The Gresini rider takes his fourth victory of the season as he slowly emerges as an underdog for the world title.
It was yet another show stolen by the 2023 Ducati factory pair, who replicate their Misano performances in nearly the exact same way – Bagnaia taking the early lead, Bastianini taking over the lead for a short period of time, and Bagnaia retaking the lead for the rest of the race. Only this time however, it was not Bagnaia who came out on top, as Bastianini succeeded in his last-lap attack and beat Bagnaia by 0.042s.
The race began with some chaos on the first lap. Marc Marquez had returned after a six-race absence to recover from his injuries, but it was not the return he had hoped for, as he nearly highsided out of Turn 3, causing championship leader Fabio Quartararo to hit his rear end and crash out. Just four turns later, he leaned left on the approach to Turn 8, wiping Nakagami out on the path of several riders. The Spaniard retired his damaged bike, while Nakagami and Quartararo walked away unhurt. Marquez later revealed that pieces of Quartararo’s bike got stuck on his rear holeshot device, causing it to jam and move his bike to the left crossing Nakagami’s path, which was also proven from TV replays where pieces broke and flew off the rear of his bike.
The mess was cleared up quickly, and Bagnaia looked to be in control of the lead as his teammate Jack Miller followed in 2nd. Brad Binder meanwhile had a flying start which placed him up to 3rd for the early stages of the race. Miller began losing pace, as he was eventually overtaken one-by-one by Bastianini, Binder, and Aleix Espargaro. While Bastianini chased Bagnaia for the lead, Espargaro spent most of the race in 4th behind Binder, staying within a second of the South African, before finally making an overtake in the last few laps of the race.
In what looked to be a repeat of the Misano battle, Bastianini caught up to Bagnaia again, and waited until the final lap to attempt an overtake. It succeeded this time, as he made his move stick in Turn 7. He successfully held Bagnaia off for the remainder of the lap, despite the latter’s attempt to steal the win by getting a better drive in the final corner. Like Misano, today’s race was decided by just hundredths of a second between the same riders. Bastianini took his 4th victory of the year, while Bagnaia took his first podium of the year without it being a race victory.
Aleix Espargaro held off Binder and Miller’s attacks to the end, as he returns to the podium for the first time since Mugello. It was however a standout ride by Binder nonetheless, as KTM were just tenths away from taking their third podium in a difficult 2022 campaign.
Jorge Martin took a solid 6th place finish ahead of Luca Marini and teammate Johann Zarco, while Alex Rins crossed the line in 9th just behind the pack. It was a silently impressive race for Rins, who had to evade Quartararo in the opening lap and ran to the dirt, rejoining the race at the back. The comeback was a relief especially being the sole Suzuki on track, as teammate Joan Mir had sat out of the weekend after an attempt to return from his injuries. Sealing the top 10 was Marco Bezzecchi, making it 7 of the 8 Ducatis finishing in the top ten of the race.
With Quartararo’s misfortunes and his main title rivals all finishing on the podium, the championship looks to be wide open again, although Bastianini slightly aided the Frenchman’s advantage by five points after poaching the win from Bastianini. Nonetheless, it is still a tight battle as 17 points cover the top three with five rounds to go.
The next round at Motegi will be home to Yamaha, Honda, and Suzuki. Can any of the three Japanese manufacturers return to winning ways at home? Or will Ducati’s dominance continue? Stay tuned for the next race!
Featured Images – motogp.com, Dorna Sports