The chase is on in MotoGP as the triple-header kicks off at Motorland Aragon, with the title fight hotting up and Marc Marquez back on track.
The next three weekends put 75 points on the table in MotoGP, with the intercontinental triple-header kicking off at the mighty Motorland Aragon. Last season it was a duel between Ducati Lenovo’s Pecco Bagnaia and Repsol Honda’s Marquez, and 12 months on the two still dominate the headlines - just for different reasons. Bagnaia arrives into the Gran Premio Animoca Brands de Aragon with four wins in a row, the first rider to do that on a Ducati, and Marquez' long-awaited comeback has now been confirmed. This is it: the number 93 is back.
Bagnaia's recent run in his bid to catch Monster Energy Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo must make him the favourite for now. After a first half of the season that left plenty points going begging, the number 63 has carved out a serious groove, underlined by the fact that no one else has won a MotoGP race since mid-June. But my-oh-my was it close at Misano, with his 2023 teammate Enea Bastianini getting to within thousandths on his current Gresini GP21. With Bagnaia's win at Motorland last season and both he and Bastianini arriving from that stunning duel, it's hard to bet past them this weekend.
There is plenty on the line for Ducati in general, too. Bagnaia is looking to close the 30-point gap at the top of the Riders' Championship, but the Borgo Panigale factory have another chance at glory even earlier: the marque already has a first match point in the Constructors' standings at Motorland. Bagnaia and Bastianini are top candidates to add the required points, but the rest of the armada are far from slouches. Prima Pramac’s Johann Zarco and Lenovo’s Jack Miller are both looking for more, Mooney VR46’s Luca Marini has two best ever finishes under his belt recently, and Jorge Martin has his own point to prove on the second Prima machine... so can they do it?
A lot, as in the riders' fight, may rest with Quartararo. It's been a tougher run since Sachsenring barring that stunning second place in Austria, but that second place could be the real key. El Diablo wrung the absolute maximum out of it and could need a repeat this time around, as Motorland is not historically the best venue for Yamaha. But he does still have a good buffer of 30 points, and coming up is territory he's chartered a fair bit more than some - so Aragon could also be played as a damage limitation exercise. There was also talk at the Misano test of using some upgrades as early as this weekend. Teammate Franky Morbidelli has previously won at Motorland, showing it can be done on a Yamaha in the dry, and Misano showed some promising steps forward for the Italian.
Elsewhere at the Iwata marque, WithU RNF’s Darryn Binder continues in his mission to score points in a sometimes overlooked but impressive rookie season so far coming straight from Moto3, and now he has a new teammate: Cal Crutchlow. The three-time MotoGP race winner returns as Dovizioso bows out, and the number 35 will likely be sharing track time with testing duty too. Where will he slot in?
At Aprilia, meanwhile, the status quo has been a little altered of late. Aleix Espargaro remains in the upper echelons of the title fight and scoring consistent points, but since the paddock returned from the summer break, it’s Maverick Viñales who's seemingly had the upper hand at the Noale factory. Can Espargaro fight back? Can Viñales take another step? Can the number 12 also prove a useful force to make life difficult for the likes of Quartararo and Bagnaia? Time will tell, but Motorland will be another challenge as the nearly all-new RS-GP continues its impressive run.
For Red Bull KTM, the work continues - but so do the impressive performances from Sunday hero Brad Binder and teammate Miguel Oliveira. Both are on quite a run of bagging solid points, and Binder remains ahead of Viñales in the championship - as well as only eight off 2023 teammate Jack Miller. They'll still want more, but there are positives to be found as the Austrian factory look to get back to winning ways.
Next up, there's another headline-stealer at Suzuki Ecstar. Alex Rins took some solid points at Misano and will want even more at a true home race, with Motorland close to his family roots. But on the other side of the box, the paddock also expects the return of 2020 Champion Joan Mir after his high side in Austria ruled him out of Misano. It's been a tough run for the number 36 recently, and getting back out on track will hopefully see the start of his journey back to the front.
Finally, Honda. Marquez has been the fastest rider at Aragon since he moved up to MotoGP, but this year is different. 110 days after he last competed at the Italian Grand Prix, the iconic number 93 will be back out and racing, with little expectation but an incredible amount of attention. After being passed fit, he did 100 laps at the Misano Test and the electricity was palpable... so what can he do first time out? And what will he be aiming for?
Repsol teammate Pol Espargaro, meanwhile, will want more after getting tangled up early at Misano through no fault of his own, and it's a home race too. LCR Castrol’s Alex Marquez will want to use his experience and good memories of the MotoGP podium at Motorland to move forward, and LCR Idemitsu’s recently confirmed Takaaki Nakagami has been on pole at the venue. Can they start to regroup as the future starts to sparkle with a few more steps forward?
After another incredible finish at Misano, Motorland throws the gauntlet down once again. Can Bagnaia make it five? Will Bastianini strike back? Are Ducati about to hit gold earlier than many could ever have expected? Or can Quartararo and Aleix Espargaro start to stem the tide?