MotoGP 2023 had its flaws, but it grew into the championship’s greatest title fight in years as Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin’s battle ebbed and flowed through twist after twist in the final three months of the season. And it was equally good value off-track too, thanks to Marc Marquez and the machinations over his future.
Now 2024 is going to be even better.
OK, I can hear the sceptical voices as I type. Some of the loudest probably come from my colleagues on The Race MotoGP Podcast, where I’m happy to be the Tigger to my fellow pundits’ Eeyores at times.
Yes, there is the possibility that once back on a competitive bike Marc Marquez will reveal that everyone who's won titles during his compromised years was just an inferior pretender. Yes, Ducati may still be near-unbeatable. Yes, the season is punishingly long, especially with sprints added, and the injury rate last year was unacceptable and couldn’t be shrugged off as a coincidence. Yes, the tyre pressure rule situation risks causing farces. Yes, it’s a huge shame that ‘dirty air’ is invading even motorbike racing and aero has been allowed to get out of control.
I get all that. MotoGP 2024 will be flawed, too.
But here are eight reasons why it’s also going to be even better than a 2023 season that will still be remembered as a classic.
YAMAHA COULD BE BACK
From leading most of the 2022 title race to failing to even win a race in 2023 was a brutal comedown for Yamaha, but not an unexpected one given how 2021 title-winner Fabio Quartararo’s championship defence had tailed off - and how well he’d even done to make a fight of it in the first place.
But of all the struggling manufacturers, Yamaha feels most like the one that has both identified its problem, got a chance to solve it, and has all the other ingredients to thrive once that problem is solved.
Though years and years of riders’ pleas for more power were heeded, Yamaha didn’t benefit because it still had a weak spot in corner exit acceleration. But it seemed to know what it had to do to fix it, and the new concessions system gives it ample opportunity to do so now it can more freely adjust its aerodynamics and engine spec during the season, and use its race riders for in-season testing.
And that race rider line-up has had a massive upgrade with Alex Rins (an excellent development rider, incidentally) replacing the struggling Franco Morbidelli.
The riders are the biggest reason why the possibility of a Yamaha resurgence is so tantalising. With Marquez now on a Ducati, Quartararo is the best rider stuck on any other bike and he has unfinished business with Bagnaia, having not really been able to put up a proper fight in late 2022.
Prior to his savage early-2023 injury, Rins was looking better than ever thanks to the brilliant final flourish he gave Suzuki and the astonishing Austin win for LCR Honda. With Quartararo and Rins on its bikes, a Yamaha resurgence should unnerve Ducati.
THE MARQUEZ FACTOR
Between the injuries and the collapse of his Honda relationship, Marquez has remained MotoGP’s biggest story through the four years since he last won a title - four years in which he sat out 42% of the grands prix held.
His Gresini Ducati move opens up so many possibilities. Seeing the greatest rider of his era at his best again. The intrigue of how he might disrupt the Ducati hierarchy and the 2025 rider market.
If he actually underwhelms, that will be a huge story in itself that will cause us to reappraise those who’ve been winning in his semi-absence - and perhaps the impact of all of Marquez’s injuries, too.
If he does completely dominate, the context of his last few seasons plus his underdog team will make that return to the top one of the greatest sporting storylines MotoGP has produced since… well, since Marquez won the title as a rookie.
Win, lose or everything in between, Marquez on a Ducati is brilliant for the 2024 MotoGP season.
THE RIDER MARKET WILL BE MAD
Barely anyone in the field has job security for 2025 and right now it’s impossible to predict with any confidence where the top riders will be in a year’s time.
Marquez is of course at the centre. If he can be champion with Gresini, does he need to move again at all? But surely Ducati would want him in factory red if he’s that successful? KTM must believe it finally has a shot at getting its old 125cc protege in its MotoGP line-up if it keeps improving and offers a big enough payday. Or can Honda get itself competitive enough to try to tempt him back immediately?
But it’s far from all about Marquez. Quartararo’s post-race rants through 2023 were unsubtle ‘sort this or I’m off’/’come and get me’ messages to Yamaha and its rivals respectively. Joan Mir is another world champion who can’t accept another bad season. And Aleix Espargaro has previously suggested he might make this season his MotoGP farewell - though walked that back a bit during 2023.
It’s also pretty clear Jorge Martin won’t settle for less than a factory deal somewhere in 2025. Ducati’s managed to collect most of the best riders in recent years, but as much as it supports its satellites, ultimately it only has two works bikes and nearly everyone wants to be on them. Johann Zarco and Luca Marini walked away from Ducati of their own volition for this year, having decided a worse bike was actually a better situation for them. Who else might reach that conclusion this year?
Now throw in the curveball concessions create. How the beneficiary manufacturers make use of those will have a huge bearing on which teams look like the best destinations for 2025 and beyond. And that makes it very hard for riders eager for new employers to judge who they should be wooing - or dissatisfied riders to be sure their current employers are definitely going to keep disappointing them.
Is Ducati about to be made vulnerable? Is Aprilia already a title-worthy operation that just needs different riders? How good is that KTM really? How quickly will Yamaha and Honda be back on the pace? Rider managers face some big gambles on an uncertain future power balance.
