It's been a MotoGP™ season of triumph, despair, tension and a popular breakthrough win – and we are only halfway there!
Yep, the ninth race of the year at Sachsenring in Germany on July 17 marked the mid-point on the 2016 MotoGP™ calendar, with Repsol Honda's Marc Marquez producing a stirring win in mixed conditions after being the first rider to swap to slick tyres.
It was fitting that Marquez signed off before the summer break with the spoils, as the two-time world champion has been the most reliable front runner all year, finishing on the podium in eight races, with world champion Jorge Lorenzo the next best on five followed by Valentino Rossi on four.
That unfailing consistency is the reason Marquez will take some catching in the second half of the season, as he currently holds a 48pt (170 to 122) lead over Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha), with Rossi (Movistar Yamaha, 111) in third ahead of Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda, 96), Maverick Vinales (Ecstar Suzuki, 83) and Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech 3, 72).
Lorenzo also had other things on his mind early in the season, as he contemplated – and then ultimately said yes – to joining Ducati in 2017, which kickstarted a domino effect of other moves such as Vinales agreeing to replace Lorenzo at Yamaha and Andrea Iannone signing with Suzuki. Meanwhile Rossi, Marquez and Pedrosa are remaining put in 2017.
Back to 2016. Marquez and Lorenzo have won three races apiece, while Rossi has bagged two – and the other belongs to garrulous Aussie Jack Miller (Estrella Alicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda) who beat all-comers in a wet race at Assen to snare his maiden MotoGP™ win in just his second season.
Miller entered the record books at all sorts of levels, including becoming the 10th youngest rider of all time to win a premier class race and the first win for a non-factory rider in MotoGP since Spaniard Ton Elias in 2006.
The celebrations were hearty, to say the least, including drinking champagne from his boot on the podium, promoting raucous laughter in the press conference, and then hanging back in the Marc VDS hospitality unit to continue the revelry. It was like stepping back into the 1980s…
The victory at Assen has appeared to galvanize Miller, who led Sachsenring briefly during the shuffle of pit stops, and then was fast in a test session at the Red Bull Ring in Austria which will kickstart the second half of the year on August 14.
Red Bull Ring, with its stop and go nature, is a great fit for Ducati, which is still searching for its first victory since Casey Stoner in 2010. Stoner was also testing for Ducati at Red Bull Ring, and ended up third overall behind Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso.
Iannone and Dovizioso are eight and ninth in the standings – trailing behind Spaniard Hector Barbera (Avintia Racing Ducati) who is riding a three-year-old machine. Dovizioso has particularly been unlucky, and has been taken out twice by Iannone and Pedrosa respectively.
Meanwhile, despite three wins in 2016 Lorenzo's form has tapered over the last few rounds – his wet-weather form particularly pedestrian – while if Rossi is to win his eighth MotoGP™ title he will have to be the first rider since Aussie Mick Doohan in 1998 to reach the pinnacle after three DNFs.
Here's the mid-season scorecard for all the riders, with their pre-season scores in brackets:
Jorge Lorenzo: 8/10 (9/10). Hasn't been his normal inch-perfect metronomic self, but still has three wins to his name and high hopes that he can finish up at Yamaha on a high.
Valentino Rossi: 8/10 (7/10): Two brilliant victories have been punctuated by a couple of costly crashes and an inexplicable engine failure at his beloved Mugello. Now a huge task to win his eighth MotoGP title.
Marc Marquez: 9.5/10 (8/10): Has been a consistent force at the front, showing all his normal flair as well as a new level of maturity. It's no surprise he's leading the championship by 48pts, and ominously he's a rocket around some of the second half circuits such as Phillip Island.
Dani Pedrosa: 7/10 (6.5/10): After a moderate pre-season, he's found his wings but perhaps not at the level that some observers expected. Finished 2015 with a wet sail, and will be hoping for more of the same in 2016.
Andrea Iannone: 5/10 (7/10): Only five point-scoring results to his name and a much-maligned figure after taking out Dovizioso and Lorenzo earlier in the season. Has collected two podiums, so pace is not an issue, and if he maintains his new-found composure he could finish in the championship top five.
Andrea Dovizioso: 5.5/10 (6/10): Luck hasn’t been on his side, but he's also made a few blues as well which is why he's ninth in the standings. Like Iannone, he has two first-half podiums.
Maverick Vinales: 7/10 (8.5/10): Brilliant pre-season has now been tempered slightly by the harsh realities of GP racing at the top level, but he is hanging tough and will be looking for more podiums – and perhaps a sneaky win a-la Miler – to complete the season before he switches to Yamaha.
Aleix Espargaro: 5/10 (5.5/10): Two fifths and a sixth have been the highlights, and he's just outside the top 10. Another who is on the move in 2017 as he makes the switch to Aprilia alongside Sam Lowes.
Alvaro Bautista: 4/10 (3/10): The late-arriving RS-16 machine continues to improve, but motivation must be an issue knowing that he won't be with the team in 2017.
Stefan Bradl: 4.5/10 (3/10): The German is in the same boat as Bautista – he's looking for a job outside of MotoGP – but he's been solid with a best finish of seventh. Had to sit out his home GP again after crashing in morning warm-up and getting concussed.
Jack Miller: 5/10 (4.5/10). The victory at Assen bumps up his score, but before that it was a hard road for the Townsville rider who was competing while recovering from a broken right leg courtesy of a pre-season motocross crash. Is slowly proving his mettle on the toughest road racing stage and has re-signed with Marc VDS in 2017.
Tito Rabat: 3/10 (5/10): The 2014 Moto2™ world champion went on a crash fest in the pre-season and, although he's now upright more than dusting himself off, it has been massive struggle for the Spaniard.
Cal Crutchlow: 4.5/10 (7/10). The great tease of MotoGP competition continues, with the Briton consistently fast enough to do some damage but unable to string enough finishes together. Second place at Sachsenring was his first podium of the year after being one of fast men during pre-season with the new spec electronics and Michelin tyres.
Scott Redding: 5.5/10 (7/10): Has really come on strong in the last two rain-affected races. Is 12th in the standings on his Ducati, among a logjam of riders looking to sneak into the top 10 by season's end.
Danilo Petrucci: 3.5/10 (5.5/10): Injury has wreaked havoc on his campaign, and his second half of the season should be way more profitable.
Hector Barbera: 7/10 (7.5/10): A superb year so far for the veteran on the three-year-old Ducati. Aside from Marquez and Eugene Laverty, he is the only other rider to have scored points in all nine races and richly deserves to be sitting in seventh place.
Loris Baz: 2/10 (6/10): The Frenchman has had his injury concerns as well, and has only scored a handful of points.
Pol Espargaro: 7/10 (6.5/10): The leading Independent Team rider, and probably not held in as high esteem as his results suggest. Has signed for KTM in 2017.
Bradley Smith: 4/10 (6/10): The Briton just hasn't clicked into top gear this year, with his teammate (Pol Espargaro) a class above. Like Espargaro, heading to KTM next year.
Yonny Hernandez: 2/10 (5.5/10): Only 3pts in the bank at this stage, but the Columbian certainly has the pace to eke out a lot more in the second half of the season.
Eugene Laverty: 6.5/10 (4/10). The Irishman has been a pillar of consistency, and has scored points in every round. Has a tough gig to remain in the top 10, but he'll be giving it his all.