Media types love narrative. Every angle of a subject must fit into a tidy little box that’s easily explained and digested, almost like ramen noodles.
The popular narrative in the aftermath of the Sepang test last week was that this year’s MotoGP championship battle probably will come down to reigning king Marc Marquez on his Honda and Maverick Vinales on his Yamaha.
And why not? Marquez has won three premier class championships since his rookie year in 2013, losing only to Jorge Lorenzo in 2015. The kid has won five World Championships in his last seven MotoGP seasons, including 125cc and Moto2.
Plus Marquez sent piss shivers up the spines of his rivals at Sepang by turning 39 laps in the 2:00 range last week at Sepang, more than twice as many as his competitors.
Vinales is the new shiny penny after leading the Sepang test at 1:59.368 on his Yamaha. Vinales was MotoGP Rookie of the Year in 2015 with Suzuki and broke through last season with his first premier-class victory in the British Grand Prix. That was all Yamaha and team boss Lin Jarvis needed to see to be convinced Vinales was the man to replace Jorge Lorenzo, who left for Ducati after last season.
Most paddock media types already are writing off Lorenzo’s chances, figuring he will need time to adjust to the unique handling characteristics of the Desmosedici GP 17. That bike requires deep braking, the antithesis of the geometrically perfect style of braking early and carrying speed through the corner that Lorenzo used to win three premier-class titles with Yamaha.
Plus Lorenzo can be mentally fragile at times, losing his confidence when the bike or team politics stack the cards against him in his mind. Just look at last season, when he was lost in space at some races, finishing 10th at Assen, 15th at Sachsenring and 17th at Brno.
But there’s one rider being left out of the handy narrative: Valentino Rossi. Yeah, that guy.
Rossi continued to defy time last year by winning twice and finishing second to Marquez. Regardless of Vinales’ speed, he enters this season as the unquestioned team leader at Yamaha, with no more mental or political infighting with Lorenzo.
The Doctor was sixth quickest at Sepang, but just .221 of a second behind Vinales despite admitting he was out of riding shape. You don’t think he can slice that margin during the mental and physical crucible of racing, which is a hell of a lot different than ripping off a hot lap during a steamy test in Sepang?
Rossi has 88 premier-class victories. Vinales has one. Yet Rossi should be written off already?