With just days to go until MotoGP hits the second half of the season, now is a good time to start asking the question who is in the hot seat for the 2015 MotoGP championship. Valentino Rossi leads the title chase by 13 points, but his lead is due more to his terrifying consistency than racking up win after win. Jorge Lorenzo had a seemingly invincible run from Jerez to Barcelona, but has also finished well off the podium. Andrea Iannone has been brilliantly consistent, but has not looked capable of winning, which is a prerequisite for a MotoGP title. Marc Márquez struggled in the first part of the season, but a new swing arm and a return to the 2014 chassis has taken the edge off the worst characteristics of the RC213V. Dani Pedrosa, meanwhile, missed too much of the first part of the season to be a factor.
Will Valentino Rossi pull off his his eighth MotoGP title, and his tenth title overall? Will Jorge Lorenzo become the first Spaniard to win three MotoGP titles? Or will Marc Márquez pull a rabbit out of the hat and take his third championship in a row? Let us run through the options and weigh the probabilities.
The first stop should be to eliminate the improbable. With nine races to go, and therefore a total of 225 points in play, the 2015 MotoGP title is technically wide open. But for all but the top four in the current standings, winning the title would need several major miracles. Theoretically, either Andrea Dovizioso or Bradley Smith could win the championship, but to do so would require either one of them winning all of the remaining races, and the two Movistar Yamaha men not scoring another podium again all year. So far, Valentino Rossi has finished on the podium at every race, and Jorge Lorenzo has a record of five out of nine, including four wins on the trot. It is mathematically possible, but statistically incredibly improbable.
Probability is more favorably inclined to Andrea Iannone and Marc Márquez, who trail Rossi by 61 and 65 points respectively. But even then, it would be hard. Neither man can win the championship on the strength of their own results, they need help from other riders. Andrea Iannone's title challenge is the most improbable; his third place in the standings is down to incredible consistency rather than strong results. Iannone's worst finish in 2015 was sixth place, and that was just the once. He has finished inside the top five for the other eight races, including two podiums. But to have a realistic shot at the title, he must win the remaining nine races. The Ducati Desmosedici GP15 is clearly a massive step forward from the GP14, but it is still to win a single race. Iannone is struggling with an injured shoulder too, damage picked up during a test at Mugello. The chances of Iannone being able to win nine straight are pretty much zero, and giving away any points to Rossi and Lorenzo would end any hopes he had of the title.
Winning nine races in a row is not impossible for Marc Márquez, as he demonstrated last year. In 2014, he won the first ten races with relative ease, and looked like he would go on to take more. The problem for Márquez is that even if he does win every race for the rest of the season – and we shall discuss the likelihood of that happening below – that will still not be enough. Added to his current total of 114 points, nine race wins would give him a total of 339 points for the season. Valentino Rossi could still end up as champion if he finished with five second places behind Marquez, three thirds and a fourth, giving him 340 points to Márquez' 339. Beating Lorenzo is a little easier, but still no sinecure. Lorenzo would still take the title if he finished in second for eight races, and third in the ninth, giving him 342 points to 339.
Of course, all this relies on Márquez winning the remainder of the races. How likely is that? Going on both past form, and on his form from 2015, very unlikely indeed. Winning at Indy is entirely possible, as a Honda has won there for the past five years in a row, including Márquez for the last two. But Márquez' winning margin fell in 2014 to just 1.8 seconds. The 2015 Yamaha M1 is a much better bike than the 2014 version, and Jorge Lorenzo is in better shape than he was last year, to say nothing of Valentino Rossi.
The racing at Brno has been even closer, with winning margins of just a few tenths in both 2012 and 2014, Jorge Lorenzo pushing Dani Pedrosa and Marc Márquez right to the final corner both times. Brno also features the kind of corners where the Honda has been struggling most: fast corners with heavy braking and a high-speed entry. The 2014 chassis has cured some of the entry issues on slower corners, and gives a bit more grip on corner exit. But the problem is only reduced, not gone altogether. Beating Rossi or Lorenzo at a track like Brno will be a huge challenge.
