6 red-hot burning questions to be answered at the 2022 MotoGP test

The 2021 MotoGP season is all but a distant memory... now we're all about the 2022 MotoGP season, which fires up with the first test in Sepang this weekend

Stefan Bradl - Repsol Honda

The 2022 MotoGP World Championship season officially bursts into life this weekend with the first official test to be held at Sepang in Malaysia on February 5-6.

The first time all 24 riders - plus the usual smattering of testers - will share a circuit since November, it is a first chance to get an idea of which teams and riders have been knuckling down over the winter period.

As ever, testing is exactly that. Different work programmes, tyre choices and fuel loads mean the fastest lap times don’t tell a full story, but some deeper analysis should reveal a thread to determine approximately who is in good shape come the Qatar opener in March.

So as the Class of 2022 gets ready to burn some rubber, here are some burning questions we’ll be looking to answer come Sunday.

1 - Will new Yamaha convince Fabio Quartararo to stay?

Of all the teams attending the first test in Sepang, Yamaha Factory Racing arguably has most reason to be rather nervous heading to Malaysia.

While the memories of its MotoGP title win last season - its first since 2015 - will be fresh in the memory for everyone in the team, Yamaha headed into the winter knowing it faces a task to repel the advancing threat of Ducati and convince Fabio Quartararo that he should stay beyond this year.

Indeed, the Frenchman has been honest in his appraisal of the Yamaha M1, echoing the likes of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales before him by bemoaning the bike’s relative top speed disadvantage, which he fears can no longer be negated by the chassis’ superior cornering ability in a straight fight with the Ducati GP21/22.

Traditionally Yamaha has been steadfast in its view that the M1 doesn’t need more power but it’s no coincidence Quartararo has been open about exploring options for 2023, since it forces the manufacturer to potentially have to choose between its philosophy and its star title-winning rider.

With Honda and possibly Ducati in the hunt for his signature, Quartararo says he will wait until pre-season testing to base a decision on his future… the start of the season is still nearly two months away, but one of the year’s big stories could begin forming this very weekend.

2 - Can an eight-strong Ducati contingent flex their winged muscles?

Ducati heads into the 2022 MotoGP season with the swagger befitting of its burgeoning status as favourite to land its first premier class title since 2007.

The Borgo Panigale firm may have left itself with too much work to do to prevent Quartararo from taking the 2021 title but few could deny it had the quickest bike during the final portion of the year.

Fast around circuits normally not suited to the Desmosedici, Pecco Bagnaia was a force to be reckoned with once he’d clicked off a long awaited first win and subsequently heads into testing as the rider rivals will be watching closely.

However, he isn’t the only Ducati saddled rider courting attention with Jack Miller needing a good opening ahead of a critical season in which he has to convincingly beat Jorge Martin and Enea Bastianini to prevent them replacing him in 2023.

At the very least Ducati has strength in numbers with four GP22s and four GP21s filling the grid, including the returning Gresini Racing and the debuting Moony VR46 Racing squad.

3 - Are Marc Marquez and Honda on the recovery trail?

Honda heads into the 2022 MotoGP season hoping the first test marks the beginning of the end for a litany of troubles that started way back in November 2019 when Marc Marquez suffered the first of several injuries to occur over the next two years.

Without its talisman, Honda subsequently lost its way with development, prompting it to go back to the drawing board to design a new generation RC213V [lead image] that looks visibly different to last year’s version.

With Marquez cleared to test after a nervy winter period recovering from his troubling eye injury, Honda is hoping the Spaniard can tap back into the devastating form that had him win his final two outings of 2021 in a manner reminiscent of his erstwhile dominance.

It is also hoping the new bike is more forgiving to its other riders, with Pol Espargaro under pressure to perform well amid talk of Honda’s interest in Quartararo and Joan Mir, while Alex Marquez and Takaaki Nakagami need to bounce back from disappointing campaigns in 2021 on the LCR entries.

4 - Will Darryn Binder prove critics right or wrong?

Five rookies will make their debut on the 24-strong grid in 2022 but most eyes will be on just one of them; Darryn Binder.

The South African has courted controversy, comment and criticism for his substantial leap from Moto3 to MotoGP on the RNF Yamaha M1.

The man himself is taking it in his stride, while those who pore over the finer details of his Moto3 statistics will point out his performance and talent hasn’t been entirely reflected in what appears to be modest results on paper.

On the plus side, expectations are tempered enough to allow plenty of room for Binder to exceed them, but he will have to face being measured against four Moto2 graduates racing more contemporary machinery than his underpowered year-old Yamaha M1.

5 - Which manufacturer will make the biggest step forward?

We’ve already spoken about title favourites Ducati, a nervous Yamaha and a determined Honda, but what of MotoGP’s three other big manufacturers?

Indeed, Suzuki, KTM and Aprilia all arrive in Sepang knowing they require a sizeable improvement on last season.

After securing a surprise title win in 2020, Suzuki’s cautious approach to bike development simply amplified its limitations and failed to build on its many other traits. Qualifying remains a frustrating issue, often forcing Mir and Alex Rins to work harder on race day to claw their way back up the order.

While Mir did a mightier job than he is arguably credited for to secure third in the overall standings, he never looked terribly close to taking a victory all season, while Rins generated more headlines for his crashes than his results. On the plus side, the Suzuki GSX-RR isn still probably the best all-round package on the grid, albeit one that now needs to take step in all areas.

KTM yo-yo’d up and down the grid throughout 2021, looking as unbeatable at times (Barcelona) as it did entirely anonymous. Consistency is the buzzword for 2022, something already demonstrated by a dogged Brad Binder, who ended up sixth overall last year despite only cracking the top six in six races all year.

At one time looking like a potential title contender, Miguel Oliveira’s confidence was damaged along with his shoulder from Austria onwards, with the Portuguese rider now under pressure to prove he has turned things around mentally. 

A ‘Sunday bike’ in that it often performs better in races than in qualifying, improving its efforts on Saturday could be key in allowing the RC16 to go from an intermittent threat to a firm one.

Lastly, Aprilia finally opened the door it had been knocking on for some time with a series of eye-catching performances in 2021. Now an in-house effort following its split from Gresini, the test will be a good chance to spot progress in the hands of Maverick Vinales, so often the pace setter come the end of pre-season on the Yamaha.

That said, Aprilia has flattered to deceive in testing during previous years… after all, testing is just testing.

6 - Which under pressure MotoGP riders need to hit the ground running?

With 2022 marking the end of the current contract cycle for the vast majority of riders on the grid, expect the first Sepang test to set the stage for some secret squirrel canvassing between teams and managers.

The so-called silly season seems to get earlier every year as teams attempt to land their man at all costs. However, this prematurity doesn’t help those coming off the back of a disappointing 2021 campaign.

Among those whose seats are tipped to be under threat are Jack Miller (Ducati Corse), Alex Rins (Suzuki), Miguel Oliveira (KTM), Alex Marquez (LCR Honda) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda), who will be hoping the market stays open long enough for them to at least attempt a strong set of results from the opening rounds.

Top 10 Sports Tourer & GT Motorcycles of 2022 [800cc +]