So, who has Quartararo, Espargaro and Bastianini in their fantasy MotoGP team?

The 2022 MotoGP season may still be young but history and stats suggest the champion will come from one of today's very unexpected top three... 

Fabio Quartararo, Aleix Espargaro - Yamaha, Aprilia

With seven rounds of the 2022 MotoGP World Championship down and 14 more to go, it appears a trend is now forming at the head of the leaderboard as to which riders will ultimately duke it out for this year’s title.

After all, in 20 seasons of MotoGP, only once has the eventual champion not sat poised within the top three a third of the way into the year… and even then there are good reasons not to count that anomalous COVID-stymied 2020 super sprint of a season.

It means - statistically at least - the 2022 MotoGP World Champion will be one of the riders currently filling the top three positions: Fabio Quartararo, Aleix Espargaro or Enea Bastianini.

Just let that sink in for a moment.

Sure, there are few surprises in Quartararo as the defending champion, but you’d have more reasons to call the Yamaha the worst bike on the grid, rather than the best. Then of course there is Espargaro on the erstwhile unfancied Aprilia and Bastianini on a year-old Ducati? Let’s just say, you’d have gotten outstanding odds of having that as an each-way flutter before the season…

There is - as the old adage goes - still a long way to go and, of course, it’s not over until the fat lady sings (or the fierce Indonesian lady growls as she stomps down the Mandalika pit lane banging a bowl), but is Quartararo really a shoo-in for back-to-back titles, or can Espargaro and Bastianini keep things going to deliver an even bigger upset than Joan Mir’s success in 2020?

Fabio Quartararo - Yamaha Factory [102 points]

On paper, the stars appear to be aligning for Quartararo to reel off his second MotoGP title in successive years… and yet the man himself doesn’t even consider himself the ‘favourite’.

Modesty though this may be, read between the lines and it’s a blunt indictment of his wavering faith in a rather bi-polar Yamaha M1 package that lurches between unstoppable and floundering depending on the circumstances.

Flip the side over though and it’s also an indictment of Quartararo’s mighty performances that have been wringing every ounce out of a bike that in other hands - Franco Morbidelli and Andrea Dovizioso - muddle around at the back of the field.

Sure, his results are frustratingly dictated by where he qualifies and how he starts, but his consistency looks tough to penetrate having now finished all but one of the last 25 grands prix.

Then again, Quartararo is certainly not on the best bike right now and that doesn’t look likely to change and while he has some favourable races during crucial mid-portion of the year - Catalunya, Assen and Silverstone, plus Mugello where he unexpectedly schooled his rivals in 2021 - his title bid hinges less on what he can do, and more on whether Yamaha can weather the challenge from behind.

Aleix Espargaro - Aprilia [98 points]

On the one hand, Aleix Espargaro’s current position is the MotoGP shock of the century. On the other hand, if you dig a little deeper then there were indications that not only has this been in the offing, he can sustain this challenge to the end of the year.

Indeed, Espargaro’s heady-heights from hauling his Aprilia into the upper echelons of the hierarchy has developed into a full on nose bleed, prompted by his (very) long-awaited maiden victory in Argentina and consolidated by a run of three consecutive podiums.

The first-third of the season has been so formidable that he has already far exceeded his entire season points’ tallies from 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, while he is now only 22 points shy of surpassing 2021 as well.

So we’re in uncharted territory? Well, not entirely. While reliability and fortune weren’t necessarily on his side in 2021 with five DNFs, in the races Espargaro was completing, each were comfortably inside the top ten. One should also think back to 2014 when he was performing miracles on the Open-spec Forward-Yamaha.

Point is, since there is no use in referring to Apriliia’s form book for what’s to come as Espargaro continues to rewrite it, the Spaniard otherwise has an abundance of the traits needed to sustain this form to the end of the year - experience, consistency, belief and laser-focused commitment from an emboldened factory team.

Whatever happens, Espargaro and Aprilia have proven hard work really can pay off eventually…

Enea Bastianini - Gresini Ducati [94 points]

The likes of Petronas SRT Yamaha and Pramac Ducati have proven in recent seasons that it is entirely possible for a satellite MotoGP team to win races and mount a title challenge… but few thought it ultimately possible with a year-old bike.

Moreover, while Enea Bastianini certainly turned some heads with his low-fi performances on the Avintia Ducati in 2021, few anticipated he’d defy his fairly low-rank in Ducati’s high-calibre hierarchy to emerge as its most convincing contender for a first MotoGP title since 2007.

Sure, there is an argument to be made that Ducati has gone the wrong on development with the GP22, unintentionally endowing Bastianini with a potentially more competitive package in the GP21, but that takes nothing away from neither the Italian, nor the outstanding Gresini Racing team is flourishing once more as an independent outfit.

Three wins - in Qatar, USA and France - from seven races are a spectacular achievement even before you consider they were achieved in similarly mature style, one typified by what has quickly become a signature ability to maintain forward momentum while nursing his tyres before launching a late assault.

Excitingly for him, this is a trait he has cultivated organically, more than it simply being a symptom of the bike itself as Jack Miller’s less-than-favourable signature of starting fast before fading demonstrates.

This emphasis on coming good on race day also helps negate any differential in competitiveness on any given circuit, meaning Bastianini is a major threat to any leader if he is circulating in the top five come the mid-way stage.

Then again, the fact he has three wins as the only multiple race winner of 2022 and isn’t leading the standings is telling of his indifferent results elsewhere, a consequence perhaps of his nascency at this lofty level.

It means he is more likely to feel the warmest of the trio here in MotoGP’s more pressure-cooked situations… but it also means he is the rider with the most still to come going forward.

Can any other MotoGP rider overhaul the top three?

History isn’t on their side but MotoGP’s sheer competitiveness means the likes of Alex Rins, Jack Miller, Johann Zarco and Pecco Bagnaia - currently fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh in the standings - cannot be discounted at this stage in the season.

Even so, the points aren’t on their side either. A race-win margin of 25 points has already opened up between Bastianini and Rins alone, multiplied to 33 points when you factor in Quartararo.

A couple of dismal races has scrambled Rins’ convincing title-fighter status and his chances going forward could be as strengthened as they are weakened by the unwanted distraction of both Suzuki’s withdrawal and negotiations for a new team in 2023. Still, the bike is competitive and, as history has shown, there is nothing like the risk of unemployment to find a few tenths…

While they may be somewhat resigned to slipping down Ducati’s pecking order in 2023, both Miller and Zarco are otherwise doing their bit to keep things ticking over in the factory and Pramac teams to soften the blows of Bagnaia and Jorge Martin’s flopping form.

However, while both are in the ballpark for the podium, neither have looked likely to go on the victory romp needed to haul themselves back into the title fight.

Bagnaia, on the other hand, is very well capable of this - as shown towards the end of the 2021 season - while his lights-to-flag success in Spain and his efforts two-thirds of the way through the French MotoGP suggested the form that deserted him at the start of the year has returned just in time to give him a genuine shot at reeling his rivals in.

Then he crashed while in the heat of battle with Bastianini and suddenly that 46 point bridge to the consistent Quartararo looks rather sizeable, even with 14 rounds to go.

In his favour is the fact there isn’t a terribly clear thread to emerge from the first-third of the season, compared with previous years, but in a year where there is no clear ‘top bike’, the title winner might just have to be the one that best rolls with the punches when they’re dealt…