MotoGP Season Review
MotoGP Season Review | Lorenzo wins championship for first time with the YZR-M1!
Yamaha takes triple crown for third consecutive year, a first in MotoGP history
Yamaha takes triple crown for third consecutive year, a first in MotoGP history
During the 2010 season, Yamaha claimed its third consecutive Triple Crown, taking the Rider, Manufacturer and Team titles. It was a year of stellar performance for Yamaha's MotoGP machine, the YZR-M1, but for Fiat Yamaha Team members Jorge Lorenzo, who rode it in all 18 races this season, and Valentino Rossi, who missed four rounds to injury, it was roller-coaster season for different reasons. The same was also true for Ben Spies and Colin Edwards of the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team. Let's look back at the complex interplay of "stability" and "turbulence" experienced by the riders, teams and races over the course of the year from the perspectives of the riders and machine performance.
A first half marked by unexpected injuries
The season did not start smoothly. During the pre-season tests in Sepang, Malaysia during early February, it looked like the riders, and the 2010 spec YZR-M1, were in great form, with Rossi taking the top time, and Lorenzo trailing by only a thin margin in third place. Lorenzo's right hand was injured immediately after the test in an accident that occurred during training. He underwent surgery, and was forced to miss the second Malaysian test held in late February. Lorenzo returned to the track for the Qatar test held a month after his injury, but remained in Qatar until the Qatar GP, at which point his right hand had still not returned to optimal condition. He was particularly troubled by pain when braking, but vied against the defending champion, Rossi, in the race, reaching the goal line in second place. He was greatly relieved to have performed far better than expected. Rossi, on the other hand, started the GP series out strong and stable, taking first place, a firm contender for the season's championship as defending champion.
Next, however, it was Rossi's turn to suffer at the hands of fate. While training on a motocross bike after the season – opening race, Rossi took a tumble, injuring his right shoulder. The Japan GP, scheduled to be the second round of the series, was delayed until autumn due to volcanic eruptions in Iceland disrupting air travel. This allowed Rossi a long recuperation period, and he was able to take part in the Spanish GP, moved up to take place of the rescheduled Japan GP. Rossi reflects, "Had the Japan GP been held as scheduled, I probably wouldn't have been able to ride." At the time, the injury wasn't recognized as a serious one, but even as the season drew to a close, the injury had failed to heal completely, continually bothering Rossi and helping determine the direction of the championship.
Lorenzo took 1st place at the second MotoGP round. Although losing the lead at start of the race, Lorenzo maintained his trademark steady pace, gradually gaining on the lead, fellow Spaniard Dani Pedrosa (Honda). The last two laps saw a heated battle that will be spoken of for years to come. Their machines sometimes coming within a hair's breadth of colliding, Lorenzo succeeded in taking the dominant position, winning his first race of the season. After the race, the two riders, previously mortal enemies who wouldn't even look each other in the eye, had become rivals with deep respect for each other. During the 3rd round, the French GP, Lorenzo left the rest of the pack behind from mid-race, winning his second consecutive round. Rossi finished in second place, having struggled with exit acceleration grip. The two Yamaha riders stood on the winner's podium for the third consecutive race. With the YZR-M1 also winning the first three races of the season, it was an auspicious start to the season evident of commanding competitiveness. Then, an accident that no-one expected occurred during the fourth round, the Italian GP.
Mid-season 1 – Interplay of stability and turbulence
The Italian GP, held at the Mugello circuit in Tuscany, was an especially important race for Rossi. Every year, he wore a special costume and special helmet, taking the podium to the frenzied cheers of fans. But this time Mugello, packed with Rossi fans, became the site of a tragedy.
Halfway through morning practice, Rossi pulled out of the pit, and was on his second lap, when, during the high speed S curves before the final corner, he high-sided and crashed. The impact caused a compound fracture of his lower right leg. He was transported by helicopter to a hospital in Florence, where he underwent surgery. Rossi, who debuted in the Malaysian GP125cc class race in 1996, had taken part in 230 consecutive races. This record string ended here.
Banners held by fans praying for Rossi's rapid recovery dotted the course during the race on Sunday, where Lorenzo took second place.
