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2013-04-04 09:45

TRIO TO BEAT: Valentino Rossi (above) is back on a Yamaha, however three Spanish frontrunners, including Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenza and Marc Marquez, are the ones to keep an eye on this season.


LONDON - Valentino Rossi is back on a Yamaha but it will take some heroics for the ageing Italian great to wrest the MotoGP title from Spanish hands in the season that starts under the Qatar floodlights this weekend (April 6-7, 2013).

Honda's Dani Pedrosa lines up as the early favourite, closely followed by Rossi's team mate and reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo, while Honda new boy Marc Marquez completes a trio of Spanish frontrunners in a new era following the premature retirement of Casey Stoner.


Rossi, a 4/1 shot for the title with British bookmakes William Hill, is their closest rival as fourth favourite with no other rider given better than odds of 40/1 ahead of the season-opener.

The charismatic Italian has ditched his uncompetitive Ducati to return to the Yamaha works fold - the team where he won 46 grands prix and four of his seven World titles in the top category - alongside Lorenzo, but at 34 he is starting to feel the ravages of time.

Rossi said: "My comeback to Yamaha is a great story and a great bet, for me but also for Yamaha. Unfortunately I am quite old, this is true, but I feel very good. I hope I can fight again for the podium and win some races. After that we'll see where we are in the championship ranking."

Rossi and Lorenzo were uneasy team mates in 2010, when Lorenzo was the young hotshot and won his first title, but he is now a double World champion and the atmosphere promises to be much friendlier.

Lorenzo said: "Probably our relationship is better than three years ago. Now we are a bit older, more mature, especially me as I was only 20 when I arrived in MotoGP.

"We do not have to be friends, but if the relationship is good this is much better not only for us but also for the team. We will try to stay calm and to push together in the same direction."


Pedrosa, runner-up to Lorenzo last season, leads the works Honda line-up following the departure of double champion Stoner and has his best chance yet of a first title after a storming finish to 2012 with six wins in the closing eight races.

Pedrosa said: "The team has worked hard to get us in the best place for the start of the season and I'm pleased with my physical situation.”

Marquez is 20 but arrives after winning 2012's Moto2 title and the 125cc crown the year before and even Rossi sees something of his younger self in the Spaniard after impressive times in pre-season testing.

His partnership with Pedrosa and the comparisons with their Italian rival will be one of the leading storylines of the year ahead, with nobody ruling out Marquez taking the title in his debut season.

2006 MotoGP champion Nicky Hayden, who remains with Audi-owned Ducati, said: "If he can stay healthy, he is really going to shake things up this season. He has been very impressive and very fast, he could be a game-changer to MotoGP."

Cal Crutchlow, fastest in Pedrosa's absence on the final day of testing at Jerez with the Tech3 Yamaha team, is aiming to become the first British winner in MotoGP since the late Barry Sheene 32 years ago. He also has a new team mate in an all-British line-up with Bradley Smith making his debut in the top class.

On the track the big novelty of the 18-race season is the F1-style knockout qualifying format.

The 10 quickest riders from the three free practice sessions will go forward to the second phase of qualifying along with the best two riders from a separate first qualifying that otherwise decides grid places from position 13 downwards.

There is also a new penalty points system for riders who collect regular warnings for endangering others.

Calendar for the 2013 MotoGP:

April 7 - Qatar - Losail Circuit
April 21 - Austin, Texas - Circuit of the Americas

May 5 - Spain - Jerez
May 19 - France -Le Mans

June 2 - Italy - Mugello
June 16 - Catalunya - Barcelona
June 29 - Netherlands - Assen

July 14 - Germany - Sachsenring
July 21 - U.S. - Laguna Seca

Aug 18 - Indianapolis - Indianapolis Motor Speedway (US)
Aug 25 - Czech Republic - Brno

Sept 1 - Britain - Silverstone

Sept 15 - San Marino - Misano
Sept 29 - Aragon - Motorland Aragon (Spain)

Oct 13 - Malaysia - Sepang
Oct 20 - Australia - Phillip Island
Oct 27 - Japan - Motegi


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