Kicking Off 2016: Six Ridiculously Premature Predictions for the Racing Year to Come

A new year is upon us, and with it, a new season of motorcycle racing, full of hope, opportunity and optimism. What will 2016 hold for motorcycle racing fans? With testing still weeks away for World Superbikes, and a month away for MotoGP, it is far, far too early to be making any predictions. But why let common sense stand in the way? Here are some wildly inaccurate predictions for 2016.

1. Doubling down: Honda falls into the horsepower trap again

2015 was a tough year for Honda. Despite proclaiming at the end of 2014 that their goal for the coming year was to build a more user-friendly engine, HRC found it impossible to resist the siren call of more horsepower. They built an engine that was even more aggressive than their already-difficult 2014 machine, and all the Honda riders struggled. By the end of the season, they just about had the situation under control, but it was far from ideal.

Surely, after a season like 2015, Honda will have learned their lesson? Apparently not. The latest version of the engine Honda tested at both Valencia and Jerez was still way too aggressive, though the engine was now aggressive in a different way, with more power off the bottom.

Making things worse was Honda's inability to get to grips with the new unified software. HRC technicians were finding it hard to control the RC213V engine using the new software, or create a predictable and comprehensible throttle response. Given that neither Yamaha nor Ducati had suffered the same problems, the issue was not with the software, but the way it was being used.

All the signs are that Honda's 2016 season will seem eerily familiar to Marc Márquez, Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crutchlow (newcomer Tito Rabat has little experience of the old bike). Unless HRC sorts out its problems early, at Sepang and Phillip Island, they will start the year fighting to control the bike, rather than fighting to win races. It may take more than just one lost championship for Honda to learn.

There is one exception to the Honda rule. Jack Miller is switching from the Open class Honda RC213V-RS, using the old, less sophisticated (and frankly pretty awful) version of the unified software. For the Australian, things can only get better. Keep an eye on Miller for 2016.

2. Same old same old: Rossi vs Lorenzo for the title again

There are a lot of reasons to expect the title chase to be a repeat of 2015. With Honda out of the equation, that leaves two of the four best riders in the world on the two best bikes. Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa will no doubt win races, but Honda have too much work to do to be a factor in the championship. The Ducati will be better than it was in 2015, though the improvements will be incremental. Whether Andrea Dovizioso or Andrea Iannone are capable of mounting a title challenge is still very much open to question, however. The Aprilia is an unknown quantity, as a brand new bike. And the Suzuki will be better, but again, will it be a match for the 2016 Yamaha M1, even with the genius of Maverick Viñales aboard? It seems unlikely.

The 2015 Yamaha M1 was already probably the best racing motorcycle ever built, doing almost everything sublimely. Its only weakness was a slight lack of top speed, but you had to pore over the lap charts to find the gap. The 2016 bike is different in only minor details, the fuel tank having been extended and moved partially to house the extra two liters of fuel Honda and Yamaha have for the coming season. A fantastic bike will remain just that.

So that leaves Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo to fight it out over the title again. Both have many reasons to fight even harder in 2016 than they did last year. Lorenzo wants to prove that he deserved his third MotoGP title, and will be working on eliminating the very few weaknesses he showed in 2015. Rossi still feels he was robbed of the title last year, and will seize the opportunity to challenge for another championship if it presents itself. He is out for revenge, not so much against his teammate, as against the forces which he feels deprived him of another championship. Rossi is just ten wins shy of Giacomo Agostini's total of 122 wins in all classes, and four wins off bumping his premier class total to 90. Rossi turns 37 in February, but still has the hunger to compete, and be competitive.

Rossi vs Lorenzo in 2016 could be even better than it was in 2015. Two major factors have changed, the Bridgestones swapped for Michelins, and everyone on the same spec software. Lorenzo's advantage with the edge-treated Bridgestones is gone, but the extra feeling from the rear suits the Spaniard's riding style. Rossi spent the first half of his MotoGP career on Michelins, and though the tires have changed a lot since then, their "DNA", as he calls it, remains the same. Lorenzo's corner-speed focused style is aided by a smooth throttle response, which the unified software is lacking at the moment. Then again, Lorenzo is exceptionally able to adapt his riding, no matter what the bike set up. Rossi's experience with lower-spec electronics may also help him.

In the end, this will once again come down to desire. Both Lorenzo and Rossi have that in spades. Will the title come down to Valencia again? I would not be surprised if it did.

