2017 has started. We have had one public test at Valencia, and a semi-public test with some of the factories at Jerez, and a private one in Sepang. We have only the vaguest idea of what will happen in 2017, and whatever we think we know is likely to be wrong.

No better time to make wildly inappropriate predictions based on half-baked ideas extrapolated from the sparsest of data points. So here are some of the things I predict will happen in the 2017 MotoGP season:

There will fewer winners, but closer racing…

A lot of factors conspired to allow nine different riders to win races in 2016. New tyres, new electronics, the strongest field in a decade. And then of course there was the weather, the lingering after effects of El Niño making for conditions that were hotter, colder, and much, much wetter than normal. It was a perfect storm (literally so, at a couple of races) from which surprise winners could emerge.

Things will be much more settled in 2017. Michelin will have a year’s worth of data from a full field of MotoGP bikes at every track with which to build new tyres. That means the tyres won’t change so much between races, which means in turn that teams will have a much better chance at working methodically towards a strong base set up throughout the season. The factories have a much better grasp of the electronics than they did in 2016, and much of their knowledge will have been passed down to the satellite teams. El Niño, the Christmas Child, is long gone, and the weather in Europe should be a little less unpredictable, and a little closer to what passes for normal.

The wildcard factors that threw up so many winners may have gone, but there will still be plenty of riders capable of winning. Marc Márquez, Dani Pedrosa, and Valentino Rossi can all be expected to take races (and more), just as they have done nearly every year they have been in MotoGP. The Ducati is good enough for Jorge Lorenzo to triumph. Maverick Viñales is likely as good as we all thought, and he too will win races. And if and when any of the regulars fail, there are plenty capable of taking their place. Andrea Dovizioso is good enough on his day, as is Andrea Iannone. Cal Crutchlow showed just how good he can be several times last year, and there’s no reason to think he won’t do the same again.

We won’t have nine winners in 2017, but there is every reason to expect we will see six.

Honda won’t quite get it right again …

At the end of every season since 2013, Honda have said their main objective is to make the RC213V easier to ride. And every year, Honda riders will privately admit that the bike has become harder, not easier the following season.

Some of this is because they have also made some major changes to the engine. In 2015, they changed the engine to give it more torque, but also tried to give it more top end. In 2016, they reversed the crank direction, to try to make the bike easier to turn. And for 2017, HRC have changed the ignition spacing, dropping the traditional screamer configuration to turn it into a big bang. All of these changes were aimed at making the engine more docile. Yet they rarely seemed to work early the subsequent season.

The reception the riders gave to the big bang firing order RC213V was familiar. After the initial outing at Valencia, Honda cancelled the planned private test at Jerez. Officially, this was because they had run through their full testing programme at Valencia. Reading between the lines of Marc Márquez’ and Dani Pedrosa’s statements, they were angry that the new engine still needed so much work before it will be ready to race. HRC are not where they need to be. But the good news is that they have found this out at Valencia, and not at the Sepang test at the end of January, by which time it would have been too late.


…But Marc Márquez will be champion anyway

Honda may get their engine not quite right each time they make a change, but the amount by which they get it wrong diminishes every year. The RC213V won’t be quite right at Qatar, but it will be good enough. By the time MotoGP gets to the Barcelona test, HRC’s brilliant engineers will have an electronics upgrade and a few magic parts to take the remaining rough edges off the bike. It will be a much more competitive machine than at the start of the 2016 season.

What will worry Marc Márquez’ rivals is the maturity he displayed in 2016. He didn’t throw away a probable podium in pursuit of a possible victory. He settled for third (or worse), because he understood that winning a title was better than winning the occasional race. Márquez will only get better in 2017, and the combination of another year of experience and a better Honda will be good enough to take the title.

Jorge Lorenzo will win at Qatar. And other races too

It is fair to say that Jorge Lorenzo is highly motivated by his move to Ducati. He has something to prove to the world, and to Yamaha, and most especially, to his former teammate Valentino Rossi. What better way to do that than equal Valentino Rossi’s record of winning back-to-back races on different bikes? In 2003, Valentino Rossi clinched his last race on the Honda at Valencia, then followed it up with a legendary victory at Welkom in South Africa aboard the Yamaha in 2004. Lorenzo won his last race on the Yamaha at Valencia, and will be going all out to claim the first of 2017 at Qatar on board the Ducati.

Can he do it? The Ducati is good enough, as two victories in 2016 showed. The GP17 should be even better than the GP16, and Lorenzo was quick enough on the GP16 at Valencia. Michelin’s tyre allocation should be a lot more settled in 2017, making Lorenzo’s job clearer. He has one of the best crew chiefs in the world in Cristian Gabarrini, and will have assistance from former double world champion Casey Stoner. Qatar is one of Lorenzo’s strongest tracks, and he won there last year. The omens are good for his first outing on the Ducati.

Qatar will not be the only GP he wins. The Ducati Desmosedici is not yet perfectly suited to Lorenzo’s style, nor vice versa. But there will be enough tracks where Lorenzo can use the corner speed the Ducati has to offer, and Gigi Dall’Igna has all year to play with the chassis to give Lorenzo what he needs. At tracks like Mugello, the Red Bull Ring, Phillip Island, and maybe Sepang, Lorenzo should be capable of winning. It’s probably a year too early for Lorenzo to make a proper run at the title, but he will surprise more than a few fans.

Johann Zarco will get a podium…

2017 sees an interesting crop of rookies enter MotoGP. Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger at Tech 3, Alex Rins at Suzuki, Sam Lowes at Aprilia. All four have won races in the support classes, and Zarco and Lowes are world champions. There is plenty to get excited about.

The best of the bunch, however, is Zarco. The Frenchman has all the tools to succeed in MotoGP: he is exceptionally smooth, has the focus and patience needed to learn, and his style will suit the Yamaha more than other bikes. His modesty – a strange trait for a world champion – will relieve any pressure he feels. He has an outstanding crew chief in Guy Coulon, one whose temperament should suit his own. Zarco was quick enough at Valencia, but more importantly, he made fast progress. He was even better at Sepang, if rumour is to be believed.

At one race in 2017, things will fall Zarco’s way. When they do, he will end up on the podium.

Photos by CormacGP

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