MotoGP: Marquez, Rossi & Crutchlow set for new season

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MotoGP's Marc Marquez shows off his motorbikes
Qatar Grand Prix
Venue: Losail, Qatar Dates: 26 March to 29 March
MotoGP race at 18:00 BST on Sunday 29 March

The 2015 Moto GP season gets under way in Qatar at the weekend when all eyes will be on reigning world champion Marc Marquez.

It's also a crucial year for Britain's challengers and will veteran Valentino Rossi be able to mount a title challenge?

BBC Sport looks at the main talking points…

Can anyone challenge Marquez?

Marc Marquez
In his two seasons in MotoGP Marquez has won 19 of the 38 races.

We will be asking this question every year for the next decade or so because, remarkably, the rider who has taken MotoGP by storm is only 22 years old.

Having won the championship in his first two seasons, broken almost every record going and introduced a new riding style, Marc Marquez has already cemented his place as one of the greatest of all time.

He is undoubtedly the best rider on the grid and his Honda RC213V is arguably the best bike, so where is the challenge going to come from?

On your Marquez
SeasonStartsWinsPodiumsDNFsPointsFinal position
2014 - MotoGP18131413621st
2013 - MotoGP1861623341st
2012 - Moto21791423281st
2011 - Moto21571132512nd
2010 - 125cc17101223101st
2009 - 125cc16014948th
2008 - 125cc130146313th

Last year in a brilliant battle of legends past and new, seven-times world champion Valentino Rossi enjoyed his best season since leaving Yamaha for Ducati in 2011, finishing as Marquez's closest challenger. And a Rossi revival is never a bad thing for the sport.

Marquez's Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa, so strong in previous seasons, seemed to drop off the radar in 2014, winning only a single race for the first time in his MotoGP career, and while two-time world champion Jorge Lorenzo came good in the latter half of the year, he suffered arguably his worst season in the premier class since his debut, taking only two victories.

Both will no doubt be stronger this year but the question now is not so much whether Lorenzo, Rossi and Pedrosa can challenge Marquez for race wins, but whether any of them can do that consistently over a season.

It's not just the physical challenge that Marquez poses.

Marc Marquez
Last season Marquez won the first 10 races of the season on his Repsol Honda

Having spent the off-season training hard to put themselves back in contention, how much would it have hurt the other riders to see Marquez set a new lap record at the first test of 2015?

Do not underestimate the psychological power of Marquez. Do any of the other riders themselves even believe they can beat him to a title?

The real challenge to Marquez may come from himself. Having equalled a record by winning the first 10 races of last year, the Spaniard only took three wins from the last eight races.

Marquez's 'win it or bin it' attitude has so far served him well - you cannot argue with two titles, 19 race victories and countless new records - but if there is any hope for the rest of the grid, it is that Marquez will eventually prove himself human after all and his crashes cost him this year.

But Marquez's unshakeable confidence is his strongest quality. While his nearest challengers have all suffered from confidence issues after big crashes in recent years, the guy they are trying to beat is one that walks away from the fastest MotoGP crash ever seen physically, and emotionally, unscathed.

It's the end of MotoGP as we know it...

Ducati
Italian rider Andrea Dovizioso won the British MotoGP in 2009 and will hope to win for Ducati this season

As with all sports - and life - it's hard to upset the status quo with inferior machinery and inferior budgets. So that's why MotoGP organisers Dorna have brought in rules aimed at shortening the gap between the rich and the poor.

Faced with the threat of having just 12 bikes on the grid in 2012, Dorna began a series of technical rule changes that would make it cheaper for teams to compete.

First came the 'Claiming Rule Team' bikes, which drew criticism from within.

CRTs served their purpose though; they brought new teams and bikes to the grid. But they were little more than a filler, turning MotoGP into a two-tier structure, with the inferior production-based bikes even having their own champion.

They made way for the 'Open' category last year, with different sets of rules.

In 2016, the 'Open' category will make way for what the organisers hope will finally pave a solid direction for balancing out the grid: a control ECU. Everyone will have to use it, effectively ending the two-tier structure that gives concessions to those that currently do.

So have the changes made a difference? Ducati hope so.

If this year's pre-season tests are anything to go by then the Italian factory could finally be competitive again this year. They topped the last test in Qatar, with both their factory riders in the top three times.

It's too early to get carried away - as we saw from Ducati's qualifying results versus their race results last year, one fast lap is very different to 25 fast laps, but there is hope. Could there be a first win in five years for the Italians?

New season, new teams...

Maverick Viñales
Can Maverick Vinales become the latest Spanish rider to win in MotoGP?

If Dorna needed further vindication for the changes, it has come with the return of Suzuki and Aprilia to the grid.

The former have snapped up two of the hottest young prospects in their line-up, including 2013 Moto3 Champion and 'the next Marquez' Maverick Vinales (his father was a Top Gun fan!) Alongside him, fellow Spaniard Aleix Espargaro.

Meanwhile it seems Honda are not pinning all their hopes on Marquez. They have signed up another of the sports' hot young prospects, Jack Miller, who impressed in Moto3 last year, eventually losing the championship by a two-point margin in the final race to another potential star of the future - Marquez's younger brother Alex.

Miller becomes the first rider since 2001 to make the jump up from the lowest class straight to MotoGP. Is it a risk? Most definitely, but Honda clearly see potential in the 20-year-old.

The British challenge

Cal Crutchlow
Cal Crutchlow struggled on a Ducati last season but has moved to Honda for the 2015 season

This is a make or break season for the Brits in MotoGP.

Having followed up a successful tenure with Yamaha by becoming Britain's first factory rider in a decade with Ducati last season, Cal Crutchlow then terminated that contract after only a year in order to join Honda.

He's lost his factory status but he has done so in the belief that he has gained a better bike. It's a big decision to turn your back on a factory ride but Crutchlow is not shy of making big decisions.

Crutchlow's battles with his compatriot Scott Redding could be intriguing this year. The 2013 Moto2 runner up Redding has been rewarded with a much more powerful prototype Honda RC213V this year and his very own MotoGP team, but, as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility and the pressure is on Redding to prove himself this year.

Bradley Smith paid back his Yamaha Tech 3 team contract extension with a first MotoGP podium last year - a feat he may need to recreate if he's to stay past 2015.

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