Ducati once again have more bikes on the grid than any other manufacturer, headlined by their 2022 world champion Francesco ‘Pecco’ Bagnaia in the factory team. The 26-year-old overcame a bad start to the season to take Ducati’s first rider’s world title since 2007 and ominously was fastest in the final pre-season tests in Portugal, where the first round takes place between 24-26 March. A lot of interest could focus around his new team-mate Enea Bastianini, who moves to the works squad after winning four races for the privateer Gresini Racing squad last season. It’s no secret that there’s no love lost between the two Italians and it could be a busy year for Ducati team management as they look to maintain good relationships in the pit box.
Things should be more laid back at Pramac Ducati, the factory’s official second tier team. Chilled out Frenchman Johann Zarco remains with the squad. At 32, the two-time Moto2 champion is the second oldest rider on the grid and is well regarded for his development work on the Desmosedici. It’s hard to believe Zarco hasn’t won a race in 104 premier class starts, despite coming close on so many occasions, and there will be plenty of happy faces if he finally breaks his duck in what many are suggesting may be his last year in the class.
Alongside Zarco is former Moto3 champion Jorge Martin. The 25-year-old Spaniard narrowly missed out on the factory Ducati ride, overlooked in favour of Bastianini, but still has a top spec GP23 at his disposal. There’s already a lot of speculation over where Martin might end up next year, but the hard as nails Madrid rider has never shirked the opportunity to show what he’s all about and is likely to relish the challenge.
We’re expecting big things from Valentino Rossi’s VR46 squad in their second year in the top class. As you’d expect, both riders are part of the VR46 Academy set-up, with Luca Marini (Rossi’s half brother) and 2022 rookie of the year Marco Bezzecchi expected to become more regular top six finishers this season. It’s a mark of the strength of the MotoGP series that Ducati’s fourth squad, Gresini Racing, were winners last year and boasts former Moto2 champion Alex Marquez and Italian Fabio Di Giannantonio for 2023. Marquez is keen to show his true colours after years spend battling the recalcitrant RC213V at LCR Honda, while ‘Diggia’ needs a strong campaign after a largely anonymous rookie campaign last year.
Stopping the Ducatis looks to be a tough task for the competition, with Desmosedicis filling seven of the top eight places at the Portimao tests.
The rider stopping a lockout was 2021 champion Fabio Quartararo, who finished third on his Yamaha. The Frenchman gave a brave defence to his title and led the points standings going into the last three rounds, despite Yamaha’s YZR-M1 appearing to have a massive top speed disadvantage against the Ducatis. Testing suggests this year’s M1 won’t be significantly faster, although Yamaha’s holistic approach to bike development should ensure they are there and there about most weekends. With satellite squad RNF switching from Yamaha to Aprilia, the only other M1 will be in the hands of Franco Morbidelli. The Brazilian born Italian was title runner up in 2020 but has undergone a horrific loss of form since suffering a knee injury in 2021. He will need a strong start to the season if he is to secure a ride for 2024.
Speaking of Aprilia, Aleix Espargaro was one of the stand outs of 2022 as the RS-GP transformed from the perennial backmarker to one of the best bikes on the grid. The journeyman Spaniard, the oldest rider on the grid, took his first win in Argentina to lead the championship after three rounds and, although results tailed off as the season went on, he scored five other podiums to take fourth overall in the championship. He stays with Aprilia for 2023, forming a potentially formidable partnership with Maverick Vinales, who enjoyed a strong second half of 2022 with three podiums in a four-race period.
Aprilia’s rise up the MotoGP ranks should be accelerated with the appointment of RNF as their first satellite team. RNF move from Yamaha and have an all-new line up on last year’s RS-GPs, with Miguel Oliveria and Raul Fernandez both leaving after somewhat acrimonious splits from KTM. Oliveria is a proven race winner who will see the switch to a satellite Aprilia as a step backward, which will hopefully put him in the shop window for a factory ride in 2024. Fernandez, sensational in Moto2 in 2021, needs a strong season to get his career back on track following a disappointing MotoGP rookie campaign in which he and his management seemed to be constantly at odds with the KTM hierarchy.
And there’s plenty of change at KTM too. The Austrian factory has been criticised by many for its handling of its rider contracts, and three quarters of its MotoGP line up has been changed for 2023, with only Brad Binder staying on a RC16.
The South African has been a revelation in recent years, getting the most out of a KTM which appears, from the outside at least, to be one of the most inconsistent bikes on the grid. He topped and tailed his 2022 campaign with a pair of second places, finishing sixth overall in the standings – one place behind Jack Miller, who switches from Ducati to replace Oliveira alongside Binder at the Red Bull KTM squad.
KTM’s satellite squad, the French Tech3 team, has an all-new line-up and a new name. After controversially letting 2021 Moto2 champ Remy Gardner go after just one season, Tech3 will feature experienced campaigner Pol Espargaro, who returns to the KTM fold after two difficult years alongside Marc Marquez at Repsol Honda. He’s joined by Moto2 world champ Augusto Fernandez, the only rookie in the series this year, with the team running in the colours of KTM’s GASGAS brand.
