MotoGP in 2023 so far: Our verdict, what Marquez should do, the talking points

We put key topics from the 2023 MotoGP season to's MotoGP editor Peter McLaren and journalist Robert Jones.
Enea Bastianini, MotoGP race, Dutch MotoGP 25 June
Enea Bastianini, MotoGP race, Dutch MotoGP 25 June

Who has impressed you the most?

Peter McLaren: There have been four different Sunday winners this season, but the only new MotoGP winner is Marco Bezzecchi, in both the wet and dry, on a year-old bike, at a satellite team (owned by a certain Valentino Rossi) that hadn’t won before. So I think Bezzecchi would be top of my list.

Alex Rins’ ending Honda’s win drought at COTA was also very impressive.

Francesco Bagnaia has obviously impressed but not surprised as such. As reigning champion on what is widely regarded as the best bike, I think most people expected him to win the most races and be leading the standings, but he did also make a few early errors.

Robert Jones: The rider that’s impressed me the most is Marco Bezzecchi. After a very strong rookie season the Italian has been nothing short of sensational for much of this year. On his day he’s been unbeatable, even for the likes of Francesco Bagnaia.

When I watch Bezzecchi I see similarities to Valentino Rossi, not just the way he condones himself off-track, but how is able to adapt and find his best come race day. To already produce two Grand Prix wins and a sprint win on last year’s bike is very impressive.

To me, Bezzecchi should be rewarded for his first half of the year with a promotion to Pramac Ducati for 2024.

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How should Marc Marquez approach the rest of 2023?

Peter McLaren: The 2023 title is obviously long gone, so I think it’s basically a case of Marquez picking his battles - at tracks where the Honda has a chance - but accepting the limits of his bike at others.

Sachsenring was a pivotal weekend because Marquez has always been able to win on whatever Honda gave him. That clearly wasn’t the case with the 2023 machine.

If he gets a sniff of a win or podium, you can’t ask a champion like Marquez not to push, hence some of his Sunday accidents. But I think the five Sachsenring falls underlined that it can be a futile battle at the moment, even at his favourite tracks.

Alex Rins proved at COTA that when everything falls into place victory is still possible, but realistically a rider can only do so much and further injuries are the last thing Marquez or Honda need.

The RC213V has to improve and that may well mean Marquez sacrificing practice time to test new parts or ideas to help Honda find a direction for 2024, a pivotal year in their relationship given Marquez’s expiring contract.

Robert Jones: I think Marc Marquez should focus on finishing racers and trying to collect as much data for Honda as possible. It’s clear that he’s ready to win but the bike is not.

If the eight-time world champion is going to stay with Honda, then crashing out of races whilst trying to score a few more points than what his bike is realistically capable of could be a detriment.

If after the Misano test there are positive signs, then a strong end to the season should be what he’s aiming for in order to build momentum ahead of arguably the most important year of his career in 2024.

Francesco Bagnaia, MotoGP race, Dutch MotoGP 25 June
Francesco Bagnaia, MotoGP race, Dutch MotoGP 25 June

Who will be 2023 champion?

Peter McLaren: It looks like Francesco Bagnaia’s to lose at the moment. Jorge Martin and Marco Bezzecchi could prove a real thorn in his side, but the fact they are all on Ducatis means the chance of one of them finding a big leap in performance over the others is slim. It’s more likely to come down to which rider makes the least mistakes, and Bagnaia has made a few unforced errors…

For me, the dark horse is fourth in the standings Brad Binder and KTM, since there is the potential for a bike advantage should the Austrians continue to rapidly improve the already impressive RC16.

Robert Jones: For me, this starts and ends with Bagnaia. Jorge Martin and Bezzecchi have been able to challenge and beat Bagnaia on occasion, however, the world champion’s consistency has been too much to overcome so far. Bagnaia holds a margin of 35 points over Martin and will be looking to extend that at Silverstone where he won last season.

Alex Rins, MotoGP, Italian MotoGP, 9 June
Alex Rins, MotoGP, Italian MotoGP, 9 June

The rider market - predict who will move where…

Peter McLaren: The Alex Rins-Yamaha rumours are very interesting. There are not many MotoGP riders for whom the M1 seat could be seen as a step up performance-wise, but there’s logic for Rins in switching from a satellite Honda. It would restore him to the factory status he enjoyed at Suzuki and put him back on an inline engine. He’s also already won a race on the RCV and, realistically, what more could he do with it in 2024?

