The 'seven-round' 2015 MotoGP season kicks off at Silverstone this weekend (August 28-30) — well not really, but try telling Movistar Yamaha pairing Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo otherwise.
That's because after 11 rounds of the championship, the duo cannot be separated in the championship race, deadlocked on 211pts, which means that every round from now on takes on epic proportions. One mistake by either rider or a shift in momentum could not only spell the death knell for their championship aspirations, but also give Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) a sniff that perhaps a third world title on the trot is within his grasp. Marquez is currently in third position on 159pts.
The scenarios are appetising on every level, and the start of the run home begins at historic Silverstone, which has more than 60 years of motorsport pedigree and is one of the fastest and flowing layouts on the championship calendar — but not quite enough to knock Phillip Island off its average speed mantle.
Last year's MotoGP race at the 5.9km Silverstone circuit was won by Marquez from Lorenzo and Rossi, with the big three and lap record holder Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) again expected to lead the way in 2015.
Since the British GP returned to Silverstone in 2010 after a long period at Donington, Lorenzo has won three of the five races (2010-2011, 2013), with Casey Stoner (2012) and Marquez (2014) the others.
After pulling all the right levers in the last round at Brno — which saw him draw level with Stoner on 38 MotoGP wins — Lorenzo's full of confidence.
"I'm quite happy after winning again in Brno," he said. "Now it's time to go to England and I love that place. Especially the track is a great opportunity for us; it has a nice layout where our Yamaha YZR-M1 always behaves in a perfect way.
"It's a very enjoyable track but also very demanding because it's long and has plenty of high-speed corners and change of directions, so you need to be in a perfect shape to be able to fight for the podium."
In contrast to his teammate, Rossi's had to fight harder for his three wins in 2015, but the Italian has never been one to wave the white flag — and with a 10th world title in his sights (and eighth MotoGP trophy) there's more motivation than ever.
"We are at a very important point of the season and I hope I can have a good race," Rossi said. "We have to improve the set-up of the bike and get ready for the race on Sunday. Now that Jorge and I are level on points it will be very important to consistently be fast."
Rossi, who was once a resident of London, has been very successful on British soil, having secured three modern-era premier class wins at Donington Park in 2002, 2004 and 2005, and two 500cc victories in 2000 and 2001.
As for Marquez, he just has to keep winning to keep his slim title hopes alive.
"Brno was a difficult weekend but we took important points in the championship and keep fighting!" Marquez said. "Silverstone isn’t one of my favourite tracks but I enjoy going there as you can feel the excitement and the history that surrounds the circuit and the area as a whole.
"I’ve been on the podium there the past three years including a win last year, so let’s hope the weather is good to us and we can fight for a similar result this year."
Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) is another past podium finisher at Silverstone, and in 2014 he also was strong in qualifying when he started from the front row of the grid. With the Ducati sprinkled with even more magic dust in 2015, another podium is within his reach, while teammate Andrea Iannone, who has become 'Mr Consistent' this year, will have similar aspirations.
Of the British contingent, Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Cal Crutchlow (CMW LCR Honda) are the men most likely to send a partisan home crowed into raptures, with both having just signed contract extensions to remain satellite factory riders for at least another year. Smith's teammate will again be Pol Espargaro in 2016, while it's still unclear whether Aussie Jack Miller will remain alongside Crutchlow.
Suzuki Ecstar pairing Maverick Vinales and Alexi Espargaro will also be in the hunt for top 10 finishes at Silverstone, as well as Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing Ducati) and Briton Scott Redding (EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda).
Miller (CMW LCR Honda) isn't ready for such a lofty finish on his Open class Honda, but if he again pulls another lightning start the Queenslander can definitely get close — if not better —his season high finish of 12th in Argentina.
In Moto2, Johann Zarzo (Ajo Motorsport) just continues to tighten the screws, although his competitors will be encouraged to know that he only has one podium finish at Silverstone — 2011 in the old 125cc class. His best result from three Moto2 starts at Silverstone is fourth place last year, but he did start from pole position.
He's now gone to another level in 2015, and if his peerless form continues he could quite possibly waltz to another start-to-finish victory. Local star Sam Lowes (Speed Up Racing), world champion Tito Rabat (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) and Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) are the other leading championship contenders, with Rabat the winner at Silverstone last year (just over then teammate Mika Kallio), while Rins won in the Moto3 ranks. Meanwhile, Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) had his best result of his rookie season in the Moto2 class at Brno, finishing in fourth place.
None of the riders currently competing in the Moto3 class have won a grand prix race at Silverstone, with title leader Danny Kent (Leopard Racing Honda) achieving a best result of sixth in 2012. In fact, only two British riders have finished on the podium in the lightweight class at Silverstone: Clive Horton second in 1978 and Bradley Smith third in 2010.
After an unusually subdued performance at Brno, Kent is due for another spell up the front, and his opposition will be the usual suspects: Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Honda), Romano Fenati (SKY Racing Team VR46 Honda), and Red Bull KTM Ajo pair Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder.
Australians Anthony West (QMMF Racing) and Remy Gardner (CIP Mahindra) will also be saddling up in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes, with the latter finishing just out of the points at Brno.
The three world championship races at Silverstone will be held over the following distances and times:
• MotoGP: 20 laps, 118km, starting at 1:00pm local time (10:00pm AEST)
• Moto2: 18 laps, 106.2km, starting a 11:20am local time (8:20pm AEST)
• Moto3: 17 laps, 100.3km, starting at 2:30pm local time (11:30pm AEST)