Last year's MotoGP World Championship saw a record nine different race winners, something many thought a freak occurrence due to the new single ECU, switch from Bridgestone to Michelin tyres and changeable race day weather.

But halfway through this season and five different riders have already won races - one more than this time last year, despite dry races (rain spots at Assen aside) - with an unprecedented ten points covering the top four in the world championship.

For Herve Poncharal, boss of Monster Yamaha Tech 3 - the only satellite team to have both its riders, Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger, on the rostrum so far this season - the technical rules mean competition between the leading manufacturers is closer than ever, with Suzuki's decline the 'big question mark'.

"This year we have three factories that are clearly almost at the same level - Yamaha, Honda and Ducati," Poncharal told Crash.net. "Last year Ducati was behind, they won two races, but one on a special circuit (Austria) and the other in the wet (Sepang).

"This year the big disappointment and big question mark is Suzuki. Why? Is it because the bike is worse than last year, or because the riders can't use the bike... I'm not going to say which, because someone will kill me!

"But to explain a little: Thanks to the technical rules we have, Yamaha, Honda and Ducati are all close this year. I am Yamaha so I can tell you there is not, from 2016 to 2017, a huge evolution. The bikes are almost the same as last year because of the frozen engine, more-or-less the same tyres, the same ECU, the aerodynamics are more or less blocked now etc etc.

"So I don't think the Suzuki is less competitive than last year. I think Vinales is a special man. Some people also didn't understand the level of Aleix Espargaro because you can see what he is doing now on the Aprilia. So they had extremely good, motivated, fast riders last season.

"This year, and I'm not blaming anyone, but Aleix is a rookie and has been injured. Iannone has been riding the Ducati which is a different bike and has been shocked not to be able to adapt. But look at Lorenzo, it's the same story in reverse.

"The 'problem' is Ducati kept Dovi and Suzuki changed both riders. But if you had Lorenzo and 'X new rider' joining Ducati maybe their situation would be the same as Suzuki. Because if you take out Dovi from the results... Everyone expected Lorenzo to be stronger, like they were expecting Iannone to be better at Suzuki."

While all of the victories this year have so far been by factory riders, four satellite riders have also finished on the podium. Last season saw the first Independent wins since 2006, courtesy of Jack Miller at Assen and then Cal Crutchlow at Brno and Phillip Island.

"I'd like to see guys like Petrucci, Cal and eventually Zarco and Folger winning races on a regular basis: So far we've had the two factory Hondas, two factory Yamahas and one factory Ducati, but I think some satellite guys can win races," Poncharal declared.

The Frenchman then explained that the single ECU, introduced at the start of 2016, has been the most important factor in making victory a realistic possibility for Independent teams:

"This situation, where satellite riders have the chance to win, didn't happen overnight, but we always gave priority to the show when deciding on the technical rules.

"For the show you need a battle, which means you need a competitive grid.The single tyre, frozen spec engine, maximum number of engines have all been important but the single ECU was the thing that helped most. In the past, that was the biggest difference between factory and satellite.

"It's an incredible feeling for us to compete with the factory guys. Sure Vinales and Rossi will finish ahead of us in the championship, but it is more exciting for everyone that we can sometimes beat them.

"And at the front of the championship, as Valentino was saying, after Catalunya he was almost out of the title chase and Pedrosa in the middle of it. One race later and Pedrosa is, some people think, out of it and Valentino right back in."

By Peter McLaren

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