The world of MotoGP returns after a long winter break, with the top riders challenging each other at Losail desert circuit in Qatar.
The championship was captured by the young Spanish rider Marc Marquez at his first attempt last season. He starts this year as the favourite to recapture his crown.
However, he broke his leg only last month, and this might affect his attack on the title as he returns to full fitness.
A great FP3 session on Friday saw Aleix Espargaro of NGM Forward Racing on top. He posted a time of 1’54.773, outpacing Andrea Iannone of Pramac Racing and Alvaro Bautista from GO&FUN Honda Gresini.
The three riders were followed by Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso and World Champion Marquez of Repsol Honda, who make up the top five.
Italian racing legend Valentino Rossi could only manage ninth position on his Yamaha in a time of 1'55.702.
With an exciting two days of action to come, here is the full schedule for Saturday and Sunday's event with information on how to watch all of the racing, and which riders to specifically look out for in Qatar:
|Grand Prix of Qatar 2014: Full Race Schedule|
|Saturday, March 22||3 p.m.||Moto3 QP|
|3:55 p.m.||Moto2 QP|
|4:55 p.m.||MotoGP FP4|
|5:35 p.m.||MotoGP Q1|
|6 p.m.||MotoGP Q2|
|Sunday, March 23||1:50 p.m.||Moto3 WUP|
|2:25 p.m.||Moto2 WUP|
|3 p.m.||MotoGP WUP|
|4 p.m.||Moto3 RAC|
|5:20 p.m.||Moto2 RAC|
|7 p.m.||MotoGP RAC|
Streams on demand for all racing and practices can be found at MotoGP.com.
The main races also being shown in the UK on BT Sport this Sunday.
Riders To Watch:
Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda
You cannot look any further than to current world champion Marc Marquez to predict who will win the MotoGP title this season. The brilliant youngster from Spain showed amazing consistency last year on his way to the title.
2013 was Marquez's first season in the big race arena, having had two years at Moto2. In his 18 races during the last campaign, Marquez posted six wins, six 2nd places and four 3rd spots, with nine pole positions, on his way to the title, per MotoGP.com.
It was a fantastic effort from the outstanding rookie, achieving 334 points on his Honda.
Marquez climbed back aboard his RC213V this week for the first time since breaking his leg six weeks ago. He came off his bike in testing, as reported by BBC Sport. He broke is his right fibula during a dirt-track training session in Lleida, near Barcelona.
On Thursday, he came 11th in practice, posting a time of 1’56.682, a good effort considering it was his first outing for a while.
MotoGP.com quoted Marquez of saying on his return to racing:
I am fairly happy with how the first session went, because I haven't been on the bike in a while. I didn’t think my foot would bother me so much - especially on the right hand corners - although at the end of the session I felt better and this gives me hope of improving tomorrow.
If the 21-year-old reproduces his form from last season despite his injury, there will be few who can catch him. He is the new golden boy of MotoGP and can dominate for years to come.
This race might find him a little off his best due to his previous injury and lack of practice time, but he is still very much in contention for a strong finish in Qatar.
Aleix Espargaro, NGM Forward Racing
Espargaro is the leading rider in Qatar on the first two days of practice, and is a sure bet for a good result in Losail this weekend.
He posted the quickest time on Friday, some 0.413 seconds ahead of the field.
Espargaro has yet to win a race in his MotoGP career, placing 11th last season, per MotoGP.com.
However, this is likely to change considering the speed the 24-year-old is currently showing. He has been consistently fast through the winter and is now showing it on the track for this first race of the season.
BT Sports' MotoGP producer Simon Head predicted that Espargaro would take pole position on Saturday.
This could be a breakout season for Espargaro, and he may well have a similar impact as Marquez had last year.
He has much more experience than the reigning champion at this level, having completed four MotoGP seasons previously, and that will help him negotiate the challenges of a brand new year of racing.
Marquez and Espargaro could be involved in an epic first race shootout, and get the new season off to the best possible start.
Both riders will have ambitions to get a victory under their belt early, and steal a yard on their rivals in the race for the championship.
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