Last season when the Moto2 season opened it was seen as a racing experiment, it quickly became a social experiment. Whereas in the past racing at the Grand Prix level saw the rich get richer with talented riders careers bankrolled by the likes of Aprilia and a steady path of progression through the smaller classes with factory machinery, and its inherit advantages, seeing young talented riders always race at the front.
Moto2 changed all that in 2010 with equality of tyres, engines and electronics making talent much more visible throughout the field. Whereas the 250cc class had become a battle of “haves” and “have nots” Moto2 became a class where equality reigned supreme and where even the smallest of errors would be heavily punished.
The challenge to find consistency was almost impossible with champion Toni Elias coming closest but still having weekend where he would struggle, qualifying 18th at Silverstone a prime example. Elias will return to MotoGP in 2011 and he will leave a huge void on the Moto2 grid. Who will fill his boots? There are a lot of contenders but each will have to find a way to iron out the chances of a poor grid slot which will ruin any hope of competing at the sharp end on Sunday afternoons.
Qualifying is crucial in Moto2 because with equality comes close grids and hectic racing. If you qualify on the fourth row of the grid, 13th or lower, you will be deep in the pack as the field heads into turn one and at the mercy of everyone else. There were numerous opening lap crashes in races last year and that trend will continue this season with a large field of 38 permanent riders.
Even if you avoid the inevitable opening lap carnage riders are then left with battling for real estate with rivals who have the same machinery. As a result you are forced to take a defensive, and slower, approach to racing and when things eventually settle down the leaders have long since disappeared and you are left with a fight for nothing more than scraps from the top table.
Qualifying at the front, and getting clear of the field, was the Holy Grail last season and it was Andrea Iannone who became the master of this. The Italian took three runaway victories and should have added a fourth at Catalunya. The Italian will race for Speed Master in the coming season and will start the year as a sure fire championship contender.
This class though is filled with numerous riders who should offer strong competition to Iannone with Julian Simon the most likely candidate. While the former 125cc champion failed to win a race last year he did rack up an impressive eight podiums and when the season drew to a close he was one of the form men taking six front row starts in the final eight races. Simon is an aggressive and intelligent racer and once the Aspar squad changed to the Suter chassis his season came alive. This season however Simon will be ready from the off and looks set to offer a stern test to any of the title contenders.
Scott Redding, the youngest GP winner in history, looks set to be a title contender this season after a strong series of preseason tests. The Englishman will once more race for the Marc VDS team and has looked very confident throughout the winter. Redding has a gloriously aggressive style on a bike and looks primed to have a career defining season. He will be joined at Marc DVS by MotoGP refugee Mika Kallio. The Finn struggled in the premier class but has two years of four-stroke experience and if he can rediscover the confidence that he showed as a 125 and 250cc rider he could be a dark horse title contender.
Alex di Angelis had a tumultuous season in 2010. The San Maranese rider started the year with an underfunded Moto2 entry before racing in the MotoGP class as a replacement rider. When he returned o Moto2 with the JIR squad he looked much more impressive and finished the season as a leading contender with three podiums in the final stretch of races. One of those podiums was a victory at Philip Island after a superb performance.
The battle for the title should also be joined by an exceptional crop of rookie riders with reigning 125cc champion, Marc Marquez, leading the way. While Marquez had to wait until the final race of the season to be crowned champion his form throughout the year was second to none. He took ten wins and started from pole on 12 occasions. Marquez showed that he had the maturity and talent to win at the highest level and he will be a marked man in Moto2.
Much will be expected of the recently turned 18 year old who will ride a Suter in the coming season. His race craft was impressive last year and as a result he has been installed as the bookies favourite to take the title in his first season. That seems to be quite a leap of faith by the bookmakers and a season that consists of front row starts, podiums and one or two wins would be a much more realistic proposition. Marquez will be strong in the coming season and the battle for rookie of the year should be very exciting.
Marquez will have to compete with fellow 125cc graduates Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith for that honour. Espargaro challenged Marquez for the title last year and will move into Moto2 on the crest of a wave. His eye-catching performances last year marked him as an exceptionally fast and aggressive racer but his win at Aragon was also one of the most tactical of the year. Staying behind Nico Terol for as long as possible, Espargaro made his move into the final corner and took a superb victory. He will win races in the ultra competitive Moto2 class and it will be entertaining to see him do battle once more with former 125cc rival Iannone.
Smith came into 2010 anticipating a title challenge but the Englishman was just too big for the small bikes. He grew throughout the year and his height and weight cost him dearly. It was worth the risk to stay in the class but he looks much more at home on the larger Moto2 bike. In the past Smith was seen as the best qualifier in 125cc racing, he could ride on his own as well as anyone and was capable of setting some blistering times in qualifying. That should stand him in good stead this season but the Tech3 machine still has a lot of questions hanging over it.
Last year the team struggled with just one win to show for their efforts. Rafaele de Rosa never quite got his head around the four-stroke and Yuki Takahashi struggled with the exception of winning at Barcelona. The team flattered to deceive in 2010 but there is heightened expectation for the coming season with Smith and Mike di Meglio racing for the team.
Former World Supersport champion, Kenan Sofuoglu, raced on two occasions last year and impressed greatly. It seems strange to call him a rookie but the Turkish star will be classified as one. He will have little interest in the rookies’ title though; his eyes are set firmly on title glory. It will be very interesting to see how he does over the course of a full season but consistency has always been a hallmark of his so a strong season could see him compete for the title.
The great thing about the Moto2 class is that literally anything could happen over the course of the year. Grids were split by seconds last year and it was common to see riders qualify or race at the front one week but struggle for pace the next weekend. The challenge is huge for riders and teams but the excitement for fans if exceptional. When the racing starts in Moto2 rationality goes out the window. The class brings a bar room brawl mentality to racing with forceful overtaking moves and harsh defences from riders.
The new season should continue in that vein and give terrific entertainment. When the class was originally discussed many traditionalists, including myself, felt it was an affront to have production engines and “dumbed” down class in Grand Prix racing…it took me the opening lap of Qatar to change my opinion. The racing in Moto2 was some of the best I have ever seen but now that fans are armed with the knowledge of what happened last season the excitement level heading into the opening race of the year has risen considerably!