Yes, it’s that time of year again when we look back and reflect on the year just gone. In MotoGP it was less a bitter-sweet year than just a bitter-bitter one with the death of Marco Simoncelli overshadowing an entertainment-lite season. Only the spectacle of Casey Stoner’s mastery of his machine and elevation to legendary status is all we can take from the year. So here’s the 2011 MotoGP season in pictures, just to job the memory…
Casey Stoner hit the 2011 season running. While most of pre-season (and a good chunk of early season) talk was about Honda’s new gearbox, Stoner got to business straight away, ominously gapping the field from the first race here at Qatar. This was a pattern that would be repeated…
Jorge Lorenzo upped his game, despite coming into the 2011 season as world champion. While the Honda had its gearbox to boost performance, the Yamaha only had its pilots to rely on – especially now Rossi had left the roost. 2011 saw some of Lorenzo’s finest ever riding, culminating in some memorable victories. But on the Yamaha, Lorenzo was always going to be a battle for first loser.
No amount of debriefing was going to cure the Ducati of its handling woes. Underlying just what a talent Casey Stoner is, Rossi jumped on the bike, uniting a nation in the process. But he wanted to jump straight off, the balance of the machine not suited to Rossi’s style. The lack of performance first caused headlines, but as this became the norm the Ducati’s relative uncompetitiveness soon became a non-story.
2011 was full of unfilled potential. Rivaling the Ducati story was Toni Elias circulating at the back of the grid. Having been bounced back into MotoGP after taking the first Moto2 crown, we were all expecting to see Elias as proof that the new feeder class was key to the sport’s future. But Elias’ struggle to get heat into the Bridgestone tyres haunted him all season long. But the question remains, how can someone who looks so fast in pictures languish at the back of the pack?
Cal Crutchlow had a real James Toseland of a season. Racing out of the gate, Cal impressed in his initial few rides, and could have got a podium at a wet Jerez were it not for a crash. But Crutchlow peaked too soon, and after a crash at Silverstone in front of his home fans (Toseland, again), Cal’s head went somewhere and soon he was looking at tyres as the reason for his slump – much to the team’s annoyance. The one saving grace was seeing the quietly impressive Karel Abrahem off for the rookie of the year title, giving Cal a platform to build on next year.
And it’s goodnight from them. Yup, the near season long debate of will they, won’t they, ended up with Suzuki taking a sabbatical from MotoGP in 2012. The cash strapped manufacturer teased us and the team as to its plans, but having already downsized to just Alvaro Bautista, Suzuki plumped for pulling the plug. And this decision came at a time when Suzuki seemed to have finally got to grips with the 800. Bautista recovered well from breaking his leg at Qatar, and shone in races towards the end of the season. But that effort now appears to be all for nothing.
And so to the end of the season when Ben Spies threatened to take his second victory of the year under a cloudy Valencia sky. But who should come and steal Spies’ thunder (after leading for much of the race, granted). Yup, fittingly, Casey Stoner stuck on the afterburners and took victory in the last race of the year.
But the 2011 season will forever be remembered for one man’s tragic death. Marco Simoncelli had the world at his feet and possessed equal amounts of talent and potential. But the outpouring of grief after his death was not because of his championship standing or number of podiums, but rather because of the combination of his care free attitude and happy spirit allied to steely determination whenever he put his helmet on. The world goes on, of course, but he will forever cause us to pause, reflect and smile from time to time.