3. New tires vs new electronics – rubber matters more than bits

The coming season sees two major changes to the technical regulations. Michelin takes over from Bridgestone as the official tire supplier to MotoGP, and everyone will now be racing on the same ECU software, the unified software built by Magneti Marelli under the guidance of Honda, Yamaha, Ducati and Dorna.

Normally, changing two things at the same time is a bad idea, but Dorna had little choice. Bridgestone announced early in 2014 that they would not be seeking to renew their contract as official tire supplier at the end of that year, but it would have been impossible to find a replacement at such short notice. Bridgestone agreed to stay on for an extra year to give their successor (and former rival) Michelin a year to prepare their return to MotoGP.

Which is going to have the bigger impact on the series? The riders will complain loudest about the electronics, as they find themselves with a lot more work to do. Less anti-wheelie, and more importantly, much less sophisticated engine braking strategies will mean the bike will have to be controlled more with the right wrist and rear brake. We won't see a return to the glory days of the 990s, but the bikes will definitely be more physical to ride.

The electronics won't be the biggest factor, though. The switch to Michelins will have a much bigger impact on every aspect of MotoGP, on who succeeds and who struggles, who is fast and who isn't. The reason for this is simple: tires are the most important component on a motorcycle, dictating the limits of traction. Horsepower is useless if you can't convert it into forward motion. Likewise, corner speed is dictated by the limits of grip at high lean angles. Trail braking loads front tires, how they respond defining the terms of corner entry. Carcass stiffness and design controls how a tire deforms under load, how it behaves while deformed, how it transmits that information to the rest of the bike.

All this together controls the behavior and feel of the bike. Michelin's design philosophy is very different to that of Bridgestone, concentrating far more on extracting maximum performance from the rear tire. The tires are now mounted on 17-inch wheels, rather than 16.5-inch wheels, changing the profile of the tires. The riders will have a lot to get their heads around, and will have to change their approach and riding styles. The Michelins do not allow the same amount of trail braking into the corners, but they do provide a lot more grip on corner exit. The riders who figure this out best will be at an advantage.

So will we see a big shake up in the ranks, and big names demoted to back marker status? Not at the front, that much is certain. Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi are the four best riders in the world, in the best teams. They achieved the status they have by being the best at adapting and getting the last ounce of performance of every bike they have had under them. There are riders coming who may challenge them, but right now, those four men would dominate the series whatever the technical regulations.

Further back, there could be a few surprises. Andrea Iannone and Scott Redding got on very well with the Michelins, and Maverick Viñales was also enthusiastic. Pol Espargaro has been raving about the tires all year, but he did not make a massive step forward during the Valencia test. This is where the shake up will come.

4. Rossi vs Márquez will rumble on

Any MotoGP fan who doesn't know every single detail of the vendetta between Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez must have been living in the very depths of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, two and a half kilometers under the South Pole. To summarize for the Cherenkov radiation chasers: At Sepang, Rossi accused Márquez of working to help Jorge Lorenzo win the title during the race at Phillip Island. Rossi and Márquez collided during the Sepang race, Márquez ending on the floor, Rossi being penalized, and starting from the back of the grid at Valencia. Márquez followed Lorenzo at Valencia, but could not (sic Márquez) or would not (sic Rossi) pass him, making Lorenzo champion, and costing Rossi the title.

Leaving aside the veracity or otherwise of Rossi's accusations, the affair has utterly soured the relationship between the two. That is something of a reversal; when Márquez first entered the MotoGP class, Rossi treated Márquez more like a protégé than a rival, reveling in his successes, and relishing the battles the two had. That friendship continued through 2014, though a rivalry grew alongside it, as Rossi's results improved in his second year back at Yamaha. Things started going south in the early part of 2015. First with the clash at Argentina, where Márquez managed to make dismissing their collision there as a racing incident sound like an accusation of Rossi deviating from his line. Then at Assen, Rossi outwitted Márquez again, Márquez' move in the final GT chicane not coming off as planned, Rossi coming away with the win. The events of Sepang onwards were an inevitable result of the two biggest egos in the paddock clashing.

Have things calmed down since the end of the season? Valentino Rossi dropping the appeal against his three-point penalty at Sepang was universally acclaimed as a step in the right direction. Marc Márquez called it "a good decision for MotoGP," and said he hoped that he and Rossi could be friends again once things had cooled down a little during the coming season. At the Monza Rally Show, Rossi carefully skirted around the issue in an interview with the British newspaper MCN. He and his best friend Uccio Salucci both merely referred to Rossi being a little down after Valencia, but being much more relaxed after winning at Monza.

