MotoGP Season Preview: Marquez imitates history as rule changes herald new era

Patrick Appleton20 Mar 2014 15:25

History often has a way of repeating itself and MotoGP looks to be no exception when comparing the exploits of Marc Marquez and his illustrious rookie-winning predecessor Kenny Roberts.

Marquez will go into the Qatar GP on Sunday evening as the youngest rookie world champion ever, but the similarities with Roberts’ second season in the big class are closer than the Spaniard would probably like.

If the 2014 season does eventually pan out as Roberts’ second did then Marquez will have few complaints, but suffering a crash that threatened the start of his season – just like Roberts did in 1979 – would not have been on Marquez’ to-do-list.

The broken leg the Spaniard suffered during a dirt-track training session in Lleida has been managed well though and the 21-year-old is set to line-up in the Gulf on Sunday.

The Repsol Honda rider will face plenty of challenges this season, including old adversary Jorge Lorenzo, with whom he battled victoriously last season.

Team-mate Dani Pedrosa will be hoping to secure his first world crown at his ninth attempt, knowing that finishing behind Marquez again could spell the end of his nine-year association with Repsol Honda.

Marquez must also watch out for the wily old fox that is Valentino Rossi.

Seven premier class titles have not dulled his appetite for another and the Italian’s pre-season testing times have indicated that “The Doctor” feels challenging for the title is achievable this term, following a disappointing 2013.

Aside from the top four challengers, the 2014 season has seen a whole host of rule changes.

The “Claiming Rules” were abolished at the end of last season try to and produce a more level playing field in the premier class.

This quest for racing equality began in 2009 with the introduction of a sole tyre provider (Bridgestone) and from 2016 a single electronics package (Magneti Marelli-produced) is expected to further the ideology.

Beginning this season, all teams are required to use the same engine control unit (ECU) hardware. Factories will have the choice to continue with their own software, which is where the categories become divided into 'Factory' and 'Open', like before.

Those in the ‘Open’ category, using the designated ECU software, are allowed to use 24 litres of fuel per race, have a softer tyre option, unlimited testing and 12 'non-sealed' engines in a season. The Open category teams will be allowed to develop their engines during the season.

In the ‘Factory’ category, teams are allowed to use their own ECU software, but are restricted to 20 litres of fuel per race and are only permitted five engines throughout the season. Those engines are 'sealed,' which will see a freeze on development during the season.

A huge development in these rules during the off-season was Ducati’s decision to relinquish their ‘Factory’ status and become part of the ‘Open’ class.

According to Ducati general manager Gigi Dall'Igna, the freedom to develop their bike was a huge factor in their decision, as well as the increase in fuel and the tyre option.

However, the factory teams were not pleased with Ducati’s “advantage”, as they saw it, and complaints were made.

This forced MotoGP rights holders Dorna into a rule amendment, which now gives Factory teams without a dry win in the previous season the option to compete with Open concessions.

In effect, Ducati are still a Factory team but because of their recent dismal race record they can compete with all the Open “advantages.”

Once they get three third-placed podiums, two second places or a single race win in dry conditions, their fuel tank capacity will decrease to 22 litres. If they get three wins in a season they will lose the soft tyre option.

With the rules certain to confuse many a spectator and pundit throughout the season, we can be guaranteed plenty of drama and controversy.

The opening Grand Prix in Qatar will help to make more sense of the new rules and it will be interesting to see if last year’s CRT champion Aleix Espargaro can build on his already impressive testing times for the ‘Open’ Forward Yamaha team.

With so many different angles at the beginning of the 2014 season even outside the rule changes, Sunday is sure to start the season off with a bang.