2022 MotoGP | Who is favourite, who will surprise, who is struggling? [Pt.I]

Winter is behind us and that means the 2022 MotoGP World Championship season is almost upon us... but who is looking hot in the Qatari desert this weekend?

Fabio Quartararo - Yamaha Factory Racing

Rejoice! The winter months have been long and chilly but as the year tips into its first days of spring, so begins the 2022 MotoGP World Championship which this weekend roars into life with the Qatar MotoGP in Losail.

After two COVID interrupted campaigns, the 2022 MotoGP season marks the first ‘traditional’ international season since 2019 with an expanded 21-race line-up that includes returns to a number of missed venues, plus new outings to Indonesia and Finland.

An expanded 24-rider field across 12 teams will line-up on the grid with the aim of prising Fabio Quartararo from his hard-earned throne in 2021.

The teams have already completed six days of pre-season testing in Malaysia and Indonesia, but while the timesheets don’t tell the full story, that doesn’t mean the beginnings of the season arc aren’t beginning to emerge

So, as engines fire up for the first time this year, who is heading into the year riding a confidence wave and who is treading water? (Pt.II HERE)


Italian firm looks good to lead fight for first MotoGP title since 2007

Given Ducati’s evergreen presence at the front of the MotoGP field since 2003, it is surprising that 2022 is the first year it has headed into the season as firm 

Indeed, after a formidable conclusion to the 2021 MotoGP campaign, rivals have been nervously studying the GP22 for fear of another step forward.

Ominously for the likes of Yamaha and Honda et al. it would appear Ducati has maintained the momentum that saw it showing strong results at unfavourable venues, even if it wasn’t terribly obvious in terms of pure lap times in Sepang.

Indeed, that alone is a sign of confidence from Ducati that it doesn’t need to complete ‘time attacks’ to strike fear into its rivals’, instead working through a parts development programme that - if you read between the data lines - revealed some eye-catching threads.

After winning four of the final six races last season, 2021 runner-up Pecco Bagnaia appears to be taking title favourite status in his stride. He emerged as the quickest rider during long race stints, closely followed by Jorge Martin in second position.

Moreover, Ducati comes to the Qatar opener with yet another new trick up its sleeve having applied its ground-breaking hole shot/ride height device to work on the front suspension to keep the front nose down under hard acceleration.

Coupled with Ducati’s perennial position atop the speed charts, it could leave rivals playing catch up - literally - in Losail, where the manufacturer has always been strong, even if concerns about rising top speeds is raised questions about whether the sport is pushing beyond the limit.

Elsewhere, while Bagnaia comes to Qatar with a lucrative new contract in his back pocket, the battle for the seat alongside him will be one of the more closely scrutinised rivalries to watch over the opening few rounds. Jack Miller has the double-target of race wins and out-performing Bagnaia to retain his seat, but if Martin displays the type of form that saw him take one win and four pole positions in his rookie season, he is arguably the favourite to replace him. 

Ducati - Pramac, Gresini, VR46

Could Pramac Ducati become first satellite title winner of the MotoGP era

The Ducati Armada swells to a formidable eight bikes in 2022, a front-line force that has left rivals concerned.

While the attention remains on the GP22’s in red, there are some good outside odds on Pramac Racing mounting a bid for the first title to be won by a satellite outfit in the modern MotoGP era.

The aforementioned Martin - a shock pole and podium winner in Qatar last year - heads into his second season of MotoGP with a weight of expectation as he looks to consolidate his dreams of landing the official factory Ducati ride in 2023

Meanwhile Johann Zarco has all the makings of a rider who could break right through to something very special when/if he secures that elusive maiden MotoGP win.

Elsewhere, Gresini Racing returns to the grid as a private entity following its split with Aprilia, the Italian outfit choosing Ducati for its 2022 bid and hiring Enea Bastianini and rookie Fabio di Giannantonio.

