All evidence from the first MotoGP test of the year in Sepang is that the racing in 2018 will be just as close and fierce as 2017 which was a record breaking season for close premier-class grand prix races.
Last year the record books were being re-written nearly every weekend, starting with the opening race of the year when the 15th place finisher Tito Rabat crossed the line just 29.47 seconds behind race winner Maverick Vinales. This was the second closest top 15 finish of all-time in the premier-class, after the 29.296 seconds covering the top 15 finishers at Brno in 2006. This was just a sign of things to come over the other 17 races of 2017.
There was another indication in Qatar that the depth of field in the MotoGP class, in terms of both riders and machinery, is greater than ever. Sam Lowes, who recorded the slowest “fastest lap” in the MotoGP race posted a lap just 1.891 seconds slower than the fastest lap of the race set by Johann Zarco. Never before in the MotoGP class have there been 23 riders that have posted a lap time within two seconds of the fastest lap set during a race.
At the second race of 2017 in Argentina, the fastest lap of the MotoGP was set by Maverick Viñales with a time of 1 minute 39.694 seconds. During the course of the race another sixteen riders set lap times within one second of this fastest lap time; the first time in a MotoGP race that seventeen riders have posted lap times within one second of the fastest lap of the race.
At the third race of 2017 in Austin, 11th place finisher in Austin, Jonas Folger, crossed the line just 18.903 seconds behind race winner Marc Marquez – the closest top eleven of the MotoGP era.
At Mugello, tenth place finisher Andrea Iannone, crossed the line just 15.502 seconds after race winner Andrea Dovizioso, which was the closest ever top ten finish in the MotoGP class in a race that has run for full distance. This record was re-written again during 2017 when 14.075 seconds covered the top ten finishers in Aragon.
It is worth noting that it was not only in the MotoGP class that records for close racing were being set; at Mugello the 15th place finisher in the Moto3 race, Jorge Martin, crossed the line just 1.553 seconds behind race winner Andrea Migno; the closest top 15 in any class in the 69 year history of motorcycle grand prix racing.
By the end of the season the list for closest top 15 finishes of all-time in the premier-class looked like this:
|Year||Circuit||Race winner||Time covering first 15 riders across the line (sec)|
|3||2017||RED BULL RING||Andrea Dovizioso||28.096|
|6||2001||PHILLIP ISLAND||Valentino Rossi||29.738|
This shows that seven of the closest twelve races of all-time occurred in 2017! And it was not only down to 15th place that racing was close in 2017, on eight occasions the winning margin was less than one second.
The 2018 season will be the 70th season of motorcycle grand prix racing, and on an historical note, in 1949 only the first five riders across the line scored world championship points. The average time covering these top five riders in 1949 was 3 minutes 20 seconds (although it must be said that the races were rather longer back in 1949, taking anything from 1 hour 16 minutes, up to 3 hours!)
The opening test of 2018 is an indication that this close racing could continue in this season. How many days is it to the opening race if the year in Qatar?