In 2016, MotoGP has seen 11 race leaders, 9 race winners, 5 pole-sitters and 10 podium finishers. The competition level has never been so high, yet for some reason, everybody is winning. Now, it was only last year when we saw four winners, all from the factory Honda or Yamaha teams, and in years before, it had been even fewer. So, with that in mind, the question quite simply is: Do the ‘Aliens’ still exist?
My own personal definition of an ‘alien’ isn’t quite what some people tend to think of it as. I believe that alien status is fluid, and that just because you have won so many titles, you’re not necessarily one of the big four. An alien is someone who can challenge for a podium in every race. Whether that be wet or dry, flag to flag or tyre change, the cream will always rise. But in 2016. It hasn’t always been that way.
Dani Pedrosa’s alien status is the most controversial. Yes, he is a super talented rider; yes, he is a three-time champion; yes, he became an 8th different winner this season but one thing Dani hasn’t been this season is an alien. His first season in a few years that he was starting injury free, Dani was back on beloved Michelin tyres and many, including myself, thought that it could be Dani’s year. Three podiums have shown that it has far from been one of them. Dani was an alien once, but sadly, I believe he isn’t anymore. He didn’t launch a decent title challenge for 2016 and it took him up until San Marino to win. The Spaniard has mega talent and that could be rediscovered in the future, but for now, Dani doesn’t quite match with the requirements to be an alien. Once upon a time in the Stoner days, most certainly, but this year has been a season to forget. Can he come back and prove me wrong and reaffirm his place as an alien next season? One can only imagine at this moment.
Valentino Rossi, 9 world championships to that star-studded name but even he went through a part of his career when he wasn’t an alien. The Ducati years were arguably the worst for Rossi. No win and just three podiums, but I still heard people refer to him as an alien. Personally, I think Rossi had been alienated. As a die-hard fan of Valentino’s, it was horrible to watch but the truth is that he wasn’t an alien in 2011 or 2012. Valentino came back to Yamaha and immediately got on well, confirming his presence as an alien. But in 2016, The Doctor has endured a tumultuous season. 3 crashes and one blown engine has put Valentino’s tenth title yet another season away. However, it isn’t just the crashes, it’s his race results too. 4th in the curtain raiser, 8th in Germany, 4th again in Austria and a lucky 3rd in Great Britain have meant that Rossi has been far from consistent, which is what an alien needs. I am not saying for one moment that The GOAT isn’t an alien, but I’m saying more to the point of, ‘who is?’.
There has been only one alien this season in MotoGP. He is the only rider to have finished all but one race so far, the only rider to win multiple times and get podiums whilst title rivals were crashing all around him. Marc Marquez alienated himself as the only alien in MotoGP this year. Taking points when he couldn’t win and winning when the opportunity fell at the right moment, the 23-year-old Spaniard has been a weapon on a Repsol Honda that quite simply shouldn’t be anywhere near the top three. A superhuman effort from Marquez has seen him become champion, but it has also been the failings of others that have allowed this. Motegi for example, the most unlikely scenario to become champion (Rossi is 14th or lower and Lorenzo off the podium) comes true. The inconsistency of two other aliens has been a massive factor in deciding the championship. Marc made himself standout this year by being subtle. He took the biggest wins in 5th places, because had he gone for the big 25 points, he probably would have crashed the tenacious and difficult Honda.
The point I am making is that in the modern era of MotoGP, even the aliens aren’t aliens. The competition level is of such sheer quality and skill, that there is little difference between the likes of Andrea Iannone and Dani Pedrosa. The only difference is that one is more consistent at finishing races than the other, and we all know which one that is! Look at Maverick Vinales, he is putting the Suzuki on the podium and at Silverstone, he was numero uno. I agree, on paper there is a huge difference and of course, Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo are still your heavyweights of the sport, but they’re not aliens. You can beat them, it’s no longer impossible. It doesn’t have to be wet, nor does it have to be a flag to flag. Andrea Iannone won in Austria because Ducati worked out the best set up to their bike. Vinales won in Silverstone because he and the Suzuki gelled with a cooler air temperature and because of Maverick’s supreme talent and Cal Crutchlow won in Australia by risking everything he could and by pressuring riders ahead into a mistake.
Gone are the days of needing to be on Factory bikes to get on the podium. Now, thanks to Dorna reigning in the big Japanese manufacturers expenditure, the MotoGP class is much more of a level playing field, which has highlighted that Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki and Ducati can all win once again. Nobody is saying that if BMW or Bimota came into MotoGP, they’d win. However, what is being said is that with development of the right kind and with management of the right kind, you can be up there and your bike can become faster.
And it is this parity that keeps millions of fans around the world on the edge of their seats, screaming and cheering at the TV. It is this parity that gives riders all the way down the field the hope of success and not just the thought of them ‘making up the numbers’. It allows for closer racing, which brings in the fans trackside, whilst bringing out bitter rivalries that not very many other sports can say they have. And just when you think you’ve seen it all, something new comes along. Aliens or not, MotoGP will continue to provide entertainment, off track and on.
Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko