Written by Andrew Lwanga, Edited by Sasha Macmillen
Grand Prix Motorcycle racing returns this weekend as the 2023 MotoGP season begins. The 2023 season-opener will break tradition as rather than beginning under the Qatari floodlights at the Losail International Circuit, this campaign is set to start at the famed rollercoaster that is the Algarve International Circuit in Portugal.
Simply referred to as the Portimao circuit by affectionate motorsport fans, the Algarve International Circuit is a 4.653 kilometre race track whose notoriety stems more from its undulating ups and downs than the 15 turns that make the circuit. Nicknamed the rollercoaster due to its several and prominent elevation changes, this added character becomes an extra challenge to riders, as some of the corners are seemingly hidden behind a horizon. Six of the 15 corners turn left whilst the other nine turn right, including the very important Galp corner which bleeds into the 970 metre long straight.
Whilst every detail of the circuit is known, not many know what to expect from those bound to ride it. The season opener in MotoGP, as is in any sport, provides a clean slate for new narratives, storylines, rivalries and contenders.
Many of the 22 riders have picked defending champion, Francesco Bagnaia to be the favourite. The world champion who has opted to dorn the number 1 plate for his title defence and enters the 2023 season on the back of the greatest comeback in motorsport history last season.
Whilst it would seem wise to pick the combination of Bagnaia and Ducati as favourites, with recent history favouring this line of thinking, it would be irresponsible to not consider the rest of the grid. During the 2022 silly season, Enea Bastianini was promoted to the factory Ducati team, having given Bagnaia a run for his money on more than one occasion. Fireworks are expected between the new teammates, especially with the former finally getting the machinery to match his talent.
Elsewhere the eight-time World Champion Marc Marquez is expected to return to title contention after a period of absence due to multiple injuries and a seeming drop in performance from the factory Honda squad. Speaking of the factory Honda squad, the Japan-based juggernaut have acquired the services of 2020 world champion Joan Mir whom many have learnt it would be foolish to dismiss.
Whilst Yamaha struggled heavily in the second half of the 2022 season they're expected to bounce back with frontman Fabio Quartararo. Despite a losing effort in his title defence in 2022 the Frenchman showed his class throughout the campaign, making it a monumental task for Bagnaia. With defeat being the great motivator that it is, Yamaha and Quartararo are expected to put up a fight.
As the season opener looms closer, speculation, questions, assumptions and the hopes of 11 teams and 22 riders will meet hard cold reality in the Algarve come Sunday.