With the opening Qatar MotoGP contest of the season cancelled due to the Covid-19 – also called Coronavirus-epidemic, Moto2 and Moto3 will instead take centre stage due to all the teams and riders giving already travelled there for a collective test last week.
Motorsport Week therefore decided to take a closer look at the riders and teams that could be in with a shot of success across both championships, the dream of MotoGP so close but ever so far away also.
Moto3 will kick things off, and as usual the series looks set to provide the closest racing not just in motorcycle racing, but across all of motorsport.
A pair of Italians in Dennis Foggia and Celestino Vietti have plenty to prove for two very different reasons heading into ’20.
Vietti impressed many last year in his first full lightweight class season, scoring three rostrums on his way to sixth overall in the standings with the Valentino Rossi-owned VR46 squad.
With a full year’s experience behind him he should be targeting victories, with a championship assault potentially following in a similar to vein to what ’17 Moto3 champion Joan Mir achieved in his sophomore campaign.
Foggia is another man gathering momentum in Moto3, although he faces the added challenge this year of a new team-having switched from VR46 to Leopard Racing-the outfit with which Lorenzo Dalla Porta secured the riders championship with last year.
Ai Ogura is another man set for great things this year, the Japanese pilot turning heads last year with his blistering speed during his maiden championship bow with the Honda Team Asia outfit.
He struggled somewhat with his race-craft through the year, struggling to bank the strong podium finishes his sheer pace deserved.
Things began to turn around towards the end of the campaign though, scoring his first ever rostrum result with a brilliant second at Aragon, while a fourth at Sepang helped to propel him to tenth overall as his first full year came to an end.
He capped off testing last week in the best way possible too, heading the field under the Qatari lights with the fastest time at the close of play on Sunday.
Tony Arbolino looks to be the strongest man of all heading into the new season, having managed a strong fourth overall last year.
For two-thirds of the season Arbolino looked to have a great chance of fighting for the title until the death, scoring a pair of victories at Mugello and Assen-as well as a set of four consecutive podiums from the Czech GP until the San Marino event.
The final third was far from perfect though as he began to struggle for speed, not managing to finish higher than ninth across the final six races and eventually slumping to fourth.
With the top three of ’19- champion Dalla Porta, Aron Canet as well as Marcos Ramirez- graduating to Moto2 though, and with the added consistency of remaining with the Snipers team, Arbolino looks to be the strongest prospect of all heading into the new season.
A dark horse for a possible title campaign could be Gabriel Rodrigo, a rider that has promised much but delivered little up to now.
The Argentinean has been one of the quickest men over a single lap over the past few seasons, racking up four pole positions and being a regular starter towards the head of the pack.
He has struggled during races though, scoring just a single podium finish-at Barcelona in ’18 – with a best championship result of seventh at the conclusion of the very same campaign.
A move to ’18 champion squad Gresini last year was just the fresh start he needed, but 18th overall at year’s end was disappointing, although this number is slightly misleading.
He picked up a trio of fourth place results early on before having to miss three races mid-season through injury, before crashing out of three of the final four races of the year and then missing the finale at Valencia.
He topped the first day of testing at Qatar last week and was a regular top 15 runner thereafter, so if he can transfer his rapid single-lap speed into strong race performances it is impossible to rule him out for a possible title challenge- a feat Jorge Martin was able to achieve with the Gresini team.
With Moto3 as close as it is, many others could well be in with a shout of the silverware at season’s end-but at this stage the riders mentioned above look to have the best mix of speed and experience in order to challenge for this year’s championship.
It may seem harsh to not count Scottish ace John McPhee as a title contender considering he was fifth overall last season with the Petronas SRT outfit, but he has yet to prove he has that crucial mix of both speed and racecraft to fight for consistent wins and podiums.
He will enter his ninth full season in ’20-most with competitive teams- but has managed just two wins over that time.
Last year he managed three podiums-including his brilliant win at Le Mans for the French GP- and if he wants he secure title honours he simply needs to increase this tally significantly.
He was looked over for the second Intermediate class ride at the Petronas team in favour of fellow Brit Jake Dixon this year, and will need to impress significantly this year if he wants to make the next step of his career.
Another man to look out for is Romano Fenati. He endured a tough comeback campaign in ’19 having been given a reprieve by Snipers following his ban for the rest of ‘18 due to an on-track altercation with Stefano Manzi during his maiden Moto2 year.
The Italian showed decent pace at times-with his high point being an impressive win in Austria-but an injury shortly after curtailed his season, Fenati struggling afterwards to a lowly 16th overall while team-mate Arbolino was fourth despite his own low-key season end.
A move to Max Biaggi’s squad for this year could prove inspired for Fenati though, while team-mate Alonso Lopez could also spring a surprise or two.
SIC58 pairing Tatsuki Suzuki and Niccolo Antonelli will likely fight for wins throughout the year, but it remains to be seen whether they can fight for anything more.
