The first European round of the 2017 MotoGP championship comes from Jerez de la Frontera for the Spanish Grand Prix. Situated over 600km away from the country’s capital Madrid, Jerez has seen some memorable scenes acted out around the 2.7 mile track. From Michael Doohan and Alex Criville in 1996 to Valentino Rossi and Sete Gibernau in 2005, this circuit has seen it all and we could be in for a weekend filled with action and drama as well as thrills and spills.
Valentino Rossi, for the first time since November 2015, leads the series. The Movistar Yamaha veteran has finished on the podium in every race so far this year and arrives at a track at which he has triumphed on nine occasions, the most recent being last year. With a six point lead over teammate Maverick Vinales, The Doctor will need to bring his ‘A’ game to Jerez. Should he win at Jerez, it will be his 10th at the track and his 22nd in Spain, as well as 115th in his GP career. The scene of many incidents in his career, Jerez is steeped in Rossi history but what will the future hold for 38-year-old Italian, as he continues his quest for title number 10. He’s like a good Spanish wine: he gets better with age.
Chasing him in the championship is Maverick Vinales, making it a dream start to Movistar Yamaha’s 2017 championship aspirations. However, Vinales couldn’t handle the heat in Texas, falling in the opening laps, gifting teammate Rossi the series lead by a mere six points. Having won at Jerez in his 2013 Moto3 championship year, Maverick’s best result in the MotoGP category was 6th place last season on the Suzuki. Two wins to his name so far this year indicate Vinales’ pace but now we arrive at circuits which are familiar to all MotoGP riders. Yamaha have won at the track for the last two seasons with two different riders and Maverick will be hoping he can be the 3rd. Competition will be tough and it may well be a matter of Vinales maintaining his composure, seeing as the speed is most definitely there.
18 points back of Valentino and 12 back from Maverick, Americas GP’s winner Marc Marquez got his season kick-started in the States. The Repsol Honda rider arrives at his home GP off the back of domination but his form in Spain doesn’t indicate a certain win this time. 3rd last season and 2nd the year before, Marquez knows that he has to take points off the Movistar Yamaha men whilst the season is still young. Honda haven’t won since Marc was in his winning form in 2014 and there will be big pressure from team sponsor Repsol to end the drought. Can he perform in front of his home crowd to take his first back to back victories in 2017 and close down the leading Yamaha duo before they build an unassailable lead on the five time champ?
Despite finishing just 6th in the USA and not finishing in Argentina, Andrea Dovizioso remains 4th in the series, 8 points behind Marquez in 3rd and 26 behind leader Rossi. Dovi hasn’t had the best luck so far in 2017 but a lacklustre display in the USA highlighted that the Ducati is struggling in both his and Jorge’s hands. The Ducati hasn’t got a particularly amazing record at Jerez either, with their last podium coming in 2009 with Casey Stoner and their last win with Loris Capirossi in 2006. Will they solve the problem with Dovi? Can he return the Bologna Bullet to the Spanish GP rostrum? We will soon see! Dovi hasn’t won at the track and he’s not taken a premier class podium either, so form may suggest not this weekend.
Cal Crutchlow sits pretty in 5th place in the championship, just one point behind his former Tech 3 Yamaha and Ducati Factory teammate. The British rider has had a good start to the season on Lucio Cecchinello’s Honda, despite crashing twice under the lights at Losail. A 3rd in Argentina and a 4th in America mean Crutchlow comes back to Europe without the sense of needing to prove himself to doubters. His Spanish Grand Prix results speak for themselves, with a stunning 4th in 2012 and 2015, and a 5th in 2013. If he does manage to mount the podium, he will be the first British rider on the premier class podium at Jerez since Niall Mackenzie in 1992. Now, I will leave you with that thought.
The second of the Repsol Hondas is occupying 6th place, with Dani Pedrosa’s third place in America elevating him up the championship pecking order. Pedrosa sits just 2 points behind Cal and 3 points behind Dovi in the series standings. The Spaniard has been very successful around Jerez, accumulating three victories and 10 podiums, although the last time he stood on the rostrum was 2013. Pedrosa feels confident with the Honda now that he has a podium under his belt and this weekend could be a Pedrosa weekend if he can get away with the leaders. If he gets on the podium, it will be the first time since Sepang and Valencia 2015 that he has had back to back podiums. An astonishing statistic for such a high-profile name.
The two Tech 3 Yamaha riders are 7th and 8th in the championship, with Zarco ahead of Folger by a mere one point as they continue their battle for top rookie. Both riders have had podiums at Jerez but Jonas Folger is the only winner, back on the AGR Kalex Moto2 bike in 2015. There has never been a German or French rider on the podium of a premier class Grand Prix at Jerez, a statistic Folger and Zarco will both want to change.
