There it is folks; the close to pre-season testing and now just 2 weeks until the 2023 campaign gets underway. So, as we approach lights out in Portimão, what has winter testing told us in terms of progress amongst the manufacturers and riders?

Ducati: It will come as no great surprise to any of us that Ducati hit the 2023 ground running. To recap, Bagnia and Bastianini start the season with full 2023 spec bikes, whereas the 3 satellite teams embark on the season with 2022 title winning spec machinery. No doubt Johann Zarco will resume his test role running hybrid 22-23 bikes but the interesting question here will be how far have Ducati pushed the envelope with development parts for the works bikes. Early indications suggest not too far, with Bagnia consistently at the head of the timing sheets. Bastianini may find life in the works team a slight shock initially but few doubt that he will be ruffling feathers more or less straight away.

What Sepang and now Portimão have shown us is that, not only is the 2022 Ducati a fully rounded package, but the satellite riders and teams are all heading into the first races with top 6 finishes and possibly even podiums in mind. Unlike previous seasons, the satellite teams all have equal and top level machinery at their disposal so surprises cant be ruled out. Jorge Martin will obviously be looking to prove a point, having been passed over by the works squad, but both Mooney VR46 riders are in contention, Alex Marquez is looking super-fast (and super happy) at Gresini and Fabio Di Giannatonio has posted times that make him a contender. Although Luca Marini has been the king of testing so far, any of the Ducati riders could conceivably podium in the first few rounds. Its a testament to the commitment and longsightedness of Ducati that they enter this season even stronger than last, a fact that will be a big worry for most of the other teams in pitlane.

Aprilia: The Noale factory came tantalising close to the championship last year, let down by a combination of mistakes, unreliability and perhaps a degree of fatigue and unfamiliarity at being in the running for the title. This year could prove to be different for 2 crucial reasons. Firstly, the factory team will have learnt a great deal personally and operationally from last year and experience counts for a huge amount. Secondly, although tiny in comparison to the other teams, Aprilia have taken the plunge with the RNF squad and now have a satellite operation that will be vital in collecting data and in preparing its two riders should either or both of the works riders fall short, get injured or call it a day. Aleix Espargaro is, by his own admission, entering the twilight of his MotoGP career and whilst the same cant be said of Maverick Vinales, there is no doubt that 2023 is a make or break year for the Spaniard. Both Aprilia and RNF were incredibly savvy in securing the services of Miguel Oliveira and Raul Fernandes, both of whom will be capable of podiums and potentially wins if the stars align. The RSGP may not be the best all round package on the grid, but its close enough now that should Ducati underperform, encounter bad luck or just get plain confused with so many riders clamouring for attention, the Aprilia’s will be there to take advantage.

Yamaha: As in 2022, it’s a tale of 2 garages in the Yamaha camp, with Quartararo conjuring performance from the M1 and Morbidelli still all at sea. The Portimão test has probably put to bed any fears that existed over the new Yamaha power plant but questions remain as to whether or not Quartararo, working alone, can overcome the combined might of the European factories. The key for Fabio will be qualifying and, in this regard, the new engine represents a glimmer of hope that he can return to the front row and early race escape acts that allow him to mask the inherent weakness of the overall Yamaha package when caught up in the pack. On his day, Quartararo will be unbeatable, but Yamaha badly need Morbidelli to step up and, more than that, they are going to need more factory spec M1’s on the grid to wade into the fight.

Honda: Like Yamaha, HRC may be leaving Portimão with a bit more of a spring in their step than Valencia or Sepang suggested. The RCV remains stubbornly behind its Italian rivals in many areas but this year Honda have 3 fit and hungry riders. The big question centres on Marc Marquez and what he can do to regain the kind of form and fitness that allowed him to dominate the RCV. He will head into certain rounds (COTA, Sachsenring) as favourite to win, in spite of the bike, and his all out attack style will be magical or disastrous in the sprint race format. For Honda, looking at the longer term, much depends on how quickly and how well Mir and Rins adapt to the bike. At the close of testing in Portimão, Mir, Marquez and Rins held 13th to 15th positions, separated by no more than a few hundredths. Although this suggests the bike is far from where it needs to be, Honda will take comfort from the fact that their stars are extracting the maximum from the package they have. If Honda can develop the bike through the season, they have the riders to maximise the potential, with Nakagami in the background plying his part but essentially keeping the seat warm for Ogura.

