"Pecco" Bagnaia knows it: the favorite is him. Between his title and the performance of his Ducati, the Transalpine has been full of confidence in 2022.
If his quest for a first MotoGP title had started badly last year, the 26-year-old rider signed a second half of the season in cannonball... at the expense of his rival Nice, vice-world champion in title.
At the dawn of the resumption of the championship on the Portimao track, in the Algarve (south), Bagnaia already seems ready to continue this momentum since he finished the pre-season as boss at the end of the last winter tests in mid-March, in Portimao precisely. He set the fastest time – and better: he broke the lap record he had held since 2021.
"We can say +mission accomplished+: we are ready to face the new season," said the interested at the end of the five days of tests (including three in February in Malaysia).
A season that he will face alongside a new teammate, his compatriot Enea Bastianini, formerly of Ducati-Gresini promoted to the factory team of the Italian firm in place of the Australian Jack Miller, left for KTM. Third in the championship in 2022, some already see the Italian as Bagnaia's main rival...
Score back at the front?
If the pre-season tests "remain tests", reminds AFP Carmelo Ezpeleta, president of Dorna (the promoter of MotoGP), "it seems that we have a domination of Pecco, but both Fabio and Marc (Marquez) - even Aprilia (with the Spaniards Aleix Espargaro, 4th in 2022 and Maverick Vinales, ed) will be there.
The first, 2021 MotoGP world champion, will want to regain the advantage against Bagnaia.
Last season, the 23-year-old from Nice led the majority of the championship, but due to a Yamaha lacking speed, combined with a second half of the season damaged by crashes and the comeback of his Italian competitor, he failed to retain his title.
Yamaha's French rider Fabio Quartararo sits in his team's garage during the first day of MotoGP's pre-season winter testing at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia, February 10, 2023 © Mohd RASFAN / AFP/Archives
Left with the Japanese brand for two more seasons (until 2024), "El Diablo" will however have to continue to do with a bike that does not seem the most efficient, in view of winter tests.
Another title contender is six-time MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez (Honda). While the younger generation was gaining momentum, the Spaniard has largely lost some of his brilliance, as his last three seasons have been marred by physical glitches and a series of operations that have prevented him from fighting for the title.
Returned --for good he hopes-- on the circuits last September, the 30-year-old Catalan is again expected to play spoiler at the front.
Ducati, the reigning constructors' world champion, will have six more bikes this season in addition to its two official flagships, foremost among which are the Pramacs of Spaniard Jorge Martin and 32-year-old Frenchman Johann Zarco, still looking for his first MotoGP victory.
The Ducati-VR46 of Italians Luca Marini and Marco Bezzecchi, solid during pre-season testing, could also be invited into the game.
A record odyssey of 21 Grands Prix – including two new races in Kazakhstan (9 July) and India (24 September) – this season sees the arrival of a new format, with sprint races contested every Saturday during each GP weekend.
Honda team's Spanish rider Marc Marquez after taking pole position after qualifying for the Valencia MotoGP Grand Prix at the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Cheste, near Valencia, on November 05, 2022 © JOSE JORDAN / AFP/Archives
According to Carmelo Ezpeleta, "this will allow drivers who could not compete over a long distance to be in the battle in sprint races". And already promises "beautiful actions" on the track.
© 2023 AFP