Much like Martin, Enea Bastianini heads into his sophomore campaign with a sharper spotlight trained on him following some headline-grabbing performances last year, with the Qatar opener a definite chance for him to pull off some Ducati-stablemate scalps this weekend.

The ‘Doctor’ may have clocked off for the final time as a rider, but Valentino Rossi’s legacy lives on in his VR46 Racing team, which makes its official debut as a MotoGP entry in its own right.

Rossi’s brother Luca Marini has clear objectives to go with Martin and Bastianini after being shadowed by his counterparts in 2021, while Marco Bezzecchi will resume battle with Moto2 rivals KTM’s Remy Gardner and Raul Fernandez in the fight for Rookie of the Year.


Yamaha chooses evolution not revolution for title defence but trails Ducati heading into 2022

If any manufacturer has the most reason to be somewhat nervous heading into the opening rounds, it is Yamaha.

Defending champions with Quartararo, while the 2022-spec M1 wasn’t dragging its feet in testing per se, it (together with the KTM RC16) that appeared to make the most modest gains during the winter.

Indeed, Yamaha’s philosophy of maintaining its tried-and-tested formula is familiar, it is perhaps surprising it stuck to its guns at the behest of Quartararo, who had hoped to have leveraged more influence in its development after some vocal pleas for a more power-orientated set-up.

Yamaha believes it has the right blend to repel Ducati - despite their antithesis approaches - but much will rely heavily on Quartararo getting the best from the bike in qualifying, making Saturdays arguably as important as Sundays for the Frenchman.

Indeed, after Quartararo stole a march on Ducati early on in 2021 to keep his nose out front in the title race, he faces arguably his biggest test yet in doing it all over again… if 2021 was his breakthrough then 2022 could be an assurance of his legacy.

On the other side of the garage, Franco Morbidelli stands up to his own challenges following a debilitating knee injury and surgery recovery that ruined his 2021 campaign. After beating Quartararo in the same team in 2020, the Italian’s targets for this season are clear.

On the satellite side, Petronas SRT is out and RNF Racing is in, boasting a new approach and a fresh rider line-up on two ends of the experience spectrum.

Andrea Dovizioso will look to mirror the strong oft-forgotten form he enjoyed on the Tech 3 Yamaha M1 back in 2012 on his return to MotoGP, while Moto3 graduate Darryn Binder has a point to prove ahead of his much discussed debut as one of five rookies on the grid.


The once dominant force turns dark horse for 2022... 

A lot has happened since Marc Marquez strolled to his sixth utterly dominant 2019 MotoGP World Championship title win with Repsol Honda.

At the time the Spaniard was well on course to threaten Giacomo Agostini’s record of nine premier class world titles, but a combination of injury and a misstep in development from the team means the once orange and white landscape looks very different now.

It’s a sign of the times that means the Marquez-Honda combination comes into 2022 as an unknown quantity - an intriguing one at that - with greater clarity over the team’s title candidacy with regards to 59-time race winner’s fitness and competitiveness of the significantly different RC213V, likely to come this weekend.

Indeed, Honda has broken with tradition by committing to a thorough overhaul of the bike - as distinguished by its new tapered front end and reconfigured wings - and pre-season testing has thrown up some encouraging results.

Unusually, Honda has put faith in itself to develop a competitive package - rather than risking a more compromising set-up dictated by optimisation for Marquez - a shift that has led to Pol Espargaro emerging as the dark horse coming away from Mandalika.

With a weightier bias on the rear this time, Honda is attempting to cure the RC213V’s nasty habit of snapping away and turning into a high-speed trebuchet. It’s a design that suits Espargaro more than Marquez at the moment, but the Spaniard has given the bike his sign of approval.

While Repsol has upgraded its targets from wins to a full on title assault, the gains in performance should give the sister LCR effort a much-needed boost for 2022.

Takaaki Nakagami has shown glimpses of the form that made him a standout performer in 2019 in pre-season testing, particularly over long runs, though he and Alex Marquez come into the season under perhaps the most pressure of any rider with regards to retaining their seat for next year.