are bullish about their prospects. Valentino Rossi is still dreaming of a tenth world crown across all three classes while Lorenzo has a point to prove after his worst season as a MotoGP rider where his attitude and fitness were called into question. Jorge’s 2014 title bid crashed and burned in the opening two races but the Spaniard enters this season more focused, fitter and hungrier and surely won’t make those same mistakes again.

Dani Pedrosa’s role will be interesting in the early stages of this season with the 29 year old keen to prove he still has a MotoGP world title in him. With Marquez now firmly established as the premier rider within the premier class, his best chance may have passed him by but Pedrosa will not want his role at Repsol Honda to be that of a ‘number two’. To avoid such a fate, he must start the season quickly.

Honda, Yamaha and Ducati are no longer MotoGP’s only full factory operations with Suzuki and Aprilia returning to the fold in 2015 although the two manufacturers have contrasting goals ahead of their comebacks. Suzuki have slotted straight back into the series with a competitive machine and two exceptional talents to ride it, Aleix Espargaro and Moto2 graduate Maverick Vinales, and will expect to be troubling the top ten immediately. Aprilia meanwhile are bracing themselves for a tricky year with a development version of the old ART machine which ran in the CRT class ahead of a full-prototype motorcycle in 2016. Alvaro Bautista and former MotoGP runner-up Marco Melandri will need patience to get through 2015 with their morale undamaged.

Suzuki mean business on their MotoGP comeback (Photo Credit: Suzuki)
Suzuki mean business on their MotoGP comeback (Photo Credit: Suzuki)

The fight to finish as the leading satellite rider has a distinctly British flavour with Pol Espargaro facing opposition from three home-grown talents. His teammate Bradley Smith provides the most obvious threat with the Oxford rider knowing that a poor season could spell the end of his MotoGP adventure but Cal Crutchlow will also be in the mix after switching to LCR Honda. Testing suggests he is already happier with the RC213V than he ever was on the Ducati GP14.

After paying his dues on a production model throughout 2014, Scott Redding also has the factory-spec machine his performances have deserved. The youngest of Britain’s three satellite challengers has ‘returned home’ after joining Marc VDS after the Belgian squad’s long-overdue entry to MotoGP and will surely look to use Crutchlow as his benchmark in the early stages of the season.

The 2015 field surely ranks amongst the most star-studded MotoGP line-ups of all time with quality riders all the way through the open class too. Stefan Bradl steps into last year’s open class leaders in Athina Forward Racing, partnered by World Superbike race winner Loris Baz while 2006 MotoGP champion Nicky Hayden welcomes another star of SBK at Aspar in Eugene Laverty. Completing a stellar crop of rookies is perhaps the most talked-about of them all with Moto3 runner-up Jack Miller bypassing Moto2 altogether to pit himself against the world’s finest in the top class. Like Laverty, he will compete on the production-spec Honda.

After proving his quality in World Superbikes, Eugene Laverty has earned his MotoGP chance (Photo Credit: MotoGP.com)
After proving his quality in WSBK, Eugene Laverty has earned his MotoGP chance (Photo Credit: MotoGP.com)

We do know for sure that 2015 will be the last MotoGP campaign for Bridgestone with Michelin set to take over next season but several riders know that they risk joining the Japanese company on the outside looking in should they fail to deliver in the next eighteen race weekends.

Still at the tender age of 22, Marc Marquez still has the exuberance of youth to go with the experience and ruthlessness of a veteran. He won’t face the same pressures over his future as others in 2015 but 24 other riders will be doing everything in their power to make his life as uncomfortable as possible.

In the last two years, Marquez has redefined what it takes to be a champion in this sport and has forced some of its greatest ever performers to raise their game still further. That is the task that faces the likes of Rossi, Lorenzo, Pedrosa and company in the coming season. Step up, or sit and watch the new king of MotoGP take another step towards greatness.

 

2015 MotoGP WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP – TEAMS AND RIDERS

REPSOL HONDA TEAM – HONDA RC213V
26 Dani Pedrosa Factory 93 Marc Marquez Factory
MOVISTAR YAMAHA MOTOGP – YAMAHA YZR-M1
46 Valentino Rossi Factory 99 Jorge Lorenzo Factory
DUCATI TEAM – DUCATI DESMOSEDICI GP15
4 Andrea Dovizioso Factory 29 Andrea Iannone Factory
MONSTER YAMAHA TECH 3 – YAMAHA YZR-M1
38 Bradley Smith Factory 44 Pol Espargaro Factory
ATHINA FORWARD RACING – FORWARD YAMAHA
6 Stefan Bradl Open 76 Loris Baz Open
CWM-LCR HONDA – HONDA RC213V & HONDA RC213V-RS
35 Cal Crutchlow Factory 43 Jack Miller Open
PRAMAC RACING – DUCATI DESMOSEDICI GP14
9 Danilo Petrucci Factory 68 Yonny Hernandez Factory
APRILIA RACING TEAM GRESINI – APRILIA RS-GP
19 Alvaro Bautista Factory 33 Marco Melandri Factory
DRIVE M7 ASPAR – HONDA RC213V-RS
50 Eugene Laverty Open 69 Nicky Hayden Open
AB MOTORACING – HONDA RC213V-RS
17 Karel Abraham Open  
AVINTIA RACING – DUCATI DESMOSEDICI GP14
8 Hector Barbera Open 63 Mike Di Meglio Open
OCTO IODARACING TEAM – ART
15 Alex de Angelis Open  
TEAM SUZUKI ECSTAR – SUZUKI GSX-RR
25 Maverick Vinales Factory 41 Aleix Espargaro Factory
ESTRELLA GALICIA 0,0 MARC VDS – HONDA RC213V
45 Scott Redding Factory