MotoGP winter testing is complete and now the countdown begins for the 2019 FIM Grand Prix World Championship season opener this Sunday under the floodlights at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar.

Motorcycle roadracing’s traveling circus—a village of 3,000 people, including 22 MotoGP riders, 32 Moto2 “middle-school” students, and 29 Moto3 “kids,” their team members, and the rest of series commercial-rights-holder Dorna’s massive operation—has already arrived on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula for the first of 19 races to be held across 16 countries and both hemispheres.

Here are eight points to consider for the year to come, including important changes to the series, plus a MotoGP grid overview.

New Season, New Rules

Stability is key to managing costs and, as MotoGP is already a popular show, series organizers have introduced few changes this season. On a technical level, for greater balance among factory, satellite, and private teams, Dorna has developed a spec IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) for the premier class that constantly monitors each machine’s orientation and accelerations in the three dimensions.

As for aerodynamics, the previous practice of adding or removing elements of the homologated fairing is now banned. Each manufacturer may update its approved base fairing once during the season, but that bodywork shall not to be modified.

The “Long Lap Penalty” is a new tool for track-limits violations that can also be deployed in other situations when deemed appropriate by race stewards. The new initiative requires penalized riders to pass through a marked area outside a specific corner that will lead to a time loss of several seconds. In Qatar, this area is located on the asphalt runoff outside of the turn 6 hairpin. Race direction hopes this will lead to more consistent time losses than the previous method of forcing riders to drop one position. Riders handed a long-lap penalty will have three laps during which to serve it.

Another big change concerns the qualifying format of the junior classes. Moto2 and Moto3 will adopt MotoGP’s two-part qualifying format. This decision is intended to solve various problems, such as riders slowing to wait for a slipstream (Moto3) and the fact the fastest times were performed in the early phases of qualifying (Moto2). FP1, FP2, and FP3 will all last 40 minutes, and the fastest 14 riders in combined free-practice classification will go straight to Qualifying 2. The rest of the field will contest Qualifying 1, and the four fastest riders from that session will join the fight for pole position in Q2.

Diving Into The Unknown

Is Marc Márquez unbeatable? Since 2013, Jorge Lorenzo has been the only rider able to interrupt Márquez's run of premier-class titles. Now they're teammates in the formidable factory Repsol Honda squad. When everything is perfect, Lorenzo is unequaled, but the big fight between him and his countryman will likely be psychological, fought first in the garage and then on track. The challenge between the two aces could either boost their motivation or turn into a hell of a war.

Lorenzo is famous for his determination, and he has adapted fast to the Honda, despite breaking his left scaphoid in a dirt-bike crash this past January. He missed the Malaysia test and is unlikely to be fully fit until the third or fourth race. Even so, he was sixth quickest at the final test in Qatar. Will Lorenzo beat his teammate? Márquez is also not 100 percent fit after a troublesome winter.

The seven-time world champion finally had surgery in December to repair his well-worn left shoulder, and, while he rode well at the preseason tests, he was still shrugging off pain and weakness. Likewise, LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow is recovering from a nasty ankle injury suffered in October during practice for the Australian Grand Prix. Despite injuries to its three top riders, Honda has continued development, focusing on a more powerful V-4 engine.

Valentino Rossi
“I keep racing because I enjoy it, and the target this year is to get back to the top,” Valentino Rossi explained. “The 2018 season was a year to forget. I finally finished third but without a victory. We aim at being more competitive, and I’m very confident. The Yamaha engineers are very motivated to improve, and the preseason tests were positive. With the first race weekend, we will be able to understand many things better.”Courtesy of Yamaha

Desperate For The Title

Having played in vain the card of hiring a five-time world champion who took too long to adapt to the Desmosedici, Ducati continues to innovate, challenging the Japanese giants, especially in aerodynamics. Under the guidance of Gigi Dall’Igna, the once-untamed beast became a fast, powerful tool, and in the garage reigns incredible harmony between factory riders Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci.

If Honda is counting on two superstars, Ducati is betting on team spirit. An example? Petrucci moved closer to his teammate to train together. Dovizioso is giving Petrucci advice, as a fast teammate is essential for development. The two riders support each other, allied in the common goal to bring the title back to Borgo Panigale.

