Who will be next to step up and dominate in MotoGP?
“The King is dead. Long Live the King.” World championship racing is often about dynasties. Almost from the start, way back in 1949, one year (as proud two-wheel fans like to remember) before Formula 1.
An excitingly varied 2022 season, now six races old with five different race winners, reveals a lively power struggle.
Who will be the next serial champion?
Geoff Duke started the dynasties in 1951, to be replaced by John Surtees, and thereafter Mike Hailwood (1962 to 1965) followed, for seven uninterrupted years by Giacomo Agostini. Then briefly Barry Sheene, then Kenny Roberts … and so on, though a golden age of variety until Wayne Rainey in the 1990s was succeeded by Mick Doohan for five years straight in 1994.
And then, unforgettably, Valentino Rossi, seven times between 2001 and 2009.
In 2022, we are waiting for the next one. A crop of hungry youngsters have been laying on a highly entertaining battle to be the man.
Valentino’s era lasted long after he stopped winning. The Doctor’s giant persona still defined MotoGP until he retired at the end of last year.
This in spite of the fact that Marc Marquez had a dynasty of his own, beaten to the crown only once between 2013 and 2018. For many fans, Marquez didn’t displace Valentino just by winning race after race and title after title.
It is beginning to look as though Marquez’s time might also be over, after a succession of misfortunes both minor and major have revealed a certain fragility.
Marc, who turned 29 in February, was MotoGP champion first in 2013, as a class rookie, having blitzed Motos 2 and 3. In 2014 he scored a record 13 wins in one season. Twelve wins in 2019 matched Doohan’s previous record (Rossi one race short on 11, in 2001. 2002 and 2005). But in 2020 things went wrong.
In a dramatic opening round at Jerez, after a splendid recovery from an off-track excursion, a heavy crash broke his right humerus. Complications meant three operations over the next nine months, and no more races until round three of 2021, still not fully fit.
Then two races from the end, a training spill left him concussed, with a recurrence of the diplopia (double vision) that had first struck back in 2011, scuppering his first attempt at the Moto2 title.
A second successive off-season of recuperation saw him return in time for pre-season tests, seeing clearly but lagging in fitness, and somewhat behind in adapting to an all-new Honda, more than a little different from the previous year’s version.
Undaunted, he was soon back to his cavalier self, willing to push to and beyond the limit in practice to understand the capabilities of bike and tyres better than anybody else. But at only the second round in Indonesia, in race-morning warm-up, a fourth crash of the weekend – an ugly slam-dunk high-sider at 125mph – left him concussed once more. And reawakened the diplopia.
After a worrying fortnight, the condition eased, and he was back in fine form for the US GP at CotA – only for a rare start-line glitch leaving him stone last and struggling off the line, at a race where he has won seven times in the last eight visits. A stirring ride saw him push through to an impressive sixth, a position he repeated next time out in Portugal.
But in the meantime, even as other established riders have struggled to match the pace, the new guys have been making hay.
The first head over the parapet was one of the more surprising. Ex-Moto2 champion Enea Bastianini, in his second premier-class season and on a year-old Ducati, won the opening round, and followed on by winning the fourth as well. The Italian, 24 years old, was already been hailed as the real thing, by no less than Marquez himself.
Other wins at the four opening flyaways went to KTM rider Miguel Oliveira and Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia – another surprise, as the first for both rider and machine.
The 54th championship, the eleventh for the current 1,000cc four-strokes, was hailed as prize that almost anyone could win.
Thankfully, the return to Europe restored a measure of business-as-usual. Defending champion Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) won in Portugal; a week later at Jerez he was second to Ducati rider Pecco Bagnaia, his main 2021 challenger. Marquez, meanwhile, was a heroic fourth, after a stunning podium bid on a clearly outclassed Honda was stymied when he almost fell at the final hairpin. Being a miracle-worker, he saved the crash, but lost the position.
Quartararo is 23, former Moto2 champion Bagnaia 25. Young enough to start a dynasty. But is one sufficiently faster than the other to do so? This year’s longest-ever 21-race season will give some answers.