Reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo is well-placed to cash in when the new MotoGP season begins this weekend.
The MotoGP circuit kicks off afresh this weekend, with the first grand prix of the new championship race being held in Qatar.
The shuffling of top riders between teams in the off-season has created some welcome uncertainty and the expectation that the established contenders may face stiffer competition from the chasing pack.
That said, experience still counts for plenty and it’s hard to imagine Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo – the last three world champions – not occupying spots at the pointy end of the standings once the final chequered flag is waved.
An eighth title for Rossi?
Rossi, the Italian who has dominated MotoGP over the past decade, does not present himself as a man desperate to add another title to the seven he has already claimed.
He seems happy to fan speculation that he will leave MotoGP at some point, either to race in World Superbikes or Formula One. This year, Rossi is riding a Ducati, rather than the Yamaha he rode to four of his championship wins, and early testing suggests he could find himself off the pace.
“This bike must be ridden mostly through oversteer, in the sense that, in order to make it turn, you need to get the rear to slide a lot,” Rossi says. “In this respect the Ducati is very different from the Yamaha.
“But this is a manoeuvre I do to try to solve the problems we have now: in my opinion, with time, we’ll be able to improve the situation a lot.
“[Turning is] the thing we lack the most. But at the moment the only way to handle this bike is to adapt to that way of riding, it’s the bike’s DNA.”
Can Stoner return to the top?
After winning the world championship, aged 22, back in 2007, Stoner looked set for an extended run at the top of his sport.
But blighted by injury and illness, as well as some issues with his bike, Stoner has struggled to scale the same heights.
Like Rossi, Stoner has switched teams for 2011 – indeed, Rossi has replaced Stoner at Ducati, while the Australian has moved to Honda.
With the upper echelons in a state of flux, Stoner predicts a dark horse will challenge the established riders.
“I expect some surprises, although I did the same last year and there were the same four riders winning races and getting on the podiums,” Stoner says.
“I am certain Dani [Pedrosa] and Jorge [Lorenzo] will be in front, but Andrea [Dovizioso] is quickly improving and also Simoncelli and Ben Spies can increase the list. Valentino might be ready for the first race, but we might have to wait a little. But I am sure that there might be som unexpected rider that will make an effort to be in front.”
Back-to-back for Lorenzo?
In winning the world championship last year, Lorenzo produced the most dominant season on record, securing the title with three races remaining and ending up on the podium in 16 of the 18 grands prix.
The Spaniard is perfectly placed to take advantage of Rossi’s declining fortunes – at 23, his best years of racing lie ahead of him and he will undoubtedly benefit from the stability of staying put on his Yamaha.
“I’m very happy to be here again preparing to start another season riding with Yamaha,” Lorenzo says.
“Winning the World Championship last season was an incredible feeling, but now we start again.
I have a great crew and with the hard work of the Japanese engineers over the winter I feel confident we can fight for more success this year.”