In addition to Dovizioso and Petrucci, the Ducati army lines up Jack Miller, rewarded with a current-spec GP19 in Pramac team colors. Miller’s rookie teammate, Francesco “Pecco” Bagnaia, fresh from winning the Moto2 title, made a stunning start underlined by the second-fastest time at the Sepang test. Tito Rabat and Karel Abraham are also on GP18s under the Avintia banner.

Andrea Dovizioso
“The expectations are high,” said Andrea Dovizioso, who returns to Ducati for his seventh consecutive MotoGP season, this time paired with factory-squad newcomer and former production-bike racer Danilo Petrucci. “I have a great feeling with both the bike and my crew, and we can count on more experience. After two years that I finished second, I don’t hide that I aim at winning the world title.”Courtesy of Ducati

The Surprise

Álex Rins may ultimately be the greatest revelation of the coming season. The 23-year-old Spaniard was on the podium three times in 2018, and he was fast and consistent in winter testing, confirming the Suzuki GSX-RR is ready to fight for the podium on a regular base. Starting from the base that scored five podium finishes in the last six races, the GSX-RR has received further updates throughout the preseason. Even with fewer resources compared to Honda and Ducati, Suzuki aims to be among the leaders of the championship.

Sunday Animal

If Márquez is the man to beat, Dovizioso and Lorenzo are serious title contenders, and Maverick Viñales topped the time sheets at the last test in Qatar, you can never rule out Valentino Rossi. The nine-time world champion who turned 40 this past month didn’t shine in testing, but he is always there when it counts. After a disastrous 2018, Yamaha appears to have made a step forward. The Japanese factory has always been competitive in Qatar, and a good result would be much-needed boost for everyone involved.

Welcome To Triumph

Moto2 is evolving. Born in 2010 and raced with one philosophy for nine seasons, the class is entering a new era with a different engine manufacturer and more sophisticated electronics. Fitted with a Magneti Marelli ECU, the three-cylinder Triumph 765cc engine has different power characteristics than that of the previous Honda CBR600RR powerplant. Over winter testing, the engine proved consistent, reliable, and able to produce nearly 140 hp in race trim. Riders polled seemed to appreciate the wider torque curve and a fresh challenge. With these changes, Dorna aims to make Moto2 a true steppingstone to its premier class.

Marc Márquez
“Due to the [shoulder] surgery, I had to work hard with five hours of physio per day in order to be ready for the first race of the year,” Marc Márquez said. “My condition has improved and I can say that I arrive almost 100 percent. Honda has done a lot to improve the bike, and in the test, we were feeling strong, especially for a circuit that usually isn’t the best for us. My target for the 2019 season? To keep the title.”Courtesy of Honda

Watch Out For The American Rider

Los Angeles is a long way from Grand Prix roadracing’s European base. In 2017, after gaining experience in the MotoAmerica and CEV championships, Joe Roberts made his Moto2 debut, competing in five races and finishing the season 30th in the point standings. This past season, switching from a Kalex to an NTS chassis, he was 25th overall with a best placing of 13th in Thailand. Competing this season for American Team KTM, the 21-year-old California native ultimately hopes to bring the stars and stripes back to the MotoGP paddock.

MotoGP Goes "Green"

The all-new FIM Enel MotoE World Cup is coming soon, with competition in this fresh category of racing set to begin in May at the Circuit of Jerez in Spain. This five-race series is intended to combine speed and sustainability, with Italy’s Energica supplying 23 identical electric Ego Corsa prototypes, plus spares. According to title sponsor Enel, the energy stored in the batteries that will power these motorcycles will be produced exclusively from renewable resources.

Some specifics: Battery capacity of 20 kWh, power up to 120 kW (around 160 hp), a maximum speed of nearly 170 mph, Brembo brakes, Öhlins suspension, Marchesini wheels, and Michelin slicks. Among the 18 riders split into 12 teams, GP legends Sete Gibernau, Alex de Angelis, and Randy de Puniet will be joined by Aprilia test rider Bradley Smith, plus promising newcomers like 21-year-old Spaniard Ana Carrasco, the 2018 Supersport 300 world champion and the first woman to achieve such a result.

