Doha, Qatar: Reigning double MotoGP world champion Francesco Bagnaia looked determined and confident as he enters the 2024 season with Qatar Airways Grand Prix of Qatar getting underway today.

“Three is better than two. I will try to do the maximum and the ambition is to win again,” the Ducati rider, flanked by last year’s championship runner-up Jorge Martin and third-placed Marco Bezzecchi, told a crowded press conference on eve of the season-opening event at the iconic Lusail International Circuit.

The 2023 season saw a nail-biting contest for the world crown as Bagnaia pipped Martin in the last few laps of the Valencia finale to complete his second consecutive triumph.

In what is the MotoGP’s milestone 75th anniversary season, the 21-race battle once against is expected to produce a thrilling fight with the likes of Enea Bastianini and six-time world MotoGP champion Marc Marquez – the last person to win three titles in a row – being the other main pretenders.

Bagnaia, who won the 2022 world title after overcoming a 91-point deficit, emerged as the hot favourite to complete a hat-trick after dominating the pre-season tests in Sepang and Lusail.

“We are arriving here in a great shape. We worked it perfectly in the tests and we managed to do all what we planned for the season. The feeling is very positive,” said the 27-year Italian rider, who recently extended his contract with Ducati by two years until 2026.

“This is something very important for me and it was important for Ducati. Now I can focus on my performance and the results,” Bagnaia, who betted on himself, said.

‘Qatar best to start the season’

The Lusail International Circuit made its MotoGP debut in 2004 and the popular venue has been serving as the season opener since 2007 except for the last season when it hosted the penultimate race, which was named the Best Grand Prix of 2023 yesterday.

Bagnaia said Qatar provides an ideal platform to kick off the new season every year.

“It’s always fantastic when you arrive in Qatar and you prepare on Thursday before starting the race weekend. You start to see also Moto3 and Moto2 teams. The paddock is full of life and it’s one of the best moments of the season for sure. I think Qatar is the best scenario to start the season. So I’m always very, very happy,” he said.

Sitting alongside the world champion, Pramac Racing’s Martin was also upbeat ahead of the season opener.

“Last season was great but it’s already in the past, we are now in the present,” said Martin. “We have to work hard. Testing was good. I feel a bit better on the new bike and I’m faster.

“Still, I think we need more laps but I was competitive straight away which is good because in other years we struggled a bit at the beginning. I am focused and I think I did a great job in the winter. I’m ready for everything,” the 26-year-old Spaniard added.

In his second year as a MotoGP rider, Pertamina Enduro VR46 Team’s Bezzecchi was phenomenal in 2023 and at times he showed dominance over Bagnaia and Martin.

The Italian, who first predicted himself as this year’s champion before removing his name to bet on Bagnaia, was targeting another impressive season .

“I want to put pressure on him [Bagnaia],” the 25-year-old said with a smile.

“I have to focus on this year now. In Sepang I struggled a bit but in the test here, in Doha, I was feeling much better and starting to understand better how to ride the new bike. I still have to change my style a bit but I am working on it to be competitive and to be fast,” he said.

Marquez wants to be ‘competitive again’

Marquez, who is starting a new chapter after switching from Honda to join his brother Alex at Ducati’s satellite Team Gresini Racing, said he was motivated for the new season.

“My target is to try to feel competitive again, then I’ll smile and have the motivation to push and keep going,” Marquez said in yesterday’s second press conference.

“Expectations are super high, but I know what I’ve been through in the last four years. I need time. No rush. I don’t pretend to win from the beginning because it would be a huge mistake, especially because I didn’t win a single race,” the 31-year-old added.

The MotoGP action will get underway with the first Free practice session this afternoon while season’s first Sprint race comprising 11 laps will start at 7pm under lights at Lusail International Circuit tomorrow. The 22-lap Sunday race will kick off at 8pm culminating the Lusail Speed Fest.

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