After sending records tumbling and leaving his rivals trailing in 2014, few people could see beyond another runaway Marc Marquez championship victory this season but even fewer will have predicted the action, excitement and unprecedented controversy that would lie ahead.
A blistering lap to top the pre-season test in Malaysia suggested business-as-normal at Repsol Honda but beyond that, all was not well with the defending champion trying several different chassis in his search for a solution to a bike that couldn’t keep its ferocious engine under control.
His issues came to the fore at the very first corner of the season as he skated wide at turn one in Qatar, leaving the spotlight on Yamaha and surprise contenders Ducati. The Italian squad debuted the GP15 at the final pre-season test and turned heads immediately with its early promise but by taking pole position, they proved their revival was genuine.
Polesitter Andrea Dovizioso and new teammate Andrea Iannone had too much for Jorge Lorenzo who was hindered by crash helmet problems but Yamaha’s winning start was assured by Valentino Rossi who judged his tactics to perfection to hold off the powerful GP15 on the run to the line. Marquez recovered to fifth ahead of his teammate Dani Pedrosa but the elder Spaniard wouldn’t be seen again for three races as he underwent surgery to fix an arm-pump problem.
With substitute Hiroshi Aoyama unlikely to trouble the scorers on the second Repsol Honda, Marquez was expected to do all the running at the Circuit of the Americas and when his RC213V broke down with three minutes of qualifying remaining, the world champion was forced into an impromptu sprint to retrieve his spare bike. After successfully beating the clock to get back out on track, Marc proceeded to beat the lap record, clinching a scarcely believable pole position and he would go onto convert that into victory, leading home Dovizioso and Rossi.
Marc looked well on his way to a second consecutive victory in Argentina a week later as he led with the minimum of fuss but tyre strategy was about to transform the Grand Prix. Having chosen the softer option, Marc’s tyre began to feel the strain and the harder tyres on Valentino Rossi’s Yamaha were changing him from a distant second to an ominous threat. Marquez’s resistance was finally broken with two laps to go and his attempts to regain the lead saw him clip the Doctor’s rear wheel and crash. The season’s first flashpoint unfolded before our eyes but crucially, Rossi was making a considerable head start in the title chase.
Lorenzo had been left in the starting blocks by his teammate early on with the Catalan rider failing to make the podium in any of the three flyaways. After the documented issues with his helmet in Qatar, bronchitis prevented him from doing any better than fourth in Texas while a general lack of pace kept him back in fifth while Rossi was winning the Argentine GP. Something had to change quickly for Jorge to revive his championship challenge but a change of continent brought that much-needed change in fortunes.
A first pole position of the season at Jerez was followed by the kind of lights-to-flag victory that had become a Lorenzo trademark, Marquez and Rossi having to settle for the minor podium positions, while Le Mans saw him lead every lap once again while Rossi salvaged second to minimize his points loss. Home field advantage was expected to turn the tide back towards Valentino but a third straight display of dominance only served to boost Jorge’s confidence still further. The home advantage actually went Andrea Iannone’s way as he grabbed a maiden pole before beating Rossi to second.
As the season moved to Jorge’s home round in Barcelona, just six points separated the Yamaha teammates with Marquez effectively out of contention after crashing out at Mugello. Rossi’s margin for error was rapidly shrinking and despite pushing Lorenzo all the way, he was powerless to prevent his teammate winning for the fourth weekend in succession, closing the gap to one point.
If truth be told, the Catalunya GP was rather processional with victory never in any great doubt but the weekend did provide one of 2015’s great feel-good stories. When their Valencia wildcard outing saw them destroy more engines than lap records, expectations were lowered for the returning Suzuki team but a sensational display from Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales saw them qualify first and second on the grid in Barcelona, catching the world by surprise. Aleix would crash in the race while Maverick slipped to sixth but the returning manufacturer were winning admirers with every passing weekend.
The momentum continued at Assen with Espargaro qualifying second but the headline news was made by Rossi who caused a momentum swing of his own by pipping the Suzuki man to pole. Lorenzo was suitably unimpressed with the asymmetric rear Bridgestone and qualified a lowly eighth, improving that to third by the end of Saturday but in his absence, the fight for victory pitted Rossi against a resurgent Marquez.
Another crash, this time in Barcelona, forced the reigning champion to revert back to his title-winning 2014 chassis in an attempt to give him some stability and the early impressions at Assen were positive as he renewed hostilities with Rossi. The pair were inseparable from the first corner to the last but ultimately it was at the last that Marquez made his move, clashing with Rossi at the chicane and sending him careering through the gravel. Valentino crossed the finish-line first and was declared the winner, while second-placed Marquez was left conflicted by senses of renewed optimism and perceived injustice.
Although he was only rewarded with 20 points, Marquez was back as a serious contender for race victories and confirmed his and Honda’s revival with victory next time out at the Sachsenring, leading home fit-again Dani Pedrosa for the team’s first 1-2 of 2015. Rossi maintained the upper-hand over Lorenzo to open up a thirteen point lead at the season’s halfway stage with Marquez splitting the Ducatis of Iannone and Dovizioso who had fallen to fifth after scoring four points in four races. Bradley Smith had enjoyed a wonderfully consistent campaign and led the satellite battle in sixth.
The season resumed in August with MotoGP’s final visit to Indianapolis, for now at least. That news certainly won’t have gone down well with Marc Marquez who brought an unbeaten record in the United States with him to the Brickyard. Jorge Lorenzo did his best to break his compatriot’s winning streak but Marc held him off for his second straight win and to make matters worse, Rossi completed another damage limitation exercise by pipping Pedrosa to third.
