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2024 MotoGP is go!

Marc Marquez

MotoGP resumes in Qatar this weekend with one question on almost everyone’s lips ‘can Marc Marquez do it?’

The eight-time world champion (six in the premier class) shocked the racing world last season by leaving the once dominant Repsol Honda team, buying himself out of a long term contract to join brother Alex at the privateer Gresini Racing squad. He will be one of eight Ducati riders on the grid this season and among the favourites to win in the Middle Eastern desert this weekend.

The Italian manufacturer took the top three places in the 2023 championship, with Francesco Bagnaia taking a second successive title from Jorge Martin and early season pacesetter Marco Bezzecchi. European bikes took the top nine places in last year’s title race, with 2021 champion Fabio Quartararo the best of the Japanese runners in 10th and Marquez the top Honda in 13th.

The Ducati domination has led to a change in the rules, with Honda and Yamaha allowed technical concessions and more test time to develop their bikes. There is much interest around these rules, and whether these previously dominant marques can climb back to the top of the championship. The hope is that all manufacturers will be competitive as the season goes on, but for now it is Ducati they are all targeting.

2024’s MotoGP runners and riders

Ducati

 

Bagnaia

 

The Italian bikes have established themselves as the bikes to be on in recent years, winning the past two riders’ championships, and there will again be eight very competitive Desmosedicis on the grid this time around.

The Ducati factory team and satellite Pramac squad both get the latest spec bikes, called the GP24. As back-to-back champion, Bagnaia enters the year as favourite, however team-mate Enea Bastianini is far better than the results from his injury-hit 2023 campaign suggests. Bagnaia has already re-signed for 2025 but Bastianini will have to hit the ground running if he is to retain his seat next year. He is capable of beating anyone on his day, but with most rider contracts up at the end of the year the sharks will be circling, as his job is the most attractive vacancy in the whole paddock.

Pramac rider Martin took the title fight to the final round in 2023 and he will be looking for a promotion to a full factory squad in 2025. He should be a title contender again in 2024 and will be at the heart of the off-track rider market shenanigans, which will be every bit as much of the story of this year’s MotoGP season as the on-track action. His team-mate is 2020 runner-up Frankie Morbidelli, who gets a surprise shot on a Ducati after two torrid injury hit years as a factory Yamaha rider. He goes into the season having picked up yet another injury during training, making what was already a critical point in his career even more difficult.

Of course all eyes are on the Gresini team, where the Marquez brothers come equipped with last year’s title-winning GP23 spec Desmosedicis. Having been battered by injury in recent years, Marc is keen to get his career back on track. He has a one-year deal at Gresini and is keen to get on a top factory bike for 2025 – so much so he has reportedly paid millions to be released early from his Honda contract in order for him to rekindle his love of racing and to showcase his talents this year. His GP23 might not be the latest and greatest spec Ducati, but private teams have been able to win races on one-year old Desmosedicis in recent years. Can he win races? For sure! Can he win the championship? According to the bookies he’s joint favourite with Bagnaia. Don’t rule out little brother Alex either. He’s a former Moto2 and Moto3 world champ, who won a couple of sprint races last year. Probably not a title contender, but definitely a potential race winner and championship spoiler.

The same goes for the other two Ducatis on the grid. Valentino Rossi’s VR46 squad retains Bezzecchi and adds Fabio di Giannantonio to its roster. Both riders are proof it is possible for private Ducati teams to win: ‘Bez’ won three Grands Prix last season with a similar level of support, even leading the series for a period, while ‘Diggia’ saw a late burst of form to win in Qatar and save his MotoGP career. The 25-year-old lost his seat at Gresini Racing to accommodate Marc Marquez but picked up the VR46 seat in the ensuing merry-go-round, when incumbent Luca Marini moved to Repsol Honda.

KTM

Binder and Miller

 

Austrian brand KTM has been the closest challenger to Ducati in recent years, and the arrival of wunderkid Pedro Acosta to their satellite GASGAS team is one of the other big talking points of the season.

The factory Red Bull backed squad continues unchanged from 2023, with Jack Miller and long term KTM rider Brad Binder in the saddle.

Hard riding Binder bagged a bunch of podiums and a couple of sprint race wins to take fourth in the standings, the best non-Ducati, and we expect more of the same in 2024. The South African has won two full Grands Prix in his four years in the class and excels in low grip conditions. KTM is throwing the kitchen sink at its RC16, although testing suggests they still have a small gap to bridge if they are to challenge for the title.

