Common Tread

Nine winners in MotoGP: The era of the aliens is over

Oct 31, 2016

I think it's important to remember that two years ago this would have been considered inconceivable: We've seen nine different winners in MotoGP this season, an all-time record in the top class of motorcycle grand prix roadracing.

The era of aliens has ended. At least for now, and probably for a while to come.

A new tire supplier, new rules to level the field in terms of electronic rider aids, the rise of new talent and a little chaos caused by unpredictable weather and here we are, setting a record for the greatest diversity ever on the top step of the podium. Andrea Dovizioso made it nine different winners this season by mastering a drenched track at Sepang in Malaysia yesterday, going one further than the already astounding string of eight different winners in eight races earlier in the season. Any record is worth noting, but this one is especially significant because of the huge and instant change it represents from previous years. Let's look at the numbers.

Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi at Sepang
Dovizioso battled with Valentino Rossi for most of the wet race at Sepang in Malaysia. Ducati photo.

Eight years of alien rule

In 2008, Jorge Lorenzo rose to the MotoGP class as Valentino Rossi's teammate at Yamaha. In the eight seasons from 2008 through 2015, there were 142 MotoGP races and 140 of them were won by Rossi, Lorenzo, Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa or Marc Márquez. The two exceptions were Dovizioso's win at the British Grand Prix in 2009 and Ben Spies' lone MotoGP victory at Assen in 2011.

So in one off-season we went from a handful of men winning 98.6 percent of MotoGP races for an eight-year period to setting an all-time record for the most winners. By that measurement, the rules and tire changes from 2015 to 2016 had a bigger impact on racing than the very fundamental switch from two-strokes to four-strokes.

Some might argue that weather played a role in the variety of winners this year, but that's true only to a minor extent. Yes, Jack Miller probably wouldn't have won the race at Assen (or anywhere else) if it hadn't rained, and Cal Crutchlow got his first victory at Brno in tricky damp conditions, but he followed that up with a victory on a dry track at Phillip Island to prove it was no fluke. Andrea Iannone won in dry conditions in Austria, and if he hadn't won that race, Dovizioso surely would have.

It's hard for me to conclude that this year's record-setting number of winners is due to anything other than a more level playing field in terms of electronics, the fact that everyone had to start anew to learn different Michelin tires, and the depth of talent in the MotoGP field.

The records broken

The previous two seasons that had a large number of winners happen to be also the last two seasons U.S. riders won the title. In 2006, as Nicky Hayden won the championship, seven riders won races. The season ended with two dramatic first-time victories: Toni Elias' split-second triumph over Rossi in Portugal, which helped Hayden win the title, and World Superbike champ Troy Bayliss' win at Valencia as a wild card.

But the previous record of eight different winners was set in 2000, the year Kenny Roberts Jr. won the title on a Suzuki in the 500 cc era. That year still holds one record for diversity: Riders of six different nationalities won that year.

Dovizioso wins
The Ducati team celebrates the win with a group selfie. Ducati photo.


Of course Dovizioso was always the obvious choice when looking around the paddock to see who might become the ninth winner and break the record. That was especially true in Sepang after he took pole position.

On another level, his win may be seen as vindication of Ducati's choice to keep Dovizioso and cut loose Iannone for 2017 to make room for Lorenzo on the factory Ducati team. Of course that decision was made early in the season after some high-profile crashes by Iannone, including the one that cost Ducati a double podium finish in Argentina. In mid-season, however, Iannone was more competitive and beat his teammate in a straight, two-man duel in Austria, leaving room to question Ducati's decision. But Iannone's crashes continued, including in Malaysia yesterday, and resulting injuries caused him to miss races.

It's easy to imagine Ducati boss Gigi dall'Igna feeling a little more comfortable now that Dovizioso has joined the ranks of winners this year. Looking at the photos of Dovizioso celebrating, it's not hard to see how he feels about his role in setting a new MotoGP record.

It's also not hard to see that this is a great time in our sport. If you've been following MotoGP in 2016, you saw the most enjoyable kind of history being made.