MotoGP: The unforgettable 2016 season

MotoGP: The unforgettable 2016 season

As the year comes to an end we look back at an unforgettable and historical MotoGP season that turned out to be such an emotional rollercoaster. The season that turned out to be special, significant, full of shock, suspense, speculation and surprises; we remember the highs, and reflect on the lows that made up a year of the fantastic MotoGP.

danielle-overend
Danielle Overend

So, the year 2016 turned out to be a highly significant one when it comes to the MotoGP; as the year draws to a close we can reflect on a special season comprised of suspense, speculation, shock, surprises, unexpected success, and a certain two riders saying ‘sorry’ and ending a feud, which will definitely have made its way into the history books, for them and the two successive classes Moto2 and Moto3.

Season got underway with official testing

Early on in the year the riders completed several official tests, already the Team Suzuki Ecstar GSX-RR was looking promising as they pretty much dominated by setting the quickest time on track. This was already an amazing achievement considering that the Spanish duo of Maverick Vinales and Aleix Espargaro were both beginning the second year of their collaboration with the team as they worked to ‘evolve’ the bike. Having completed his rookie year, Vinales was looking like he was definitely going to be making his presence felt throughout the season should their off-season success continue.

The MotoGP took to the floodlit track in Qatar for the season opener

The season opened as usual in Qatar at the Losail International Circuit. A dramatic end to the first Qualifying under the floodlights saw the 2015 MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo claim the first pole position of the year on his Movistar Yamaha, and then he went on to win under the floodlights. It was a positive start that continued on from a controversial championship win... but more of that later.

New changes for the field making it a more level playing field

The opener at Qatar was the first competitive race situation for the new tyre suppliers Michelin as the French manufacturers took over from Bridgestone the season previous. It was also the first chance for the riders to run with the ECU that all of the manufacturers had developed and had to use throughout the year to even out the playing field. This proved a problem for British rider Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) as he crashed out of the first round as he bike was ‘lost’; a malfunction in the ECU meant that the bike thought it was at a different location on the circuit.

New contracts due for many riders in the paddock

Now, heading into the 2016, everyone was aware that many riders in the MotoGP paddock were coming to the end of their current contracts.  Movistar Yamaha rider, and nine times world champion, Valentino Rossi was the first to confirm that he would remain in the MotoGP with his team for as he quickly sorted out a two year extension on his contract; this would take the 37 year old to 22 seasons by the time he is done.

Next to confirm his future was British rider Bradley Smith (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha) who was keen to announce that he would be claiming on a factory ride for 2017 as he confirmed he would be joining KTM who are collaborating with Red Bull as they make their MotoGP debut. Aware of the difficulties that a new project like this can mean, he was very optimistic about what lay ahead.

Wing watch was a treat

Throughout the year ‘wing watch’ took place as the riders gradually introduced winglets to the front of their machines to help with front end lift, and it eventually filtered down through to the Moto2 and Moto3 classes. It was immediately banned in  the 600cc class and was to be enforced on the 250cc class ahead of the 2017 season. The MotoGP field were left to experiment however and it resulted in us witnessing a wonderful array of carbon fibre attachements that came in a variety of shapes, sizes, and also quantity.

Safety concerns grew as the winglets developed from small attachments to big ones that made, for example, the Ducati Desmosedici GP17 resemble a hammerhead shark. Some riders and teams were quickly becoming dependent on them, and should the carbon fibre break off, the machine sometimes proved uncontrollable, and unsafe. There was also the factor that should a rider come into contact with them, it may injure or cause a great deal of distraction, and knowing how close the MotoGP class get to each other when battling on track, it wasn’t long before we saw Repsol Honda rider Marc Marquez getting poked in the back by one. Where the officials going to do anything about it?

After several incidents on track, a Safety Commission meeting resulted in officials decided to banish the winglets for the 2017 season; partly because some teams were unable to afford testing and developing time and it would therefore separate their achievements from the teams who were financially sound. As the riders were permitted to continue using them during the remainder of the season, they did, and although they were not necessary always included they remained a key part in the success of some riders.

