Cal Crutchlow and LCR Honda look to improve on the two wins earned in 2016.
While there are several satellite teams in MotoGP, Honda seems to offer the best overall support, as demonstrated by the LCR squad of Cal Crutchlow, winner of two races last season. The most successful Brit since Barry Sheene, Crutchlow is certainly an all-out, fan favourite type of charger, and his wet win was no shock – but the second triumph in the dry in Australia last year was an even better effort. You also can’t beat Crutchlow for a crazy, off-the-wall comment during the typically bland media sessions.
Marc VDS Honda rider Jack Miller of Australia also took a wet win of his own in the Netherlands, but so far Miller is even more crash-prone that the oft-injured Crutchlow. It is hard to imagine Honda will have much patience with the former Moto3 hero if he doesn’t run up front regularly soon.
Suzuki had a breakthrough season in 2016, but will likely struggle with two new riders this season. Wild child Andrea Iannone should have some very strong performances, but continues to deal with focus and consistency issues. Moto2 ace Alex Rins will struggle due to a fast teammate, not much big bike experience and a need to make an impression to keep his gig.
KTM is going to have a hard time in its official debut in MotoGP, give or take their abortive efforts with the Roberts team back in 2005. The issue isn’t the quality of the Austrian racers, since they have great success in many other racing divisions. The issue is the ultra-intense level of competition in the modern era of MotoGP. Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro are good choices to run the Red Bull-backed, tube-framed RC16, and I expect KTM to make solid progress over the course of the season. But a win is unlikely, except maybe if it rains. Don’t forget, MotoGP doesn’t stop action when it rains, but instead runs a hot pit lane and allows riders to swap bikes.
Bradley Smith (pictured) and Pol Espargaro will front the attack from the new KTM factory squad.
Last, but not least, is the most exciting and controversy-generating MotoGP squad, the works Flex-Box Ducati team. Long a centre of attention for their poor pace and consistency in their post-Stoner era, Ducati won twice in 2016. As well, Ducati attracted attention with their prodigious top speed and crazy, often multi-winged aero treatment. The team has kept former favourite HRC development rider Andrea Dovizioso and added Lorenzo, perhaps the most consistent rider of the current era. Their wings have been clipped, but Ducati has already shown a fairing with internal ducting to replicate their aero edge. The ‘non-wing’ story will be big this year, since fans can see the items under dispute, which can't be said for the recent spec ECU rules changes.
Even so, Ducati tested with a mysterious ‘balance box’ of unknown purpose in the tail section of its bikes, and is certainly the team for entertaining and head-scratching developments. Dovizioso and especially Lorenzo will win races, but will the bike be consistent enough to win the World Championship? If the Desmosedici GP17 is a pace-setter, Lorenzo certainly has the ability to challenge Marquez and Vinales at the front of the very busy 2017 MotoGP field.