Álex Rins
“I’m really satisfied with the job done over the winter,” admitted Suzuki factory rider Álex Rins, who was consistently quick during preseason testing. “At the test [in Qatar], we proved to be competitive and aligned with the front-runners, at least on the single lap. The situation changes a bit in the race, but I’m confident. The target this year is to be more consistent and to turns podium finishes into victory.”Courtesy of Suzuki

2019 MotoGP World Championship Grid Overview

Jorge Lorenzo joining Repsol Honda alongside Marc Márquez at Repsol Honda is certainly the most interesting move on this year’s MotoGP entry list, but other important changes have further reshuffled the cards, namely Johann Zarco switching from Yamaha Tech 3 to Red Bull KTM, Andrea Iannone moving from Suzuki to the factory Aprilia squad, and the retirement of three-time world champion Dani Pedrosa. As for the rookies, watch out for reigning Moto2 champion Francesco “Pecco” Bagnaia on a Ducati GP18 in Pramac Racing colors.

Repsol Honda Team
Bike: Honda RC213V
Riders: Marc Márquez #93, Jorge Lorenzo #99

Dani Pedrosa’s departure from the championship and the arrival of Jorge Lorenzo is the most interesting news of the grid. With Lorenzo, the “dream team” boasts a total of 12 world titles across three classes, seven of them coming in the last seven seasons. Marc Márquez is the man to beat and Lorenzo could be the first title contender. While the bike was nearly ready at the end of the 2018 season, both riders are not 100 percent fit at the moment, due to off-season surgeries. This is the only reason, albeit a considerable one, why the Honda squad is not the absolute favorite to win at Losail.

Mission Winnow Ducati Team
Bike: Ducati Desmosedici GP19
Riders: Andrea Dovizioso #4, Danilo Petrucci #9

Ducati has bet everything on Andrea Dovizioso, runner-up the last two seasons. At Borgo Panigale, the factory has built a team around Dovizioso, with teammate Danilo Petrucci promoted from the Pramac team and Jack Miller taking the latter’s place also on a factory bike. Dovizioso seems to manage well the pressure, and this year the Desmosedici has made another step forward. Qatar is traditionally a track that suits Ducati well, so watch out for the red bikes.

Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team
Bike: Yamaha YZR-M1
Riders: Maverick Viñales #12, Valentino Rossi #46

The reorganization of the Yamaha team is giving the first results, and the factory YZR-M1 has grown a lot. Maverick Viñales topped the lap-time chart of the combined classification at the recent Qatar test, and the 24-year-old Spaniard seems ready to fight for the win. Valentino Rossi was not as strong on a single lap, but he will be there when it counts. The M1 confirms to be a relatively easy-to-ride bike as we can see from the good performance of satellite riders Franco Morbidelli and Fabio Quartararo. To know if the key changes were actually effective, we will have to wait and see the behavior of the bike during the final part of the race, a weak point this past season.

Maverick Viñales
“I have a good feeling with the bike, and I aim at improving my results,” said Maverick Viñales, who finished fourth overall in 2018. “I want to be more consistent and be fighting at the top. Corner speed remains a strong point of the M1 and we have improved under braking, but there is still some work to do in terms of acceleration. I think at the moment it is still not enough to fight regularly for the win.”Courtesy of Yamaha

Suzuki Ecstar Team
Bike: Suzuki GSX-RR
Riders: Joan Mir #36, Álex Rins #42

The GSX-RR was the surprise of the winter test. Starting from the 2018 base that scored five podium finishes in the last six races and a total of nine podium finishes, the GSX-RR has been fine-tuned in all the details. Fighting with Honda, Yamaha, and Ducati is the target for the Suzuki team. To do this, team manager Davide Brivio will have to count on Álex Rins, who enters his third MotoGP season with a renewed confidence and a provisional podium in the Qatar test, and the promising rookie, ’17 Moto3 world champion Joan Mir.

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing
Bike: KTM RC16
Riders: Johann Zarco 5, Pol Espargaró 44

KTM has doubled its efforts, now with strength up to four riders, and invested in Johann Zarco. The Austrian factory worked hard over the winter months to improve the engine’s power delivery, chassis, and electronics, but the gap to cover is still too big. KTM has the technology and the resources, but it still lacks premier-class experience. Indications given by the arrival of Dani Pedrosa as a test rider have been valuable, but he had to miss the winter tests due to a collarbone operation in December. Pol Espargaró is fast on the single lap and his podium in the rain at Valencia last November was a huge motivation booster. Zarco, meanwhile, is still struggling to adapt to the bike, having spent all of his MotoGP career to this point on a Yamaha M1.