Tyre controversy for Michelin at the Argentinian GP as precautions had to be put in place

The second round of the season took place at the Termas de Rio Honda in Argentina, a predominantly right handed track where, after a successful opening round for the French tyre suppliers, Michelin, doubts soon arose as during Free Practice 4; the rear tyre on British rider Scott Redding’s Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati delaminated causing him to run off track and injuring the rider; as the tyre forced the rear seat cowel up and it hit Redding in the back.

Two different compounds of the Michelin Power Slick, medium and hard, were initially withdrawn and replaced with a ‘special tyre’.  All riders were allocated four of this tyre for the race initially, and given an extra 30 minutes of practice on the morning of the race. Rain then threw itself into the mix creating more drama and riders were given specific instructions to adhere to dependent on the conditions of the race. After a very wet start to the day, the track had dried out enough for it to be declared a dry race of 20 laps and a compulsory pit stop had to be made between laps 9 and 11. Other precautions would be made should it begin to rain again.

Crash in the pits for Bautista has led to changes in procedure for next season

The feud between Marquez and Rossi from 2015 continued on track, but after they made the switch in the pits, Marquez was able to get away. Aprilia Racing Team Gresini rider Alvaro Bautista crashed when he switched bikes in the pit stop which then flagged up more safety concerns.

More controversy came when Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team), was in pursuit of his teammate Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) for third. Iannone braked late into the last corner, in an attempt to overtake Dovizioso, but lost control and took his teammate out. This allowed Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) to claim the last step on the podium and Eugene Laverty (Pull & Bear Aspar Mahindra) claimed his best ever MotoGP result in fourth and finished as the top independent rider.

Heroic finish from Dovizioso

Heroically, Dovizioso picked up his bike and instead of trying to get it restarted, decided to run with it to the finish line. So many had crashed out at Argentina that his efforts were not wasted, and he as he made it to the chequered flag, he leaned the bike up against the pit wall and after crossing the line exhausted, ended up in 13th place claiming three championship points. Marquez then slipped up when he went to claim his trophy falling over on the podium.

Iannone received a three-grid penalty and a penalty point on his licence for his mistake that caused the crash between him and his teammate. He also ‘blotted his copy books’ with his team it seems as this may have been a factor in new contract deals later on in the season. The penalty caused some controversy as it brought into light the Rossi and Marquez feud.

The ‘incident’ between Rossi and Marquez continues

In Argentina in 2015, there was an incident on track that involved the two. Marquez came into contact with the rear of Rossi’s M1 causing him to come off, crashing out of the race. Rossi was not affected, and Marquez was never penalised, it was classed as a ‘racing incident’.

After Philip Island in 2015 Rossi made accusations towards Marquez during a press conference, ahead of the Sepang GP at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia, as the tight 2015 championship was coming to the end. The battle for the title, that would have been Rossi’s 10th, was closer than ever, but after an intense conflict on track between Rossi and Marquez, the Italian accused Marquez of ‘helping out his fellow country man’ Lorenzo in winning the championship instead of him. Marquez was not in the running for the title, and Rossi felt that Marquez was setting out to distract Rossi to enable Lorenzo to win.

Controversial end to the 2015 MotoGP season threw everyone into meltdown

The Sepang round became even more controversial following on from the press conference and one particular incident on track threw the whole MotoGP world into meltdown. Fans across the world were divided on opinion as following a battle for third on track resulted in Rossi intentionally forcing Marquez out wide (on a corner with a large tarmac run-off area, but Marquez tried to still make the right-handed turn by leaning onto Rossi who kicked his left leg out to get the Honda off him. Marquez, was unable to make the turn without the M1 and so crashed out, and Rossi was able to continue on and claim the final step on the podium.

After analysing footage from all angles, some people believed that Rossi, as extraordinary as he is, was able to hit Marquez’s rear brake when he kicked his foot out and causing him to come off suddenly. But all he did with his leg was gesture as if to say ‘get off me’. Marquez had crashed of his own accord but immediately Honda appealed to race control and as did Lorenzo who felt that his presence was needed as they made their decision on Rossi’s penalty.