If Rins does replace Franco Morbidelli you’ve got to imagine Morbidelli will be on a satellite Ducati. I think it would suit him and don’t see why Morbidelli wouldn’t be in the podium mix with the likes of Marco Bezzecchi, Luca Marini and Alex Marquez.

Unless VR46 can secure factory-spec machines for Bezzecchi they are at risk of losing Bez to Pramac, at Johann Zarco’s expense alongside Jorge Martin, which would create a space for Morbidelli alongside Marini.

Alex Marquez is surely remaining at Gresini. Tony Arbolino would make an exciting young team-mate, but if Bezzecchi stays at VR46 then Morbidelli could slot into Fabio di Giannantonio's seat in the Rins fallout.

The annual Takaaki Nakagami or Ai Ogura question is likely to arise again, but could they be team-mates if Rins leaves? Others in contention as a Rins-replacement option could be Arbolino or even Zarco, who made some stand-in rides for LCR when he left KTM during 2019.

KTM has five riders and four seats, although as things stand on paper it has to be Augusto Fernandez who makes way for Pedro Acosta.

Robert Jones: I think the big mover here could be Alex Rins. Despite winning the American Grand Prix in just his third outing with Honda, it’s been the complete opposite of a smooth-sailing relationship and it appears as though a move to Yamaha could be on the cards.

That means Franco Morbidelli will be a free agent, although I believe he will find a new home very quickly at Ducati. Whether that’s Gresini or Mooney VR46, I think Morbidelli, despite losing a factory seat, will be upgrading his current situation by joining the Italian manufacturer.

The other big move will of course be Pedro Acosta to the GASGAS Tech 3 KTM outfit.

Marc Marquez crashes behind Fabio Quartararo, Portimao 2023
Marc Marquez crashes behind Fabio Quartararo, Portimao 2023

What is a key storyline that you're excited about for the rest of this season?

Peter McLaren: Excitement-wise, there’s nothing like a title fight that goes down to the wire in any motorsport championship. Bagnaia is safe at the moment but there are still 444 points up for grabs, plus the added unpredictability of the flyaway rounds on unfamiliar tracks and unpredictable weather.

Otherwise, the futures of Marc Marquez at Honda and Fabio Quartararo at Yamaha are sure to be an ongoing topic with only one more year on their existing contracts. Behind the scenes, MotoGP’s response to the current ‘Japanese crisis’ will also be significant, what form will the likely new concessions package take and how much impact will it have on the futures of Marquez and Quartararo?

Robert Jones: I think the biggest storyline to follow centres around Marc Marquez and his relationship with Honda. Their troubles have arguably never been greater and Marquez, whether it was Mugello, Sachsenring or Assen, has clearly become fed up with Honda’s situation.

Marquez has continued to back Honda in the press, but his actions on track are reflective of someone who has lost belief in the project, and therefore, a move away from Honda has never looked more likely.

Marco Bezzecchi, Sprint race, Dutch MotoGP 24 June
Marco Bezzecchi, Sprint race, Dutch MotoGP 24 June

The new format - has it worked? Do you like it? Should it change?

Peter McLaren: Yes, in general I think the new format and introduction of Sprint races has worked very well. Saturdays have become much more exciting from the spectacle point of view. Previously, there was too much practice relative to racing on a grand prix weekend, whereas now each session really means something.

That said, I think deciding the grid for two races from the results of one qualifying is not ideal, but there’s no easy solution. I’m also still not convinced that a Sprint win shouldn’t simply count as a GP win. A race is a race.

The proposal to make Friday morning practice a free practice session in future seems sensible.

Robert Jones: I think the new format has worked very well. The racing has been phenomenal and has made every session an unmissable one. We’ve seen more crashes and injuries as pressure, but also the aggressive nature that some riders have attacked the sprint races with, has played a role in that which is unfortunate.

But in general, I believe the new format has made the sport more intriguing for fans and has created a better show. There’s the argument that Friday should have a stand-alone practice in order to not affect qualifying positions, which could be changed in order to reduce pressure on riders and teams, but through eight races I’m a fan of the current system.

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