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MotoGP 2023 Preview – The Usual Suspects … and More

Pecco Bagnaia (L) and Fabio Quartararo (R) are two of the favorites heading into the 2023 MotoGP championship.

Long gone are the days where three or four “aliens” won every MotoGP race and dominated every podium. We have entered a new era where numerous riders can fight at the front (as many as ten?).

Last year, Ducati’s Pecco Bagnaia came on like a hurricane in the second half of the series to overcome a massive points deficit and edge out Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo, who was looking to clinch his second MotoGP championship in a row. As discussed below, Pecco and Fabio are still among the main protagonists, but there are many other riders that could not only win races, but win the championship this year.

Before we discuss each manufacturer, let’s get some context. Pre-season testing was completed at Portimao less than two weeks ago with each of the manufacturers attempting to dial in their 2023 bikes. A couple of things became relatively clear after the tests.

Ducati appears to have not only the best motorcycle going into the new year, but a surprising number of riders who are potentially both race winners and title contenders. Aprilia, which adds a second satellite team to their factory team this year (for a total of four riders) also has a competitive bike.

Yamaha has worked hard to provide a better motorcycle to its two factory riders (Yamaha loses its satellite team this year). It is difficult to tell whether it has made real progress relative to the other manufacturers. While Fabio Quartararo is arguably the most naturally gifted rider in MotoGP at the moment, and managed the third quickest time at the Portimao test, his teammate Franco Morbidelli could manage no better than the 19th fastest lap. This is reminiscent of last year when Quartararo was the only Yamaha rider that was remotely competitive … arguably because he was over-riding the flaws of his Yamaha. At the very least, Yamaha appears to have added significant horsepower to the 2023 M1, which is now capable of competitive top speeds.

So let’s discuss each of the manufacturers individually.

Ducati has an embarrassment of riches this year. The best bike and last year’s most dominant rider have dominated testing prior to the opening races (Sprint race on Saturday and full GP on Sunday) at Portimao this weekend. But the story doesn’t stop with Pecco Bagnaia. His new factory teammate, Enea Bastianini, not only won several races last year, he hounded Bagnaia all the way to the line in several others. He is a definite threat to take the title in 2023, and will likely be a thorn in Bagnaia’s side throughout the year.

Ducati returns with eight riders for 2023, and several others could post consistent results at or near the front of the pack. Pramac Ducati’s Jorge Martin is, in the opinion of many knowledgeable observers, the most talented, young Ducati pilot. Martin took several pole positions and a victory as a MotoGP rookie in 2021 despite suffering a serious injury that year. He struggled a bit in 2022, but has been impressive during the off-season, and seems to be gelling with the 2023 Ducati MotoGP bike. If he finds consistent speed this year, he could not only win several races, but the championship, as well.

Other Ducati satellite riders to watch include Johann Zarco, who posted the second quickest lap at the Portimao test, and the Mooney VR46 teammates Luca Marini and Marco Bezzecchi. Finally, Alex Marquez will be on one of the Gresini Ducatis this year, and he has already shown excellent speed during testing after leaving Honda behind.

Let’s take a look at Aprilia next. The returning factory riders are Aleix Espargaro, who stayed in contention for the championship last year until the final three rounds, and multi-time MotoGP race winner Maverick Vinales. Both Espargaro and Vinales were fast last year, but the Aprilia is clearly an even better bike for 2023.

The new Aprilia satellite team, CryptoDATA RNF, has two, young, hungry riders. Both are very talented. Miquel Oliviera is a multi-time MotoGP race winner arriving from the KTM factory team. Both he and Raul Fernandez, who spent his rookie year on a KTM satellite bike, immediately looked comfortable and fast on their new Aprilia machinery.

The bottom line with Aprilia is that it has put a solid, competitive bike beneath four talented riders, and looks poised to take both victories and podiums this year. Could one of their riders be a contender for the championship? Of course, but with the possible exception of Oliviera, we would not consider them among the favorites at this point.