Rossi will have had time to digest the situation over the winter, and start looking forward to 2016. Márquez, likewise, is more focused on the season ahead than the season just gone. That ability is crucial for racers, lingering on past errors and injustices makes you slower, looking forward with hope and optimism is what brings progress and victory. No doubt Dorna will put the two together in the pre-event press conference at Qatar, where they will face a barrage of questions about their relationship. They will keep up the appearance of an entirely cordial and professional relationship, and gloss over the events of 2015.

But motorcycle racers have memories like elephants. They may choose to ignore the past when it suits them, but they never forget a slight, real or imagined. As long as they are not competing directly, they will remain cordial. But if they clash on track, for whatever reason, then the knives will come out again. The fires of this rivalry have merely been tamped down. Beneath the dark layer of ash, it smolders on keenly. The merest whiff of oxygen, and it will blaze white hot again.

5. The wildest Silly Season in years, with Rins and Viñales as the hottest tickets

Every year, the ritual of paddock rumor, idle gossip and wild speculation concerning who will go where and when flares up after the first few races of the year. The intensity of the speculation and the wildness of the rumors varies from year to year, depending on which riders are out of contract, and which seats are available. In 2015, there were a few murmurings, but it was a rather tepid affair. The year before, 2014, speculation had been a little more intense, given the number of contracts up.

If the number of potentially open seats at the end of a season powers the whirlwind of speculation, then 2016 looks set to be a category five hurricane of gossip and rumor. Whose contract is up at the end of this year? Everybody's, just about. All ten factory riders are out of contract at the end of 2016 (bar a few options), as well as most of the satellite riders. KTM intend to enter MotoGP with a strong factory team in 2017, bringing the total of available factory seats to twelve.

With nearly every seat open, many a journalist will take the easy option of simply linking every rider with every seat. The mathematically large number of possible combinations mean they can file twenty, thirty, fifty, a hundred stories containing rumor and speculation. This also has the happy side effect of allowing them to point to the predictions which turned out to be correct once the contracts are settled, studiously ignoring the ones they got wrong.

So who will go where? The most likely outcome is that the Repsol Honda and Movistar Yamaha teams remain unchanged for 2017. The two least certain seats belong to Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi. Honda may want to bring in a young rider (either Maverick Viñales or Alex Rins) to replace Pedrosa, and Yamaha may have to fill the seat vacated by Rossi, should he choose to retire. We will get an early indication of what is to happen once Jorge Lorenzo makes up his mind about his future. If he stays with Yamaha, then the amount of shuffling will be limited. If he decides to jump ship to Ducati, then chaos will ensue.

Though all eyes will be on Rossi, Lorenzo, Márquez and Pedrosa, the real excitement for the future is with Viñales and Rins. Viñales is widely regarded as the most exciting young talent in MotoGP, Rins as the must thrilling prospect in Moto2. If Suzuki don't bring a bike capable of getting close to the podium, Viñales will be tempted to move on. Rins is definitely going to move up to MotoGP in 2017, and Honda and Yamaha are leading the chase for the Spaniard's signature. Neither Jorge Lorenzo nor Marc Márquez would be thrilled with either Viñales or Rins as a teammate, seeing them as too much like competition. How they handle that could help decide their next moves as well.

Rins at Repsol Honda is a particularly intriguing prospect, for a lot of reasons. Rins may have lost the Moto3 championship to Alex Márquez, younger brother of Marc, but the younger Márquez' title is widely ascribed to direct interference by Emilio Alzamora, the man who manages both Márquez brothers, and who was managing Rins at the time. That was sufficient provocation for Rins to leave Alzamora, and strike out on his own. Since doing so, he has thoroughly outclassed Alex Márquez in Moto2, proving what many of us believed all along, that Rins was the better rider of the two. Rins has scores to settle with the Márquez family, and Marc Márquez will not appreciate having to deal with a young and exceptionally talented rider being brought in alongside him at the Repsol Honda team. There would be fireworks indeed.

