What happens next with Rossi, Marquez?
It goes without saying that the once friendly relationship between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez deteriorated spectacularly in 2015.

The question now is what will happen the next time the pair are fighting together on track: Will they pick up where they left off at Turn 14 in Sepang, or put it all behind them and start afresh?

End of the Open class, new ECU and Michelin tyres
The MotoGP technical rules will undergo their biggest change since the switch from 800cc to 1000cc engines in 2012, with the introduction of a single ECU system and Michelin replacing Bridgestone as exclusive tyre supplier.

No-one believes the grid will be turned on its head, but the changes are sure to favour some riders and machines more than others - with the universal hope that competition will be closer and lap times less predictable.

Whatever happens, the sport will certainly be easier to explain: The compulsory ECU means the grid will no longer be divided into a Factory and Open class.

Can Honda fix its engine in time?
"This was our biggest mistake for this year" - those were the words of Shuhei Nakamoto, when reflecting upon the false fix to Honda's aggressive engine at the Sepang pre-season tests.

The development ban meant that by the time the problems popped up again in Qatar it was too late for any 2015 modifications, leading to a difficult season for all the Honda riders.

But with the engine issue long identified, a substantial difference was expected with the 2016 machine.

Instead, partly due to the concurrent debut of the new single ECU, Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa have so far been non-committal about whether significant progress has actually been made.

"At the moment, this new engine has a little bit more potential compared to the old one, but still we are far from the best level," were Marquez's words after his final test of the year.

"Still we are not clear with the engine," added Pedrosa. "We have a couple of issues in the exit of the turn. We do not know exactly if they are happening because of the electronics or because of the engine."

Honda has three official pre-season tests to sort out its shortcomings in time for the opening 2016 race in Qatar.

Suzuki's next step
Suzuki made a credible return to MotoGP in 2015, claiming four front-row starts - including a perfect one-two in Catalunya - plus a race best of sixth (three times) courtesy of Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales.

Suzuki's qualifying performances (like those of Ducati) were doubtless aided by the softer rear tyre, which will not be available to anyone next season. But there are several reasons why Suzuki might just make the biggest gain in relative performance of any manufacturer.

The first is that the GSX-RR will finally receive a seamless-shift gearbox next season, having been the only factory machine without the technology. This will partially address Suzuki's biggest weakness, acceleration, but the factory is also planning much needed engine upgrades for what has been dubbed a 'complete new bike'.

With Ducati dropping out of technical concessions, the Suzuki should be the most competitive machine (barring a major jump by Aprilia) able to benefit from extra engine changes, in-season engine development and more testing.

During its previous MotoGP project, Suzuki often lagged badly behind the likes of Honda, Yamaha and Ducati in terms of electronics, but the new single ECU should limit any disadvantage.

"Our engineers and the Magneti Marelli guys told us the [single 2016 ECU software] is basically very similar to the electronics we were riding with this year," revealed Espargaro. "We managed to be quite competitive with those electronics and now [the other factories] realise their own electronics were much better than what they will have next year... I think we can be close."

Last but not least, rookie star Vinales - already singled out as a future race winner - is sure to be even stronger with a year's worth of experience under his belt.

Redding and Ducati
The poor performance of Scott Redding on the Marc VDS Honda was one of the disappointments of 2015, with only wet weather rides at Silverstone (6th) and Misano (3rd) saving an otherwise dire season.

But the Englishman looked instantly at home on his new Pramac Ducati, even leading the final private test of the year at Jerez.

Indeed, at this early stage of adjustment to the 2016 technical changes, Ducati looks generally strong, partly due to its prior commitment to the Michelin test programme and contribution to the Open class ECU.

Ducati narrowly missed out on its goal of a race win this year, but the company's target of two victories in 2016 may prove far from fanciful if the company can build on its initial testing form with the next version of the Desmosedici, to debut in February.

Will Casey Stoner race?
It's the question on everybody's lips since rumours first emerged that retired double champion Casey Stoner would split from Honda to take on test rider and ambassador duties for Ducati.

All we know so far is that the talented Australian - who claimed Ducati's only MotoGP title in 2007 and its most recent race win in 2010 - will be testing the Desmosedici, with a debut outing planned for Sepang in January.

But the fact Stoner offered to replace the injured Dani Pedrosa last season proves he still has the desire to race in MotoGP, at least occasionally, and few would be surprised if he makes what would be a momentous return at his home Phillip Island round and/or the home events for Ducati.

Stoner vs Marquez vs Rossi vs Lorenzo vs Pedrosa? It may just happen...

 

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