Rossi penalised yet finished fourth from back of the grid

Rossi regretted initiating the incident, and the outcome wasn’t intended; he more than likely wanted to spoil Marquez’s momentum so he could beat him to the finish line, not have the Spaniard fall off. Still after Honda and Lorenzo kicked off in the officials’ office, Rossi received three penalty points on his licence and had to start the final round of the season in Valencia, Spain, from the back of the grid.

Despite all his efforts to compensate, Rossi managed to make his way up to fourth in the final race of the 2015 season. Lorenzo won the race, with Marquez finishing second, and Lorenzo took the 2015 Championship title. This meant that Rossi and Marquez were definitely in dispute which continued on to the 2016 season, and it may have been the reason that all of the speculation began as to whether Lorenzo would remain at Yamaha for another season or not. It was emerging that Lorenzo was considering switching teams as the rumours began that he had been enticed by Ducati; a venture that Rossi had tried a few years previous.

Teams stuck trying to get to Austin due to severe weather

The MotoGP then began to make its way to America for the third round in COTA, however some teams struggled to get to Austin as they were stuck trying to get out of Argentina due to the weather that had plagued them during the race weekend. Eventually everyone made it in time, tired, but in one piece. Michelin had opted to make the tyre allocations for the elite class from scratch to try and abolish any more concerns there may have been.

Marquez had a great history with COTA having won the four previous rounds he had raced here. His domination continued as he again claimed the victory in Texas. Unfortunately for Dovizioso, he was wiped out again; this time by Pedrosa who was unable to apologise enough for his crash that meant that Dovizioso was hit from behind a second time, and could do nothing about it. Pedrosa highlighted his chivalry as he ran straight to Dovizioso at the side of the track, and after the race immediately went to his pit garage to again apologise and shake his hand. Rossi crashed out at COTA, after his teammate did so in Argentina; results that would prove to be significant later in the season.

Lorenzo confirmed move to Ducati in 2017 ending speculation

Lorenzo was forced to address the rumours circulating the paddock surrounding his potential move to Ducati. He confirmed that he would be making the move over to the Italian’s manufacturer but remained adamant that his focus remained with Yamaha and trying to secure the 2016 title. Whilst holidaying with his girlfriend in New York, he released a video thanking his fans for their support.

With Lorenzo announcing his move, the speculation from the rumour mill turned its attention to Vinales as he was the favourite set to replace the Spaniard at Yamaha. His move would then mean that someone had to replace him at Suzuki. Also, one of the Ducati riders had to make way for Lorenzo’s arrival. That meant that the battle was on for the Ducati Team riders Dovizioso and Iannone.

More tyre issues in Jerez but not for Rossi

Keen to make up for lost points in Texas, Rossi claimed pole for the fourth round in Jerez. He later went on to win; his first of the season. Six of the Spanish riders complained of tyre issues however after the fourth round the riders remained in Jerez to complete an official test.

Folger announced as Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider

On to Le Mans for the French GP, and the French Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team took the opportunity to announce that they had signed for Moto2 rider Jonas Folger to replace Smith in 2017. Vinales was coming under a lot of pressure to decide, although he tried to remain focused on the task in hand. Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati rider Danilo Petrucci made his return to racing after missing out on the opening rounds due to breaking his 'bionic' hand in Qatar and having to undergo surgery. Unfortunately, the stress his hand came under whilst on track in Argentina, meant that he re-broke the bones and he was again out of contention and returned in France.

Dramatic qualifying ahead of Le Mans GP

 A dramatic crash filled Qualifying saw Lorenzo claim a record breaking pole position. He won his second race of the season; a race where so many riders crashed out that not all of the championship points available were claimed. Had Marquez not remounted after his crash, it would have resulted in eight riders collecting DNFs in France.

More contract deals confirmed as Ducati announce Dovizioso was the man to stay

Pedrosa became the next rider to confirm his MotoGP future as the riders made their way to Mugello for the very popular Italian round, he confirmed that he had extended his contract with Repsol Honda for a further two years. Team bosses also hinted that they were keen to keep the team as it was as the rumour mill churned out more speculation about Marquez’s future plans.

Despite collecting three DNFs since the start of the season, out of the four rounds, Ducati announced that they had chosen Dovizioso to remain. Iannone had proven volatile as ‘The Maniac;’ had been involved in many racing incidents, and so the pressure was now off Dovizioso who could focus on making up for lost points.