There isn’t much to say about Yamaha that hasn’t already been said. They have a rider in Quartararo who has the talent to contend for the championship every year, provided he has a competitive motorcycle beneath him. It wasn’t until the last day of testing at Portimao that Quartararo said his M1 made a “breakthrough” that led him to record the third quickest lap. The most troubling sign is the continuing struggles of Franco Morbidelli, who won multiple MotoGP races and finished as vice-champion a few years ago. If Quartararo is again forced to ride the Yamaha at its absolute limits in order to stay near the front, he is destined to fail in his quest for a second championship this year.

KTM has four riders on two separate teams this year. One of those teams is branded GasGas but is running equivalent machinery to the factory KTM team. KTM has been racing at the MotoGP level for several years now (longer than Aprilia), but still seems a bit lost when it comes to bike development and set-up.

During off-season testing, KTM was generally not competitive with Ducati, or even Aprilia. Brad Binder did post the ninth quickest lap time at Portimao for KTM, but the KTM/GasGas riders, including Jack Miller, formerly with Ducati, don’t look ready to fight for wins or even podiums. The bottom line is that KTM/GasGas still need a big development step to consistently compete at the front.

Which brings us to Honda and its seven-time World champion Marc Marquez. After a fourth surgery on his arm last year, Marquez says he is now 100% healthy and ready for the new championship season. The same cannot be said for his Honda motorcycle, however.

If there is objective evidence that Honda is still behind on bike development, it comes from the younger Marquez brother, Alex. Moving from Honda to Ducati this year, Alex is suddenly faster than his famous older brother. Alex Marquez has expressed his frustration with his years at Honda, and openly acknowledged that the bike had held him back.

Of course Marc Marquez is a special rider, and we can see him finding his way to the front on occasion, and even winning at some of his favorite tracks this year, such as COTA. The danger we see for Marc Marquez is his refusal to accept lower finishing positions, and more than occasionally crashing. DNFs and possible injuries, may prevent Marquez from gaining enough points to compete for the championship this year. His aggressiveness can bite him, and the odds of his crashing, or suffering injury, unfortunately have gone way up given the addition of the sprint races.

Former champ Joan Mir and multi-time MotoGP race winner Alex Rins aboard Hondas this year creates some new interest. In our opinion, Rins is the faster of the two at this point, but he may not receive the development support on his satellite bike that Mir does as a factory rider. In any event, we could see Rins battling at the front on occasion, as he still has a great deal of confidence after winning a couple of races near the end of the prior season aboard his Suzuki.

So who does MD put on its not-so-short list of contenders for the 2023 MotoGP championship? Pecco Bagnaia, Fabio Quartararo, Enea Bastianini, Jorge Martin and Miguel Oliviera.

What are your thoughts? Weigh in with your comments below.


  1. VLJ says:

    In 2022 Ducati won:

    Riders championship
    Team championship
    Constructors championship
    Satellite team championship
    Satellite rider championship
    Rookie of the Year

    In 2023 the grid will be:

    Ducati: EIGHT (!) bikes (as it was last season)
    Aprilia: four bikes
    KTM: four bikes
    Honda: four bikes
    Yamaha: two bikes

    So, realistically, what do you think will happen this year, when the only changes to the grid are the elimination of a fairly competitive factory Suzuki team, Aprilia picking up a Satellite squad, and the halving of the Yamaha effort from four bikes to two, the smallest in the field?

    Duh. We know what is going to happen this year.

    Unless Maverick does the unthinkable and suddenly becomes consistent over the course of an entire season, there is almost zero chance that Ducati won’t win the Riders championship, Constructors championship, and Satellite Team championship. Aprilia has a chance with Maverick and Aleix to beat out Team Lenovo Ducati for the Team championship, but only if Bastiani DNFs half the races this season. The Satellite Team championship is basically in the bag for Pramac Ducati, with Jorge Martinez and Zarco, and the second favorite has to be the VR46 pairing of Bezz and Marini. Rookie of the Year? Aprilia has the only rookie in the field this year, and he won’t do anything, but he’ll still win the thing as long as he completes just one race.