There will be countless storylines here and they’ll run all season.
HONDA’S RECOVERY BEGINS
Just as Marquez gave up on Honda, Honda started finding its feet - with evidence at the post-season Valencia test that it its development was finally starting to make a difference.
Regardless of that, even Marquez himself had concluded that he’d be doing Honda’s rebuilding process a favour by taking himself out of the picture. Now Honda can’t rely on the genius of one great rider to save it. And it can get on with its work outside the spotlight and pressure that Marquez’s struggles created.
Zarco and Marini are great additions to a manufacturer in Honda’s current position - one that needs to work, try things, and show steady improvement. Though it’s got a star rider in Mir (and I’m basing that more on what he achieved with third in the 2021 championship than his rather odd 2020 title win), this doesn’t feel like a marque with a line-up ready for glory once the bike is sorted, unlike Yamaha.
But Repsol Hondas belong at the front of MotoGP and - hopefully - seeing them edge back into contention through 2024 is an enticing prospect even if the payoff still feels more likely to be long-term than immediate.
LAST YEAR’S BIG MISSING STORYLINE MAY COME TO FRUITION
It was easy to forget it as he spent most of 2023 either struggling for form or not even on the grid, but Enea Bastianini gave Bagnaia a huge number of headaches during 2022 when not even a factory rider.
Now maybe that was something of an underdog fluke made possible by Bastianini having a well-sorted year-old Ducati to play with and barely any pressure of expectation.
But really, that’s the ingredients for a bit of early-season starring that soon fades. It takes something special to turn that into a title bid that lasts nearly the whole season.
Bastianini was a serious threat to Bagnaia’s Ducati factory team supremacy when he was signed. If he’d had a smoother run into 2023 and the chance to adapt to the bike properly, he may well have been for most of last year, too.
Given a full pre-season build-up and injury-free year, he could make Bagnaia’s life much harder in 2024. And that’s just what Bagnaia won’t need with Marquez in the Ducati camp, too, and VR46’s 2023 title outsider Marco Bezzecchi having another full year of experience behind him.
THE ‘NEXT MARQUEZ’ IS HERE
Though the Raul Fernandez experience might create a little scepticism about whether KTM’s latest potential superstar Pedro Acosta will transfer all that Moto3/Moto2 excitement into a superb MotoGP rookie season, there’s enough evidence both that Acosta will be the real deal and KTM will give him a better shot at proving it at its Tech3 Gas Gas offshoot than recent rookies there have been afforded.
Acosta’s rise has been incredible so far and Marquez dabbling with mind games around him before he’d even tested a MotoGP bike shows how seriously he’s being taken. The last time there was this level of expectation around a rookie, that rookie was Marquez himself. And he was champion at the first attempt.
That likely shouldn't be possible on a Gas Gas. But maybe race wins will be - and that may well be just as impressive in context.
CONCESSIONS ARE BACK
The previous concessions system (coupled with the move to control electronics and helped by manufacturers taking satellites more seriously) created a classic MotoGP era of ultra-unpredictable racing and almost everyone having a shot at the podium during a season. It helped KTM go from MotoGP beginner to race winner and Aprilia go from shambles to title contender. And it did Ducati’s recovery a few favours, too.
The new version is slightly more complicated on paper but might even have a better chance of creating and maintaining a new utopia, as basing it on percentages of possible points scored rather than podiums means actual performance plays the main role and the chance of anomalous results skewing the system is reduced.
KTM and Aprilia may actually be hurt by the new format. Their ‘Class C’ status doesn’t offer them quite enough extras to make a meaningful difference to the gap to Ducati, but ‘Class D’ duo (giants!) Honda and Yamaha getting significantly more testing freedom, open engine development and the chance to try more aero packages means last year’s worst marques have a huge opportunity to sort their problems and stride forward. Certainly enough that KTM and Aprilia will have to fulfil their potential to hold them off.
It might not be enough to avert the prospect of some Ducati 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 formations this year, but it is enough to bring some major names back into the fight in a way that’s ultimately good for MotoGP.
DUCATI HAS MORE TITLE CONTENDERS THAN EVER
Dominant manufacturers are under no obligation to make things interesting. Ducati would be within its rights to make sure its works team was clearly ahead of its satellites and to appoint a clear number one rider in that works team.
Yet it basically does the opposite. The fact it supplies over a third of the grid may not ultimately be especially good for MotoGP. Yet it’s proved over the last two years that it’s not going to stop its satellites giving its works team hell.
And the reason that situation is going to be even better in 2024 is because Martin and Bezzecchi are going to be even bigger threats with all they achieved last year under their belts, and the arrival of Marc Marquez at Gresini means all four Ducati teams now have a potential title winner in their line-ups.
Having become MotoGP’s best bike, Ducati has done the best thing it could for the championship by allowing that free-for-all and giving its non-works teams support and freedom.
Ideally we shouldn’t be able to joke that MotoGP is the ‘Ducati Cup’. But if the Ducati Cup is a four-way title fight between four teams featuring riders as contrasting as Bagnaia, Martin, Bezzecchi and Marquez, that’s a pretty awesome ‘one-make’ championship - and this should be its best season yet.