KTM: Until midway through Sunday things looked bleak for the Austrian marque. In fairness to KTM, they are still wading through a mass of development parts and now only have Brad Binder as a rider with intimate knowledge of this years bike versus last years. Binder ultimately finished the Portimão test in 9th position but KTM clearly have a lot of work ahead of them. Very simply, if the bike is there or thereabouts Binder will make it work. If KTM can consistently extract 1 lap speed from the bike then Binder become a title contender. Whether Jack Miller, Pol Espargaro or Augusto Fernandez can do the same seems unlikely on the strength of pre-season testing but in a ham fisted kind of way, KTM can take comfort from the fact that waiting in the wings is a deluge of young talent that may even have Ducati looking over their shoulders.

Dark Horse & Surprise: My dark horse choice for the season is Miguel Oliveira. Can he win a race or two; yes, especially if wet weather intervenes. Can he win the championship; in principle yes because he is likely to accumulate a lot of points on a bike as good as the Aprilia. The bigger question is probably whether a satellite rider would be allowed to win the title if one of the works riders is in contention and perhaps more pertinently with RNF, how close to the works team they can stay as the year progresses in terms of parts and support. My bet is that the canny Oliveira is simply looking to make it impossible for the works team to pass him over for a spot in 2024.

Who will be the surprise this season? There are many contenders but I’m going to opt for Alex Rins on the LCR Honda. Let’s be honest, he would be a title contender on a Suzuki this year had the Hamamatsu factory not made the unfathomable decision to pull out of MotoGP. The RCV is a notoriously difficult bike on the front end and Rins at times made a habit of the throwing the much more forgiving Suzuki up the road with front end crashes. On this basis, the move to the Honda is a concern but word is that Rins “likes” the bike and, if testing is anything to go by, in the early stages of 2023 he might be the leading Honda. Like Oliveira over at RNF, Rins is probably playing the long game and looking to reunite with his old teammate if things don’t work out as planned for Marc Marquez.



Down the ages of world championship motor racing, be it on 2 wheels or 4, there has tended to be a period in which one marque, team or competitor comes to dominate (think HRC & Marquez in MotoGP, Rea & KRT in World Superbike or Senna & McLaren for those with slightly longer memories). When 2 or more of those combinations come together, you tend to face that most paradoxical of terms; boring racing. In truth of course, it’s usually a little more nuanced than that.

The headline from World Superbike in 2022 was the unstoppable dominance of Ducati, with their Panigale V4. In a season featuring 12 rounds and 36 races, Alvaro Bautista won 16 times, the perception being that he and the Ducati were unbeatable. As always, matters are rarely that straightforward. Look closely and you will note that Toprak Razgatlıoğlu triumphed 14 times on the Yamaha, with Jonny Rea the only other race winner in 2022 mounting the top step on just 6 occasions. What the results table shows is the stunning consistency of Bautista and his Ducati, only missing a visit to the podium on 5 occasions during the entire 2022 campaign (2 retirements and a worst finish all year of 5th). That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win a title.

Bautista was dogged all year by claims that he had an unfair advantage, given the straight line speed of the Ducati, and its true that Bautista was in the enviable position of being able to make the majority of his passes on the straights, without the need to constantly resort to risky outbraking or creative overtaking manoeuvres. This might also go some way to explaining his metronomic consistency in visiting the podium.

Much was made by Bautista’s competitors about the speed of the Panigale and the advantage a small and lightweight rider such as Bautista has in these circumstance, with calls to the technical leadership in WSBK to implement a minimum rider/bike weight limit or some other form of ‘levelling’ mechanism. There is of course a problem in promoting such an argument based solely on Bautista’s performances; there were other Ducati’s in the 2022 WSBK championship with diminutive riders onboard, Bautista’s teammate, the Italian Michael Ruben Rinaldi included.

Rinaldi finished a very distant 4th in the world championship standings, only failing to score points on 3 occasions. What does this tell us? For me it clearly illustrates one immutable fact; that Alvaro Bautista was, by a massive distance, the best Ducati rider in the field. Let us not forget that Bautista lifted the 125cc World Championship trophy in 2006 and went on to enjoy sporadic but fast appearances throughout his time in the MotoGP prototype championship. In short, Bautista is an elite level rider, matched in the current WSBK series by 1, maybe 2 other riders, both of whom are untried outside of the production class.

