Marc Marquez may have already locked up the 2016 MotoGP title with his win in Japan, but the race for the podium is still wide open entering the Grand Prix of Australia.
Yamaha's Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo both failed to finish in Japan, opening the door for Suzuki's Maverick Vinales, who now trails the latter by less than 20 points.
Rossi and Lorenzo are still expected to finish on the podium, but the Spaniard's recent injury concerns will be worth keeping an eye on.
Here's a look at the schedule for the upcoming race weekend:
|Australian Grand Prix Schedule|
|Friday, Oct. 21||12:55 a.m.||Free Practice 1|
|Friday, Oct. 21||5:05 a.m.||Free Practice 2|
|Saturday, Oct. 22||12:55 a.m.||Free Practice 3|
|Saturday, Oct. 22||4:30 a.m.||Free Practice 4|
|Saturday, Oct. 22||5:10 a.m.||Qualifying 1|
|Saturday, Oct. 22||5:35 a.m.||Qualifying 2|
|Sunday, Oct. 23||6 a.m.||Race|
Marquez won his third MotoGP and fifth overall world title in the last race, and he is again the favourite to take the top spot in Australia, taking advantage of the long, swooping turns at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit.
His Honda has been sensational throughout the season, and the Spaniard should once again have the advantage on the straights and high-speed corners.
As reported by The Age, Marquez has his eyes on another strong result, and he's expected not to lift off despite having secured the title.
He said: "The first approach is to try to enjoy it...Phillip Island is one of my favourite circuits, it's really nice, but the weather can be tricky. It's a really fast circuit—it's special. We will try to enjoy it and of course to be on the podium, or on top of the podium will be a nice way to celebrate."
Marquez took the win in Australia last year, but no rider has more wins at the Australian Grand Prix across all disciplines than Rossi, and that includes local legend Casey Stoner, who took six straight victories between 2007 and 2012.
Unlike Lorenzo, Rossi crashed out early in Japan and didn't seem to suffer any major damage in the process.
The second-placed Italian has a 14-point lead over the Spanish rider in the standings, and he is in a prime position to widen the gap given Lorenzo's struggles and his fondness of the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit.
Lorenzo crashed heavily during a practice session in Japan, and he admitted to AutoSport (for Eurosport) he initially thought the damage was severe.
The Spaniard was able to race, but he visibly tired during the second half and saw his lead over Vinales and Andrea Dovizioso decrease at a rapid pace. He eventually crumbled under the pressure and crashed out.
There's barely any recovery time between the Japanese Grand Prix and Sunday's race at Phillip Island, so it won't be clear whether Lorenzo managed to recover until he gets on his bike.
And there's another factor working against Lorenzo, as shared by David Emmett of MotoMatters.com:
Lorenzo is one of the finest technicians in the world on dry circuits, but his pace suffers as soon as rain starts to fall. Combined with Rossi's consistent success in Australia and his rival's injuries, the Italian has the clear advantage.