Ahead of this weekend’s opening round in Qatar, Motorsport.com’s team of MotoGP writers predict which riders and teams will shine in the 2018 season.
Oriol Puigdemont, MotoGP Editor
Jamie Klein, UK Editor
Val Khorounzhiy, News Editor
David Gruz, Editorial Assistant
Lewis Duncan, Special Contributor
Chris Stevens, Special Contributor
Katy Fairman, Special Contributor
Andrea Iannone (Suzuki)
VK: There were suggestions that he just wasn’t bothered last year, but whether that was true or not, the Suzuki is a much better machine now and it’s a contract renewal year. He will deliver this time, although probably not every weekend.
Jack Miller (Pramac Ducati)
JK: From the word go, Miller seemed to gel much better with the GP17 Ducati than he ever did with Honda, and the evidence suggests he’ll be a top-five contender at Ducati-friendly tracks. And you wouldn’t rule out a repeat of his Dutch TT win if it rains…
Alvaro Bautista (Nieto Ducati)
CS: The Ducati’s stronger baseline will stand its satellite teams in good stead this year. Bautista on the Angel Nieto riding the GP17 is a strong contender to fit in just behind the factory-supported bikes following a strong pre-season showing.
10. Danilo Petrucci (Pramac Ducati)
Top prediction: 7th (CS)
DG: Petrucci’s motivation going into the season is at an all-time high as he is gunning for a factory ride. Yet, it’s hard to see him consistently matching the factory Ducatis – he’ll have his best chances in the wet.
LD: Running identical machinery to the factory Ducati team will make Petrucci a fairly regular podium challenger this year like he was in 2017. But effectively acting as a test mule for Bologna could make claiming a maiden MotoGP win tough.
KF: Taking four podium finishes last season, Petrucci has proved he is capable of competing with the championship’s top riders on his day. He will be especially keen to impress as his contract with Pramac Ducati expires at the end of the season, with a factory ride in his sights for next year.
9. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda)
Top prediction: 8th (JK, DG, CS)
OP: Now a Honda-contracted rider, Crutchlow has shown he can be very fast. This year the LCR Honda rider will have to work on his consistency.
JK: After a 2017 he labelled “average”, Crutchlow ought to be a more consistent scorer this year on an improved RC213V this year. But it’s still hard to see him troubling the works Honda riders across a full season unless he seriously cuts the number of crashes he has this year.
DG: The now HRC-contracted Crutchlow looked strong in testing, on par with Marquez and Pedrosa for the most part, but the stronger bike won’t guarantee fewer crashes. Those mixed with Honda test duties potentially compromising some weekends will take their toll on his place in the standings.
8. Alex Rins (Suzuki)
Top prediction: 3rd (LD)
VK: Rins remains a bit of a wildcard as it was very hard to draw conclusions from his injury-ridden rookie season, and he is likely to be held back by a relative lack of experience. His immense talent, however, is obvious, and he’s looked properly good in testing.
LD: Suzuki looks likely to fill the void vacated by a struggling Yamaha thanks to its vastly improved GSX-RR. Rins has done nothing but impress on it throughout the winter, and will almost certainly be a championship challenger this year.
KF: An error with engine choice for Suzuki’s 2017 campaign prevented Rins from displaying how competitive he could be. But with a better bike for the upcoming season, he should be frequently up there with the top challengers. Rins should have the most improved season this year.
7. Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati)
Top prediction: 1st (DG)
JK: If Lorenzo looked to be on the cusp of a breakthrough towards the end of last season, in winter testing the three-time premier class champion still seemed to be some way off having a Ducati fully to his taste. Expect another inconsistent campaign.
VK: The GP18 is by all accounts closer to what Lorenzo wants from a bike, even if he’s still not fully comfortable with it. It’d hard to imagine that he won’t make a tangible step forward, and equally hard to imagine him matching Dovizioso just yet.