Miller enters the second year of his KTM contract and will need to make a big start to the season if he is to retain his seat. With Marc Marquez and Acosta both being linked to the second Red Bull KTM position, he’ll be a key figure in the off-track silly season. Eleventh with one podium was a disappointing return for the Aussie last year but he was fast and usually always there or thereabouts, so it won’t take a big step for Miller to be back at the sharp end.

At the Tech 3 GASGAS squad, all eyes are on Moto2 champ Acosta. The 19-year-old is tipped to be MotoGP’s next alien, having won at every level he’s raced at. He’s the only class rookie this year and has impressed in testing, suggesting there’s no reason why he can’t challenge for podiums and perhaps even wins.

Joining him at GASGAS is his predecessor as Moto2 champion, Augusto Fernandez. The Spaniard had a solid rookie campaign, scoring in each of the first 11 races and taking a best of fourth in France. Success for him will be to build on his 2023 performances and retain a slot on the grid for 2025.

 

Aprilia

 

Vinales

 

Like KTM, Aprilia have been knocking on Ducati’s door in the past few seasons and, with a pair of veterans in the factory team, they’ll also be looking to make a breakthrough this year.

Team leader Pol Espargaro is loved by the factory. This will be his eighth season working on the RS-GP project and he was rewarded with two wins last season, having finally broken his duck in 2022.

He’ll be 35 this year but has shot down rumours he will retire at the end of the season, saying he wants to continue if he is competitive. He finished third in pre-season testing in Qatar, with the latest Aprilia looking like it has made a step closer to the all-conquering Ducatis.

 His team-mate is again Maverick Vinales.

The enigmatic Spaniard has won races with Suzuki and Yamaha but, despite flashes of brilliance, the 2013 Moto3 world champion has continually failed to find consistency in the top class. He finished seventh in the standings last year and could definitely win on a third make of bike. Aprilia’s factory team will probably be a plum seat in the 2025 rider merry-go-round, which might have a positive motivational effect on the rider rather obviously nicknamed Top Gun, although it could well do the opposite.

Aprilia’s satellite squad is also an interesting proposition. After the controversy of the RNF Racing team last year, the slot has now been taken by the American Trackhouse squad. Trackhouse have a background in NASCAR racing and are highly regarded. They have brought in legendary team manager Davide Brivio to steer the ship, which shows the level of their ambition. Brivio has won titles with Yamaha and Suzuki in the past and comes back to MotoGP after a few seasons with Renault’s Alpine Formula One team.

Trackhouse has inherited its riders from RNF, which is no bad thing. With better material under him, Miguel Oliveira will fancy his chances of being on the podium again – and could well best Espargaro and Vinales for the honour of top Aprilia man. The Portuguese rider won five races in a four-year stint at KTM but only showed glimpses of his brilliance in a 2023 campaign blighted by injuries and the team’s behind the scenes dramas. Team-mate Raul Fernandez lines up for a third MotoGP campaign. The sometimes controversial Spaniard begins the year on a 2023 machine but has started to show some signs of his undoubted talent during testing. With a number of riders expected to switch teams at the end of 2024, we think this is going to be a make-or-break season for Raul, who ended 2023 with a career best fifth place in Valencia.

Yamaha

 

Yamaha Team

It’s been a tough few years for Yamaha, who have suffered an unceremonious fall from grace since winning the 2021 title with Fabio Quartararo.

The French rider put up a brave title defence in 2022, finishing second overall despite the obvious speed advantages held by the Ducatis, but last year the dam finally burst and three hard fought third places was the best Quartararo could do as he finished 10th in the championship.

Amazingly, that made him the highest performing rider on a Japanese bike – something unthinkable only a few years ago. Yamaha appears to have struggled in MotoGP’s new ‘aero’ era, which sees bikes festooned in Formula One style wings. Their YZR-M1 was always regarded as one of the best-balanced bikes on the grid – never the most powerful but usually one of the best handling and most manageable – but against the new generation of competition the Yamaha appears unable to play to its strengths, with Quartararo usually able to run as quickly as the Ducatis when circulating on his own but being unable to execute overtakes in an era where downforce and tyre pressures put passing at a premium.

Quartararo is joined by Alex Rins in the only Yamaha team on the grid. Rins was Honda’s sole race winner last year, taking a surprise victory in Texas, and he brings a wealth of experience from his tenure with Suzuki which, like Yamaha, ran an inline four-cylinder design.