The 5th round, the British GP, was followed a week later by the Dutch GP, and a week later by the Catalunya GP. Lorenzo emerged as the victor in each of these races. He had built up a solid foundation for winning the championship. The British GP moved to the Silverstone circuit this year, creating equal conditions for all riders, as this course was a first for them all. It was a rare chance for MotoGP rookies to narrow the gap with veteran racers, and Spies took advantage of these conditions, taking a third MotoGP podium in just his fifth race in the MotoGP. Spies was the winner of the World Superbike championship in 2009, despite it being his debut year, and with his third podium win at the British GP, he was off to an early start in demonstrating his outstanding skills in the pinnacle of road racing as well. The Catalunya GP saw test rider Wataru Yoshikawa stand in for injured Rossi. In addition to collecting valuable data for use in machine development, he finished 15th, taking a championship point in the process.
Rossi then made a stunning comeback in the 8th round, the German GP. A mere 41 days since his injury, his return to the track was the focus of everyone's attention. Rossi displayed some excellent riding during the race, coming home in 4th place, just missing a podium finish. Lorenzo also showed stable riding, taking the second spot on the podium. He won again at the next GP, in the U.S. He took to the podium in all nine GPs that made up the first half of the season, with six 1st places, and three 2nd places, truly excellent results. In other words, the YZR-M1 had taken to the podium in every single race so far.
Mid-season 2 – Engine Usage Restrictions and Gaining Rivals
In the Czech GP, the tenth round of the season and the first GP after the summer break, Lorenzo continued to perform brilliantly, taking his seventh victory of the season. The dream of securing the championship was drawing closer and closer to the 23 year old's reach. But the world of the MotoGP is not so forgiving a mistress. The last few years have seen the "big four" of Rossi, Lorenzo, fellow young rider Pedrosa and Casey Stoner (Ducati) fighting desperately for the top position.
What's more, a new rule in effect from this year due to the global recession limited the number of engines a single rider can use during the season to six. This means that engine deployment requires a season-spanning view and careful scheduling. The combination of these conditions resulted in rival teams gaining ground in the races from the Czech GP onwards. Yamaha lost the top podium position to rival teams in the next four races: the Indianapolis GP, the San Marino GP, the Aragon GP and the Japan GP. Conditions during these four races, from late August to early October, were the fiercest of the 2010 season. Lorenzo failed to capture first place, but took third place in Indianapolis, and second place in San Marino, marking a new record for successive podium finishes form the season opener. While he wasn't able to secure a podium position at Aragon or Japan, he still managed to hang in against the odds at fourth place in both. Building up a solid foundation of points, by the end of the Japan GP, Lorenzo had moved into a position where he could clinch the championship crown at the next GP in Malaysia.
Taking the long-sought championship. The riders strive towards new goals
Lorenzo went into the 15th GP in Malaysia with a 69-point lead over the next highest-ranking rider. If he could expand this lead to 75 points at the conclusion of the race, he would be the second Spaniard to win the premier-class crown.
Rossi won the race. Since his return in the German GP, he had come back to take 3rd place in the US GP, continuing with a steady string of high placing finishes, but his leg injury and lingering right shoulder injury from the beginning of the season made the races far more grueling than they appeared. Rossi finally took his second victory, late in the season. Not only that, but this marked his 46th Yamaha victory - the same number as on his race machine.
Lorenzo avoided overextending himself, yet maintained consistently admirable lap times, coming in at 3rd place. He had the 2010 championship in hand. During the last 15 races, he had only failed to take to the podium twice. The 23-year-old victor ran a steady season that seemed impossible for someone so young. He finally realized his childhood dream.
In the 16th round, the Australian GP, Lorenzo took 2nd place, and Rossi took 3rd, the pair's seventh double podium of the season, securing the team title for the Fiat Yamaha Team. Lorenzo proceeded to win the 17th round, in Portugal, with Rossi coming in second, securing the manufacturer title for Yamaha as well. With this, Yamaha took the Triple Crown for the third consecutive year, a first in MotoGP history.
At the final round, in Valencia, the new champion Lorenzo won his home GP, bringing his season to a thrilling end. Rossi, who has decided to transfer to a rival team from next season, took to the podium with 3rd place, dramatically concluding his seven years with Yamaha. Spies finished the season ranked 6th, which brought him the Rookie of the Year award. It has been decided that Spies will be moved up to the factory team next season. One cannot overlook the role Spies' experienced teammate, Edwards, played in supporting Spies' accomplishments.
Lorenzo will start the 2011 season as the defending champion. Undoubtedly, Rossi, moving to a rival team, will become his greatest rival. Spies, who will become Lorenzo's teammate, will grow even stronger and may bring an end of the "big four" era. Can Yamaha and Lorenzo retain the crown for a fourth consecutive year? There is no rest for these athletes as they strive for victory insatiably. Behind the scenes, the battle for 2011 has already begun.