Vinales confirmed his move to Movistar Yamaha in place of Lorenzo

The next day, Yamaha confirmed that Vinales had signed to join them for two years. The Spaniard, who had proved his potential since the beginning of the season would be joining the nine times world champion, a fantastic opportunity for the youngster destined to win a championship. As Vinales was leaving a space at Suzuki, Iannone who had become available was immediately snapped up by the Japanese manufacturer. This disappointed Aleix Espargaro who spoke out about how he had not been consulted in anyway about the team’s future, and so it appeared that he may also be looking for a new path on his career.

Closest finish of the season as Lorenzo beats Marquez by 0.019 seconds

Lorenzo was the favourite as they headed to Mugello, he was on pole, and again emerged victorious after another dramatic round; he fought off Marquez in the final corners crossing the line just 0.019 seconds ahead of him. Determined to do well in front of his home fans, Rossi was forced to retire as his engine blew; he left the track in a cloud of white smoke, failing to collect any more points as he fought for his 10th title. It meant that Lorenzo had 115 points in the championship and remained 10 ahead of Marquez in second.

Baz ruled out with bad injury to right foot

A big crash on turn one caused by Bautista who had trouble with his front brakes, left Loris Baz (Avintia Ducati) requiring surgery on his right foot that would haunt him right through to the end of the season; Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) also got caught up in the incident. Miller’s rookie teammate Tito Rabat had crashed during Free Practice and missed his home round because he required surgery on his wrist.

Barbera speaks out about machinery available

The result from Mugello caused Avintia Racing Ducati rider Hector Barbera to speak out about the machinery available to the independent teams. Running on the Desmosedici GP14.2 for the 2016, Barbera was disappointed that despite looking competitive on track, he felt that they had achieved all that they could with the two year old Ducati. He confirmed that they had not only matched the times of the factory riders in 2014, they had improved on them all they could. He was concerned that they could do no more and that the gap between him and the factory riders on the GP16 was only going to get bigger causing the Italian to become disheartened.

Disgusting behaviour from ‘fans’ at the Misano GP

Now in Mugello, the feud that had continued from the end of the 2015 season into 2016 between Rossi and Marquez was growing into potentially dangerous situations. MotoGP ‘fans’ of Rossi, were seen in busy crowded areas, burning a piece of cardboard that was dressed up to look like Marquez. This along with jeering from the ‘fans’ towards Lorenzo and Marquez called for appeals to the fans to stop. Rossi rightly refused to address the fans that were demonstrated their ‘allegiance’ to him, which he was right to do so; after all, why give attention to bad behaviour?

Pol Espargaro confirms move to Aprilia wih Smith

Pol Espargaro became the latest to reveal his future plans ahead of one of his home rounds at the Catalunya GP. He too confirmed that he would be joining his current teammate Smith at the new Red Bull Factory Racing KTM team. This meant that another place became available at the French team, and it was soon announced that he was to be replaced by Moto2 champion Johann Zarco.

The death of Luis Salom shook the MotoGP world

The seventh round of the MotoGP season turned out to be an extremely sad event that that had a huge impact on the MotoGP paddock and in turn the remainder of the season. During Moto2 Free Practice 2, SAG Team rider Luis Salom was involved in an incident in track at turn 12; an area where riders do not tend to crash. The session was immediately red-flagged as he required medical attention at the side of the track. After track-side medics prepared him for his journey to hospital, he was air-lifted to the Hospital General de Catalunya where it was sadly confirmed that he lost his life, despite everyones’ best efforts.

It was a heart-breaking moment for the family of Salom, and everyone involved in the MotoGP. In his honour, and with his family’s blessing, the meeting continued. Everyone did what they could to pay tribute to their fallen rider; each making their own individual tribute.  Sadly, after all of the data was analysed, it was found that it was a rider error that caused the unusual crash that led to Salom’s unfortunate fate. Salom was just 24 years old when he died at Catalunya, and his big smile and presence was greatly missed around the MotoGP paddock. Our thoughts remain with Luis that day, and with all of those affected by such a sad time.

