Features 15 Mar 2018

Countdown: MotoGP storylines

Six topics you need to follow as the 2018 season opens.

The 2018 MotoGP World Championship fires into life this weekend at the Losail Circuit in Qatar, marking round one of 19 for the season ahead. If testing will be anything to judge by, this year will be one of the most competitive on record and added depth makes for fascinating bench-racing going into the opener. CycleOnline.com.au lists six storylines that we will be focusing on when the lights go out for the first race of the season.

Image: Supplied.

6. Rise of the rookies:
This season we see a selection of very highly-rated rookies step up to the premier class from Moto2, including world champion Franco Morbidelli (Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda), Thomas Luthi (Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda), Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and Xavier Simeon (Avintia Racing Ducati). So far during the pre-season it’s been Japanese talent Nakagami who has impressed immensely, while Malaysian Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech3) was a late addition in place of the absent Jonas Folger.

5. Zarco factor:
Following a starring rookie season at Monster Yamaha Tech3 last year, in which he podiumed three times and ended up sixth in the final championship standings, we’re tipping big things for Johann Zarco in 2018. A former dual Moto2 title-winner, Zarco has emerged as one of MotoGP’s elite and will be in contention for victory from the outset. He led laps on debut last year prior to crashing and then went quickest in the official test, so don’t be surprised if he comes out and storms to an opening round victory.

4. The ‘other’ factories:
While Honda, Yamaha and Ducati rightfully take much of the limelight in MotoGP at the moment, there’s an interesting battle developing between the other half of factory teams including Suzuki, KTM and Aprilia. Last year they finished in that order and for the season to come it might just be even tighter for ‘best of the rest’ honours. The big mover appears to be KTM, which will enter its second term in the premier class prior to joining forces with Tech3 from 2019. Regardless, each have the potential to bridge the gap to the front as development progresses.

Image: Supplied.

3. Contract time:
We’ve already seen Marc Marquez and Maverick Vinales re-sign at Repsol Honda and Movistar Yamaha respectively, however outside of that each of the major factory riders are off-contract. You can expect Valentino Rossi to remain at Yamaha as long as he decides to race-on and Dani Pedrosa has long been a fixture at Honda, however who will ride what aside from that will be of major interest – especially Ducati and KTM. We’re eager to see that all play out in the lead-up to 2019, but it should settle relatively early in the year.

2. Miller to make next step:
So far, so good for Jack Miller at Alma Pramac Racing. Entering his fourth season in MotoGP, Miller has been in the mix throughout testing and quickly gelled with the Desmosedici GP17 that he will line up aboard in 2018. Still only 23 years of age, we’re certain that the North Queenslander will score multiple top fives and a possible podium or two this season, which would firmly place him in the frame for even better equipment in 2019. On a single-year deal so he’s in line with the factory contracts – usually two years – this is a massive season for Miller.

1. Marquez targets title five:
It’s incredible to think that out of five years in MotoGP, Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez has captured the championship no less than four times – 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017. If he can win it in 2018 that will be title number five on-board the RC213V, marking his seventh across all categories. This year is also another chance for him to make it three in a row, which is an impressive feat in itself. At this point it’s hard to look past the number 93 for another crown.