DG: Lorenzo is somewhat under the radar following his worst-ever MotoGP season, but the GP18 is closer to his liking compared to last year’s bike, with which he was already on the level of Dovizioso in late 2017. Who better to take Ducati’s long-awaited next title?
CS: Lorenzo is set for a second learning year. A good day on the Ducati seems to be followed by a bad one, so while he is capable of winning races in 2018, a progressive challenge at the top seems unlikely.
KF: The former champion had a rough first year at Ducati in 2017, only securing three podium finishes while teammate Dovizioso battled for the championship. Known for his stellar starts last season, Lorenzo often failed to keep the pace. This needs to change for 2018.
6. Maverick Vinales (Yamaha)
Top prediction: 4th (OP, VK, CS)
OP: Considering his frustration during the pre-season, I can’t predict an easy beginning of the year for Vinales. It’s hard to imagine him winning any races in the first few rounds.
JK: Qatar and Argentina 2017 must feel like an awfully long time ago now for Vinales, who needs to match his obvious ability with more patience and adaptability given Yamaha’s struggles. Barring a rapid turnaround, it looks like a maiden title will have to wait.
VK: As good if not better than anybody on his best days, but MotoGP titles these days are won by scoring well on your worst weekends. The pre-season has suggested he still gets frustrated too easily – that’ll change with time, but maybe not in time for this year.
LD: What will get the better of Vinales this year is his frustration. 2018 looks set to be tough for Yamaha, and this could lead him to throwing away results on difficult days as he pushes over the limit. A race win seems likely, but more will be hard.
CS: Of the factory Yamaha riders, Vinales could once again outscore Valentino Rossi across a season. The bike’s ability to regularly fight for podiums remains to be seen, but the youngster would be the best bet to bag the biggest results for Yamaha.
5. Johann Zarco (Tech 3 Yamaha)
Top prediction: 3rd (JK)
JK: Last year’s star rookie was reliably showing up his works counterparts by the end of 2017, and there’s little to suggest things will be different this time around. With another year of experience under his belt, Zarco will be a force to be reckoned with.
VK: The Frenchman is a genuine superstar now, having barely put a foot wrong in his MotoGP career thus far. Surely, though, MotoGP’s leading factories are all too good to lose out to a 2016-spec bike.
DG: Everything points towards the Frenchman continuing his strong form this year – and not being a rookie anymore should help him get more consistent strong results and his maiden win. More than that should be unrealistic for a satellite rider, though.
LD: Rookie sensation Zarco has been mighty throughout the winter on a two-year-old M1 chassis. He proved a constant pest to the frontrunners in 2017, and a year of experience will make the Tech 3 rider a dangerous prospect, but a lack of factory support could hinder his bid.
KF: After surprising many with his incredible rookie year in the premier class, Zarco again looks set for a strong season with a promising Tech 3 bike beneath him and a year’s experience under his belt.
4. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha)
Top prediction: 3rd (VK, DG, KF)
OP: He will have to show that he can still be competitive and able to fight to win races being 39 years old. We’ve seen him fast in Qatar before, but his testing pace was worse than Vinales or Zarco.
JK: Now 39, it’s incredible Rossi finds the motivation to continue competing at the highest level – let alone maintain his place among MotoGP’s elite. But can he still summon the raw speed necessary to best teammate Vinales over a full season?
VK: He seems better at riding around the bike’s weak points than his teammate – and it is hard to believe a Rossi-led Yamaha will not right the ship at some point during the season, although Honda and Ducati’s leading men will likely be well in the clear by then.
DG: It looks like Yamaha has too many flaws to have a real shot at the title, but Rossi should be able to use all his experience and talent to put together a decent campaign and lead the factory’s efforts.
KF: A true fan favourite and legend in the sport who hasn’t had the bike he deserves over the last few seasons. Although the Yamaha has not looked to improve much from pre-season testing, you can expect Rossi to consistently collect points over the course of the year.
3. Dani Pedrosa (Honda)
Top prediction: 3rd (OP, CS)
OP: We’ve seen a very sharp-looking Pedrosa this winter, and I think he will be able to win more than the two races he won last year. My main doubts are about his performance when it’s cold or wet.