Rossi and Marquez realised life is too short and end their feud

One positive however came from Luis’ passing. The paddock was hit with such sorrow, and riders Marquez and Rossi, who had been feuding since the earlier incidents that developed around the Sepang GP in 205, decided to end their disagreement. The realisation of the dangers of the sport that we all love and adore sank in, and at a press conference that followed they apologised and agreed to end the feud. It was much needed, and just added to list of amazing things that Salom achieved in his short lifetime.

Incident led to track changes ahead of Catalunya GP

The incident involving Luis led to an emergency Safety Commission meeting. The track was changed to avoid the corner where Luis lost his life, and the riders were in effect slowed up as they had to make an extra turn which would lead them to an area with a bigger run-off; therefore hopefully making it safer for those competing. Riders were given extra time to adapt to the changes of the layout.

Rossi emerged victorious at the seventh round of the season in Catalunya after a battle with Marquez; the two congratulated each other in parc ferme a the previous feud stayed at bay. His victory meant he was able to close the gap in the championship to the Spaniards, as Iannone struck again hitting the rear of Lorenzo’s M1 and scooping him off; both riders ended up in the gravel. Iannone received another penalty, this time he was to start the next round from the back of the grid.

More contract changes

Ahead of the Assen GP, Suzuki announced that Aleix Espargaro would be leaving the team and that he would be replaced by Moto2 rider Alex Rins who would be joining Iannone in 2017. Cruthclow confirmed his collaboration with LCR Honda and soon it was announced that Aleix would be joining British rider Sam Lowes at the Aprilia Racing Team Gresini camp this meant that both Bautista and his German teammate Stefan Bradl were seeking a new team.

Race Control decide to ban wings for 2017 MotoGP season

It was confirmed that the wings that we had watched grow so far during the first half of the season, were to be banned from 2017. Dovizioso managed to overcome his difficult start to the season as he secured pole for the Assen GP. The Safety Commission meeting also resulted in a decision to abolish the routine noise test on the top three finishing bikes at the end of the race; the Technical Director was still permitted to conduct tests at his own discretion whenever though.

Rain in Assen mixes things right up

Come race-day however, it had rained which pretty much divides the MotoGP riders in two; some can cope with the wet however some struggled. The rain storm hit with just two laps of the previous Moto2 race remaining. Iannone, who had been penalised, used the weather to his advantage, and immediately recovered up to ninth on the track. The track began to dry out however, yet rain still threatened, all of it completely mixed up the rostrum.

Tyres strategies the key in Assen

Riders opted for a full wet set up when the race began and Yonny Hernandez (Pull & Bear Aspar Ducati Team) was leading until turn one of lap 10 when he came off; he was able to remount and continue but crashed two laps later. Rossi’s red light, that riders have on in such harsh conditions was also not visible and so race control had no choice but to red-flag the race. It looked highly doubtful that the race would be restarted as the rain continued, but eventually a 12 lap restart got underway under blue skies; riders switched to the soft Michelin Power Wet.

The 12 laps that took place were dramatic as riders came off at several areas around the track as they struggled to get the required grip and confidence from the track. Several riders took the lead but struggled to keep it; Dovizioso was leading but he crashed out, as did Rossi who had to call it a day when he couldn’t get his bike restarted. It looked like it was set to be Marquez’s victory but then along came Miller on the fourth lap to take the lead from him.

Miller wins his first ever MotoGP; the first victory for the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS team

This was unheard of, a team that had not long joined the MotoGP field where leading with a rider who had jumped up straight from Moto3 after he claimed his championship. A dry line had formed and it looked like Marquez had settled for second behind Miller. The newly nicknamed ‘Jackass’ claimed his first ever MotoGP victory, making it four different riders so far, and Redding made it two independent teams on the podium as he finished in third.

Another wet round in Germany ,ant a win for Marquez with perfect yre strategy

On to Sachsenring for the eighth round which resulted in another wet meeting for the MotoGP class. It was another action-packed round as the track dried out, and wet-to-dry tyre strategies proved to be the most important benefactor on the day. Marquez was first to make the change, and slowly and surely some riders also opted to make the switch. But the leaders left it too late and messed up their chances of securing a victory.