    So, where is the intrigue this season?

    Injuries. That’s it. That’s the only thing that could throw a monkey wrench into the forgone conclusions. We’ve already seen the inaugural Sprint race claim one key protagonist, Enea Bastinani, who, through no fault of his own, was knocked out of both the Sprint race and the main race. His status for Argentina remains up in the air. If that happens a couple of times to Pecco, or to the main Aprilia guy, or to whichever Ducati rider steps up to give Pecco the greatest challenge, then we might have a bit of drama. More than likely it will happen to Jack Miller, who always seems to have exactly that sort of buzzard’s luck.

    Otherwise, barring any season-changing injuries to the key players, Pecco is going to win the Riders title, Ducati is obviously going to slaughter everyone for the Constructors title, they will almost certainly win the Satellite title, they’re the obvious favorites to win the Team title, and everyone else is fighting for the leftovers.

    MotoGP is officially in the Ducati Cup era.

  2. john says:

    MM scores a podium on his underpowered bike (i’m stating ‘underpowered bike’ because the term was always applied, here, to quantify FQ’s less than stellar results) in the first ever motoGP Sprint. so, obviuosly if MM’s Honda had some power he’d easily be 2023 Champ…right?

    • L. Ron Jeremy says:

      Potentially, unless he crashes and breaks his arm again. But we need to watch all these races to find out.

    • Mick says:

      Not if Fabs got more power too. He’s the guy now. Pay attention.

      • Artem says:

        So, Honda and Yamaha are underpowered. What the f…ck.

      • john says:

        well…I am paying attention and Fabs is already 29 points behind Pecca after one weekend. I’d guess this may be a trend that continues.
        However, I predict even moreso, that 2023 will be the most crash infested season of the last 20 years as there are so many fast bikes (fast bikes…not smart, level-headed riders on them) on the track. A lot of bikes faster than their pilot’s abilities. I think this will be a season of the fame/glory/twitter click seeking hot heads knocking each other out at speed…and thus the consistent rider keeping himself safe from the chaos and placing well enough will take the championship. I sure do believe Fabs as a great chance if he is and stays smart enough. I wish him luck.
        I hope MM just quits. Until his bike is improved his only chance is to draft and then ride way beyond reasonable limits to gain positions/points. MM is, admittedly, trying to do so. He is bouncing around the track, and off others, like a pinball. Arms and legs flailing about, touching his foot down on the tarmack. He looks like a toddler learning how to ride a bicycle.
        That proves that MotoGp is in a ridiculous state right now and I see it only getting worse. I don’t want to watch that nor the glory seeking hotheads who will be crashing themselves, and those around themselves, out all season long.
        MotoGp greed has all but bankrupted itself and has put this game of ‘chaos crashfest’ (ok teams we need money…give super fast bikes to the young twitter hotshots and let them have at it) into play as a last ditch effort to make some money. Ridiculous. The ‘young’ riders are happy to play of course but the wise riders should tell their overlords to stuff it. I hope MM say’s stuff it!!! instead of I am still a great racer and just want to prove it with one more Championship and then retire.

  3. john says:

    can’t wait to read all the MM haters slagging MM’s Pole Victory and smashing of the circuit’s lap record by 1.5 seconds.
    let me get it started for us…
    “yeah sure but all MM did was slipstream everybody…what a loser!!!”
    i’m sure Honda discussed with MM his options “well…your bike is slower so just go out there and circulate around the track…tha’t good enough for us.”
    and “whatever you do do, do not actually use any of your natural born race talent, instinct, copetitiveness, and common sense racing skill to gain advantages where possible lest the internet experts be upset with you and Honda”.

    a question was posed here years ago when FQ was competing extremely well (his 1rst season in GP) with top speeds 2-3 k/ph slower than the lead group. the general responses were the expected smug and ignorrant but suggesting “that’s racing”. i am curious how MM’s same achievements today will be dismissed in the same smug and ignorrant manner.

