MONTMELÓ, Spain: Two weeks after a flawless demonstration on the way to victory in Austria, Ducati's Francesco Bagnaia will again be the favourite to take another big stride towards back-to-back world titles when he saddles up for this weekend's Catalunya Grand Prix.
As the drivers start the second half of the season – this will be the 11th of 20 races – the Italian has already built up a 62-point lead over Jorge Martin (Ducati-Pramac) in the standings, having won five of the opening 10 races.
The world champion has already pulled in three dream doubles this season, taking pole and winning both the Saturday sprint and Sunday's main event.
"After the perfect weekend in Austria, all the conditions are in place to perform well here to," said Bagnaia.
"My feeling with the bike is great and the team is working superbly. They always give me what I ask for and give me all the ingredients to be competitive."
In fact, 'Pecco' Bagnaia has been almost untouchable for the last three months, finishing on the first or second step of the podium in the last five Grands Prix with three wins and two second places.
This remarkable consistency is precisely what his main rivals lack, as they have been unable to string together podium finishes like the man from Turin.
Marco Bezzecchi, who is third in the championship, 68 points behind Bagnaia, extended his contract with VR46, one of Ducati's satellite teams, on Thursday for a further season.
This may allow him to go into the race with a clear head after several weeks of rumours about his possible departure.
"The circuit is very fast and pretty. The last sector, with fast turns, is both very demanding and superb," said Bezzecchi, a protege of the great Valentino Rossi.
"I wasn't very good last year but I'm still having a positive weekend so I'm sure we'll find the right settings. The goal will be to fight with the best and have a good race pace."
After disappointing at Spielberg, the two Frenchmen Johann Zarco (Ducati-Pramac) and Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) will be looking to bounce back at a circuit they both enjoy.
Zarco has had three indifferent weekends but now that he has settled his future by announcing his move to Honda-LCR next season, he will look to defend his fifth place in the standings.
He has a good record at the Circuit de Catalunya having won there twice in Moto2 and scored a third-place finish last season.
Quartararo has also tasted success at Montmelo, winning in 2018 in Moto2 and also taking the chequered flag in MotoGP in 2020 and 2022.
"I had one of the best races of my career here last year, Barcelona is one of my favourite circuits and I love Montmelo," said Quartararo.
"It's a track that usually works for me so I'm hoping to get a good result and put a smile on the faces of my team and my family."
The 2021 world champion, however, will be hard pressed to repeat those performances, given the difficulties his bike has been experiencing this season.
For once in Catalonia, the weather may upset the formbook with rain forecast for Saturday and Sunday. --AFP