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Page last updated at 06:18 GMT, Tuesday, 15 March 2011

MotoGP season ready for lift-off

Qatar MotoGP, 19-20 March
Saturday 19 March: Qualifying: 1450-1805, BBC Red Button/online. Sunday 20 March: 125cc and Moto2: 1550-1805, BBC Red Button/online. MotoGP live: 1830-2000, BBC Two/online. MotoGP repeat: 0000-0130, BBC Two

Jorge Lorenzo

BBC Sport's MotoGP 2011 season trail

Jorge Lorenzo begins the defence of his MotoGP crown this weekend when the 2011 season gets under way in Qatar.

BBC Sport will cover all 18 races as the Spaniard attempts to win back-to-back titles by fending off the likes of Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa.

Here, the BBC team of presenter Matt Roberts, race commentator Steve Parrish and pit-lane reporter Azi Farni give their thoughts ahead of what is sure to be another exciting campaign.

Q) Casey Stoner has predicted a wide open title fight, will it be?

Matt: I think Casey is being a little pragmatic in order to deflect attention following his dominance of the pre-season but I hope he is right. It will require a consistent and injury-free season from Dani Pedrosa and a miraculous recovery from Valentino Rossi, otherwise it could be a two-way gunfight between Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo.

Steve: Casey's correct - and there could be more than just the four contenders from last year. I think injuries will play a big part in the championship and it will be a surprise if one of the big names does not miss the odd race. Falling off bikes going 200mph tends to hurt.

Azi: It should certainly be more open than last year! Lorenzo is the favourite and the one to beat but all four factory Hondas, including Marco Simoncelli, look good, while Lorenzo's team-mate Spies will have something to say. Rossi's Ducati transition certainly has not been smooth but you can never, ever underestimate The Doctor. It might end up being the same top four fighting at the end of the year but I expect the championship to go to the wire.

Q) Who could surprise?

Matt: Simoncelli and Ben Spies should both be challenging for regular podiums and even wins this year, so I will go for Hiroshi Aoyama as a dark horse.

Hiroshi Aoyama
Aoyama - injuries dogged him in 2010

He had some bad injuries in 2010, his rookie year, but he beat Simoncelli to the 250cc title in 2009. Now they are team-mates.

Steve: Spies will be the man that steps up and he should be among the race winners, particularly on US soil. He has impressed me so much with his analytical approach to MotoGP. Having Lorenzo in the garage with him will only increase his determination.

Azi: It maybe wouldn't be a surprise to see Simoncelli on the podium this year given his pre-season testing form but I think he could be fighting for those top places, as could Alvaro Bautista, riding alone on what is now a Suzuki machine tailor-made for him.

Q) How big an impact will Cal Crutchlow make in 2011?

Matt: Not very big. People have to understand how big a step Cal is taking. If he is scoring regular top-10 finishes by the end of this season, he will have done a decent job.

Cal Crutchlow

Crutchlow ready for new challenge

Steve: Cal is under no illusions, he also has to methodically work away with his team to try to find the key to getting the best out of a MotoGP bike. So many British riders have struggled to do that in the past but Cal is a tough, determined character.

Azi: British fans need to be patient with Cal and understand that this is a learning year. With a second year already confirmed, he can ride a bit more relaxed this year and get on with the job at hand - learn the bike, the team and almost half of the circuits. It is not an easy switch from Superbikes to MotoGP.

As he gets more comfortable with the bike, we should see him fighting higher up the order. Next year, we go to 1000cc in the premier class, so that might be when Cal has more of an impact.

Q) Which race are you most looking forward to?

Matt: As always, the first one! I can't wait to get out to Qatar under those lights and see who has got what. I also visited Silverstone the other day and the work they have done there is incredible. The British Grand Prix is another one I'm really excited about.

Steve: Silverstone. With the new pit complex open and the track established, it will be one of the best circuits in the world. I loved it last year and it will be even better in 2011.

Azi: I'm looking forward to Jerez and Mugello for the atmosphere. Seeing hundreds of thousands of spectators go mad when their favourite rider pulls an overtaking move can give you goose bumps. I also like Laguna. You never get tired of watching riders go down the Corkscrew. And Silverstone. I live in Spain but Silverstone is still my home GP.

Q) Have we seen the best of Valentino Rossi?

Matt: Maybe. But even if we have seen the best of Rossi, that doesn't mean to say his current best is not enough to win more races, more titles and entertain us for a few more years to come.

Valentino Rossi
Rossi - can he shine again?

Steve: I'm not brave enough to say as I have so much respect for him and his achievements but I believe 2011 will be the toughest challenge he has ever encountered. Like millions of others, I hope Rossi and Ducati do well.

Azi: Rossi finally showed that he was fallible last year. The competition has improved, too, so he is unlikely to ever win three or four straight championships again. But he is far from past his best.

What he is trying to achieve at Ducati is a lot harder than what he attempted with Yamaha in 2004 but he has the best development team out there in Jeremy Burgess and co. Rossi's fire and hunger is still as strong as ever - just look at the fight he gave against Lorenzo for third place in Motegi last year.

Q) Finally, who do you expect to be crowned champion?

Matt: It's close but the expectation is on Lorenzo.

Steve: Stoner, but I tipped him last year.

Azi: Lorenzo or Stoner. If I have to choose one, then Stoner.

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see also
Crutchlow cannot wait for Qatar
12 Mar 11 |  MotoGP
BBC Sport's MotoGP 2011 season trail
01 Mar 11 |  MotoGP
Aragon given six-year MotoGP deal
02 Mar 11 |  MotoGP
Sepang record for Stoner in test
24 Feb 11 |  MotoGP
Lorenzo happy with unified team
22 Feb 11 |  MotoGP
All eyes on Rossi for 2011 season
18 Feb 11 |  MotoGP
Ferrari & Ducati's 2011 launch
14 Jan 11 |  Motorsport
Matt Roberts to present MotoGP
08 Feb 11 |  MotoGP
Lorenzo ends season with victory
07 Nov 10 |  MotoGP
MotoGP calendar 2011
15 Mar 11 |  MotoGP

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