The countdown to the 2024 MotoGP World Championship season is well and truly on with the start of pre-season testing getting the current crop of riders to put down their first markers of the year.
With a record 21 rounds ahead - complete with a mammoth 42 races - there will be a lot of chances for riders to shine but also many opportunities to falter.
With many riders coming to the end of their current contracts at the end of the year, there are a handful for whom they cannot afford too much of the latter if they are to retain their places on the grid for 2025…
So who in particular really needs to the 2024 MotoGP season to go well…
It’s one thing to know you need to step up your own game, let alone have to do so under pressure from within that you ultimately can’t control.
That’s the situation facing Jack Miller in 2024 as he prepares for his second season as part of the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team. The ex-Ducati rider enjoyed a solid first year with the Austrian firm, albeit one that unusually - for a new signing - appeared to wane as it progressed.
Often quick in qualifying and regularly found at the sharp end at the start of races thanks to KTM’s explosive start device system, alas it often flattered to deceive with Miller rarely making forward progress as races wore on, especially over longer distances.
While a KTM RC16 package that was more aggressive to it tyres than in previous years didn’t help, Miller was ultimately comfortably out-paced by Brad Binder across the board in 2023.
It’s a trend Miller cannot afford to suffer with again in 2024, particularly as KTM firmly establishes itself as a manufacturer capable of challenging for the title and more so because there is growing motivation to get Pedro Acosta into the ‘A Team’ as early as 2025…
He hasn’t even turned a wheel on a MotoGP bike this year and already it’s been a disastrous start to the 2024 MotoGP season for Franco Morbidelli.
His accident at Portimao and subsequent recovery time has nixed any chance of riding his Prima Pramac Ducati before the season gets underway in Qatar, a setback that is likely to tell during the first couple of rounds.
With such strength in quality and quantity at Ducati, it puts the Italian on the back foot straight away in a year he won’t have much time to prove he is worthy of the quality Ducati GP24 package. Indeed, though Morbidelli is a three-time race winner and runner-up in 2020, it has been a while since we have seen him fighting at the sharp end of the field.
While many feel the move from Yamaha to Ducati will mark an upturn in form and results for Morbidelli, it is known he will have stiff competition for his seat in 2025 should Ducati make a pitch early for Moto2 rising star Fermin Aldeguer.
Having done enough to convince KTM that he - and not Pol Espargaro, despite his contract - should keep his GasGas ride for 2024, there is no guarantee Augusto Fernandez will get another chance next year.
Indeed, while it was certainly a solid first season for the 2022 Moto2 World Champion deserving of another year in MotoGP, Fernandez will have some major pressure alongside him in Pedro Acosta, not least because he is the only rookie this season and will thus have his countryman’s results from last year to be measured against.
Coupled to KTM’s band of racers waiting-in-line potentially - a queue that now has Celestino Vietti and Deniz Oncu at the front - and Fernandez will ultimately need to stamp his mark on team leader status against Acosta this year to remain in favour.
Crashing minutes into the first day of pre-season testing wasn’t an ideal opening for Raul Fernandez and it won’t lessen the pressure on the youngster, who must use the 2024 MotoGP season as his chance to put two years of experience into practice.
Indeed, it hasn't been an easy initiation into MotoGP for one of the sport's youngest ever starters, but Fernandez's place on the grid has been protected by a general assertion he was probably promoted too soon by KTM back in 2022.
As such, it seems RNF Racing was keen to give Fernandez at least two years to show his worth, but the arrival of the ambitious Trackhouse Racing means he might not have such fondness come the end of 2024.
On the plus side, Fernandez was on an upturn of form during the second-half of 2023 and scored his best result of the year in the final round at Valencia. In short, no excuses but it appears his skill is coming together.
It feels like a very long time ago that Joan Mir stunned the racing establishment by taking a shock title win for Suzuki in 2020. Since then, the Spaniard has struggled to tap into the kind of consistency and pace that proved too good for his rivals during that COVID-ravaged season.
Indeed, while Mir and a factory Honda seat appears like a good fit, Mir comes into 2024 likely feeling as though it couldn't be any worse than his dismal 2023 hampered by persistent crashes, injuries and general lack of form.
With just a single top ten finish last year and still only a single MotoGP race win to his name - a quite extraordinary statistic when you consider he is a MotoGP World Champion - Mir still seemingly has a lot to prove in MotoGP.
Trouble is, it is hard to tell whether Honda can deliver the goods to capitalise on Mir's talents but the exit of Marc Marquez gives him a chance to stamp his mark on a team leader role, something that could see the Spaniard finally settle in 2024.
After his magical 2022 MotoGP campaign, all eyes were on Enea Bastianini to see whether he could challenge for the title in 2023 but a first round injury ultimately set the tone for a fairly desperate year.
Of concern was Bastianini's temperamental pace when he was back to fitness and he seemed to suffer further as he watched both Ducati Lenovo Team compatriot Pecco Bagnaia and threat to his factory seat, Jorge Martin, flourish out front when he couldn't.
As such, the 2024 MotoGP season represents a big reset for Bastianini but the targets of a title fight remain the same, something he will likely need to achieve if he wants to hold his seat over Martin for 2025.
However, if he can tap back into the form that had him win four races in 2022 on the year-old Gresini bike then Bastianini is a genuine threat to Bagnaia too.