Tied on 21 points with Folger is Pramac Ducati’s Scott Redding and Marc VDS Honda’s Jack Miller. Both riders finished outside the points last season and will want to change that as they try and hunt down Cal Crutchlow for top independent rider. With Jack Miller yet to finish outside the top 10 and Redding’s podium at the track in 2013, don’t expect to be seeing them vacate the top 10 at Jerez.
A difficult start to the year has seen Danilo Petrucci drop to 11th in the championship on the 2nd of the Pramac Ducatis but on the Factory version. The Italian has hit back though in the past two races, with a seventh and an 8th, with the latter involving him beating Factory Ducati rider Jorge Lorenzo late-on in the race. Jerez is a track that hasn’t been too kind to him however, with no top 10 finish to date. Can that change in 2017?
Alvaro Bautista has shown us that he has some amazing pace for 2017, pace that can either be challenging the top four or throwing it on the floor. Two crashes have seen Bautista drop to 12th in the championship, despite recovering to finish 15th in the USA. His best premier class result at the track is sixth, on three occasions between 2012 and 2014. He has one victory to his name, in 2006 on his way to his 125cc title. Will he be able to cause a shock this weekend?
Jorge Lorenzo is 13th in the championship and the fourth Ducati. A wretched start to his 2017 campaign looked to be recovered when he qualified 6th at COTA, only for him to drop back to 9th come race day. He has some impressive form around Jerez, including premier class wins in 2015, 2011 and 2010, as well as podiums every year apart from 2014 and 2009. Like we have already discussed, the Ducati is a handful around Jerez and that may mean that Jorge may well be relying on his form at the track to haul the cumbersome bike onto the podium.
Aleix Espargaro leads Andrea Iannone in 14th and 15th, with the Aprilia and Suzuki rider desperate to turn their season around and rapidly. Aleix had a terrible time of things at COTA, describing the Saturday as the “worst day of his life”. Things didn’t get better for the Losail revelation either, when the team attended a private test at Mugello, only to be hindered by rain. His best result at the track is 5th. However, Andrea Iannone has got some form. Having finally finished a race in the points at COTA (7th), he can build on what he found. The trouble is for Iannone, out of 12 starts at Jerez, there’s been just 1 win and 9 results have been outside the top 10 or DNFs. Now, if that isn’t a bogey track…
Loris Baz and Karel Abraham are in 16th and 17th, with both riders failing to score points last time out in The States. Baz’ best finish around Jerez was 13th last year, although a 7th in WSBK might suggest that he doesn’t enjoy the track. As for Karel – who is injured following COTA – his best result was 7th in 2011, although this was his last points at the track to date.
Tito Rabat and Hector Barbera, whilst languishing in the championship have actually scored points in every race this season. With both riders on 8 points, they are actually level with Abraham so with some luck this weekend, positions could change. Barbera’s best result consists of 6th in the premier class but a 3rd in 125s in 2004. For Rabat, he was 18th last season but finished 3rd in 2015 on the Moto2 bike and also took his first ever Grand Prix victory at the track in 2013. Will happy memories return for the former champion?
Alex Rins sits 20th in the championship for Suzuki but following his accident in Austin that led to a broken wrist, he is missing out Jerez and possibly Le Mans and Mugello. His replacement rider is Takuya Tsuda, the Suzuki development rider who makes his Grand Prix debut this weekend. He becomes the first Japanese rider since Hiroshi Aoyama at the Sacshsenring in 2015 to start a European MotoGP race.
The KTM pairing of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith head to Jerez hoping for a better weekend than their America visit. No points for either and a retirement along the way mean that the bike may well need a solid showing in Jerez to prove to doubters that it has the capabilities to match the skill set of both riders on board. Both have won at Jerez, with Espargaro winning in 2012 in Moto2 and Bradley Smith in 2009 (his first ever GP win) in the 125cc class. Both riders finished in the points last year (8th for Pol and 12th for Bradley) and will be looking for a repeat performance again this year, even if it isn’t to the positions.
In last place in the championship, Sam Lowes is point-less at the foot of the championship. His Aprilia has been a handful and a series of crashes at COTA won’t have done his confidence any good at all. He won the Moto2 race at Jerez last season so he will take the positives of that to Sunday but he must start to bring the bike home within the top 15. His other two GP results at Jerez have been outside the top 15 but in 2013, he did win the World Supersport championship at the track with a win.
With every rider analysed and the build up underway to an amazing weekend of racing, we now look forward to Sunday for the day that matters. Will Valentino Rossi repeat last years feat and build his points lead in the title or will Maverick fight back after a disaster in America? Can Marquez win back-to-back or can teammate Pedrosa shock us all? Those are the questions and you can get the answers by keeping up with our live text commentary across the weekend.
Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko