Two Ducatis, a Yamaha and a Suzuki walk into a MotoGP World Championship. They sit in the middle for most of the season then finish just behind a Honda.
There's no punchline to that set-up, but it brings us to part two of the season review for 2011. We go from Karel Abraham to Hector Barbera this week:
The Czech rider came into the premier class with a familiar sound ringing in his ears: people criticising his involvement in the series and giving many a mention of his father's wealth. He'd even heard it in parc fermé before claiming the trophy for his first Moto2 win at Valencia in 2010. "Does this justify your move up to MotoGP?" was the loaded question posed to Abraham by an Italian journalist. The rider took it as a serious query and responded politely.
So the critics would be quick to pounce on some inevitable rookie mistakes — that much
Seventh in the wet and wild race at Jerez could have been written off as a fluke, but he repeated the result at the British Grand Prix. Race wins or even podiums were never on the cards, but a look at race results makes for positive reading: Abraham was only the last placed finisher on two occasions in 2011 and one of those was his debut.
What happens now?
He's here to stay. Ducati will provide him with a machine for 2012 and there is an option for a ride for 2013 as well. Now he has to cut out the crashes in his sophomore year, but keep standing up to the big names as he did this past season. His march over to Casey Stoner's garage at the Barcelona post-race test might be what won him the most fans in 2011.
It's hard to judge just how much Alvaro Bautista has progressed in MotoGP: firstly because he has been plagued by injuries and, secondly, because he has been riding a Suzuki.
2011 was even more confusing for those assessing the rider once touted as Spain's next big thing, because he was the only man with a Suzuki mount and there was nobody against
The opening races were a write-off -that much is true. A broken femur isn't recovered from overnight and Suzuki were left wondering how much of Bautista's failure to crack the top 10 was down to their bike.
Still, there was a late push that showed signs of promise. Crashes when fighting for the top four demonstrated a winner's instinct and his refusal to ditch Suzuki until the Japanese factory's fate was confirmed did much to build his reputation. A year to build on for the former 125cc World Champion, whose 2011 campaign ended on a sour note with the first corner crash at Valencia.
What happens now?
Suzuki are gone and Bautista was the only realistic answer to the sad but inevitable question of "Who will replace Marco Simoncelli at Gresini?" A machine on a relative par with those of Stoner and Pedrosa should make things very interesting in 2012 — providing the Spaniard stays fit. He's also one of the few men to lose weight over Christmas, so maybe a sideline writing a book on the 'having metal plates removed' method could prove a lucrative venture.
Rookie of the Year (just) and the recipient of plenty of plaudits early on, Cal Crutchlow didn't look out of his depth in MotoGP in his first handful of 800cc races. It all started to unravel at Silverstone, ironically enough, in what was going to be his home race and a second visit to a familiar track in 2011. One smashed-up collarbone later and we were bringing out the 2009 Toseland comparisons.
For the record, Crutchlow didn't take as many points as the previous British hope did in either his rookie or sophomore season. Neither did he come into the series with such hype,
What happens now?
We shall see if the 1000cc bikes favour those with Superbike experience. Expectations will be raised and Andrea Dovizioso will be across the garage to show whether Crutchlow can hang with the next level of premier class competitor. If not, who knows where he will go at the end of the year?
Three retirements and one non-start, plus the fact that the 2011 season featured one less race than 2010, were key to Hector Barbera failing to best his rookie season points tally. This was a season that he considered to be one of his toughest yet, and he had plenty of time to think things through when undergoing recovery from a collarbone fracture suffered in Japan. Every press release told a similar tale of either slight disappointment in results and set-up, a mystery problem and going back to the drawing board, but he had the odds stacked against him. If Loris Capirossi and Randy de Puniet couldn't do anything with the satellite Ducati, then 'The Elephant' could hardly be expected to perform miracles with the customer Desmosedici. He outperformed both of those riders by more than 30
What happens now?
Yep, Barbera has signed up for another year with Ducati, leaving the Aspar Team and their CRT project behind and joining the Pramac outfit whose riders propped up the standings last season. The satellite Ducati bikes go through stages and were decent in 2007 when the 800cc era began. The former 125cc and 250c race-winner will be hoping that the GP12 Sat has more similarities with the 2007 mount than the 2006 or 2009 versions of the Desmosedici.
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