The new rules give Yamaha testing concessions, which allows the race team riders to test along with the designated development pilots, and pre-season suggests a little more top speed for the M1.

It’s hard to see the Yamahas launching a title challenge but with the ability to test new parts throughout the season, they’ll be looking to make progress across the 21 race programme with a bid to persuading Quartararo to remain and come back stronger in 2025.

Honda

 

Honda Team

 

If things were bad for Yamaha in 2023, they were catastrophic for Honda.

Rins’ surprise win in America aside, a solitary podium for Marc Marquez in Japan was the highlight of an otherwise miserable year which saw three of the four riders miss races through injury, while the soap opera surrounding the rumoured departure of their star rider played out in public almost all season.

So 2024 is a year of reset and rebuild for Honda, with the heavily updated RCV reportedly easier to ride than last year’s handful. Joan Mir, the 2020 world champion no less, joined the manufacturer last year and ended most of his races in the gravel trap, finishing a lowly 22nd in the points table, but things should only get better for the Spaniard, who is joined by Valentino Rossi’s half brother, Luca Marini, in the factory Repsol Honda team. Like Mir in his Suzuki years, Marini is a rider well known for his consistency and ability to bring home his bike. He comes from Rossi’s VR46 squad, where he rode well developed private Ducatis, and is looking forward to the challenge of developing a motorcycle in a factory team for the first time in his career. Like Yamaha they are able to rack up more test miles than the European manufacturers and can bring in new parts and engine specifications during the season.

Honda’s LCR satellite squad remains, with Johann Zarco joining after finally winning his first MotoGP race in Phillip Island towards the end of the season. That was on a Ducati, with whom he’s been a consistent runner for the past four seasons. Like Marini, he’s under no illusion of the task ahead of him, but the charismatic Frenchman brings a lot of experience to the project, as Honda starts its post-Marquez era. Joining him at LCR is Takaaki Nakagami, who goes into his seventh season with the team.

Moto2 and Moto3

With no British riders in the premier class, we have to look to the intermediate Moto2 class for any hopes of home glory.

With Sam Lowes and Rory Skinner leaving the championship (to world and British superbikes respectively) Jake Dixon is the sole Brit in the class. He will start among the favourites on the CFMOTO branded Aspar team bike.

The 28-year-old goes into his sixth Moto2 campaign on the back of a successful 2023 season, which saw him win his first Grands Prix and finish fourth overall in the standings.

 

Acosta

 

With the exception of champion Acosta, who has moved up to MotoGP, all of the top 10 from last year’s championship remain in the series. Spanish teenager Fermin Aldeguer is a big favourite with the bookies going into the championship, with other names to look out for including last year’s runner up Tony Arbolino and fast Spaniards Aron Canet, Alonso Lopez and Manuel Gonzalez. American Joe Roberts has also shone in pre-season testing.

In Moto3, as always, things are wide open with a number of fast youngsters looking to make their mark on the sport. Scott Ogden and Josh Whatley fly the flag for Britain in the MLav Racing Team, but it was Jose Antonio Rueda who topped the pre-season test in Jerez, with a time almost 1.7 seconds faster than the previous best Moto3 pole position record.

That faster time is largely down to the fact that both Moto2 and Moto3 have changed tyre supplier this year, moving from Dunlop to Pirelli, and this is expected to change the dynamics of the racing in the supporting classes.

Lap times are expected to tumble in both series, with racing hopefully spiced up in the sometimes quite static Moto2 class. The Italian rubber is renowned for its one-lap pace compared to the endurance developed Dunlops, meaning we may see some new and different race strategies as riders look to manage tyre wear in the long Grand Prix races, something they didn’t have to do in the past. 

Where to watch MotoGP in 2024

Once again, TNT Sports has rights to show MotoGP in the UK. The broadcaster, formerly known as BT Sport, shows all sessions live and provides expert analysis from a team including Neil Hodgson, Suzi Perry and Michael Laverty. The channel can be purchased on subscription though Sky and Virgin, among others, as well as through the Discovery+ app. MotoGP.com also offers its Videopass service, allowing fans to watch the action on their website, with commentary and analysis from the championship’s inhouse team.

The series has 21 rounds, starting in Qatar this weekend and concluding in Valencia, Spain, on the weekend of 15-17 November. The British round takes place at Silverstone in Northamptonshire between Friday 2 August and Sunday 4 August.

Photo credits: Team PR and Red Bull

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