After a four month break from racing, the 2014 season of MotoGP kicks off in Qatar.
Two men to watch out for are reigning champion Marc Marquez, a rookie last year, and his closest rival Jorge Lorenzo who is seeking to regain his crown.
Then there is the nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi, who enters his 19th year in Grand Prix racing seeking more consistency in his podium finishes.
This year, all teams must use the same engine control unit (ECU) hardware.
However, Factory teams still have the option to continue to use their own more advanced software, but are limited to 20 litres of fuel per race.
Teams that choose to run the spec software developed by Magneti Marelli are classified as Open and are allowed 24 litres of fuel per race, 12 “unsealed” engines for the season, as well as an extra soft tire option which will help for qualifying laps.
Ducati engine controversy
The Factory Ducati team, who haven't won a race since 2010 or had a podium since 2012, announced during pre-season tests that they would enter this year as an Open team, causing controversy among the Factory Honda and Yamaha teams.
I say sorry to my team because bike one is completely destroyed and they will have to work a lot tonight, but as I said this is racing and tomorrow is the most important day.
Ducati is “a Manufacturer with entries under the Factory option who has not achieved a win in dry conditions in the previous year”, and therefore they will begin the season classified as a Factory team with all of the Open category bonuses.
However, if Ducati wins one race, gets two second places, or three podiums in dry conditions during the 2014 season, they will have their fuel reduced to 22 litres per race. Should they win three races they will lose the right to use the extra soft tires available to the Open category teams.
Honda have been the most outspoken team against the direction of MotoGP, especially the plan to make all teams run Open beginning in 2016. Last year, Honda Racing Corporation Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto said that if that were to occur, Honda would leave the Championship.
Following this week's negotiations however, Honda seems to have been assuaged. Honda Team Principal Livio Suppo said "we [now] leave the door open to the possibility to develop technology and this is what we always insist was the key point for Honda."
Espargaro dominates practices
While Free Practices one, two, and three were dominated by riders in the Open category like Aleix Espargaro, (who achieved the fastest lap in all three sessions) Qualifying Two had more unexpected results. Espargaro, who was tipped as the favourite to take pole position, suffered two crashes and placed ninth on the grid.
When asked about the session Aleix told Al Jazeera, "The qualifying was a complete disaster after the two first days where we finished position one and today position nine obviously, it's a shame.
"I say sorry to my team because bike one is completely destroyed and they will have to work a lot tonight, but as I said this is racing and tomorrow is the most important day."
Surprisingly, the top three positions in Qualifying Two were achieved by Factory category riders in Marc Marquez (1'54.507), Honda Gresini's Alvaro Bautista (154'.564), and Yamaha Tech 3's Bradley Smith (1'54.601).
Valentino Rossi (1'55.096) finished a disappointing tenth on the grid as he struggled with his tires and grip.
Marquez may struggle
While it remains to be seen if the Open bikes can perform at race distances, the new rule changes mean that they can at least now compete in practice and qualifying.
The knock-on effect could mean Jorge Lorenzo, who has won at Losail for the past two years, could possibly miss a podium finish this year, a career first for him in Qatar.
Despite breaking his leg six weeks ago and only being able to walk just this past week, Champion Marc Marquez stormed Qualifying Two to take pole position for the race in Qatar, but may not be able to endure the race distance.
Source: Al Jazeera