After a stroll through the top ten, our mid-season review of MotoGP continues, and gains in both brevity and the number of riders under discussion. Here, we go through the numbers eleven to fifteen, from Aleix Espargaro to Stefan Bradl:
11th: Aleix Espargaro, Suzuki, 51 points
Where his teammate is being heralded as The Next Big Thing, Aleix Espargaro has struggled. At some circuits, his results have been impressive: two fifths at Austin and Jerez, followed by a sixth at Le Mans are right where Espargaro believes he belongs, running close to the front and looking for improvement. But the rest of the season has been mediocre. Two DNFs and three finishes outside the top ten are just not good enough for a factory Suzuki rider.
Part of his travails have been caused by the constant switching of chassis he has been trying. He started on a 2016 chassis, went back to a 2015 chassis, switched to an evolution of the 2016 chassis tested at Valencia, then switched back again after another test at Barcelona. Espargaro's hyperactive personality occasionally gets in the way, making him jump to conclusions which may not be there.
Aleix Espargaro also suffered a severe blow when Suzuki decided to swap him for Andrea Iannone. The Spaniard was left with a mild sense of betrayal, which lifted only a little after he signed with Aprilia. But Espargaro is nothing if not a trier. He has the second half of the season to set the bar as high as possible when Iannone arrives in the Suzuki garage.
12th: Scott Redding, Ducati, 45 points
2016 has so far been six months of frustration, with occasional bursts of joy for Scott Redding. The lanky Englishman has proven time and again he can be fast on the Pramac Ducati, but mostly only over one lap. Tire consumption is an issue, while rear grip has also affected him through the first half of the season. Ironically, he was a victim of the changes to the rear Michelin brought in after Argentina. Changes made necessary by the fact that it was Redding's tire which had shed its rubber without warning during free practice.
When it rains, though, Redding becomes a significant threat. A podium in the second race at Assen, then a fourth place finish in Germany, in the flag-to-flag race there. Redding's utter disappointment at the Sachsenring, despite one of his best ever finishes in MotoGP, spoke volumes about the ambition of the Pramac Ducati rider. If only he had chosen slicks rather than intermediates, he lamented. If ifs and buts were candy and nuts...
Redding has shown he can be fast, but he has not been consistent so far this year. That is why he was never in contention for the factory Ducati ride alongside Jorge Lorenzo. Redding still harbors ambitions of a factory ride, but his only route to one runs through a string of solid results. The second half of 2016 is a good place to start chasing that.
13th: Jack Miller, Honda, 42 points
They had written him off. 18 months in to Honda's experiment to take a rider straight from Moto3 to MotoGP, the verdict of the critics was unanimously damning: the jump was too big, and Miller lacked the maturity to be a genuine contender.
If there is one thing which every pundit secretly knows about themselves, it is that events are likely to prove them wrong. At Assen, it was Jack Miller's turn to put the boot in, by winning the race and then drinking cava on the podium from that very same boot. He followed it up with another near-podium, running strongly at the front all through the Sachsenring race.
What changed? In reality, there isn't a single thing. It's been a long journey for Miller, with plenty of ups and downs along the way. He arrived in MotoGP out of shape and not ready, and it took Alberto Puig to knock him into shape halfway through 2015. A horrific leg injury in the off season has left him with damage that will probably never fully heal. But he has made slow progress on his recovery, and grows stronger every weekend. The break between Germany and Austria should be long enough to make a big difference to his leg.
Above all, Miller needs to hang on to the confidence he gained from his win at Assen, the first by a satellite rider since Toni Elias in 2006. He has shown the talent is there. The hard part comes now, maintaining the long, grueling training regime to remain at the peak of his talent.
14th: Cal Crutchlow, Honda, 40 points
On a forum in one of the darker corners of the internet, there is a discussion topic betting on when and where Cal Crutchlow will crash next. It is a very harsh take on Crutchlow's season so far, but like all such harsh takes, at its heart lies a grain of truth. Crutchlow has come off his bike 14 times so far this season, the most of any rider this year.
The reason for the crashes is simple. The Honda RC213V has no rear grip, so it either spins or it wheelies. To compensate for the lack of drive out of corners, Honda riders have to try to make it all up on the brakes and corner entry. That overheats the front tire, and means the front just lets go from time to time. Crutchlow has validated this theory time and again in 2016.
Why does he keep doing that? Because he can feel that the results are there. A second place finish at the Sachsenring proved to everyone, and most of all to himself, that Crutchlow is still arguably the best satellite rider in the field. Through practice (though not so much qualifying), Crutchlow has shown he has the pace to be close to the front, or at least in the battle for the second group. What he needs to do in the second half of the season is take a leaf out of Marc Márquez' book, and settle for a place further down the field, rather than tossing it into the gravel. Perhaps the arrival of his newly-born daughter, Willow, will help temper his ire.
15th: Stefan Bradl, Aprilia, 37 points
After a strong debut in MotoGP, things have gotten progressively worse for Stefan Bradl. Caught out by the slide in performance of the Honda RC213V, then caught in the legal minefield that surrounded Forward's MotoGP team, before catching a break at Aprilia. There, he bided his time with the uncompetitive RSV4-based bike which came out of the ART project, in the hope of the 2016 Aprilia RS-GP paying off.
It has not done so, and Bradl is off to World Superbikes for 2016. Whether Bradl deserves it is open to question: he has worked hard, and not complained much, despite the bike still being massively underpowered (the figure of 30 horsepower down on the Honda is frequently bandied about). It seems a little unfair that Bradl is being bumped to make way for either Aleix Espargaro or Sam Lowes, the two factory Aprilia riders for 2017. But life is frequently not fair.
For the rest of the 2016 season, Bradl has only one objective. To pray to the gods of speed every night that Romano Albesiano and Aprilia Corse will finally bring the new engine – a major upgrade in terms of horsepower, paddock whispers have it – and put him in with a chance. The gods of speed are notorious deaf to the pleas of supplicants.
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