Several fascinating storylines will unfold across the course of the 2016 itinerary:
The battle between Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi for top-dog status at Yahama, the fall out from last year’s late-season beef between Rossi and Marc Marquez, the tussle between Lorenzo and Marquez for the unofficial title of Spain’s fastest man on two wheels.
And then, lurking on the edge of the spotlight, there’s Dani Pedrosa, a three-time world champion between 125 and 250cc with over a century of MOTOGP podiums to his name, himself still eyeing the sport’s most coveted title.
Between the four of them, they have ruled the 1000cc discipline mercilessly since 2013….
A four-man championship
The domination of the fantastic foursome of Yahama and Suzuki pilots in recent years has been complete.
Of the 21 riders who will take their places on the grid at Losail, just three have previously won the MOTOGP championship – Rossi (seven times), Lorenzo (three) and Marquez (two).
The spread of former kings among the ranks this year is even thinner than last term after the defection of 2006 world boss Nicky Hayden to Superbikes.
Yet, the trio’s monopoly on past MOTOGP glory runs far deeper than mere end-of-season-honours.
Of the 54 Grand Prix disputed between 2013 and this weekend’s 2016 inaugurating burn-up, they have failed to win only the six taken by perennial dark horse Pedrosa – no other rider has taken so much as a single one.
Champion in 2013 and 2014, Marquez has claimed 24 of those, with 2010, 2012 and 2015 maestro Lorenzo landing 17 and the Italian polishing off the remaining septet.
The race winner odds for the Qatar MOTOGP offer evidence that the dominance of a select circle of riders, of which even Pedrosa finds himself increasingly excluded from, is expected to continue.
Lorenzo is 3/4 favourite to take the checkered flag at Losail, with ‘The Doctor’ 10/3 and Marquez 4/1 – even the sole other man to take a GP in the last three seasons is back with the also-rans at 14/1.
The Marquez effect
In terms of outright world-title betting, reigning champion JLo leads the way at 13/10, with Marquez close behind on 37/20, before a lengthy gap to Valentino at 4/1 and Pedrosa at 12s.
The last-named Spaniard’s low rank is explained by a decade on the periphery of the title picture, but that of Rossi is, on the face of it, harder to fathom.
After all, the nine-time world champion led the standings for most of last season, losing top spot only in a last race final sprint that will go down in history.
This is where Marquez comes in: from 2013 to date, or since the Spaniard was arrived in MOTOGP, Honda’s number 93 has won 44% of the races in which he participated (24 of 54).
It’s a far superior return to Lorenzo, (31% with 17 victories).
On these numbers Rossi and Pedrosa (seven and six wins apiece) are utterly outclassed.
Marquez is the coming force and there may not be too many more days he can be backed as second favourite for a third MOTOGP crown.