6. World Superbikes stages a comeback. Or at least, part of a comeback

The World Superbike series has been on a downhill path for many years now. When did the rot set in? It became evident once the series was taken over by Dorna, but in reality, it had started earlier. Possibly since the Flammini brothers sold the series to InFront, at the end of 2008, which coincided with the retirement of World Superbikes last true star, Troy Bayliss. Arguably, since the retirement of Carl Fogarty, the man who managed to make WSBK more exciting and interesting than Grand Prix racing of the same era.

That is perhaps a bit of a stretch: the series was popular for a long time, and had some very high profile riders. James Toseland and Neil Hodgson kept UK fans flocking to the series through the early part of the century, while battling with Bayliss and enigmatic Japanese superstar Noriyuki Haga. Ben Spies and Cal Crutchlow brought more excitement to World Superbikes, while GP refugees Max Biaggi and Marco Melandri played the pantomime villain, Biaggi winning a couple of titles along the way.

Those names are emblematic of what is currently wrong with World Superbikes as a series. There is nothing wrong with the racing, closely contested races being decided by narrow margins. The bikes may have been tamed a little, but remain impressive beasts. The level of talent is beyond question, reigning champion Jonathan Rea arguably one of the ten best motorcycle racers on the planet today. Yet as talented as the field is, the series is perceived as lacking character, rightly or wrongly.

A couple of moves may help fix that. Despite a couple of pretty awful years, Nicky Hayden remains a genuine global superstar, and is as motivated as ever to succeed. Hayden is already generating interest among American fans, as well as the many fans around the world who followed him in MotoGP. Hayden will be joined by Josh Brookes, exactly the kind of brash, outspoken, and above all, fast rider which WSBK needs to raise its profile. Brookes gained something of a reputation in BSB for wild and sometimes downright dangerous riding. He would dispute being dangerous, but he is certainly no respecter of persons. There will be clashes, and there will be controversy, and fans will have a reason to pick sides again. A couple of high profile incidents, along with Hayden's down home charm, and interest in World Superbikes will start to tick up again. There is a very long way to go, but 2016 will be the season which sees WSBK turn the corner.

Is it fair that two riders who no one expects will be in contention for the title from the start of the season will be gaining all the attention, rather than the established talent at the front? Of course it isn't fair, but such are the vagaries of professional sport. Sport, as Barry Hearn put it so succinctly, is soap opera for men. It needs heroes and villains, someone for the fans to cheer for, and someone for the fans to hate. In an ideal world, they would choose their heroes on the basis of talent. But this is a long way from being an ideal world.

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Many thanks, David
Mouthwatering round up of what's in store. Looking forward to some ever more insightful and informative work as the season progresses and all the new variables play themselves out. Happy New Moto GP.

...absolutely nothing about CS??!

Was wondering if one 'ridiculously premature prediction' was going to about 'wild card entries!


From everything I have heard, I would be surprised if Stoner does more than one wild card, and I would not be that surprised if the grand total was zero in 2016. 

I also doubt that Stoner will do a wildcard, other than possibly P.I., and that only if he believes the bike is capable of winning.

However - if he DID do P.I. and got between Rossi and Lorenzo if they are close at the top of the WC table, one can foresee Lin Jarvis stationing people with tranquiliser guns beside BOTH of those two for the media conferences post-race and at Sepang...

I was a bit disappointed to read that there were no solid plans for Casey to do any wild card races.

I would love to seem him return to compete at Phillip Island, at least.

With Hayden, Brookes and Abraham moving to WSB, I reckon we're in for a stellar year. Those three will truly shake the establishment tree...

Curious why you list Abraham as well? I'm familiar with the others as 'personalities' but don't know much about Karl.

Because he is an experienced MotoGP racer, and is a fast guy - like everyone else in the GP field. Just because he tends to run mid/rear of the pack doesn't mean he's not a contender - he's always had second-rate equipement, so we've never really seen what he could do.

Anthony West is a good example of what we might be able to expect from Karel in WSB - remember he went from Moto2 to WSS, and brained the field? And now he's racing in a US superbike class and doing the same thing, winning on a ZX-10R. He's another guy with crazy talent who's been stuck on slow bikes his whole GP career.

If his bike is reasonably good I'd say Karel will run top ten from day one and be a serious top 5 contender, even given the depth of talent amongst the WSB regulars.

No silly season interest in him?
Poor Johann "Rodney Dangerfield" Zarco.

stuff here David, to keep us tragics occupied during the long break!

I'm concerned that the two new hopes for Motogp are both Spanish, hopefully Miller will improve on the new bike-any good news from the US on up and coming talent?

