MotoGP returned with a bang last weekend, literally and figuratively. 

The addition of Sprints to the 2023 season added some extra Saturday spice at the Algarve International Circuit, with Pecco Bagnaia taking victory in the first race of its kind before once again demonstrating his prowess in the longer format on Sunday to get his title defence off to the best possible start.

By contrast, the mood couldn't have been more different for Marc Marquez, who emerged from qualifying as the fastest rider, only to see him lose control of his Repsol Honda in the main race and collide with Miguel Oliveira and Jorge Martin as all three men were ultimately unable to complete the 25 laps.  

Now, the paddock moves on to Argentina and the Autodromo Termas de Rio Hondo. What lies in store in South America? Here are three things to watch out for.

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A quartet of absentees in Argentina

Marc Marquez is not the most popular man in MotoGP at the moment. After three years blighted by injury and a double-vision diagnosis, the 30-year-old would have been hoping to put himself among the early contenders for the title in Portimao. 

But after slipping back to fourth on Sunday from pole, a catastrophic moment saw the six-time champion wipe out Miguel Oliveira on the second lap, bringing both their races to an abrupt end. 

In the carnage, Marquez had also caused a fair bit of damage to Jorge Martin, and although he was temporarily able to continue, the former Moto3 champion had to eventually call it a day.

Marquez was subsequently handed a double long-lap penalty, which will now be served at the Grand Prix of the Americas - subject to an appeal by Repsol Honda - because the Spaniard won't be competing in Argentina after fracturing his right hand in the chaos. 

Understandably furious after the race, Martin fumed: "It's not the first time [Marquez] has destroyed my race [after Silverstone in 2021].

"I have never destroyed a race for him or injured him. I hope he can improve. In the briefing they say: 'If you keep doing things, you will get a stronger penalty.'

"He keeps doing things, no? He needs a stronger penalty [than the double long-lap punishment]. But we know it's Marc and they will do nothing."

Aleix Espargaro feels Marquez should have been banned for a minimum of one race for causing the crash, but relations between the culprit and his competitors may ease due to his absence in Argentina, with Repsol Honda deciding not to call up a replacement despite the availability of reserve rider Stefan Bradl. 

Espargaro’s brother Pol saw his Portugal race prospects end in FP2 after sustaining chest, jaw and back injuries when he lost control at turn 10.

He will out of action for some time, but as a mark of respect, his GasGas Factory Racing team won't replace him for the next two race weekends, in Argentina and the United States, leaving 2022 Moto2 champion Augusto Fernandez as their sole representative on the track for the time being.

Enea Bastianini's Sprint in Portugal was cut short due to a fractured collarbone when he became the victim of an overtaking manoeuvre by fellow Ducati rider Luca Marini, sidelining him for this weekend, while Oliveira won’t be making an appearance in Termas de Rio Hondo because of an injury to his right leg. 

Like Marquez and Espargaro, Bastianini and Oliveira won’t be replaced, meaning the grid will look sparser than usual, hopefully leading to fewer dangerous incidents.  

Can Espargaro recreate fairytale race?

It is almost a year to the day in Argentina that Aleix Espargaro finally recorded his first-ever MotoGP victory at the 200th time of asking, winning Aprilia their first race in the premier class in the process. 

On that occasion, the Spaniard secured pole position before a poor start saw him lose the frontrunner spot to Jorge Martin.

However, the Pramac Racing rider slowly began to be reeled in and eventually saw Espargaro move past him on the 18th lap and, although Martin regained supremacy seconds later, Espargaro eventually made the decisive overtake three laps later, holding on to take the chequered flag in emotional scenes. 

The 33-year-old went on to finish a superb fourth in the 2022 riders' standings and after picking up a combined total of 11 points across the Sprint and the main race in Portugal last weekend, he sits seventh in 2023's embryonic leaderboard. 

Even if Espargaro isn't able to replicate his heroics of 12 months ago, the absence of Marc Marquez will give him one less competitor to worry about.

With the standings still so bunched, can he seize the opportunity to make a big statement?

Dixon and Lowes hope for more highs

In Moto2, Great Britain could well have two serious championship contenders after an encouraging opening weekend in Portugal. 

Jake Dixon enjoyed his best season yet in 2022 - finishing sixth - and that is where the 27-year-old came at the Algarve International Circuit, all the more impressive considering that he started the race 12th on the grid. 

Sam Lowes also improved on his qualifying position, moving from nine to seventh as he aims at least match the third-placed finish he enjoyed in the 2020 drivers' standings. 

With last year's champion Augusto Fernandez now competing in MotoGP and runner-up Ai Ogura missing in Portimao due to injury, the field is wide open. 

Lowes' deeply frustrating campaign last year saw him complete just six of the 20 races, but the Marc VDS Racing Team rider did get all the way round last time out in Argentina, finishing in the top 10, five places behind Dixon. 

Indeed, Lowes found himself on the podium in both 2015 and 2016 in South America, but has never tasted glory there. Could Sunday be that day?

Sam Lowes during the Grand Prix of Portugal
Sam Lowes made a positive start to 2023 after his previous campaign saw him finish just six races