Just a few hours have passed since the checkered flag came down on the last MotoGP race in Austin, Texas. The riders are at a party being thrown in their honor. Just after midnight, everyone is packing up to leave. At the entrance to the hotel Spanish MotoGP rider Álvaro Bautista starts joking around with this year’s star rookie, his fellow countryman Marc Márquez, who won the race. “Why have you come to MotoGP Marc? We all knew our place in the rankings until you arrived, messing up the status quo!” he says with a chuckle.
But the more experienced Bautista is only half joking, and is in fact expressing something that many of the riders from the middle of the pack have felt since the 20-year-old burst on to the MotoGP scene.
“[Australian rider Casey] Stoner left and I thought, well that’s one less to worry about,” explains Bautista. “But Marc has got a really good feeling for the bike. He has a really special style. He’s very, very quick — I still don’t know why.”
In his first season with Honda last year, Bautista managed two podium finishes and one pole position. He is looking for a win, but things seem to have got harder for him since then. “Stoner has gone, but with the arrival of Márquez things are almost exactly the same,” he explains. “And what’s more, now that Valentino [Rossi] is back at Yamaha, he’s just another one to beat.”
In recent years just two riders have managed to upset the hegemony of the so-called Magnificent Four — i.e. Valentino Rossi (Italy), Casey Stoner (Australia), Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa (both from Spain). Those riders are Andrea Dovizioso and Ben Spies. But now they have to worry about Marc Márquez.
The riders in the middle of the pack — Bautista (Honda), Dovizioso (Ducati), Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha) and Stefan Bradl (Honda) — know that they can do little more than try to be as consistent as possible, and try to run perfect races. But even that might not be enough for them to get on the podium. “Last year I finished fifth in the world championship, and I just want to be able to improve on what I did in 2012,” explains Bautista. “Obviously I want to be world champion, but I’m realistic about it.”
We all knew our place until you arrived, messing up the status quo!”
Dovizioso is looking for answers, and quickly finds a few. “The level is incredibly high,” he says. “We are in a very special moment, with some exceptional riders. The fact that the number of riders who can hope to win is lower now can be explained by the type of bikes we use now: electronics decides about 70 percent of performance; the rest is down to the Bridgestone tires, which are the same for all the bikes; if you don’t have a perfect understanding of how to ride on the limit with those two determining factors, you won’t get to the top, no matter how much talent you’ve got.”
For his part, Crutchlow points to an accumulation of circumstances. “When the best riders are the ones who have the best bikes, the highest wages, and assistants who take care of everything, meaning that they have hardly anything to worry about during the week in order to be ready for the next race, the answer is simple. That’s what makes a difference. When the frontrunning riders had already left the circuit a few weeks ago, I was helping pack up the garage,” explains Crutchlow, who finished fourth in Qatar and Texas, in this, his third year in MotoGP.
Ahead of this weekend’s Spanish MotoGP, in Jerez, the British rider says he does not think it will be impossible to win a race — but it will be difficult. Dovizioso agrees, and is already taking for granted the fact that the fight this year will be of a different nature. “I have to develop the bike, but once I’ve solved the problems that we have I know that I’ll be able to get in the fight,” he says.
Bautista is even more positive. “I am convinced that I can fight with the top riders,” he says. “I just have to get really comfortable with that bike; I was able to beat a lot of those riders in 125cc and in 250cc, so I can do it here as well.” But right now, whether it’s due to electronics, talent or salaries, there is no room for surprises in MotoGP.