His status as double reigning world champion makes Francesco Bagnaia the legitimate favorite for the 2024 MotoGP season, which opens this weekend in Qatar, but beware of multi-champion Marc Marquez who, new resident at Ducati-Gresini , cultivates the eternal hope of a return to the top.

Will he become the GOAT – the most successful rider of all time in MotoGP? Among the main attractions of this season, Marquez, who in 2019 equaled the legend Valentino Rossi with six titles, still dreams of overtaking the Italian – even if purists will point out that Rossi has seven titles in the premier category with that of 2001 , when the championship was still contested on 500cc two-stroke motorcycles.

Proof that at 31 the Spaniard wants to give himself the means to achieve his ambitions, this season he is joining his brother Alex in the ranks of Gresini, Ducati’s satellite team, after eleven years spent at Honda.

However, the task will be far from easy for “MM93”, for whom the last four years have been marked by falls, physical problems and a Honda far from the best while the younger generation gained ground.

After his compatriot Joan Mir (Suzuki) in 2020, the Frenchman Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) in 2021, it is now Francesco “Pecco” Bagnaia (Ducati) who, at 27 years old, occupies the king’s chair of the premier category. And he knows it: between his double title and the performance of his Ducati, the favorite is him this year.

Ducati, reigning manufacturers’ world champion, will have six more motorcycles this season in addition to its two official flagships, the first of which include – in addition to the Gresini of the Marquez brothers – the Pramac of the Spaniard Jorge Martin and the Italian Franco Morbidelli, defector from Yamaha.

By the own admission of Martin, with whom Bagnaia fought until the last GP for the title, “Pecco will be the man to beat” this season which includes 21 Grands Prix. Like last year, the drivers will compete in two races per weekend: a sprint on Saturday followed by the traditional Sunday meeting.

With his status as vice-champion, the exuberant Martin is once again in pole position this year to try to thwart the plans of his Italian rival, who has just extended his contract until 2026 with Ducati.

But to achieve this, the 26-year-old Madrilenian with a fiery temperament “must still find a way to be calmer,” recalls three-time world champion Jorge Lorenzo.

Unless the danger comes from elsewhere for “Pecco”, and is much closer than he believes. According to observers, his teammate and compatriot in the official Ducati team, Enea Bastianini – author of a 2023 season largely disrupted by injuries – could emerge as one of his main challengers.

For this new vintage, only the Spaniard Pedro Acosta will make his debut in the elite. Considered one of the greatest MotoGP hopes since Marquez, the 19-year-old rider joins the GasGas-Tech3 team.

At Yamaha, 2021 champion Fabio Quartararo begins his sixth season in the ranks of the Japanese manufacturer, with which he is engaged until the end of the year. Like him, the majority of drivers this season see their contracts expire at the end of 2024.

Last year, the 24-year-old from Nice told AFP that he had experienced “the hardest season of [his] career in MotoGP”. Only 10th in the championship, the 2022 vice-champion has never managed to fight for victory, the fault of a Yamaha with a glaring lack of performance, especially during qualifying.

This year, he will team up with Spaniard Alex Rins, who arrived from Honda-LCR, a Honda satellite.

Honda precisely, just as unaccustomed to the first places in recent years and which has chosen instead of Rins – the only driver of the brand to have won in 2023 (GP of the Americas) – to call on the services of the Frenchman Johann Zarco.

Even if he had to swap the powerful Ducati-Pramac for the modest Honda-LCR, the 33-year-old Frenchman, winner last year of his first MotoGP Grand Prix, in Australia, still hopes to “have the opportunity to ( se) fight for the podiums”.