The ’20 Moto2 world championship looks set to be an even juicier fight than even Moto3, with established stars going up against both highly rated sophomore riders that will look to make their mark and show they have what it takes to nab a factory MotoGP berth.
Marc VDS is the obvious starting point, the Belgian squad having been one of the benchmark teams over the past several years-having won two of the last three riders titles with Franco Morbidelli and Alex Marquez in ’17 and ’19 respectively.
They wade into battle this year with an all-new line-up, with the experienced Sam Lowes joined by ex-Pons man Augusto Fernandez-who turned many heads in an impressive first full-time campaign last year.
Fernandez scored three victories last year on his way to fifth overall-despite missing two races through injury early on- the Spaniard looking like the main challenger to eventual champion Marquez mid-season before a late season drop off saw his title tilt slip away.
A move to Marc VDS automatically makes him a viable championship threat considering his speed and consistency last year, although he will face stern competition from the man on the opposite side of the garage.
Sam Lowes has always been a fast motorcycle racer-the Brit having notched up British and World Supersport championships prior to making the switch to grand prix racing-but has always failed to attract true title contending machinery.
His key weakness has been consistency over as year, particularly as far as crashing is concerned. Lowes is frequently featured in the seasons highest crash tallies, with many top results given away by pre-mature race exits.
He will need to crack down on these spills if wants to challenge for this year’s silverware, but-as his three Moto2 wins with strong but still not title challenging teams suggest-he should be more than covered in the pace department.
Another rider surely in with a shot of his first Moto2 title is the ever-present Thomas Luthi, the Swiss the highest placed returning racer to the championship in last year’s standings.
Luthi’s impressive consistency and speed across a season always marks him out as a title favourite, but he always seems to lack the final couple of percent to finally break his title duck.
He remains with the Intact GP team he competed with last year, with this crucial piece of consistency maybe proving useful considering many of his rivals have switched allegiance this year.
He was only 12 points away from snatching the championship away from Marquez last year, and Luthi is hungrier than ever to finally see his name etched on the trophy.
Jorge Martin meanwhile has a lot to prove, the KTM-affiliated pilot keen to follow in the footsteps of Miguel Oliveira and ’19 team-mate Brad Binder in moving up to the premier class in ’21.
The ’18 Moto3 world champion struggled to acclimatise to his KTM Moto2 chassis for the bulk of last year, but improved dramatically in the closing stages of the campaign to secure back-to-back podiums in Japan and Australia, the latter fighting for victory with Binder.
With KTM making their Moto2 exit, Martin will this year compete on a Kalex for the Ajo Motorsport squad-his same outfit from last year.
A top three championship placing will be imperative should he want to move to MotoGP at the end of the year, but with Iker Lecuona seemingly gelling with the Tech 3 KTM RC16 well so far Martin will likely need to score the title in order to find his way into the premier class.
The dark horses for the championship ironically wade into battle wearing pink, as the Speed Up factory team-with the services of Jorge Navarro and impressive ’19 rookie Fabio di Gianantonio-look set to shake up the front of the field once again.
The Italian squad came out swinging last year, and despite failing to score a victory managed an impressive fourth overall for Navarro and ninth for Di Gianantonio-netting him top rookie honours.
The Speed Up machine has been notorious over the last few years for giving impressive tyre life, allowing its riders to push harder for longer than most of their rivals.
Wins will be expected from the outset, and with the greater consistency evidenced last year-twinned with the team’s promising testing pace- Speed Up look handy to try and score their first ever riders title this year.
Luca Marini will likely score several wins this year, but every year seems to follow a pattern for the VR46 man.
Consistency in regards to speed seems to be at a premium, with blinding speed that makes him near unbeatable on his day contrasted by others where he’s barely noticeable in the fringes of the top ten.
He has shown progress of improving in this area, but he needs to cut out more of his average days and challenge for the rostrum position more often if he’s to prove a title contender this season.
Lorenzo Baldassarri looked good early last year as he stormed to three wins in the first four races to kick off Moto2’s new Triumph-powered era, but faded badly afterwards to seventh overall by the end of the campaign-having not graced the podium again afterwards.
Should he find- and crucially fix-the reasons for this dramatic slump, Baldassari’s race craft is a wonder to behold and should put him in good stead for further wins, but a championship tilt is likely bridge too far.
Remy Gardner is certainly someone to keep an eye out on this year, the Australian having displayed great speed at times last year with the SAG Racing outfit-particularly in Argentina as he grabbed his first rostrum with second-while Tetsusta Nagashima has shown promising speed during testing having moved to the Ajo team alongside Martin.
Other riders to watch out for this year are new Petronas SRT pair Xavi Vierge and Jake Dixon, who could spring several surprises throughout the season, while Enea Bastianini will look to add a little more speed to a very impressively consistent maiden Intermediate class season last year as he remains with Italtrans.