VK: Honda looks better this year, so Pedrosa should be stronger, but his indifferent form in qualifying and well-documented struggles with cold tyres are likely to prove hurdles too tall for a title run.
LD: The diminutive Honda rider has won a race every year since stepping up to MotoGP, and will continue this trend on an RC213V that looks more suited to him. Working over the winter to improve his speed in wet and cold conditions, Pedrosa will be a constant challenger.
CS: Pedrosa has not been able to tame the Honda as well as Marquez, and although we see glimpses of brilliance, he has not been able to put on a year-long challenge for some time now. But the bike appears to be heading in the right direction, which can only help.
KF: Dani has managed to take a win in each of his respective motorcycle championships over the last 16 seasons, including two victories for Honda in 2017. He is a safe option for Honda: rapid and reliable, and someone who will inevitably tally up decent points during the year.
2. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati)
Top prediction: 1st (VK, LD)
OP: He could be even stronger than last year, but I still believe Marquez is the more complete rider.
JK: For the first time, Dovizioso goes into the new season as a title contender, a status he appears to be relishing. Oozing confidence after Qatar testing, the Ducati man is probably the only realistic hope of denying Marquez a fifth MotoGP title.
VK: Pre-season testing form has made it clear his 2017 title charge was no flash in the pan. Almost certainly won’t score the most poles or race wins, but if the GP18 is stronger at Ducati’s weaker tracks than its predecessor, he could very well pick up the most points.
DG: It took Dovizioso five years to turn the Ducati into a potential title-winning bike, but there’s a risk this year of having a GP18 less to his liking with Lorenzo making a difference in the development phase as well.
LD: The Ducati rider comes into 2018 safe in the knowledge he is one of MotoGP’s elite after his sensational ’17 title tilt. With the GP18 able finally work in the turns and proving consistently quick, Dovizioso will be hard to beat.
CS: Dovizioso is one of the few riders who seems content after pre-season testing. With Ducati now a strong contender for a season-long challenge, he seems to be Marquez’s closest rival while teammate Lorenzo continues to adapt to a very different beast to his old M1 Yamaha.
KF: With last year’s title slipping through his fingers at the final round, Dovizioso proved to the world that he was a premier-class champion in the making who can battle and beat the big dogs at the top of the sport.
1. Marc Marquez (Honda)
Top prediction: 1st (OP, JK, CS, KF)
OP: If he was able to get the title in the last two years despite having a difficult bike, he has to be the main favourite this year considering he is much more comfortable with the 2018 Honda.
JK: As Crutchlow said last year, Marquez is MotoGP’s sole remaining alien – and he’s taken the past two titles even without the benefit of superior machinery. And given the steps forward Honda looks to have made this winter, it’s virtually impossible to see beyond the Spaniard.
VK: Made to seem a shoo-in for a fifth MotoGP title by Honda’s imperious Buriram showing, Marquez is clearly grand prix motorcycle racing’s fastest rider right now – but he is not invincible. His risk-taking approach is likely to leave points on the table.
DG: It’s difficult to imagine another subdued, by Marquez’s standards at least, start that he had in 2017. But with riders such as Lorenzo and Zarco being more prepared, it’ll be also tougher to replicate his dominant late-season form. He’ll be in the title fight, but he can’t win them all.
LD: Honda appears to have delivered Marquez a more user-friendly RC213V, and like the Ducati it seems to be the most consistent package. This will make the four-time premier class champion hard to beat, but his penchant for pushing the limit could be his undoing.
CS: With Ducati and Yamaha seemingly struggling to fully optimise their bikes, the smart money has got to be on Marquez. He has previous with beating others on inferior machinery and unless Honda’s rivals can quickly improve their packages, there isn’t anywhere else to look for the top spot.
KF: The four-time MotoGP champion has been gifted a faster and less aggressive Honda for the upcoming season. With his undeniable talent, Marquez should continue in his dominant ways in 2018.