Jorge Lorenzo
“The first MotoGP round will be more special than ever this year as it marks the beginning of a new era for me and the team,” Jorge Lorenzo said. “Lining up on the grid in Qatar with the Repsol Honda colors is something I have been dreaming of over the winter. My target is clear: I want to win with a third manufacturer. Unfortunately, at the moment, I am not at my 100 percent, but I still believe we can achieve a good result in Qatar.”Courtesy of Honda

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini
Bike: Aprilia RS-GP
Riders: Andrea Iannone #29, Aleix Espargaró #41

Aprilia has invested a lot in technology and human resources. New Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola brought all his experience gained in Formula 1 with Ferrari to optimize the team structure and organization with new works method. A proper test team led by Bradley Smith has been put in place, and the RS-GP is a step forward. There is a lot of expectation for the debut of former Ducati and Suzuki factory rider Andrea Iannone. He is fast and determined, but he missed important test days because of physical issues. The gap to the other manufacturers is still big, but we have already seen some signs of improvements.

LCR Honda Castrol/Idemitsu
Bike: Honda RC213V
Riders: Takaaki Nakagami #30, Cal Crutchlow #35

Lucio Cecchinello has confirmed his rider lineup and is counting on three-time MotoGP race winner Cal Crutchlow to fight for more podium finishes. The 33-year-old Brit faced the winter test not fully recovered from an ankle injury suffered in October, but he appears to have more trouble with the limb off the bike than on it. Crutchlow’s teammate, Takaaki Nakagami, has shown good speed throughout testing. Will this be Nakagami’s breakthrough season?

Petronas Yamaha SRT
Bike: Yamaha YZR-M1
Riders: Fabio Quartararo #20, Franco Morbidelli #21

Yamaha’s new satellite team has taken the place on the MotoGP starting grid of Marc VDS and replaced Tech 3, which switched to KTM machinery. Yamaha has invested a lot in this new effort, which is directly descended from the factory. Two key people, former rider advisor Wilco Zeelenberg and ex-Maverick Viñales crew chief Ramon Forcada, are the team principal and chief mechanic for Franco Morbidelli. Class rookie Fabio Quartararo made a promising debut over the winter and is teamed with Rossi protégé Morbidelli.

Alma Pramac Racing
Bike: Ducati Desmosedici GP19/18
Riders: Jack Miller #43, Francesco Bagnaia #63

Reigning Moto2 world champion Francesco “Pecco” Bagnaia impressed at the Sepang preseason test, closing the final day by posting the second-best lap time behind the factory Ducati of Danilo Petrucci and ahead of his teammate Jack Miller, confirming that the Desmosedici GP18 is still a very good bike. Bagnaia’s fast adaption is very promising. Miller has been promoted to the third GP19 and is carrying on development as Petrucci used to do, testing updates for the factory team.

Danilo Petrucci
I’m very excited and I feel I have the biggest opportunity of my career,” Danilo Petrucci said. “After having been close to the victory several times, this year I am at winning my first GP. The winter tests have been positive; I have improved a lot on the single lap, and I’m happy with the way I improved managing the used tires. At the moment, I think there are at least 10 riders able to fight for the podium.”Courtesy of Ducati

Red Bull KTM Tech 3
Bike: KTM RC16
Riders: Hafizh Syahrin #55, Miguel Oliveira #88

For the first time in MotoGP history, we will see four KTMs on the starting grid, a huge step forward for the Austrian manufacturer to speed up the development of its V-4 RC16. After 20 years of partnership with Yamaha, Tech 3 has switched to KTM. Team principal Hervé Poncharal invested in two young talents, Malaysian Hafizh Syahrin and class rookie Miguel Oliveira, runner-up in the ’18 Moto2 title chase.

Reale Avintia Racing
Bike: Ducati Desmosedici GP18
Riders: Karel Abraham #17, Tito Rabat #53

This privately funded Ducati team lines up this season with a matching set of 2018 models that proved to be very competitive in the hands of Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo. The riders are Tito Rabat, who is returning from a broken leg suffered in September at Silverstone in England, and Czech Republic native Karel Abraham.