The Tooting Trumpet is delighted to welcome Phil Sawyer to the blog. Here is his piece previewing the 2013 MotoGP season – let’s hope there’s more to come.
So here we are. At the start of the 2013 MotoGP season. And rare would be the MotoGP fan who isn’t feeling a spine tingling frisson of excitement at the prospect.
2012 was a curious fish of a year. Seasoned followers were anticipating another season of Casey Stoner dominance. Not necessarily with much excitement. But then came Stoner’s unexpected announcement, mid season, of his decision to retire from the class. After that, and compounded by an ankle injury, the fire seemed to go from his belly. Dani Pedrosa produced a late surge that led to six top of the podium finishes in the last eight races, but Mister Consistency Jorge Lorenzo held his nerve and did what needed to be done in racking up the points to take the title without ever quickening the pulse in the manner of previous showings.
This season, however? Already the pulse is quickened. Lets start with the obvious. Valentino Rossi. The Doctor, the GOAT, back on the Yahama M1 that, in his own words, he looked into the eyes of back in Welkom in 2004 and which whispered to him, ‘I love you’. It takes a strong spirit to let go of that kind of love and go in search of a new challenge, although some would question whether he saw his love flirting with the new kid on the block, Lorenzo, and realised her eyes were no longer for him alone. Does it take a stronger spirit to admit, after two failed years at Ducati, that things weren’t working and to return in the hope of rekindling that romance? The jury is probably divided on that one (Stoner, certainly, has strong opinions, and not complimentary ones, about Vale’s decision to return to Yamaha). For what it’s worth, I think it took a fair swallowing of pride on Vale’s part to admit defeat and return to Yamaha. And what motorcycling fan in the world can fail to think the world is a slightly better place to see Rossi once more at the sharp end of things on the timing screen.
Of course, things have moved on in the Yamaha garage in the meantime. Yamaha Managing Director Lin Jarvis has made it clear that, while both riders will be given equal footing, double world champion Lorenzo will be treated as developmental lead, and that he is now seen as the most likely to add to Yamaha’s titles. Pronouncements from all parties so far have been excruciatingly cordial. Which would lead the seasoned MotoGP follower to conclude that it won’t take much for tensions on both sides of the garage to rise, especially given that early season testing suggests that there’s not much in it timings’ wise. With none of the pitwall radio communications that so blight Formula One regarding team instructions available in MotoGP, it should only take a couple of wheel to wheel incidents to awaken old tensions.
Away from the Yamaha garage, Dani Pedrosa’s performances in the latter half on the 2012 season on the Repsol Honda have led a number of MotoGP commentators to suggest that 2013 could be Pedrosa’s year. So often betrayed by a fragile, brittle body that seems to suffer more than most from the crashes one can only expect when racing two wheels at such high speeds, if Pedrosa can stay on his bike many are predicting that this could finally be the year he transfers so many years of promise into a championship win. Pre-season testing times have only added to this view. However, there’s an elephant in the room, in the shape of the (very young) man who has stepped into Stoner’s seat.
Marc Marquez has produced perhaps the greatest buzz in MotoGP since Rossi’s early days, eclipsing even Lorenzo’s step up into the top class. World Championships at 125 and Moto2 class, but more than that it was the nature of these triumphs. A racer whose sheer audacity of move and breathtaking ability to carve through a field is unparalleled in many a year, his style not only draws comparison with Rossi but also with the occasionally headstrong but always exciting, and still sadly missed, Marco Simoncelli. A product of the Repsol Honda garage, his progression to premier class of the sport feels natural and deserved. Again, timings have suggested he does not feel overawed by mixing it with the big boys, and I’d be very surprised if podiums did not beckon in 2013.
Elsewhere, Andrea Dovizioso’s early showing has suggested that maybe Stoner wasn’t the only one who could ride that damn Ducati, and Alvaro Bautista on the Gresini Honda has shown promising pace. However I’ve saved, from the English bike fan’s point of view, the best until last. Cal Crutchlow has gone from strength to strength. On a satellite bike, he has taken the Tech 3 Yamaha and thrust it right in the middle of the factory riders. Building on a couple of podium finishes last season, he has, perhaps, benefited from the knowledge (and subsequent support) that becoming undisputed team leader has afforded him. Surprising many in his first two years with the pace he dragged out of the Tech 3 (and outperforming last year his former Tech 3 team mate, the factory team favoured, but subsequently dropped, Ben Spies), in pre-season this year his pace has been extraordinary, culminating in topping the timing screens in the final test, above all the factory riders (form that he continued into the first free practice of the Qatar Grand Prix, second and under 71 thousandths of a second behind Lorenzo in first).
As someone who remembers standing at the Mountain at Cadwell Park, watching Crutchlow power his flame spitting Rizla Suzuki around the circuit in British Superbikes not that many years ago, his progression has been quite extraordinary. And so, despite my love for Rossi, Lorenzo, Pedrosa and the young kid on the block Marquez, I know who’ll have me cheering on his every move during the forthcoming 2013 season. Staying on his bike while pushing hard, a problem that has blighted his first two seasons in MotoGP, will be the largest obstacle for Cal to hurdle. I just hope I haven’t jinxed him.