The 2023 season ushers in a new era for MotoGP with a record 21 rounds, yet the demanding schedule will actually feature 42 races as the championship undergoes a radical makeover with the addition of Saturday sprints.
Sprints, which are run at half the length of the race on Sunday, will not determine the final grid like they do in Formula One, but they will offer crucial points and cause further intrigue in the title chase.
Since 2019, the MotoGP championship has been won by four riders representing four different manufacturers, making it challenging to identify a true challenger for the 2023 season. However, Suzuki’s departure from the sport leaves a significant gap on the grid.
Suzuki ended their contract with Dorna and left MotoGP for the second time since 2011, forcing their skilled riders Joan Mir and Alex Rins to look for new teams.
Joan Mir, who won the 2020 championship thanks to his persistent efforts and podium finishes, has signed Honda to team with Marc Marquez, and Rins has joined LCR Honda, giving the Japanese brand three Spaniards.
However, getting used to a whole new system has not been simple, particularly for Mir who described learning the start procedure and launch control a nightmare.
“It’s hard because with the Suzuki all of these things are in a different way… To change everything is difficult but it’s a matter of time,” the world champion said during pre-season testing.
Marquez also appears to be in peak physical condition following surgery on his arm and recovery from double vision caused by crashes in past years, but he has also had issues with the RC213V vehicle and does not anticipate finishing on the podium at the opening race in Portimao.
The six-time winner of the premier class has also expressed displeasure with new aero kits that have increased performance and speed at the expense of spectacle as technology alters how they ride and pursue rivals.
“At the moment, if the race was tomorrow, with the conditions we had on track (during testing), we can fight for fifth to 10th,” Marquez said earlier this month.
“For the performance, we are riding faster but for the show, I feel it’s not the best way… I hope for the future, they (MotoGP) need to understand what way they want to go.”
Francesco Bagnaia, the defending champion, says Ducati has the correct setup this year after having to wait six rounds for his first podium finish the previous season.
In addition to helping Ducati win the championship after 15 years, Bagnaia overcame a 91-point deficit and broke a 50-year wait for an Italian rider to achieve this feat.
Enea Bastianini, a fellow countryman who impressed on a Gresini machine to place third in the standings, is now Bagnaia’s teammate. He expects to compete against a “quite competitive, very quick” rider on the track, but they get along well in the paddock.
Yamaha rider Fabio Quartararo had a sizable lead in the second half of the previous season before Bagnaia denied him consecutive championship wins. The Frenchman may now find it difficult as engineers improve the bike configuration.
“Honestly, we are not where we would like to be in terms of speed and also our testing schedule,” Yamaha team director Massimo Meregalli said. “What we have to evaluate and decide is the aero package.”
“We have two different ideas and we will take a decision before the race.”