I'd say keep an eye on Bo Bendsneijder in Moto 3. He is the Red Bull rookies champion (by some margin) and I've been following him for years. Great talent. Not from the US though but who cares!

As I understand it, Viñales has a two plus one contract. He can choose to leave at the end of 2016 if he wishes to.

... more power plus better rear traction = Honda actually gets a package that works after figuring out the spec electronics a few races in. The additional traction from the Michelin tyre allows them to walk away from the Yamahas out of corners.

Dani, being the best in the field at getting power to the ground, leads the championship, only to lose it again in the penultimate round due to technical problem.

I think it will be very interesting to see how the factory Honda riders cope with their bikes' limitations as their approaches are typically poles apart. Also Dani has far greater experience of Michelins & hopefully his injury woes are behind him. Marc will take on the bike's problems head on & look to ride around them to get to the limit - as usual. Can't wait to see how that internal competition plays out especially if Marc registers some DNFs early on.

Will any manufacturer do what Honda did in 2014, nailing down their lead rider spot before mid-April (COTA) for '17-'18, or will it be a more normal silly season i.e. first signings announced at Germany in July?

Among the established riders in MotoGP, I think Petrucci would have nearly as much appeal to a team as Vinales. Petrux got more out of Ducati's parts bin specials than anyone thought could be done at the beginning of 2014, and I hope he reaps many rewards from it.

I'm probably going to get a lot of flak for this, but I truly, honestly never got the hype surrounding Maverick Vinales. Not even a little bit. Why would he be called a genius in this article? The only thing he really has going for him in my view is his consistency. Which is the way he won his Moto3 (and CEV) title, not by winning the most races or showing exceptional speed compared to the competition.

I am sure someone will point to the Rookie of the Year awards and say "There's your proof!", but when I look at the years he entered each class, I see him either sitting on vastly superior material compared to most (125cc) or all (MotoGP) other Rookies in the class or moving up to a championship with high quality but little depth at the time (Moto2). Granted, you still have to adapt and make the best use of the material and team structure you find yourself with, but I didn't see him doing that much better than I'd have expected many other riders would in the same position.

In comparison I rate Alex Rins' Moto2 Rookie of the Year title from last year (with more riders winning and on the podium) a lot higher, even if he might have finished the season with less points.
Also in MotoGP, which I suspect is the cause for his position in Silly Season, I don't see Vinales' Rookie season as exceptional, despite being on a Suzuki. Maybe I am missing something? The last real comparison is Alvaro Bautista in 2010 and he finished his Rookie year with only 12 points less, despite sitting out a race, doing several others still injured and having 2 more DNFs. Yes, there might have been less bikes on the grid then, but the bikes behind Vinales this year were Open Class and Aprilia which hardly compare to the Suzuki.

I might need to add that I am following Vinales' career since before he started in the world championship and despite his successes even then he never struck me as an exceptional but merely a consistent rider, who as a person unfortunately carried the distinct air of a petulant child (an impression that even former rivals like Miguel Oliveira or crew members like Christian Lundberg (very politely) confirm every time they are asked about young Maverick).

So, what is the attraction? I genuinely don't get it. Listening to the commentary of his first races in 125cc I got the impression that the main attraction was his name. Yes, he's now (mainly) mentioned due to his actual results and I don't dispute them for a second, but I still fail to see what sets him apart from other riders to warrant the hype surrounding him or his high value status for Silly Season. Maybe someone can help me recognize it? Thanks.

It's true, I became an instant fan when I flipped on the race at COTA in '14 and Keith Heuwan was screaming Mavvverick Vinales.

He's named after Tom Cruise, what's there not to like?

But in all seriousness his second half of the season in Moto2 (well from Aragon on) he was unstoppable aside from his foolish crash in Valencia. I became a HUGE fan of his racing after Motegi.

Pardon my skepticism, but even if it is a veteran championship rider like Rossi, I hesitate buying into the hype around someone just because Rossi (probably after being specifically prodded) says that he has potential and could maybe win in the future, all without any real arguments. I'd like to understand why.

You mean you want someone to say "Maverick is the next big thing because..." and then to lay out a detailed collection of quantifiable measures? Maybe his manager has that kind of data handy :-)

I am trying to understand the hype. I don't get it, hence my initial question for someone to try and explain what it is that supposedly sets him apart from other riders. Lots of riders have "great potential", what makes this one so special?

