Recent rounds in the MotoGP World Championship have been dramatic to say the least and with the flyaway rounds now underway, reigning champion Francesco Bagnaia has seen his lead slashed to 13 points by the in-form Jorge Martin.
The Martinator hits form
With three wins in the last four races and five podiums from the last five, Pramac Racing’s Martin is very much the man in form and he’s comprehensively outscored fellow Ducati rider Bagnaia at the last three rounds.
Ninth overall last year, Martin was pipped to the official Ducati ride by Enea Bastianini (whose been blighted by injury this year) but staying with the Pramac team, he was guaranteed the latest GP23 Ducati, and he’s made it count, upping his game considerably in 2023.
Victory in the Sprint race in India was his fourth of the year but whilst he’s been incredibly strong in the shorter format race, he’s now becoming almost as strong in the Feature races The last three longer distance races have seen him finish first, second and third in the longer encounters and that, combined with Bagnaia’s downturn in fortunes, has seen the gap to the Italian shrink.
Martin, who fought severe dehydration to take second in India’s Feature race, is clearly hungry for more. One of the most spectacular riders on the grid, Martin has added consistency to his raw pace and that’s making for a tough combination. With the gap down to 13 points, he has the number one spot plate firmly in his sights.
Feeling the pressure?
Bagnaia is the current holder of that plate but whilst he’s won considerably more races than anyone else – five Feature races and four Sprint races – he’s also made inexplicable errors, in Argentina, the USA and France at the beginning of the year and more recently in India.
All three of those crashes came when he wasn’t under any significant pressure from the rider behind and it’s these mistakes that is keeping the title race very much alive and kicking. Take the crashes out of the equation and Bagnaia would be well on his way to title number two in the premier class but, unfortunately for him, that’s not the case.
Just when you think he’s kicked the unforced errors, they rear their ugly head again and it’s hard to put a finger on the reason why. With world titles in both MotoGP and Moto2 to his name, Bagnaia can also boast 26 GP wins and 51 podiums so clearly knows what it takes to succeed so is he simply prone to the odd lapse in concentration or is it a fundamental issue with the Ducati with all his crashes coming when he’s lost the front end. Or is it the pressure of the situation?
That pressure is now on, from both Martin and Marco Bezzecchi, and the mistakes will be frustrating him more than anyone else but either way, he keeps gifting opportunities to others, and he needs to cut them out because sooner or later, they’ll cost him.
Bezzechi stays in contention
Whilst the title looks set to be fought out between Bagnaia and Martin, Bezzecchi is doing everything he can to make sure it’s a three-way battle for the number one plate.
Three podiums in the last four races, which included victory in India at the weekend, means the Mooney VR46 Racing Ducati rider has also closed in on Bagnaia with the gap between the two Italians now down to 44 points.
Bezzechi, who’s rapidly becoming the most popular rider on the grid, was in imperious form at the recent round in India and dominated Sunday’s feature race to the extent he won by the almost unheard margin of 8.6s.
It was a display of sheer class and the 24-year old should have ended the weekend with two wins around the Buddh circuit, which would have made it even tighter at the top of the championship standings. Unfortunately, he was sideswiped at the first corner of the Sprint race by team-mate Luca Marini, who suffered a broken collarbone, and it dropped him all the way to the back of the field.
Such was his pace though, which saw him consistently lap half a second quicker than the rest of the field, he was able to climb all the way up to fifth. Riding last year’s Desmosedici GP22 machine, Bezzecchi just needs to tighten up his consistency and if he can maintain his podium run, it will make the title race even more interesting as it heads towards its final rounds.
Marquez and Quartararo return to podium
The recent Indian round saw a welcome return to the podium for former champions, Marc Marquez and Fabio Quartararo, with both running at the right end of the top ten for the majority of the weekend.
Marquez’s struggles, and Honda’s in particular, have been well documented and rumours continue to persist that he’ll be switching to the Gresini Ducati in 2024, but steady improvements have been made of late and this was seen in Saturday’s Sprint race when he took a strong third.
He was on course for another top four finish in the Feature race too before crashing but he was able to come through the pack from 17th and claim ninth which wouldn’t have happened a few rounds ago.
Of course, he’s only really interested in winning and that applies to Quartararo too with the Frenchman equally up against it on his Yamaha. Third in India was just his third podium of the season, but he looked a lot more competitive around the Buddh circuit so has a corner been turned for both riders or will it be back to reality at the forthcoming rounds?
Light at the end of the tunnel for Mir?
To say 2023 has been a challenging year for 2020 MotoGP World Champion Joan Mir would be an understatement. A regular front runner on the Suzuki, switching to Repsol Honda gave him a lifeline when they pulled out but, like others before him, the dream ride quickly turned sour.
He’s arguably moved to the team when they’re at their worst, as seen in the results even the great Marquez has had, and the RC213V is clearly one of the weakest bikes on the grid. But if you’d said he’d have only scored five points prior to the 13th round, few would have believed it.
That’s exactly what happened though with 11th place and five points coming at the very first round with a horror sequence of form following. Crash after crash and no score after no score followed but in India at the weekend, he ran in the top six pretty much throughout. Another crash came in the Sprint race but at least he was running in a strong position when he did, and he was rewarded with a fine fifth place in the Feature race.
Such a run of form has broken many a rider – and Mir admits he’s contemplated retirement – and only time will tell if his success was down to the Indian circuit putting everyone on a level playing field, or if he’s finally mastered the Honda but for now, everyone’s just pleased to see him back at the sharp end.
Pedrosa rolls back the years
One of the ‘feel good’ stories of late was the return once more of Dani Pedrosa, the Red Bull KTM test rider rolling back the years at Misano, just as he did at Jerez earlier in the season.
Sixth on the grid in Spain, 37-year old Pedrosa went one better in Misano and went on to take a brace of fourth place finishes at the latter, only just missing out on a podium on each occasion. Not bad for some one who retired from racing at the end of the 2018 season!
Since then, the Spaniard has only competed in three Grands Prix but at each of them he’s reminded everyone of his talent and why he’s often referred to as one of the best riders never to be MotoGP World Champion.
One of the recognised MotoGP aliens, along with Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez, Pedrosa has clocked up thousands of miles testing for KTM, and he’s played a huge role in the success they’ve enjoyed of late, particularly with Brad Binder who currently sits in fourth overall in the standings.
Recent disappointment halts Dixon’s challenge
When Jake Dixon took a sublime victory at Catalunya at the beginning of the month, his second win of the season, the Brit brought himself back into contention for the Moto2 title as he closed to within 46 points of the pace setting Pedro Acosta.
However, whilst the Spaniard has subsequently taken two wins in San Marino and India, Dixon has scored just four points with his championship hopes now over. The victory at Catalunya was followed by an unexplainable 12th in San Marino where he simply didn’t perform but he looked to have put that behind him with pole position in India.
Unfortunately, he was pushed wide on two occasions by Alonso Lopez with the second resulting in contact which saw Dixon crash out. He remounted only to crash again, and the Team Aspar rider will now just be aiming for wins in the final third of the season.
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for almost 20 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News, Classic Racer and Road Racing Ireland, as well as being a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including PBM Ducati, John McGuinness, KTS Racing and Jackson Racing. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races working with the race organisation, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing the TV and radio broadcasting teams with statistical information.