The new era dawns as the Grande Premio Tissot de Portugal sets in motion the biggest season ever.
This is it. 22 riders, 11 teams, 21 MotoGP™ Sprints and 21 Grand Prix races. More MotoGP™ than ever before, and the first helping is right around the corner. Where? The rollercoaster: the one and only Autodromo Internacional do Algarve. When? This weekend, with media activities on Thursday 23rd of March before track action from the 24th. Friday decides Q1 and direct Q2 entry for MotoGP™. On Saturday the Sprint lands. And on Sunday? 25 laps decide who takes the first 25-point haul of the season. One reigning Champion, 22 contenders and the world watching on.
So here we go… in the team order we left off with in testing!
DUCATI LENOVO TEAM: Bagnaia & the Beast
The reigning Champion always has a target on his back, and Francesco Bagnaiahasn’t shied away from that in choosing to run the number 1 either. Neither has his pace and form so far in testing, with a new lap record and sweltering Sprint simulation raising some eyebrows in pitlane during the recent test. After turbulent beginnings to 2022, can Bagnaia start this season on the front foot? And if he does, how will he have to adapt to being the hunted rather than the rider hunting down that record deficit in 2022?
The other side of the garage looks a little different this season though. After already duelling it out with Bagnaia a few times last year, Enea Bastianini is now the call coming from inside the house. Can he make his presence more than just a shiver of nerves and really take Bagnaia on? In Portimao, he’s not got the best record barring good memories from his Moto2™ Championship win, so we may need to be patient. But then comes Argentina, and then comes Texas – where the Beast already ruled last season. We can also be sure that Bastianini won’t even start the battle with the gloves on.
PRIMA PRAMAC RACING: show us your hand
Now a true Ducati veteran, Johann Zarco spent a lot of preseason with his head down, testing for the factory. Then came the last day of track action and the Frenchman said that was his day to work on his bike and setup… and he shot straight up into second behind Bagnaia. That’s a warning signal for all, as is a previous podium finish at Portimao. Is that a reflection of long term form?
For Jorge Martin, meanwhile, the track may not show off the best of the number 89. He suffered a big crash there in 2021 too. He was eighth in the test, and he’ll want more than that on the first grid of the year. And maybe we’ll just need a little patience. Most agree Martin is tipped for serious success, and he’s already a race winner… could it be Argentina, where he fought for the win last year, where we really get to see that explosive speed searing through? Or has he got more in the locker for Portimao too?
MONSTER ENERGY YAMAHA MotoGP™: Quartararo back in business
The tale of two riders continued for Yamaha in preseason, but the tale of top speed seems to have a happier ending for the moment. The speed traps made for good reading, but when the Iwata marque put it all together for a hot lap on new tyres in Sepang… nothing happened. That was a brief worry, but it seems Fabio Quartararocertainly figured it out by the end of the Portimao test as he ended it in third, going back on some aero to maintain other steps forward. Threat: reloaded.
Quartararo is a two-time winner at Portimao too, and will be pushing his limits to make sure that becomes three. For Franco Morbidelli, meanwhile, there’s still a step to be found, with the Italian ending the test seven tenths off his teammate. Can he find more this weekend?
MOONEY VR46 RACING TEAM: Marini & Bezzecchi step up
Luca Marini was the king of preseason in Valencia and Sepang, with the Italian putting on quite a show – and showing how much of a weapon the GP22 remains, if anyone needed proof. Marini’s MO throughout his career has been building on what he’s learned to take another step forward, at his pace, and that hasn’t disappeared in MotoGP™. It also appears that his most recent step takes him to to the podium fight – so can he take that first rostrum soon?
Marco Bezzecchi, meanwhile, is already a premier class podium finisher – and he only wants more. Where at times Marini lacked the speed of Bezzecchi last season, Bezzecchi lacked the consistency of Marini, so there was plenty to learn from both sides of the garage. Can Bezzecchi find that consistency to run at the front AND fight for podiums? He is only a sophomore too, so it’s an exciting year for fans to see how much further forward he can get in 2023.
GRESINI RACING MotoGP™: a new dark horse?
It was a difficult preseason for Fabio Di Giannantonio by the end as ‘Diggia’ crashed in the last test and had to miss a day. Before that though, steps forward had been made so his form could be interesting. On the other side of the garage though, Alex Marquez is about to start a mammoth season of his career…
The two-time World Champion has shown glimpses of brilliance in the premier class so far, but they came less and less frequently over a tough stint for rider and factory. Now it’s a new start on a new bike and that brings a whole new dynamic. First, he looks comfortable and quick, and ready to start bothering the podium battle. Second, it’s a pivotal season to deliver and show what he’s got – with a little more pressure added given the machine is also in the hands of a fair few fast riders. Can he do it? The signs so far look good, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him take more rostrums with a second factory. After all, he HAS been there before.
RED BULL KTM FACTORY RACING: Binder shines, Miller settles in
It’s a big year for KTM. Last season was a tougher one, despite those wins in the wet, and they don’t come racing for the mere chance of a podium. A lot of work has gone in over winter though, and there are some good signs coming – as well as some that have been there a while. Brad Binder’s ability to wring out the maximum once the lights go out may have chance to shine twice a weekend in 2023, AND the South African somehow pairs that with an ability to stay on more than most, suffering only one DNF last season. He was ninth in the test here but only half a tenth off Martin so don’t count him out… or bet against him getting his elbows out.
