MotoGP mid-season talking points

The MotoGP road show returns to our screens this week with the Austrian Grand Prix at the picturesque Red Bull Ring, just outside the city of Spielberg.

We take a look at some of the talking points for the second half of the season.

Can Ducati win before the season is out?

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Several rules changes came into play at the start of the season in an attempt to give the rest of the field an opportunity to challenge the factory Honda and Yamaha teams, following an era of domination by the two MotoGP superpowers.

The previous time a rider not in the seat of a Honda or Yamaha won a race was back in 2010, when Ducati’s Casey Stoner won three races – Aragon, Japan and Australia – even though those trio of victories were only enough to secure fourth place on the Riders’ standings, behind the Yamaha’s of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, as well as Dani Pedro’s Honda.

One has to look as far back as 2007 to find the last rider to win the championship not at the helm of one of the two dominant teams in the sport.

In that occasion, it was also Stoner’s Ducati who reigned supreme, as the Australian stormed to victory in dominant fashion.

The above-mentioned rules changes, which grant the other teams unlimited testing, in-season engine development and five additional engines, have had little effect so far it seems.

At times during practice and even qualifying so far this season, the Ducatis of Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso have threatened, but on race day they have largely bubbled under, with Dovi’s second place finish at the season opener in Qatar their best performance so far. That runner-up spot, as well as a couple of other podium positions is all the Ducati duo have to show for their efforts, as they find themselves a distant eighth and ninth on the standings.

So the question is, will Ducati win a race this season? On the current evidence, the answer is an undoubted ‘no’, although stranger things have happened…

How much more will Vinales’ reputation be enhanced?

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Aside from the obvious top four, Maverick Vinales on the Suzuki has been the pick of the remainder of the teams.

The 21-year-old, who was named the best rookie on the grid last season, has delivered consistent points-scoring finishes, although he only has one podium behind his name in 2016, at Le Mans in May, in what was the first ever rostrum for the GSX-RR.

A former Moto2 champion, Vinales has been touted as a possible MotoGP champion and it came as little surprise when the young Spaniard was confirmed as Lorenzo’s successor at Yamaha from 2017.

Clearly the youngster still has a lot to learn, but he did post the fastest time at the Phillip Island test as well as qualy on the front row in Qatar while largely outclassing his more experienced team-mate Aleix Espargaro.

Vinales is widely expected to be the next, new winner of a MotoGP race. The prevalent question is whether he will fulfill his destiny this year, or if he has to wait until his move to Yamaha becomes a reality.

Which way is the title going to go?

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The 2015 season went down to the absolute wire, with Lorenzo ultimately winning his third title – over Valentino Rossi – at the final race of the season.

So far, in 2016, the title fight hasn’t quite reached the same level of excitement, as Honda has seemingly solved their slow-corner handling issues.

The result is Marquez has once again shown the type of form which handed him the 2014 and 2015 titles and has opened up a healthy 48-point lead over the reigning champion, with Rossi another 11 points further behind.

Not exactly decisive, but one would certainly rather have that advantage than not!

With Marquez the clear favourite to win the title, the Yamaha pair are his only real competition.

With Lorenzo on his way out to Ducati, having proven he still has what it takes with a win last season, will he be as geed up for a title fight as he was last time out?

The other possible challenger is Rossi, who has often been written off but still manages to rake in the victories. He may be past his best, but the Doctor is only 37 years of age, not 67.

Considering how last season’s battle for the title ended, the Italian legend would love nothing more than to stick it to his two Spanish rivals one more time.

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