Ducati's Francesco Bagnaia reckons MotoGP riders will need all their mental fortitude to survive a gruelling schedule this season but if there is one man who can deal with the pressure it is the Italian following his stunning triumph last year.
Bagnaia found himself 91 points behind then-champion Fabio Quartararo in June but mounted the greatest comeback seen in the sport by finishing on the podium eight times in the final 10 races to clinch the championship in Valencia in November.
The title win, Ducati's first for 15 years and Bagnaia's first ever, meant the 26-year-old was nominated for the 2023 Laureus World Comeback of the Year Award, alongside other names such as golf's Tiger Woods and NBA player Klay Thompson.
Following that success, Bagnaia is now focused on the new season starting this weekend in Portugal. The Grand Prix in Portimao will be the first of 21 with more races (10) outside Europe than ever, including newcomers India and Kazakhstan.
"The biggest change is in the mental area because physically speaking I think all the riders are prepared. But it will be very tough to remain concentrated at the top level in the season," Bagnaia told Reuters in a Zoom interview.
"In the second part of the championship it will be very tough because we don't have time to breathe, all the races are almost every week. But we're here to be the best, to be the strongest, so we have to be prepared for everything."
Every weekend now also features a Saturday sprint, 42 races in total, meaning the scope for downtime and preparation is limited.
"Normally during a race weekend I can't relax because I am normally thinking about the main race on Sunday. But it will be different because already on the Saturday you have a race, so you have to find something or someone that is helping you to relax… We have to try this weekend and then see what I can improve for myself."
Bagnaia, born in Turin, is hoping that he won't have to mount another enormous comeback this year and keep the likes of Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki at bay after successful pre-season testing with his new four-stroke V4 Desmosedici GP.
"When we arrived in Portugal, in Portimao, last week we did an incredible test – two days of pushing from the start and my feeling with the bike was incredible, the new bike suits perfectly to my riding style," he added.
"We are very happy with the new bike and now we cannot wait to start the new season because if you compare with one year ago we were totally in the opposite way."