The 2022 MotoGP season has taken quite some time to settle down, but one rider finally looks ready to put his stamp on the championship heading into Sunday's Dutch TT race at Assen.
The race at the Netherlands track has always stood out from the crowd with its unusual title and also because it used to be the only race on the calendar that was run on a Saturday.
It has fallen into line with the other events now though, and championship leader Fabio Quartararo will be targeting a third straight win after becoming the first rider this season to win back-to-back races at the last two rounds of the championship in Catalunya and Germany.
That it took until the ninth and 10th races of the season for that to happen tells you a lot about the open nature of the 2022 season, but the world champion has suddenly established a handy 34-point lead over the field, led by Aleix Espargaro.
TT Circuit Assen
13:00, Sunday 26th June 2022
|How to watch|
BT Sport 2
Quartararo is the only rider who has been able to tame this year's Yamaha bike and his team-mate Franco Morbidelli is down in 19th in the standings, but everything looks good for the Frenchman, who has a solid record at this track too.
He won last year's race from second on the grid and was third, having taken pole position, the previous time the race was run in the 2019 season.
That race was won by Maverick Vinales on another Yamaha, though, and the manufacturer has won three of the last four races at Assen.
With all the other Yamaha riders struggling this season, Quartararo is the strongest hope by some distance to keep that trend going.
In an open season such as this one, it's often extremely valuable to assess the practice and qualifying performances before committing to a bet, but Quartararo is something of an exception to the rule, as he has made a habit of getting things right on race day even if the warm-up sessions have not looked too promising.
He looks a solid favourite to take another victory.
Quartararo is now 1/5 to win another title this season after posting five top-two finishes in the last six races, with Espargaro 111/2 and Francesco Bagnaia a 15/2 chance.
Now let's take a look at who might be able to throw down the strongest challenge to the championship leader this week.
The riders in second and third place in the championship - Aleix Espargaro and Johann Zarco - have both got there with consistency rather than blinding pace, and have only one win (Espargaro in Argentina in April) between them this season.
Enea Bastianini of Ducati has three wins this year, but has done nothing of note in the last three races since his win in France, with two retirements and then a 10th place at the Sachsenring last week.
The biggest danger on raw pace to Quartararo each week now looks to be the enigmatic Bagnaia, who is in real win-or-bust mode with two wins and three DNFs in his last five races.
That's no way to win a championship, but it does mean he merits consideration on a race-by-race basis.
He has three poles and three fastest laps in the last five races. He has no real track record in MotoGP at Assen to speak of yet, although he did win the Moto 2 race there in 2018.
Things have not been going that well for 2020 champion Joan Mir this season. His championship win was based around consistent high finishes, but he has not been seeing the chequered flag enough this year, failing to finish in four of the last six races.
He has been in the top six every time he has completed a race distance, though, and could show up well again this weekend.
Mir was third in last year's race at Assen despite qualifying down in 10th place and says he hopes a few minor issues with his bike have been ironed out heading into this race.
A strong finish in the final race of the first section of the championship before the teams take the whole of July off looks perfectly possible and he has each-way prospects this week.
Mir's Suzuki team-mate Alex Rins missed last week's race with a wrist injury sustained in the Spanish Grand Prix, but is hopeful of taking the start this time. Even so, Mir looks the more likely rider to impress if the Japanese team are to go well at this track again.