Neil Hodgson is a BSB and WSBK champion and a commentator for BT Sport. He’s got his finger on the pulse in the MotoGP, WSBK, and BSB paddocks and his encyclopaedic knowledge of bike racing make him perfectly placed to preview the season ahead.
I’m really excited about this season. Last year was the best season I can ever remember and it had everything – drama, rivalry, bitterness. Rossi, the veteran, went into the last race and still had a chance of winning. That was phenomenal. Then there was then whole feud with Marquez. Marquez won’t have liked that one bit, or the fact that he lost his crown. And Rossi will want to prove that he deserved the title and that he can still challenge for honours.
This season is going to be explosive. All the main protagonists are still there. And they all have the desire, and the hunger to win – Lorenzo, Rossi and Marquez. And that’s before you consider the rule changes.
The rule changes are going to mean really close racing, and I expect there to be a few surprise names at the front of the field in the first three races – Qatar, Argentina and America. These races could see some really unexpected results before the cream starts to rise to the top again.
In the past teams like Yamaha and Honda have been able to spend more money on sophisticated electronics but this year all the teams have to run the same ECU – the bike’s brain – and this will level the playing field. We’ve already seen Honda struggling to make the transition to the spec ECU and they’ve struggled to get a decent base setting in testing.
Then there’s the switch from Bridgestone to Michelin as the sole tyre supplier. At the moment the Michelin front tyre just isn’t as good as the Bridgestones were. There have been a lot of crashes during pre-season testing, and a fair few big ones, and a lot of riders have made mistakes. The fact that testing is limited means there’ll be a lot of riders who will still be learning how the tyres behave and the best way to ride on the new rubber.
I think Lorenzo will be the rider to beat. He’s strong and is able to lap quickly lap after lap after lap. He’s so smooth that I think his riding style will suit the Michelins more. Marquez on the other hand is very aggressive and he’ll struggler to get the tyre to work.
One of the riders to watch out for this year is Maverick Vinales. He was fastest on the final two days at Phillip Island, even though he’s not on the best equipment. May be his lack of experience with the old electronics and rubber means he’s able to adapt more to the new regulations. He’s definitely flying and I think he’ll finish in the top five. He’s definitely talented and I expect him to be the next ‘Alien’.
I think Scott Redding will do well this year too. He’s been on the worst bike on the grid for the last two years, simply because Honda have lost their way. Stoner and Marquez are talented riders, but they are the only ones who can get the bike to work. The way the engine delivers its power is just too aggressive, and it’s like the bike hasn’t been developed for the past two years. So automatically Honda are playing catch-up, and that’s without the new tyres or ECUs. Scott suffered with an underpowered customer bike in his first season, and last season he just couldn’t make the Factory bike work. He’s aa talented rider though, and he’s gone fast straight away since he switched to Ducati. The bike seems to suit him and I expect him to be comfortably inside the top ten.
Cal Crutchlow is more difficult to read. He’s a grisly, hard rider and really determined, But I just feel that he’s on the wrong bike, and in the wrong team. He loves being an underdog, and he’s posted some impressively fast times in testing, but I think me may struggle for results.
Bradley Smith had an incredible season last year and by finishing top satellite rider he has justifiably earned the respect of the paddock. It’s a big year for him, what with so many Factory rides being up for grabs in 2017, and he’ll be pushing hard to secure a Factory seat. His times might have appeared disappointing in testing, but Bradley is never worried about posting a fast last time – he’ll be working on race set-up instead. He’ll definitely be up there.
Another reason that this year will be so explosive is that so many contracts are up for renewal. There’s a saying in racing that you’re only as good as your last race, and as most contracts negotiations start after Round Four, this means everyone will be wanting to put themselves in the shop window and the first four rounds will be dynamite.