Marquez played it perfectly, the rain held off and he went on to claim the victory. Although, it almost came into jeopardy as Crutchlow was a man on a mission to silence his critics that had trolled him on the internet; the expectant father at the time claimed second in Germany. Dovizioso claimed his long-awaited and much deserved podium finishing third.

Two days of testing at the Red Bull Ring before the summer break

Most of the paddock immediately made their way to the Red Bull Ring for private testing at the track which was dominated by Ducati as Iannone proved to be fastest at the end of the two days. There was a short break in proceedings before the ninth round which is when the news came that Bradl would be leaving the MotoGP and returning to the World Superbike Championship where he would be riding the factory Honda. Crutchlow’s wife Lucy also gave birth to their first daughter Willow; a lovely bit of news that led to a change in luck for the British rider.

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing unveil the RC16

After the summer break the 10th round of the season got underway at the Red Bull Ring. The Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team took the opportunity to unveil the livery the RC16 would be sporting when it joined the field. Iannone’s domination at the track continued as he secured pole after a dramatic qualifying for Marquez that saw him crash during FP3 and narrowly avoiding his teammate Pedrosa, he was taken to the hospital as his shoulder had dislocated, and then he returned in time for FP4 and then qualified in fifth on the grid.

Iannone became the fifth winner of the season

Iannone went on to win at the Red Bull Ring as the long straights that were well suited to the powerful acceleration of the Ducati which meant his competition struggled to catch him. Dovizioso finished behind him in second and Redding was the top independent team rider. Iannone’s victory made him the fifth different winner so far… there was more to come. It was long-awaited success for the Ducati team as they had not exzperienced such success since the Casey Stoner days.

Bautsita mixes things up more in the paddock

Ahead of Brno, Bautista announced that he would be making the move to the Avintia Racing team where he would be switching from the Aprilia to the Ducati. This had a knock-on effect on the two riders that remained, as Bautista was promised the GP16 which meant that the one who remained would end up with the GP15, and already felt they were set up for a fail in the 2017 season.

Miller was ruled out of the Brno GP due to injury. Lorenzo had broken the lap record during FP3 but then Marquez improved on it even further when he claimed pole ahead of the 11th round. Rossi had to deal with issues amongst his Moto3 team as Romano Fenati was sacked from Sky Racing Team VR46 for his behaviour, and they had to replace him, as well as sign up new riders for their Moto2 team they were working on introducing in 2017.

Crutchlow makes history with his first MotoGP win in Brno

Breaking a 35 year old record though, it was Crutchlow who emerged victorious in Brno. On Rossi’s 20th anniversary of his first victory aboard an Aprilia in the Moto3 class which was then made up of 125cc machines. It was another wet round and Crutchlow was flying. With 16 laps of the race left, he was 12th but then his surge began. He soon made his way to the front taking on several factory riders in the wet; his hard front tyre proved to be a vital choice. He became the first British MotoGP winner since Barry Sheene and the sixth winner so far during the season.

As the track had dried out, the pressure the wet tyres were under was immense. So immense, that Iannone finished with most of the centre of the centre missing. Not wanting to miss out on any more championship points after a messy start to the season, he pushed hard despite the fact chunks were flying off when he straightened up. He chose to finish the race instead of retire though, but lost a few places towards the end.

Four days of fun at Silverstone... Alex Lowes makes MotoGP debut

The MotoGP paddock travelled to Silverstone for the British round of the MotoGP season. It was a fantastic four days beginning with the Day of Champions and ending in a fantastic race, and typically in Britain the weather was all over the place. The Brit’s were desperate to do well at home, but Smith was ruled out as he damaged ligaments in his knee during an endurance event. He was to be replaced by Alex Lowes on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha making his MotoGP debut.

Crutchlow had claimed pole with an extraordinary lap at home, and Sam Lowes was also on pole in the Moto2 class. It was Vinales who stole the show in the end however as he won the British GP with a lead of almost 3.5 seconds over second place Crutchlow who did what he could to get a second win by overtaking Rossi in the final stages. Vinales’ victory made him the seventh winner of the 2016 MotoGP season.