He's won in every class he's contested prior to MotoGP, with one world title already under his belt, and until 2015 he'd never finished a championship below 3rd overall... that in itself is significant; it shows a remarkable level of consistency.

He also won a number of European championships before his move to 125cc, and displayed that same level of consistency in that period too.

And he's only 20, so still has his best years to come.

While team VR does fairly well for itself, the riders haven't always performed that well, and, presumably Rossi rated all of them enough to hire them to ride bikes for his team.

... regularly beating your experienced, previously front-running-on-satellite-yamaha team-mate and getting on the front row of the grid on a SUZUKI in it's FIRST YEAR of competition is nothing special?

I've been following Maverick since his 125 days and the kid has talent. 2015 was an exceptional year for any rookie to the series, especially one so young on third rate equipment.

Not paying out on Suzuki there with their abilities, but their bike is a long way behind at the moment (end of season 2015), low power, no seamless gearbox, rudimentary electronics, etc.

His performance made Aleix look nothing particularly special in comparison on that bike, and Aleix himself IS something special.

He may not have had a Marc Marquez rookie season last year, but neither did Marc Marquez...

Yes, a response with arguments, that's what I was after! :)

You didn't really convince me, but that is fine, maybe I'll get the hype next year.

I completely agree that he was on subpar equipment in a highly competitive championship last season. He certainly did well enough in these circumstances and steadily improved, but I didn't see it as exceptional and I don't think he was regularly beating his teammate. He finished ahead of Aleix twice during a race with 11th and 6th place, in the second part of the season. In qualifying he did a bit better, also in the second half of the year, with four times in total. I don't really think that counts as regularly, or unexpected. Not to forget, when he was on the front row, Aleix was on pole. Yes, still a great result on the Suzuki, but it has to be noted that the guy on pole in the same GP was also on a Suzuki.

Given that it was the first year for Aleix on the bike as well, I'd say the performance was pretty much as expected in comparison. Aleix had a quicker start to the year with a bunch of DNFs and Maverick caught up at the end when he gained more experience. Solely based on last season I guess the trajectory should continue upwards steadily, so he'll be a good bet for Silly Season 2016, but we'll see. Like I said, maybe I get it next year. :)

... won me over in Moto3 when he made that come back in 2012. He was winning races big time but his team/bike couldn't keep up so he felt that the title was slipping through his fingers and at one stage left the the team and the championship. After couple of weeks he showed some common sense and ended the year third. Next season he won the title in the final race (Rins was also in the contention) with less wins than in 2012. You need a lot of faith, balls, character and nerves to do that. He proved in Moto2 next year and in MotoGP that he is a fast learner and a determined guy that has a bright future.
Just my humble opinion.

It'd be great to see a renaissance in WSBK, though with the motogp 'plot' as it is, there's a way to go before it will steal the limelight. I agree that the foggy era was the zenith, probably helped by motogp being a snoozefest at that time. I went to see motogp at donnington in 01, which turned out to be VR's first win in that class, and believe it or not I was mostly just disappointed to have been unable to make it to the British round of WSBK that year, and this was very much second prize.

15 years on and I could see this year being even more adversarial than last year. How about Marquez jumping ship to Yamaha for 2017? I reckon winning on multiple marques is going to be the next big thing for those seeking eternal glory.

Without anything other than the publicly available information, my take is that Rossi is taking this much more personally. Marc knows that he can beat Vale, pretty much any time he wants, but no longer trusts Rossi's sportsmanship on the track.

There are so many changes this year that even the most informed predictions are filled with speculation. Having said that, I expect better performances this year from Lorenzo, Marquez, and Pedrosa. While "writing off Rossi" is a chancy thing, IMHO, 2014 was the perfect storm for Valentino, and he lost the plot when he couldn't pull it off.

2016 should be a good year for competition around the front, but the stats for the top step of the podium probably won't change much. I think Crazy Joe may get his first GP win this year.

I don't want to bring up any 'old' arguments but the very nature of Rossi vs Marquez last year was the realisation of Marc that he couldn't beat Rossi any time he wanted.

I was of the opinion a couple of years ago that the only person who can regularly beat Marc in a fight is Valentino because of Marc's aggressiveness and Rossi being the greatest racer ever is a master of the how and when of every trick. It's no secret why Marquez has ended up on the ground in a lot of his battles with Rossi. He gets stuck and gets more and more aggressive until he bins it.