At Silverstone, Márquez once again faces a ferocious challenge from Jorge Lorenzo, at a track where Lorenzo has won and been very narrowly beaten before. Then the circus moves onto Misano, where Yamaha have taken victory for the last four years. Of the remaining races – Aragon, Motegi, Phillip Island, Sepang, and Valencia – the picture is very much mixed, with Honda and Yamaha sharing wins between them.
If Márquez had the bike left to him by Casey Stoner in 2013, he would surely be in with a chance. But he doesn't. Instead he faces the best Yamaha in years, with two of the best riders in history both at the top of their game. Barring disaster in the Movistar Yamaha camp, the chances of Marc Márquez taking his third MotoGP title seem impossibly slim. The bookies disagree, putting the chance of a Márquez championship at 9/2. That is not an investment I would expect to pay out. Andrea Iannone at 100/1 looks a much more attractive option.
So if it won't be Márquez, and it won't be Iannone, which of the Movistar Yamaha men will prevail? The difference is 13 points, is negligible. Disregard the rest – and given the tracks coming up in the second half of the season, that would be a foolish thing to do – and Valentino Rossi needs four more wins and five second places to wrap up the title. Jorge Lorenzo needs to win six times, and finish second in the other three, if he is to be certain of the championship. Should anyone get between the two Movistar Yamahas, then things start to get complicated fast. The role to be played by the other podium contenders should not be underestimated. This championship looks likely to be decided just as much by a Honda or Ducati rider, or even a Suzuki or a satellite rider such as Bradley Smith or Cal Crutchlow, as it does by Rossi or Lorenzo.
Who holds the advantage? That is a very tough call to make. There are tracks which fall for one rider or another, but the difference between Rossi and Lorenzo is marginal at best. Lorenzo has the edge at Indy, by virtue of a better record. Lorenzo has been stronger at Brno, but only in recent years, Rossi having ruled the roost there previously. Silverstone belongs to Lorenzo, having won at the track and always been in contention, while Rossi has never really got to grips with the place.
Lorenzo has an excellent record at Misano, having won three of the four last editions. But Misano is just a few short miles from Valentino Rossi's home in Tavullia, and given the show he put on there last year, it is hard to see anyone beating the Italian there, especially with a title in play. Lorenzo has the edge at Aragon, mainly because it is very much a Spanish track. The Spaniard also has the upper hand at Motegi, having won the previous two outings. Phillip Island should be a toss up, with both men having been incredibly strong at the circuit. Sepang is much the same, though Rossi may just have the edge there. Then there is Valencia, which belongs to Lorenzo for sure. Valentino Rossi has not won there since 2004, and has some very unhappy memories of the place, including losing the 2006 world title there to Nicky Hayden, and destroying a bike with a special Yamaha livery during qualifying in 2005.
In the end, the title will be decided by who can pull something out of the bag when it counts most. It will not be won by a victory by either Rossi or Lorenzo at one of their strongest tracks, but by digging deep on a difficult weekend to maximize their points haul. That scenario favors Valentino Rossi, as the Italian has been a paragon of consistency, even on bad weeks. The Italian is yet to finish off the podium, and barring mishap, looks to continue on the same path.
The same cannot be said of Jorge Lorenzo, who has been either brilliant, or merely good. Luck has run against him, suffering a bizarre helmet liner malfunction at Qatar, followed by a bout of bronchitis in Austin. But he has also struggled when he has been forced to use the Bridgestone rear tire with the slightly harder edge in conditions which are not ideal. He won on the tire at Mugello, but could not get the feel he needed at Assen and the Sachsenring. If there is one result which decides the championship, it is likely to be the one race where Lorenzo finishes too far off the podium. Which race will that be? It may very well be none of them, given the astonishing form which Lorenzo is showing. It might even go the other way, Rossi finishing in third a few times too many. The difference between second and third could very well be the difference between championship glory and the ignominy of finishing as runner up.
Who would I put my money on, if pushed? Rationally, you would have to say the scales are tipped ever so slightly in favor of Jorge Lorenzo. But my gut instinct tells me that it will be Valentino Rossi who takes the title in the end. The 2015 MotoGP championship will be won on pure ambition and desire, and in that respect, Rossi is second to none.
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