The Autodromo Internacional do Algarve will see Q1 and Q2 on Friday kick off the 2023 MotoGP season in full force, before Saturday debuts the Sprint, followed by Sunday’s 25 lap race, awarding the winner the first 25-point haul of the season.
The reigning Champion always has a target on his back, and Francesco Bagnaia hasn’t shied away from that in choosing to run the number 1 either. Neither has his pace and form so far in testing, with a new lap record and sweltering Sprint simulation raising some eyebrows in pitlane during the recent test.
The other side of the garage looks a little different this season though. After already duelling it out with Bagnaia a few times last year, Enea Bastianini is now the call coming from inside the house. Can he make his presence more than just a shiver of nerves and really take Bagnaia on? In Portimao, he’s not got the best record barring good memories from his Moto2 Championship win, so we may need to be patient.
Now a true Ducati veteran, Johann Zarco spent a lot of preseason with his head down, testing for the factory. Then came the last day of track action and the Frenchman said that was his day to work on his bike and setup… and he shot straight up into second behind Bagnaia.
For Jorge Martin, the track may not show off the best of the number 89. He suffered a big crash there in 2021 too. He was eighth in the test, and he’ll want more than that on the first grid of the year. And maybe we’ll just need a little patience.
The tale of two riders continued for Yamaha in preseason, but the tale of top speed seems to have a happier ending for the moment. The speed traps made for good reading, but when the Iwata marque put it all together for a hot lap on new tyres in Sepang… nothing happened. That was a brief worry, but it seems Fabio Quartararo figured it out by the end of the Portimao test as he ended it in third.
Quartararo is a two-time winner at Portimao too, and will be pushing his limits to make sure that becomes three. For Franco Morbidelli, meanwhile, there’s still a step to be found, with the Italian ending the test seven tenths off his teammate.
Luca Marini was the king of preseason in Valencia and Sepang, with the Italian putting on quite a show – and showing how much of a weapon the GP22 remains, if anyone needed proof. Marini’s MO throughout his career has been building on what he’s learned to take another step forward, at his pace, and that hasn’t disappeared in MotoGP.
Marco Bezzecchi, meanwhile, is already a premier class podium finisher – and he only wants more. Where at times Marini lacked the speed of Bezzecchi last season, Bezzecchi lacked the consistency of Marini, so there was plenty to learn from both sides of the garage.
It was a difficult preseason for Fabio Di Giannantonio by the end as ‘Diggia’ crashed in the last test and had to miss a day. Before that though, steps forward had been made so his form could be interesting. On the other side of the garage though, Alex Marquez is about to start a mammoth season of his career…
The two-time World Champion has shown glimpses of brilliance in the premier class so far, but they came less and less frequently over a tough stint for rider and factory. Now it’s a new start on a new bike and that brings a whole new dynamic.
It’s a big year for KTM. Last season was a tougher one, despite those wins in the wet, and they don’t come racing for the mere chance of a podium. A lot of work has gone in over winter though, and there are some good signs coming – as well as some that have been there a while.
Brad Binder’s ability to wring out the maximum once the lights go out may have chance to shine twice a weekend in 2023, AND the South African somehow pairs that with an ability to stay on more than most, suffering only one DNF last season. He was ninth in the test here but only half a tenth off Martin so don’t count him out…
On the other side of the garage though, there’s a new face: Jack Miller. The Australian hasn’t set the timesheets on fire just yet, but gave his adaptation a solid 7 or 8/10 so far when asked at the test.
With time we can expect more speed, as Miller has plenty of experience at the front and on the top step. That experience – and wins on two other bikes – also means he’s facing down Maverick Viñales for the chance to become the first rider to win with three factories in the MotoGP era.
Last season, Aleix Espargaro was known as the captain at Aprilia and it looks like things are about to get even more interesting at the Noale factory. First, both he and teammate Maverick Viñales have two new riders on the same bike at RNF to contend with, and second, Viñales is now very, very quick.
Espargaro had an incredible 2022 with only one DNF, that maiden MotoGP win, a plethora of podiums and a challenge for the title. He already suffered a hurdle and had arm pump surgery after the test, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t be fighting at the front again.
Neither Repsol Honda Team rider needs much introduction, but let’s start with the new arrival: Joan Mir. Many expected a tougher time of it for Mir and Rins adapting to the Honda, but both have been in the ballpark and Mir was even quickest Honda at the test.
And then there’s Marc Marquez. Eight-time World Champion, comeback king, and a rider often expected to summon that extra dash of magic, for good reason. He’s now back at full tilt and there are plenty of eyes on him as the season starts, and understandably.
There’s work still to be done to get the RC213V on the pace of their rivals, and in testing Marquez said they’re still a few tenths off. But is the number 93 able to find them in the meantime? We can be sure of one thing: Marc Marquez doesn’t settle.
For Raul Fernandez, this is a big season. After a difficult and at times acrimonious 2022, he now has a new team, new bike and something to prove. He was P16 by the end of the test at Portimao but has also won here twice in the lower classes, and bothered the higher echelons of the timesheets a couple of times in preseason.
Meanwhile, Miguel Oliveira also starts a new adventure. He’s seemed upbeat in winter and split the factory Aprilia duo at the test, as well as showing some good pace throughout. First time out on home turf though, where can he slot in? He’s won here before.
The timesheets on the final day of testing had Mir, Marc Marquez and Alex Rins tightly packed together in a trio of Hondas, and that bodes well. Rins won the last race of last season and if he wins this would equal Rossi’s 2004 feat, but that won’t be the aim. The number 42 is in sponge mode to understand his new LCR Honda Castrol machine, get the best from it and contribute to Honda’s journey back to the top.
That puts a little more pressure on Takaaki Nakagami at LCR Honda Idemitsu, with the Japanese rider struggling to find form so far. After some injury struggles and a difficult stint though, it may well take some time – something he certainly has at least in the first part of the season.
Pol Espargaro’s joyous dance on the bike at the Valencia test was arguably one of the snippets of the season: the pure delight at being back on the RC16, a bike he’s had a far bit of success on and one that seems to suit.
It’s been a tougher one on the preseason timesheets since then, but it seems hard to tell what we should be expecting, or what the programme was. Espargaro was a key force in taking KTM to the top and now he’s charged with racing GASGAS.
Finally, and last but not least, Augusto Fernandez is now a MotoGP rider. After a journey from European Moto2 to Moto2, a dip in results and a fight back to being the king of the class last season, his CV is impressive. He doesn’t have any rivals for Rookie of the Year, but in some ways that add a challenge.
By the looks of pre-season, the rider to beat in Moto2 this weekend could likely prove Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo).
He’s the new lap record holder at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve, but it was close as Fermin Aldeguer (CAG Speed Up) was also into the 1:41s.
Aron Canet (Pons Wegow Los40) in third was likewise under the old lap record…
The Moto3 test ended with Riccardo Rossi (SIC58 Squadra Corse – pictured) setting a new lap record, with impressive rookie Jose Antonio Rueda (Red Bull KTM Ajo) hot on his heels.
Proven podium finisher David Muñoz (BOE Motorsports), top returning 2022 finisher Ayumu Sasaki (Liqui Moly Husqvarna Intact GP) and veteran Romano Fenati (Rivacold Snipers Team) were next up, adding some serious firepower to the top five…
Aussie Joel Kelso finished the test in a respectable 13th, after kicking off the weekend by topping FP1 in the wet, and sitting in the top-10 in the earlier FP sessions, and looks ready to make his mark in 2023.
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