MotoGP Season Review
Yamaha stages a stunning comeback in the latter half of the season!
Rossi and Lorenzo finish 2014 ranked in 2nd and 3rd
A mixed start for Movistar Yamaha MotoGP
For 2014, Yamaha fielded three teams and six riders in MotoGP, the premier class of world championship motorcycle road racing. Naturally, at the forefront of this season’s campaign was the Yamaha factory team, Movistar Yamaha MotoGP, fielding former champions Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi.
However, in the first stages of the season, the tires did not mesh well with the YZR-M1 and the bike could not perform at its best during races. In particular, Lorenzo was not able to sufficiently prepare for the 2014 season during the winter off-season due to having to recover from the injuries he suffered from falls mid-way through the 2013 season. In the opening round of the Qatar GP, while Rossi got off to a great start and finished in 2nd, Lorenzo crashed out of the race. In the second round at the Americas GP, Rossi finished in 8th place and Lorenzo took 10th. With this, the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team was not able to get the start to the 2014 season it had been aiming for.
By the third round, however, Lorenzo was on the podium with a 3rd-place finish at the Argentina GP. As the European rounds of the championship began, the two Movistar Yamaha riders would begin to regain their form. After the official MotoGP testing was finished, the adjustments to the YZR-M1 yielded advancements and Rossi was on the podium four consecutive times with his finishes in the Spain, France, Italy and Catalunya GPs. Lorenzo joined Rossi on the podium at the Italy GP by coming in 2nd while Rossi finished in 3rd, and the two riders’ results began to steadily improve.
After the summer break was over, Lorenzo battled with Marc Marquez for the win but finished in 2nd at the tenth round, the Indianapolis GP, taking his fourth podium of the season following one at the Germany GP. Lorenzo had made a return to full physical fitness. “The beginning of the championship was a little bit of a disaster for me. I didn’t feel comfortable on the bike and made many mistakes. Now, I feel a lot better on the bike and I’ve improved my physical condition,” he confirmed. Including their double podium in Indianapolis, Lorenzo and Rossi went on to make double podium finishes at three consecutive rounds, again finishing 2nd and 3rd at round 11, the Czech GP—where Marquez’ winning streak would finally end—and round 12, the Great Britain GP.
Then, at round 13, Rossi finally claimed his first victory of the season that all had been waiting for at the San Marino GP, his home race. Both Rossi and Lorenzo were in top form during qualifying. Lorenzo took pole position and Rossi slotted in at 3rd on the grid, putting them both on the front row for the race. By the fourth lap, Rossi was in the lead. Marquez was in hot pursuit for some time but he fell as he tried to up his pace and keep up with Rossi. Lorenzo moved up into 2nd place with Marquez’ crash and built up a gap over those behind him, but it was not enough to catch Rossi. Keeping a cool head until the end of the race, Rossi took his first win of the season, with Lorenzo’s 2nd-place podium making it a stunning Yamaha 1-2 finish.
The showdown for championship runner-up
From here, Lorenzo and Rossi spurred each other on to greater results with their successes. Lorenzo pulled ahead of Rossi by winning his first race of the season at round 14, the Aragon GP, and followed it up with another win at round 15, the Japan GP. The greatest contributor to Lorenzo’s win at Aragon was his excellent judgment of the rainy conditions that led him to switch to his other bike at the perfect time. However, his second consecutive victory in Japan was due to his skills in opening up a gap over his rivals to win the race. At this point in the season, Marquez had led the championship since the opening round, and his 312 points in the standings had secured him the championship title. The focus would shift to the three-way battle for second place in the championship, as Honda rider Dani Pedrosa was tied with Rossi at 230 points and Lorenzo was only 3 points behind them.
With only three races left in the season, Pedrosa would make contact with another rider and crash out of the race at round 16, the Australia GP. He crashed with a DNF again at the Malaysia GP that followed, and fell out of contention for finishing the season as championship runner-up. It was down to a heated battle between teammates, Rossi and Lorenzo.
Rossi got the upper hand first. The venue for the Australia GP, Phillip Island, is regarded as a track suiting the characteristics of the YZR-M1, and Rossi showed his wealth of experience as a MotoGP veteran by riding at a steady pace to take the checkers with a 10-second gap over Lorenzo, who had made an error in his tire selection but finished in 2nd place. This was a second spectacular 1-2 podium finish for Yamaha in 2014. At round 17, the Malaysia GP, Marquez took his first win in some time, and while Lorenzo had been ahead of Rossi in the middle stages of the race, Rossi made an awesome comeback to finish ahead of Lorenzo in 2nd-place, while Lorenzo took 3rd, making it the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team’s eighth double podium of the season.
However, the teammates’ battle for second place in the championship would take an unexpected turn. At the final round of the series, the Valencia GP, rain began to fall in the middle of the race. Lorenzo was behind Rossi by 12 points in the standings and decided to make a gamble by coming into the pits to switch bikes earlier than the rest of the pack. But it would end in failure when he had to retire from the race with only five laps remaining. Rossi finished the race in 2nd place and secured his position as runner-up in the 2014 MotoGP championship while Lorenzo finished the season in 3rd.
Pol Espargaro, Bradley Smith and Aleix Espargaro rank 6th, 8th and 7th, respectively
For 2014, the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team welcomed 2013 Moto2 World Champion Pol Espargaro as its new rider. While he suffered unfortunate machine trouble at the opening round in Qatar, he quickly rebounded to a top-six finish—his initial goal for the season—at round 2, the Americas GP. Then, at round 5, the France GP, he qualified in 2nd position for his first front row start in the premier class. This would lead to a season-best finish of 4th place, which along with his other on-track exploits brought his point total to 136 in the ranking. He finished in 6th place for the 2014 season as the top satellite rider and as MotoGP Rookie of the Year.
Pol Espargaro's teammate, Bradley Smith, started off his second year in MotoGP by qualifying on the front row in 3rd position right from the opening round in Qatar. He would also stand on the podium with Rossi and Lorenzo with a 3rd-place finish at round 16, the Australia GP. While he would battle for 6th place in the rankings with his teammate Pol Espargaro and NGM Forward Racing’s Aleix Espargaro, his crash in the rain at the final round in Valencia would relegate him to 8th place for the 2014 season.
Racing for the NGM Forward Racing team on an Open class YZR-M1, Aleix Espargaro started the season by recording some excellent lap times during free practice at the opening round in Qatar and finishing the race in 4th place. He would later take his first career pole position at round 8, the Dutch TT, and his first premier class podium by finishing second at round 14, the Aragon GP. He took 126 points for the season to come in 7th in the ranking and finished 2014 as the top-ranked Open class rider.
After success in World Superbike and a long career in MotoGP, veteran rider Colin Edwards announced his immediate retirement from racing in his home country of the United States at round 10, the Indianapolis GP. Rider Alex De Angelis would take over and finish the season for Edwards from round 11, the Czech Republic GP.