No sooner are the leathers off then it is time to pop them back on again for the Catalunya MotoGP, round eight of this most fascinating of seasons.

Already the third of seven races that will take place on Spanish soil this year, the Catalunya MotoGP held at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya will be a cooler affair than previous seasons having been moved from May but it’s a true test of man and machine.

After a small gap appeared between the top tier and the chasing pack after Misano, is this the start of the big title push?

Tight at the top

Coming to Misano you could have thrown a large blanket over the potential title candidates and - truth be told - you still can now after Franco Morbidelli and Maverick Vinales made themselves the fifth and sixth different race winners in 2020.

Incredibly, only 27 points - the difference almost between a win and a DNF - cover the entire top ten, while even the gap from fifth to tenth is just seven points.

It’s tight at the top too with just four points covering the top four, but they have a growing advantage over the chasing pack… could this be the breakaway group?

Given the twists and turns of this year’s championship it wouldn’t be prudent to nail a winner down just yet, but the top three - Andrea Dovizioso, Fabio Quartararo and Maverick Vinales - are arguably the logical Marquez-less favourites on paper.

It’s ironic then that none are having what you’d call a stellar season which is why the fourth in this quartet - Joan Mir - could be where the cheeky money should go this weekend.

He is the only rider to have strung together any notable form in recent races - four consecutive top four finishes - and his podiums in Misano were achieved from average starting positions too. 

On the crest of a confidence wave and on a Suzuki many think has more to come, we have showered Quartararo with compliments since he arrived on the scene in 2019, but it’s now time to start paying much closer attention to Mir.

Will Ducati have the last laugh in 2021?

When Andrea Dovizioso announced his impending exit from Ducati, it appeared the manufacturer had - once again - allowed a number one ride to slip from its grasp over internal wrangles and politics.

It also forced it into making a late decision on several vacant seats without much in the way of headline-grabbing options for it to rely on in 2021… and yet, this could well turn out to be the best thing that has happened to them.

Expected to be announced this weekend, for the first time, Ducati will head into a campaign with two riders it has forged through its own rider programme in Jack Miller and (probably) Pecco Bagnaia. While a decision on Bagnaia may have been made weeks ago, his superb coming of age performance in Misano will have hushed any doubts we or they may have had in promoting earlier than they’d perhaps intended.

In fact, Bagnaia’s form in Misano - and Spain before he injured himself - instead leaves Miller’s assumed #1 status rather shaky. 

However, as two riders that aren’t coming to Ducati without their own thoughts to impose on it’s traditionally headstrong management team, what the line-up may lack in experience and - dare we say - superstar power, it gains in having two that are quick but unlikely to clap back at the powers (even if they perhaps should sometimes).

Hometown heroes

If you thought Valentino Rossi was the ultimate home boy returning to his origins in Misano, Pol and Aleix Espargaro pretty much grew up in the shadow of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in the adjoining town of Granollers.

While they don’t quite have the same profile as The Doctor, there is definitely one side-street pizzeria we’ve visited that is very proud of the racing brothers.

It’s proving to be a season of differing fortunes for them, but perhaps not in the way you’d think. Indeed, while Pol is enjoying his best seasons - certainly his best on a KTM - thus far, one can tell he hasn’t quite maximised his opportunities on a remarkably good package right now.

By contrast, Aleix’s results have been disappointing so far - a best of only 10th so far - but he believes the new RS-GP is lightyears ahead of its predecessor and now just needs the odd tweak to get it right up at the sharp end.

For Pol especially, he will need a clean weekend. While he arrives home on the back of a second podium of 2020, he achieved it via four crashes over two weekends. 

With a front group now forming, Espargaro needs to get a wiggle on to ensure he at least ends his season - and time at KTM - as the manufacturer’s best representative.