So then, should Bautista and Ducati be hobbled to give the rest a chance? Much depends on the early form in 2023 and, writing this as the sun sets on round 2 in Mandalika, the signs are ominous for the non-Ducati contingent. Bautiusta has won 5 out of 6 races and, crucially, Rinaldi and Bassani look much stronger this season (Petrucci and Öttl also look strong). Calls for ‘the red bikes’ as Aaron Slight famously called them to be slowed down will grow.

Should the powers that be act on such calls? Well, that’s a tough one because whilst the Ducati’s as a whole look even stronger in 2023, its still Bautista doing the winning. Invariably performance varies based on machinery, tracks, weather, budgets etc but racing is a meritocracy, with the cream inexorably rising to the top. Just as when Jonny Rea was untouchable on the Kawasaki, stringing together 6 consecutive titles between 2015 and 2020, its up to the other riders, manufacturers and teams to up their game. It's not Ducati’s fault that they currently have the best rider and bike combination. What we do know from history is that it won’t last for ever.



Chrissy Rouse died on Thursday last week, following an accident at the 10th round of the British Superbike Championship at Donington Park. Chrissy would have turned 27 years old today.
If the outpouring of grief online is any measure of the standing in which Chrissy was held, then he stands as one of the great personalities of the BSB community and a person who was massively highly regarded by fans and competitors alike. I can think of no other recent motorcycle racing competitor who’s untimely passing has been marked with such widespread and heartfelt shock and sadness.
Chrissy started 2 wheeled road racing aged 12 in the FAB Racing Series before moving on to the Aprilia Superteen Championship, which he would win outright in just his third season of competitive tarmac racing. There followed many years racing in the BSB support series paddock, on 125cc, Triumph Triples and 600cc Superstock before finding his home in the 1000cc National Superstock support series. With the Covid pandemic making participation in the 2020 season particularly difficult, Chrissy nevertheless managed to get a ride organised with the Crowe Performance team, competing at the front all year long and lifting the championship in the final round of the season.
What comes across clearly when reading the comments made by friends and colleagues is the immense charm, intelligence and work ethic that Chrissy put into his racing. Like so many competitors up and down the pit lanes of the world, racing was almost the easy bit. The sheer work involved in raising money and getting the equipment needed to race was immense, and yet you won’t find any photos of Chrissy where he isn’t wearing his trademark grin; a man who loved what he did, no matter the difficulties involved.
After occasional appearances in the full Superbike class, 2022 would finally see Chrissy full time in the premier division. With budget and support limited, the season was always going to be a challenge but a 10th place finish at Donington Park of all places back in May showed what could be achieved. Indeed, so committed to the endeavour was Chrissy that he had elected to take a break from his hitherto full time profession of teaching mathematics to secondary school pupils. Total dedication is what it takes, along with immense skill and fortitude. Chrissy Rouse had all of these attributes and many more.
I didn’t know Chrissy. Aside from a very brief chat at Brands hatch last season, I knew Chrissy vicariously as so many did, via the excellent Chasin’ The Racin’ podcast which he recorded regularly with his great mate and 2 wheeled racing brother in arms Dom Herbertson. Chrissy was the calm and uber prepped foil to Dom’s laddish, shoot from the hip style. It worked, as the show’s loyal following and long roster of guests attested.
And so to October 2nd at Donington Park. It serves no purpose to dwell on the accident that occurred at the end of lap 1, other than to emphasise once again that motorcycle racing remains and ever will be a dangerous business. Enormous advances have been made over the last couple of decades in terms of protective gear, trackside protection and on-site medical facilities. Thankfully, this work continues tirelessly and if any good may come out of Chrissy’s accident it will be to illuminate once again the terrible peril of being struck by a following machine, a hazard which is magnified in the early stages of a race (and as we saw again just this Sunday with the accident which befell Dutch racer Victor Steeman in the Supersport 300 race in Portimão). Helmet and body suit technology is the best it’s ever been but hopefully further advances can be made in this area. Any such progress will be a fitting legacy to a man who loved his bike racing and approached all aspects of his sport with wit, intelligence, and resolve.
The MotoPod hosts, past and present, send their sincere condolences to Chrissy’s family, friends and fans, as well as to all of the teams who Chrissy worked with, in particular Crowe Performance and GR Motorsport with whom Chrissy was most recently associated and to Dom Herbertson at Chasin’ The Racin’.