I can't wait to see how the lap times drop at the first Sepang test. Who is going to chip away, who is going to make big jumps from each day. I guess the first guy to do a race simulation will be no surprise this year now Rabat has moved up.

I appreciate your comment. After the 3 "racing incidents" between Marc and Vale, Marc was unable to finish 2 races, and finished behind Vale in the other. It is understandable that Rossi, his fans, and some other observers would believe that to be sufficient evidence that Marquez should be convinced that Rossi is not someone he can defeat at will.

Others, perhaps Marc himself, takes this as evidence that the only way that Rossi can beat Marquez is by deliberate unsportsmanlike conduct. Like too many others, I have my own opinion. Aside from the acrimony, that uncertainty is a good part of why 2016 looks to be shaping up to be a great year for fans of the sport.

I'd forgotten about Rabat. He stands out as a hard worker in a crowd of hard workers. I wish him well.

How about this for ridiculous predictions:

2016 will be the year of the Italian Renaissance in Grand Prix racing - both in MotoGP and in Formula 1. Ducati will surprise a lot of people, with Andrea Iannone emerging as the newest star alien; and Sebastian Vettel will take the F1 World Championship after a surgical and powerful campaign. Will The Maniac Joe win it all in MotoGP? You just never know. I think he just might. It is a tall order, yes, but there is much more aligned in their favour than is readily apparent in the mainstream.

My prediction of an Italian Renaissance, however, does not include Valentino Rossi doing what he should have done in 2015 - and failed to do, in what was clearly his year, as his mind-games backfired on him. You reap what you sow and you get what you have coming when Karma goes around knocking.

VR's teammate the Shark Jorge Lorenzo will not be affected by the new electronics or tires as much as his detractors (rivals?) predict (hope?) and the #99 will continue kicking Rossi's butt this year, sorry to say, displaying his dorsal with numbing regularity. This will prompt cries of unfair treatment from the #46, which will then precipitate his departure from Yamaha to join the new Pepsi-Suzuki squad in 2017, which old friend Davide Brivio has been methodically building up specifically for iL Dottore these past few years (are you really that surprised?) and Kevin Schwantz will give them all his blessing.

The other Duc Andrea Dovizioso will have a nightmare season as nothing will seem to go right for him, falling out of favour with Bologna brass after vocalizing his belief that Iannone is being given special treatment; and when the silly-season really goes ballistic, Dovi will launch himself over to Aprilia who will in-turn launch Bautista for crashing too much while trying to beat his strong German teammate Bradl.

Dani Pedrosa? Hard to say if his luck will finally change, or if he will ultimately just be put in jail for evading taxes and being unable to pay back the millions of Euros he owes.

His HRC teammate Marc Marquez on the other hand will be the fastest man alive on two wheels - again - but the Honda beast he will need to tame may still cause him problems, as he simultaneously tries to avoid Rossi fanatics at every turn who think it their duty to disrupt the Ant's attempts at continuing his rapid growth - the Valentiniboppers (the Valiban?) still smarting after their hero's failure to win last year - simply unable to accept that Marquez had nothing to do with Rossi losing the title. It will also emerge that Rossi did what he did in Sepang out of paranoia induced after eating some primo Malaysian food, and suddenly fearing the reality of losing his GOAT designation to the #93 - which Vale truly believed was his for all time - until Marc Marquez began accomplishing things, and breaking records, that Rossi never even thought possible. He saw Marquez embarking as we all did on a career trajectory that, if it continues, will eclipse Rossi's achievements long, long before the Spaniard turns 37. Then Rossi saw how his fans reacted to Iannone disrupting his race in Phillip Island and taking away some very vital points (which would have come in quite handy at the end) and creatively brainstormed 'if this unbelievable vitriol, contempt and pressure can be transmutated from my fellow compatriot onto the shoulders of my only realistic challenge on the horizon to my GOAT status (which I care more about than a tenth championship) I just might derail the inevitable' - ie. Marc Marquez surpassing my achievements and popularity, and becoming THE GOAT.

Now, now - calm down everyone. I did say it was a ridiculous prediction? But time will tell.

Aleix had some ridiculous races on the satellite Yamaha. That Maverick was (eventually) able to finish ahead of him was a revelation.

World Superbike is not popular because we can't watch it on TV anymore like MotoGP. Put it back on TV. And tell me why I have to buy an extra channel to watch Moto3 and Moto2 (which I don't care about anyway) but not for MotoGP?