The 2018 MotoGP World Championship season is all set to commence under the floodlights of the Losail International Circuit in Qatar and much like you, we too can't keep calm. The action has surely been missed and if the pre-season testing results are anything go by, this year too will be as exciting and unpredictable as the previous seasons were. The 19-round MotoGP season will feature a 24-rider lineup that includes 10 factory riders and 14 independent rider teams pilots and going by the consensus, 2018 will be closer than ever in deciding the champion. The fact that the technical regulations this season have been reworked to reduce the gap between the front of the grid to the back; also gives some of the dark horses in the group to watch out for. With just hours from the first Saturday of the season, here's what you need to watch out for in the 2018 MotoGP World Championship.
At the outset is Honda with a spectacular finish in 2017 having regained the world title in the premier class championship. Marc Marquez is in his best form yet and pre-season testing results promise that things are looking up for the Spaniard in 2018 as well. While Honda did not have the fastest bike on the grid last year, the team has worked on the RC213V for this year with a major revamp in the electronics division. The new bike with the new engine accelerates strongly than ever and the bike managed to set to fastest lap times at Valencia and Buriram circuits. Meanwhile, Marquez teammate Dani Pedrosa will make his 200th premier-class start at Losail and is expected to take home a few wins this year, in addition to several podium finishes.
Ducati had an absolutely brilliant 2017 with one of the fastest bikes on the grid, while finishing second in the championship. Andrea Dovizioso turned out to be the Trump card for Ducati last season with six wins and expectations are high from the rider as he enters with a larger following this year. The new GP18 is an evolved version of last year's motorcycle and the Italian factory team has managed to find a higher balance between power and handling over last season. Ducati has also worked on the braking of the new bike, which Dovizioso too felt has seen vast improvements. For teammate Jorge Lorenzo though, the Spaniard is yet to settle into his Ducati after an underwhelming 2017. Lorenzo has had a mix run during the season pre-season testing as well with a record-breaking lap in Sepang, which was followed by finishing 22nd in Buriram and 9th in Qatar.
Yamaha struggled in 2017 with a far from perfect YZR-M1 and a switch in tyres and compounds by Michelin further strayed the manufacturer off its performance. This season will be about redemption for the Japanese team as its riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales are looking to get their performance back on track. The team has opted to develop the 2016 MotoGP bike into a 2018 version and has scrapped the disastrous 2017 chassis entirely. Pre-season testing between November and February though reveals mixed reactions for the Yamaha, but we do expect both riders to make improvements as the season progresses. The other big news from Yamaha this season has been Rossi's contract renewal until the end of 2020, alongside teammate Vinales. Rossi will be 41 years by then and is currently the senior most rider on the grid.
4. Tech 3 Yamaha
Putting up a promising show in 2017, Monster Tech 3 team is in its last year of partnership with Yamaha this season before parting ways at the end of this year. That said, the satellite team just might go out with a bang, having shown a lot of progress and expectations. Tech 3 rider Johann Zarco had a fantastic year with three podiums to his name, while coming close to several others. Nevertheless, like the parent team, Zarco too will be riding the 2016 M1 this season instead of using the 2017 version and is expected to put up a good show alongside the big names. Meanwhile, his teammate Jonas Folger won't be competing this year in order to focus on his health and Tech 3 has recruited rookie Hafizh Syahrin in his place. Syahrin is the first ever Malaysian rider in the premier-class championship.
5. Riders Fighting For The Win
While the teams have a lot going for them, the riders that are likely to compete in the top five will be Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi, Andrea Dovizioso, Maverick Vinales and Dani Pedrosa. The surprise package this season could be Jorge Lorenzo and Johann Zarco, with the latter having shown immense potential. However, given how unpredictable MotoGP turns out to be, it will be interesting if a few other riders manage to break into the top five. Our bets are on LCR Honda's Cal Crutchlow and Pramac Ducati's Danilo Petrucci, both of which have shown promising results in the past.
6. Rookies This Year
Five rookies will join the 2018 MotoGP grid graduating from Moto3 or Moto2 and will be representing independent rider teams. While we've told you about Hafizh Syahrin stepping in for Jonas Folger at Tech 3 Yamaha, Franco Morbidelli, Tom Luthi, Xavier Siméon and Takaaki Nakagami will also be making their MotoGP debut this year.
7. New Tyres
Michelin is offering a wider range of tyres this season with a narrower operating range. So, it will be important that teams choose the right tyre depending on the track conditions because the fastest rider on the fastest bike with the wrong tyres could spell doom for the team. That said, this year won't see Michelin making any changes to the construction or profile of the tyres during the season, which was a major hassle in 2017 with the front tyre switch making for a chassis redesign for several teams.
8. Will Rossi take home his 10th MotoGP title?
A question fans and the Italian too would want an answer too. The 39-year-old is the senior most rider at the grid currently and hasn't taken home the world title since 2009, even though he did come close a few times. With injuries and underwhelming performance from the M1 pushing him down in 2017, could Rossi make a grand comeback this season to take home the coveted 10th world title? We will be eagerly waiting to know the answer to this one.
9. Better Results From KTM, Aprilia and Suzuki
While team Suzuki Ecstar struggled to secure a single win in 2017, the manufacturer is expected to perform better this season. The Japanese team have retained both Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins, with the riders shown progress throughout the pre-season testing. Meanwhile, KTM showed impressive progress in 2017 in its first full season in MotoGP and have also retained riders Bradley Smit and Pol Espargaro on the KTM RC16. The team will be targeting to secure its first podium in 2018. Lastly, Aprilia hadn't had the best results in 2017, and will be looking to make progress this season. The team has an improved machine this year with riders Aleix Espargaro and Scott Redding piloting the same.