Pedrosa returns to form with victory in Misano becoming eighth winner of the season

The Misano GP followed, the paddock returned to Italy where a crash-filled qualifying saw Marquez claim pole. Returning to the form that we all knew and loved, the ever so consistent Spanish rider Pedrosa however proved quickest in Italy and neatly won the 13th round finishing as winner number eight. This was unheard of in MotoGP history as things tended to be dominated by certain riders and manufacturers. However, the new ECU regulations, the lack of data at each track with the new tyres, and the mixed weather conditions was adding to the excitement.

Misano led to some controversy

At the press conference that followed, Pedrosa was asked who he thought could be number nine. There were many potentials with Pedrosa mentioning Dovizioso, much to the agreement of others; however Aleix Espargaro and other independent riders looked good enough for a victory. The press conference was also the scene of an awkward argument for the Movistar Yamaha boys as Lorenzo accused Rossi of riding too aggressively, to which the Italian laughed as he disagreed; all whilst poor Pedrosa sat uncomfortably between them.

Independent team riders Pol Espargaro and Crutchlow ended up in a small dispute after the San Marino GP as Crutchlow was initially penalised for running off track and Espargaro was awarded eighth, but after explaining what happened to Race Control, Crutchlow’s penalty was revoked and he regained eighth back that Pol was unhappy about… but then you can’t please everyone.

Hayden makes his return to the MotoGP for the Aragon GP

The 14th round at Aragon saw the return of MotoGP legend Nicky Hayden to the paddock. The World Superbike Honda rider was brought in to replace injured Miller who was ruled out of another round due to injuries. It did not take him long to get reacquainted with the machinery however, and adjust to the carbon fibre brakes, and the former champion was soon looking competitive on track. Michele Pirro (Ducati) had stepped in for injured Iannone who fractured vertebrae in Misano, and Javier Fores made his debut for Loris Baz at Avintia.

An all-Spanish front row led the way when the race got underway and with the championship at stake, it was Marquez who claimed the win. After crashing out during FP3, Alex Lowes was ruled out and flew home gutted. Despite the lead switching several times as the front runners made mistakes throughout, Marquez took the win.

Laverty confirms return to World Superbikes

The news came after the Aragon GP that Laverty would definitely be leaving the MotoGP field. He too, like Bradl, was in talks with World Superbike teams, and he confirmed he would be aboard a factory Aprilia for the Milwaukee team, for now.

Lorenzo has a taste of the Formula 1 Mercedes

There was another short break in proceedings before three consecutive meetings overseas. Lorenzo took the opportunity to take on Formula 1. He was given the chance to test the Mercedes AMG Petronas W05 Hybrid at Silverstone which came about through his sponsors.

A meticulous and very competitive Lorenzo appeared to take to the four wheels well and after initially putting the Formula 2 car to the test, and completing simulator test sessions he was let loose at Silverstone. The team were impressed as he was able to lap almost as competitively as the professionals. So maybe if it doesn’t work out at Ducati…? At least they were able to make a dream come true.

The MotoGP travels overseas for the flyaway rounds

Following on from Aragon was the three ‘flyaway’ rounds that added to an already eventful season, starting with the Twin Ring in Motegi; home to the Honda Racing Corporation as a test track for all of their machinery. There was the slightest possibility that Marquez could seal the championship, but many factors had to fall into place.

If he won, Rossi did not finish and Lorenzo finished fourth or less, then he would have done enough to claim his the title. But unwilling to think about it, as he felt that the odds were against him, he set out for a podium finish. Rossi was very much aware of the possibilities and did what he could to snatch pole position in Motegi in the final stages. Unfortunately for Dani Pedrosa, he suffered a huge high-side during Free Practice and broke his collarbone he was ruled out of the remainder of the ‘flyaway’ rounds. He was replaced by Hiroshi Aoyama. Mike Jones also made his MotoGP debut as he stepped in for Baz on the Avintia Racing Ducati.

Disastrous weekend for Movistar Yamaha allowed Marquez to seal the 2016 champioship

But disaster struck in the race for the Movistar Yamaha team. Rossi crashed out, and had no choice but to retire. He needed to rely on Lorenzo to stop him, but Lorenzo also crashed out in the later stages. Marquez just had to finish the race. He did it, claiming the win and his fifth title at his team’s own track. The celebrations began. The golden boy had done what he needed to do and did it with three rounds to go. The Movistar Yamaha boys were left to battle it out for second.

