Preview: Key talking points for MotoGP 2017

Preview: Key talking points for MotoGP 2017

19 March 2017 – The new MotoGP season begins beneath the lights in Qatar next weekend, with 23 riders set for an 18-round campaign. GPUpdate.net takes a look at the key talking points in the build-up to the 2017 championship.

Can Viñales convert testing pace?

Maverick Viñales' transition to Yamaha has so far been startling. MotoGP's newest 'alien', aged just 22, topped the post-season session in Valencia before leading the way once more in Malaysia, Australia and Qatar. Viñales has therefore been quick across different types of circuit, in different conditions, and feels he can still progress further, saying he is "not on the bike's limits". There remain question marks – how will he fare in the thick of a title fight? How will his racecraft hold up? – but right now, the youngster looks a good bet.

Is it now or never for Rossi?

Valentino Rossi's quest for a 10th world title continues, after finishing runner-up for three years, and this season has been earmarked as a strong opportunity, with several new team/rider combinations. However, Rossi has endured a troublesome pre-season, regularly lapping off the pace, saying he is "not ready" and "doesn't understand" how to extract the maximum from the YZR-M1. Throughout his career Rossi has always performed strongest in race trim, kicking into gear when it matters; will that be the case after a "very difficult" winter, or is he set for a struggle?

What approach will Márquez take?

Marc Márquez won his first two MotoGP titles with an all-or-nothing approach, but a tricky 2015 campaign, allied to a dismal 2016 pre-season, forced him to adapt, and play percentages. It worked, as a consistent Márquez beat the opposition, before returning to type for the final races. Which version of Márquez will appear in 2017? Márquez has had a so-so pre-season, the last test littered with crashes, but believes he can fight for the podium at the first race, with only Viñales faster on pure speed.

How will Lorenzo adapt to Ducati?

Jorge Lorenzo has taken the biggest decision of his career, switching to Ducati after nine years with Yamaha. He has so far made steady progress, opting to focus on "feeling" rather than lap times, as he frequently finished outside of the top 10 during testing. In Qatar, a happy hunting ground for both rider and team, Lorenzo was nearer the front, with the Spaniard confident of achieving a "good result" at Losail's season-opener. However, pace elsewhere suggests Lorenzo faces an uphill learning curve, with results likely to fluctuate.

Can Iannone maintain Suzuki form?

New recruit Andrea Iannone started pre-season strongly but slipped back into the pack, amid a lack of confidence with the front-end of the GSX-RR, as well as hesitancy on the brakes. Iannone insists he has made gains but finished testing "neither too happy, nor too sad", implying Suzuki is in for a middling start. Both parties have a lot to prove this year; Iannone that Ducati was wrong to axe him, and Suzuki that it can continue to make gains without Viñales. 

Is Pedrosa the dark horse?

Pedrosa has been a MotoGP front-runner for the past decade, taking 29 wins, but never the title. He struggled in 2016 amid Honda's own deficiencies, a situation emphasised in the mid-season stretch, as cold conditions highlighted Pedrosa's troubles in heating Michelin's rear tyre, due to his diminutive height/weight. Pedrosa improved, winning at Misano, but a nasty Motegi crash derailed progress. For 2017, Michelin has created a rear tyre that gives "more traction", while Pedrosa says he is in "better shape" compared to 12 months ago.

Who will lead the charge elsewhere?

LCR Honda's Cal Crutchlow, twice a winner in 2016, will no doubt mix it with the lead group, but behind him is a gaggle of riders. Tech 3 newcomer Jonas Folger impressed across all three tests, while Álvaro Bautista, newly reunited with Aspar, also recorded strong times. Aprilia has fared better with Aleix Espargaró on board, while Assen victor Jack Miller has displayed pace for Marc VDS. There's also double Moto2 champion Johann Zarco riding for Tech 3, the Pramac pair and Suzuki newcomer Álex Rins to consider. It could be a battle royale in the mid-pack.

How quickly can KTM get up to speed?

There will be a new addition to the grid in the form of the Red Bull-sponsored KTM outfit. The Austrian manufacturer has been at the back of the field, albeit its predicament accentuated by the ultra-tight nature of the mid-pack. The final test in Qatar was the most difficult for KTM, according to Pol Espargaró, while Bradley Smith, who admitted initially riding conservatively after his serious knee injury mid-2016, believes another half a second needs to be found for a genuine midfield scrap, after finishing two seconds down on leader Viñales.

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