No more Suzuki
Suzuki’s withdrawal at the end of 2022 means there will be two less riders on the grid this year, with just two Japanese manufacturers lining up. As well as the aforementioned Yamahas, Honda will once again field four bikes. It has been a torrid time in MotoGP for the world’s biggest motorcycle manufacturer, which has relied on the sublime talents of Marc Marquez to mask the RC213V’s shortcomings in recent years.
With Marquez suffering big injuries over the past three seasons, results have been hard to come by for Repsol Honda, one of the oldest and most respected teams in racing history. Almost all the MotoGP community hopes that the eight-time world champ is somewhere close to full fitness, for the sight of Marquez at full flow remains a joy to behold. Even though pre-season testing suggests the Honda is still one of the weakest bikes on the grid, a fit Marquez can never be ruled out.
Taking up the unenviable role as Marquez’ team-mate is 2020 world champion Joan Mir, who found himself looking for a new job following Suzuki’s surprise withdrawal. Fellow Suzuki refugee Alex Rins also finds himself on a Honda, replacing Alex Marquez at LCR, where Takaaki Nakagami will be his team-mate.
What about the Brits?
Unfortunately we find ourselves going into another MotoGP campaign without a British or Irish rider in the premier class, however there’s lots to get excited about in the support classes.
In Moto2 we have two potential race winners and an exciting new rookie to cheer on. After years of promise, 2023 needs to be the season when Jake Dixon makes his breakthrough. At 27, time is running out if the ever-popular Dover rider is going to gain a permanent promotion to MotoGP, but he should have the right tools at his disposal.
He scored six third places last year and stays with the same top ranked Aspar GASGAS team for 2023. There’s no doubt he can be a race winner this year, and if he can win races then he should be able to fight for the championship. With a number of MotoGP contracts available for 2024, it’s without doubt a big year for Dixon.
Another outside shot at the title is Sam Lowes. He and the MarcVDS team are proven winners in the class, but the 32 year old from Lincoln has had a torrid time with injuries in recent years. He’s talking up his fitness for 2023 and if he’s in good shape you can’t put it past him to add to his nine career victories so far.
New to the class is 21-year-old Scot Rory Skinner, who joins American Racing after two wildcard outings last year. The former British Supersport Champion has a two year deal with the California based squad and will be looking to make progress throughout the season, as he adapts to the stiff Moto2 chassis and tyres after two seasons racing a Kawasaki in British Superbikes.
The Moto3 class will see two young Brits having a sophomore year in Grand Prix racing. Scott Ogden and Joshua Whatley remain with Michael Laverty’s Visiontrack Honda squad for a second season. Highly rated Ogden, 19, is the 2019 British Talent Cup champion. He’s former race winner in the Junior World Championship and topped the recent pre-season test in Jerez, while 17-year-old Whatley is the youngest rider in the field and will be looking score his first championship points after finishing a best of 20th in his debut season.
What about the support classes?
Aside from the aforementioned Brits, there’s plenty to look forward to in the Moto2 and Moto3 series.
Unusually only one rider has made the step from Moto2 to MotoGP over the winter, champion Augusto Fernandez, and with most of the top riders staying in place it looks like being a highly competitive season as the intermediate class stars look to earn a coveted place in MotoGP for 2024.
Last year’s stand out rookies, Pedro Acosta and Alonso Lopez, arguably start the season as favourites. Acosta, the 2021 Moto3 champ, took three wins – including the season closer in Valencia – and finished fifth overall despite missing out on several races mid-season due to injury. Lopez, meanwhile, only came in as a replacement rider at round seven. He never came lower than eighth in any race he finished and took two wins despite being on the unfancied Boscoscuro chassis. Other favourites include 2022 runner up Ai Ogura and Tony Arbolino, team-mate to Lowes at Marc VDS. Look out too for Celestino Vietti, the VR46 rider who was the early season leader last year, and Aron Canet, who must surely break his duck and win a race in 2023. Rookies include Izan Guevara, Sergio Garcia and Dennis Foggia, the top three from last year’s Moto3 championship.
That leaves experienced Japanese rider Ayuma Sasaki as the favourite to win the junior class in 2023, but expect some stiff competition from riders including Turkey’s Deniz Oncu and Spain’s Jaume Masia. Electric motorcycle fans will also be looking towards the MotoE series, which gains full world championship status this year and has a new spec bike in the form of Ducati’s bespoke V21L race bike. Star names include former Moto2 champion Tito Rabat and world superbike rider Eric Granado, who will unusually compete in both championships.
Biggest season yet
With 21 rounds and 42 races scheduled, the 2023 MotoGP season is the biggest yet.
New tracks in India and Kazakhstan open up the sport to new markets, while Saturdays will see the introduction of shorter sprint races, which will be run over half of the full race distance and will pay half the points of a main Grand Prix. It’s all aimed at raising the popularity of MotoGP as it deals with the loss of the phenomenally popular Valentino Rossi.
British fans will get an opportunity to see the big show on the weekend of 4-6 August, when the British Grand Prix takes place at Silverstone. The Northamptonshire circuit is looking to create a real festival feeling to the event this year, with live music from top acts including Kaiser Chiefs and Razorlight line up over the weekend.
MotoGP on BT Sport is sponsored by Carole Nash. You can watch every single race and practice session live on BT Sport, with plenty of exclusive behind the scenes news and features from every round, starting with the Portuguese Grand Prix on the weekend of 24-26 March.