  4. motomike says:

    I’m still excited to start. Turn out the lights!

  5. joe b says:

    ‘Jelling’, should be spelled with a J, like Jello, not with a ‘G”.

    • SpeedEasy says:

      The words gel and jell are interchangeable. Jell-o is trademarked.

      • joe b says:

        Gel is the thing, Jell is the state. “You would say gelling if talking about adding hair gel to your hair or talking about a substance becoming more solid. You are gelling your hair to style it. You’d say jelling in two scenarios. One would be its basic context of talking about how Jell-O sets up in the fridge; it’s jelling as it solidifies. But jelling, in modern usage, can also be used to describe how two or more people work really well together, like a team or a partnership. “We just jell really well” or “The team is really jelling this week.” unquote. Oh my, here we go agian.

  6. 5229 says:

    Your ruling out Marquez and HRC? Interesting.

    • Dave says:

      I think they’re appropriately addressed here. Marc has not been able to be competitive or post times that indicate that Honda is making any real progress in pre-season testing. I disagree with the assessment that Marc might find ways to win. I think they’re too far away for that. Hard to imagine how HRC has become so lost but here we are.

      While Yamaha’s situation has looked similar, Fabio has been able to extract results from the package and it’s shown improvement in the pre-season testing. They seem to be headed in the right direction. They’ve only got 2 bikes on the grid but at least they can focus all their efforts into the one garage.

    • Mick says:

      I think that’s because Marquez is ruling himself out because he has a low opinion of the bike.

      Apparently the Honda now has a Kalex swingarm and will eventually have a Kalex frame as well. Honda seems to be losing faith in itself along with Marquez.

      On declining viewership. I have been on about that for decades. They killed the grass at the roots and now they are wondering why the lawn is dying. Then their personality retired (Rossi). Now all they are left with is a bunch of kids with failed beard attempts who are either kind of dull or just plain jerks.

      Add to that the fact that Ducati and Aprilia are the powerhouses now. They are not the makers of every man’s bikes like the good old Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki days. ADV is the thing now that the sport bike also dyed with the grass roots and the every man brands are still duking it out on the motocross series which still has very strong grass roots.

      MotoGP thought they were F1. But F1 has the luxury of a world full of people who drive cars. Back in 2002 when the MotoGP bone grew in their head there was a world with a lot of sport bike riders. AMA and WSB were huge. They ruined all that by taking all the factory support for themselves. Now they want someone other than themselves to blame while they lean on the oh so popular corporate crutch of demanding more productivity from their racers.

      Blame me. I have big shoulders. It’s my fault. Feel better?

  7. John A Kuzmenko says:

    The main thing I’m noticing with MotoGP lately is the hype and soap opera-like atmosphere around the promotion of it.
    A couple months back a MotoGP YouTube channel posted a video proposing possible reasons for the supposed decline in MotoGP viewership in recent years, and the video encouraged viewers to comment and give their opinions on the matter.
    I did exactly that and the comment was quickly deleted. o.O
    I’m guessing it was deleted because my comment was not in constant praise of how MotoGP appears to me in the media.
    I just want the racing and the 2023 season to start.
    I’m curious to see how the new sprint races go.

    • Grumpy farmer says:

      Remember Speed Vision. It was all on their and the stands were mostly full. Exposure is how you sell a product, not hiding it behind a subscription. Their greed will be their demise.

      • Stinkywheels says:

        I’m with you. I used to watch racing, now, I’m not. Having to subscribe to a special channel, with a very special fee, is not worth the hassle and cost. It will probably be a good season, but greed will guarantee I won’t see it, I’ll just look at results.

      • Anonymous says:

        I like this

  8. TimC says:

    Wouldn’t it be interesting if Alex Marquez emerges from the shadow of his brother in the manner of Pedro post-Ricardo (RIP)….

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