In dry conditions, the Doctor increasingly looked to be swimming against the tide with Marquez and Lorenzo having the measure of him on pure pace. Despite qualifying alongside them on the front row at Brno, Valentino had no answer and trailed home a distant third while his teammate won from pole, bringing the two level with each other on points as they travelled to Britain.
Yet again, Rossi was powerless to keep the Spaniards in sight during qualifying but the weather gods were clearing wearing bright yellow and torrential rain swept in for race day. Sensing his opportunity, Rossi led from the front with Marquez crashing out in his attempts to give chase and Lorenzo sinking without trace, dropping to fourth. The remarkable charge through the field from Danilo Petrucci lit up a gloomy Silverstone afternoon but the Pramac rider had to settle for second, handing Rossi a fourth win of 2015 and an eleven point advantage once again.
More mixed conditions greeted the riders at Misano, setting the stage for one of MotoGP’s most extraordinary races ever. Despite an early bike change from dry tyres to wets, Lorenzo led from Marquez and Rossi but as the weather worsened, the home favourite seized control and his move on Jorge to snatch the lead triggered euphoric scenes in the grandstands.
There were more twists to come as the rain eased off, opening the door for a second bike change and having timed his switch to near-perfection, Marquez managed to gain the jump on the Yamaha duo who had eyes only for each other. Once Rossi had recognised his error, all hope of victory had gone and he plummeted to fifth but a rare crash for Lorenzo handed him a shocking reprieve. Bradley Smith, who didn’t change bikes at any stage, surged through to a sensational second while Scott Redding’s perfect timing in changing machines allowed him to grab his first podium despite decking it in the early going. The fact that Rossi was beaten to fourth by an inspired Loris Baz told you how astonishing the San Marino GP truly was.
Aragon, scene of 2014’s greatest Grand Prix, couldn’t quite match Misano for excitement but that didn’t bother Lorenzo who bounced back with a crucial victory as the pendulum swung his way again. Marquez’s erratic form continued as he slid out of second but Dani Pedrosa picked the perfect moment to rediscover his best form, defeating Rossi in a tremendous tussle to split the Yamahas.
If we thought that was impressive from the diminutive Spaniard, Motegi was a masterclass of tyre management in wet conditions as Pedrosa turned the tables on Yamaha completely. The weekend had been highlighted by a thrilling shootout between Lorenzo and Rossi for pole position but neither could keep Dani at bay in a rain-affected race. Despite trailing by over eight seconds at one stage, Pedrosa romped to his first win since the surgery that threatened to end his career earlier this year, a result that precious few could begrudge. As for the Yamahas, the weather gods had spoken once again and second place went to Rossi, leaving Jorge with three races to recover eighteen points.
The first of those came a week later at Phillip Island and MotoGP fans were about to be treated to another instant classic. With little to lose, Marc Marquez was in typically aggressive mood but Andrea Iannone was the star of the show, taking on all-comers (including an unfortunate seagull) as he chased Ducati’s first dry-weather rostrum since Mugello. Throw in the added elements of Lorenzo, Rossi and a championship hanging in the balance, and drama was guaranteed.
As Lorenzo spent much of the Grand Prix out in front, Marquez, Rossi and Iannone produced overtakes that will be remembered for years but surely their squabbling had handed Jorge victory? The outgoing champion had other ideas and with one of the greatest single laps in MotoGP history, Marquez overturned a seven-tenth deficit to deny Lorenzo three corners from home. The one consolation for Lorenzo came courtesy of Iannone who pulled a similar manoeuvre to knock Rossi off the podium.
Rather than bask in the glow of one of MotoGP’s greatest ever races, the sport moved on from the sublime to the ridiculous within a week as Valentino Rossi unleashed a stunning verbal attack on Marc Marquez in the pre-race press conference, accusing him of deliberately sabotaging his title bid to help Lorenzo in response to the incidents of Argentina and Assen. Marc laughed off the accusations but the events of Sunday would transform a simmering feud into all-out war.
With Dani Pedrosa on his way to a second win in three races and Lorenzo a close second, Rossi became embroiled in a battle for third with, of all people, Marc Marquez. The pair swapped positions on no-fewer-than fifteen occasions with Rossi’s irritation building with every manoeuvre from the Spaniard and on lap seven, tensions boiled over. Drawing alongside at turn fourteen, Rossi glanced at his rival before running him to the edge of the track. Contact was inevitable in the end, and the damage to Valentino’s reputation was as severe as the damage to his title hopes. The sixteen points for third place stood, giving him a seven point lead to take to Valencia, but he would start the season finale from the back of the grid.
Never before has a MotoGP race taken place in such an intense atmosphere but the Grand Finale captured the imagination of motorsport fans across the world. Rightly or wrongly, the focus was on Rossi as he scythed his way through the pack with a mixture of brilliance and ruthlessness but he could only make it as high as fourth, leaving Lorenzo with the task of finishing in the top two to take the title. Despite constant pressure from the two Repsol Hondas, Jorge held his nerve to claim the biggest victory of his life, earning him his third MotoGP crown.
The sequence of events that led to the championship being decided will surely divide opinion for years to come but one thing MotoGP followers can agree on is this. 2015 was a vintage year and unquestionably one of the greatest of all time. The most popular man may not have won but Valentino Rossi will be back for more next year. This season, simply put, the best man won. Jorge Lorenzo, three-time MotoGP world champion.
How the MotoGP Title was won…