On the other side of the garage though, there’s a new face: Jack Miller. The Australian hasn’t set the timesheets on fire just yet, but gave his adaptation a solid 7 or 8/10 so far when asked at the test. With time we can expect more speed, as Miller has plenty of experience at the front and on the top step. That experience – and wins on two other bikes – also means he’s facing down Maverick Viñales for the chance to become the first rider to win with three factories in the MotoGP™ era. When will we start to see him taking those big steps forward? We’re about to find out.
APRILIA RACING: who’s the captain now?
Last season, Aleix Espargaro was known as the captain at Aprilia – not to be confused with Captain Aprilia, a character who likely exists in a whole other multiverse – and it looks like things are about to get even more interesting at the Noale factory. First, both he and teammate Maverick Viñales have two new riders on the same bike at RNF to contend with, and second, Viñales is now very, very quick.
Espargaro had an incredible 2022 with only one DNF, that maiden MotoGP™ win, a plethora of podiums and a challenge for the title. He already suffered a hurdle and had arm pump surgery after the test, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t be fighting at the front again. Remember that double overtake in Assen? That doesn’t disappear. But neither does the form Viñales has shown before, taking wins with two other factories, and he now appears to be on the pace if not, at times, setting it. Who will be steering the ship come summer break? And can Viñales take that coveted win on a third machine to make MotoGP™ history? Aprilia looked like the closest challengers to Ducati in testing before that final day, so let’s see what they’ve got.
REPSOL HONDA TEAM: secret weapons reloaded
Neither Repsol Honda Team rider needs much introduction, but let’s start with the new arrival: Joan Mir. Many expected a tougher time of it for Mir and Rins adapting to the Honda, but both have been in the ballpark and Mir was even quickest Honda at the test. With proven speed, Mir’s progress will be one to watch – as will that of Honda as the Japanese giant pushes to move back to the front. As we watch both, it’s worth remembering that World Championships are earned, they don’t fall from the sky.
And then there’s Marc Marquez. Eight-time World Champion, comeback king, and a rider often expected to summon that extra dash of magic, for good reason. He’s now back at full tilt and there are plenty of eyes on him as the season starts, and understandably. The last time Marquez was at full speed he was creating his own league, but what will happen now? It’s a tougher time for Honda, there’s work still to be done to get the RC213V on the pace of their rivals, and in testing Marquez said they’re still a few tenths off. But is the number 93 able to find them in the meantime? We can be sure of one thing: Marc Marquez doesn’t settle. It’s going to be an exciting season with him back in the mix, and it’s an intriguing first few races: Portimao, and then two tracks where the number 93 has previously proven the class of the field. Who will be leading the Championship come Jerez?
CRYPTODATA RNF MotoGP™ TEAM: the home hero & the sophomore
For Raul Fernandez, this is a big season. After a difficult and at times acrimonious 2022, he now has a new team, new bike and something to prove. So what can he do? He was P16 by the end of the test at Portimao but has also won here twice in the lower classes, and bothered the higher echelons of the timesheets a couple of times in preseason.
Meanwhile, Miguel Oliveira also starts a new adventure. He’s seemed upbeat in winter and split the factory Aprilia duo at the test, as well as showing some good pace throughout. Did we see the full hand from the Noale factory in preseason? It may well prove not, and there’s even more to come. We can also be confident that there will be plenty to come from Oliveira, a race winner in the wet and dry, as he will likely only get quicker as he adapts. First time out on home turf though, where can he slot in? He’s won here before.
LCR HONDA: Rins on factory pace
The timesheets on the final day of testing had Mir, Marc Marquez and Alex Rins tightly packed together in a trio of Hondas, and that bodes well. Rins won the last race of last season and if he wins this would equal Rossi’s 2004 feat, but that won’t be the aim. The number 42 is in sponge mode to understand his new LCR Honda Castrol machine, get the best from it and contribute to Honda’s journey back to the top. So far though? He looks like he’s settling in really rather well.
That puts a little more pressure on Takaaki Nakagami at LCR Honda Idemitsu, with the Japanese rider struggling to find form so far. After some injury struggles and a difficult stint though, it may well take some time – something he certainly has at least in the first part of the season. Can he get back to fighting for bigger hauls of points?
GASGAS FACTORY RACING TECH3: the veteran & the rookie
Pol Espargaro‘s joyous dance on the bike at the Valencia test was arguably one of the snippets of the season: the pure delight at being back on the RC16, a bike he’s had a far bit of success on and one that seems to suit. It’s been a tougher one on the preseason timesheets since then, but it seems hard to tell what we should be expecting, or what the programme was. Espargaro was a key force in taking KTM to the top and now he’s charged with racing GASGAS to some good rewards, so stay tuned as he gets reacquainted!
Finally, and last but not least, Augusto Fernandez is now a MotoGP™ rider. After a journey from European Moto2™ to Moto2™, a dip in results and a fight back to being the king of the class last season, his CV is impressive. He doesn’t have any rivals for Rookie of the Year, but in some ways that add a challenge. Learning as much as possible and staying calm as he settles in will be key, and he’s shown some good speed so far at times… it just needs to come together.
22 contenders, one crown and the fastest motorcycle racing show on Earth… don’t miss it! Friday’s P1 starts at 10:45 before P2 at 15:00. FP3 then precedes qualifying on Saturday morning, which begins at 10:50 And for lights out, remember:MotoGP™ Sprint: Saturday 15:00 (GMT +1)
Grand Prix Race: Sunday 14:00 (GMT +1)
MotoGP™ TESTING: TOP 3 IN PORTIMAO
1 Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) – Ducati – 1’38.771
2 Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) – Ducati – +0.110
3 Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) – Yamaha – +0.148
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