Radical overhaul of MotoGP format and teams makes for unpredictable season
March 23 (Reuters) - The 2023 season signals a new dawn for MotoGP with a record 21 rounds but in reality the gruelling schedule will have 42 races as the championship undergoes a revolutionary overhaul with the introduction of Saturday sprints.
Run at 50% of Sunday's race distance, sprints will not decide the final grid as in Formula One but will have valuable points up for grabs, sowing more chaos in the championship battle.
Four riders from four different manufacturers have won the MotoGP title since 2019 which makes predicting a genuine contender for the 2023 season a difficult proposition, but the loss of Suzuki leaves a big hole in the grid.
Suzuki terminated their deal with Dorna and quit MotoGP for the second time since 2011, leaving their talented riders Joan Mir and Alex Rins to find new teams to continue racing.
Mir, who was crowned 2020 champion on the back of consistent performances and podium finishes, has joined Honda to pair up with Marc Marquez while Rins has joined its satellite outfit LCR Honda, giving the Japanese manufacturer three Spaniards.
But adapting to a completely different machine has not been easy, especially for Mir who said it was a 'nightmare' memorising everything from the start procedure and launch control.
"It's hard because with the Suzuki all of these things are in a different way. To change everything is difficult. But it's a matter of time," he said during pre-season testing.
'FIGHT FOR FIFTH'
Marquez also seems back to his physical best after surgeries on his arm and overcoming double vision following crashes in recent years, but he has had complaints with the RC213V machine too and does not expect a podium at the opening race in Portimao.
"At the moment, if the race was tomorrow, with the conditions we had on track (during testing), we can fight for fifth to 10th," he said earlier this month.
The six-times premier class champion has also complained about new aero packages that have improved performances and speed at the cost of sacrificing the spectacle as technology changes the way they ride and chase opponents.
"For the performance, we are riding faster. But for the show, I feel it's not the best way," he said.
"I hope for the future, they (MotoGP) need to understand what way they want to go."
One team who are confident are Ducati with reigning champion Francesco Bagnaia saying they have the right setup this year after waiting six rounds for his first podium last year.
Bagnaia overcame overwhelming odds by erasing a 91-point deficit to help Ducati finally clinch the title after 15 years while he also ended a 50-year wait for an Italian rider to win the championship.
The 26-year-old now has compatriot Enea Bastianini as a team mate after he impressed on a Gresini machine to finish third in the standings.
Although he expects to lock horns on track with a "very competitive, very fast" rider, they are pals in the paddock.
"In the race it's another story because we both want the same result, as always, but let's continue like this, let's try to work well with him. In the race we want all the wins, so we will battle," Bagnaia told Reuters.
Yamaha's Fabio Quartararo saw his massive lead vaporised in the second half of last season as Bagnaia denied him back-to-back titles and the Frenchman may find it tough as they perfect the bike setup.
"Honestly, we are not where we would like to be in terms of speed and also our testing schedule," Yamaha team director Massimo Meregalli said.
"What we have to evaluate and decide is the aero package. We have two different ideas and we will take a decision before the race."
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