As with any sport, the characters of the competitors is a big part of the attraction. And unlike team sports, it is mano a mano out there on the track, with a complex mix of mutual admiration, petty and deep-seated resentments, prima donnas and class sportsmen—and always bloody-eyed competitiveness. Here is a brief rundown of the current top five ranked riders, all of whom hail from Italy or Spain:
Marc Marquez (Spain)
A young upstart when he entered the GP class in 2013 at the age of 20, Marquez’ loose yet precise, fearless—and very fast—riding style shook up the old guard. He took the world champion title that first year, the year after that, lost one, then won the next two and is almost certain to take the title in 2018 for the fifth time in six years. He (perhaps unsurprisingly) has a bit of a swagger, tempered by an impish charm and is frequently accused by other riders of being dangerously aggressive on the track.
Employer: Repsol Honda. Salary: $11.5 million Andrea Dovizioso (Italy) Quick and a demon on the brakes, Dovi, as he is somewhat affectionately known, has never won a world championship in his 10 years at the top level but has frequently finished in the top five and as high as second place. A seemingly humble man who doesn’t relish the limelight, he is an aggressive presence on the track, more often than not giving the top three riders runs for their money.
Employer: Ducati. Salary: $7 million Valentino Rossi (Italy) With nine world titles, seven of them in the premier class, Rossi, the grand old man of racing at 39, is one of the most successful riders ever. He has raced professionally for 22 years and after 18 years in the GP class he is still a competitive force. Though not as fast and awe inspiring as he once was, he still competes effectively against riders who once esteemed him as their boyhood idol. Easily the most beloved rider in MotoGP, Rossi is highly likeable with an affable high-energy charm, cracking jokes in his broken English, and plays the class sportsman role flawlessly—to the chagrin of some of his rivals.
Employer: Moviestar Yamaha. Salary: $10 million Jorge Lorenzo (Spain) A very precise, almost scientifically cold rider, under perfect track and weather conditions the 31-year-old three-time GP champion has been at times almost unbeatable in his 10 years in the top class. Once Lorenzo gets to the front of the pack he is very tough to catch, handily winning what then turn out to be some of the most boring MotoGP races in history. Evidently plagued by personal demons that tend to shoot him in the foot, he is often petulant when he loses and displays an annoyingly forced joy when he wins. Probably the most disliked rider in MotoGP, though he doesn’t seem to know why. Employer: Ducati. Salary: $8 million Maverick Vinales (Spain) This 23-year-old rider in his fourth year in the GP class is a serious contender. Highly competitive and his own man, he is keen to take the title from Marquez but comes across as reasonably gentlemanly off-track. He has the usually daunting task of sharing the Yamaha team space with his friend Rossi—which other riders, notably Lorenzo, have found challenging. But Vinales is well aware that he is of the new guard and can move up the pack as Rossi and Lorenzo slowly fade. Assuming some other young miracle doesn’t move up into MotoGP to usurp his birthright victory.
Employer: Yamaha. Salary: $5 million