Factory Future

Posted on 15 Sep, 2014 by Scott Jones
Pol Espargaro Le Mans 2014

Marc Marquez is only 21 years old. Likely to win his second premier class title in as many tries, his is a future of on-track tyranny. Assuming he continues to improve and mature with experience, he has the potential to be the Michael Schumacher of motorcycle racing.

That’s good for Honda, assuming Marquez is content to keep on winning with Honda equipment. HRC has probably learned The Rossi Lesson well enough to make sure Marquez is happy, and will do everything required to keep him from exploring other manufacturer’s offerings.

As Marquez romps through season after season, Honda has Dani Pedrosa as wingman for another two years, and next year Scott Redding can show what he’s truly got on a leased RCV213 with MarcVDS. Pedrosa’s spot is Redding’s for the taking should his results in the next two seasons earn him an orange and red Alpinstars outfit.

Honda has the youngest and brightest rising stars already wrapped in its warm (and Repsol-funded) embrace. Alex Marquez, Alex Rins, and now Fabio Quartararo are being groomed to take over for Marc when his time at the top comes to an end.

But at 21, Marquez could continue to be, if not a title favorite, at the very least a title contender for another nine or more years!

So where does that leave other factories?

Ducati is giving it all they and their big red sponsor have got, supplying not only their official factory team riders but also Andrea Iannone with the latest bits. Next year should see Pramac as a second factory team. Bringing Gigi Dall’Igna in to resuscitate Ducati’s MotoGP effort shows their commitment to winning without Casey Stoner aboard. Can Dovi beat Marquez even with a completely redone (and one hopes, more competitive) GP15? Perhaps the answer there lies in his results at Repsol Honda. Can Iannone, who battled with Marquez in Moto2? Time will tell on that one. Ducati’s next great rider may not have emerged yet, but we have seen time and again that Big Red will sign the best talent they possibly can.

Suzuki comes back in 2015 with (probably) a reliably quick Aleix Espargaro and rising star Maverick ViƱales. Their rider talent may outweigh their equipment’s ambition, but kudos to Suzuki for making sure they have fast riders as they rebuild their MotoGP effort.

Aprilia has a lot of work to do before the team must worry about how to celebrate a MotoGP victory, let alone how to beat Marc Marquez to a championship, but it’s great to see another manufacturer returning to the premier class.

What about Yamaha, then?

For the next two years they have the rain-making Valentino Rossi, who this weekend has proven that he still has what it takes to win a MotoGP race. Can he beat Marquez to a title next season? That would be: remarkable, not entirely impossible, not entirely likely.

For the next year, with a probable/possible second year, they have Jorge Lorenzo, who certainly can challenge Marquez based on rider ability. But, not being on a Honda, Lorenzo needs certain things to go his way. What will Bridgestone’s final MotoGP tire feel like? It may suit Lorenzo, it may not. Same with the new Michelin in 2016. But Lorenzo will need help from the rubber folks to make up the difference between what the Honda brings and the Yamaha doesn’t.

When Valentino Rossi retires, which must happen some time, where are Yamaha’s versions of Marquez/Redding/Rins/Quartararo coming from?

Yamaha doesn’t have Repsol helping to develop talent from the toddler pool. It has to try to grab the best of the non-Repsol backed speedsters. With the VR46 team staying away from Honda machines in Moto3, Romano Fenati may become a Yamaha guy in a couple of years. Rossi surely has his eye on other youngsters who can help him, and then Yamaha out, in the future.

The Future is Now

At the moment, Yamaha’s hopes for the post-Rossi era look pretty solid with Pol Espargaro.

Pol is one of the riders I know best personally, so I admit right here that I’m biased when discussing his abilities. But the 2014 facts speak for themselves.

He isn’t afraid of Marc Marquez, having battled with him in the lower classes and won enough times to know he can do it. He knows how to win a World Championship after a great comeback to defeat Scott Redding last season. Did you know he’s the youngest rider ever to score a GP point (2006, Catalunya wildcard, finished 13th at 15 years, 8 days old)?

He’s looking great to be Rookie of the Year and showing a lot of potential for 2015. He’s in 6th place overall, behind five factory riders and ahead of four riders with factory support (Iannone, Bradl, Bautista, Crutchlow). For 2014 he’s the best of the rest and then a bit more, doing a great job on a satellite bike without Open rule advantages.

I’ve written before about how strongly I feel that rookies in MotoGP should not be moved up too quickly. I still think satellite teams such as Tech 3 Yamaha are perfect for talented rookies. While expectations for Pol are high because he’s the Moto2 champ, no one really expect him to win a race this season. His 4th place finish and 2nd place qualifying at Le Mans were fantastic rookie results.

But for Pol in his second MotoGP season, I wish Yamaha would offer factory supported bikes as Honda does with LCR and (at the moment) Gresini. I know there are compelling reasons for Yamaha not to do this ($), but still I wish they would so that riders like Pol, with a year’s experience on the big bike, could be at slightly less of a disadvantage in a world where hundredths of a second count.

Perhaps this is a naive wish. Given that Pol is already outperforming riders with factory support, some of them with Open classification advantages, perhaps being on the same bike as Lorenzo and Rossi would be less help than I imagine it would.

But my intuition says that Pol will be ready to win a race next season, at least in terms of what he brings to the rider-bike combination. If only he could have a bike that’s ready, too.


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