Keen to do well knowing Pedrosa was unable to compete in Motegi, Crutchlow continued his pursuit of the independent teams championship title, and worked to claim points for the manufacturers championship. Hector Barbera (Avintia Ducati) was also chosen to replace Iannone aboard the factory Ducati allowing the Spaniard to make his factory team debut in Japan; he crashed out and remounted but only finished 17th.

Philipp Island also hindered by the weather

On to Philipp Island in Melbourne for the second of the overseas rounds, and everyone was excited to return to a good majority of the riders and fans’ favourite tracks on the calendar. However, like many rounds throughout the 2016 season, it was hindered by the weather; and being a coastal track the wind was harsh enough, never mind the rain that hit on the two days building up to the race. Sessions were cancelled and the extended after a revised schedule had to be put in place to make up for lost time on track.

Crutchlow claims second victory of the season at favourite track

The weather made for an interesting Qualifying session that led to Marquez making pole once again. But when it came to race-day, it was Crutchlow who again stole the show, again making history with his second win of the 2016 MotoGP season, and ever. He was joined on the podium by Rossi in second and Vinales completed the podium.

Jones, on his second MotoGP race of his career, finished in the points at his home round as he crossed the line in 15th. 

On to Sepang, and the incidents from 2015 started to resurface. All eyes were on Rossi and Marquez and what would happen after last year at the circuit for the penultimate round; the feud was now over and it was back to being all about racing.

The MotoGP remembers Simoncelli as they returned to Sepang

The Sepang GP also meant it was around the time of the anniversary of the death of MotoGP legend Marco Simoncelli #58 who sadly lost his life in 2011. Prior to the race, riders and teams, and family and friends gathered at the corner where he lost his life after a racing incident where a plaque was unveiled in memory of the Italian. Five years had passed since his death, and in his name charities have worked hard to provide many opportunities for others in lower categories. His number was also recently retired from the MotoGP in a presentation where his father was present to receive a trophy of the number 58 in Marco’s memory.

Ninth winner of the season looking a possibility

With eight winners already this season, a ninth was looking promising, especially as Dovizioso had secured pole ahead of the penultimate round in Malaysia. It was yet another round haunted by rainfall as  the race had to be cut short by one lap to make up for lost time.

There was a hot battle for the win in the wet as they all pushed for the lead, which changed on several occasions. Crutchlow experienced three crashes in one weekend, and eventually had to withdraw due to injuries, allowing Pol Espargaro to catch him in the championship. A late mistake from Rossi, who was leading at the time allowed Dovizioso through and he went on to win his second ever MotoGP, his first of 2016, and made it nine different race winners in one MotoGP season; something that was unheard of.

Rossi secures second in the championship

Rossi finishing second in Sepang was enough to secure him second in the championship also. Lorenzo had made significant improvements in the wet, a problem that meant he lost many points earlier on in the season, but he had to settle for third in the race and the championship. The experience aboard the factory Ducati, although he did not claim any championship points, must have paid off for Barbera as he was able to finish fourth as the highest independent team rider for the first time during the season; a victory that was long overdue.

Season finale in Valencia; the perfect way to say farewell

The MotoGP class met at Valencia for the season finale. Not only was it the final race of the season, but with so many changes to the teams in the MotoGP paddock, it was the last time (for now) that those riders would take to their track in their current colours. For three riders, as Hernandez had lost his place with the Avintia Ducati team to Karel Abraham and will be returning to the Moto2 next season, it was their last race in their class. It was also the final race for the MotoGP field that we have grown to know and love during 2016, before they will welcome four new rookies into the mix.

KTM makes its debut on track

The Valencia GP was also the long-awaited debut for the Red Bull Factory Racing KTM MotoGP debut. Test rider Mika Kallio, whose wife gave birth to their daughter over the weekend of the season finale, showcased the RC16 in a competitive manner on track. Unfortunately it didn’t end as well as they expected as he was forced to retire with a fault caused by a cheap electronic component. It was disappointing, but that KTM looked; it’s another thing to look forward to next year.

No stopping Lorenzo on his Movistar Yamaha finale

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