The VROOM Blog – #ValenciaGP – Pecco Bagnaia takes the 2023 MotoGP crown with victory in Spain

 In Blog, MotoGP, News


Well, that’s it – the 2023 MotoGP season has reached its conclusion and we have crowned our champion. For the first time in the MotoGP era, the championship has been decided in the final round for two years in a row. Prior to last season, the championship has only come down to the wire at the finale on 4 other occasions – in 2006 when Nicky Hayden famously beat Valentino Rossi to the crown, in 2013 when rookie Marc Marquez took his first MotoGP title, in 2015 when Jorge Lorenzo won the championship, and in 2017 when Marquez beat Dovizioso to the championship.

Heading into this weekend, Pecco Bagnaia was leading Jorge Martin by 21 points, which meant that he would have the opportunity to wrap the championship up on Saturday if he out-scored Martin by 4 points, but we know how strong Martin is in the Sprints, so I was hopeful that we would have to wait until Sunday to find out who would be crowned champion.

Alex Rins was back in action this weekend following further surgery on his leg, while Miguel Oliveira was back on the injury list having sustained a broken shoulder blade in Qatar, which means that we have gone through an entire MotoGP season without having a complete grid of full-time riders. Miguel would be replaced this weekend by Aprilia test rider Lorenzo Savadori.

With it being the final round of the season, there were plenty of “last” things happening. Alex Rins’ last ride at LCR Honda, Franky Morbidelli’s last ride at Yamaha, Johann Zarco’s last ride at Ducati, Pol Espargaro’s last ride as a full time GP racer, and – in case you have been living under a rock – Marc Marquez’s last race with Honda.

I know that Marc leaving Honda after so long and so much success is a big deal, but the way everyone was talking about it you’d think we were never going to see him on a bike again!

There were a couple of notable “lasts” happening in Moto2 as well, with the Sito Pons team closing their doors at the end of the season, and Sam Lowes racing in Moto2 for the last time before he heads off to race against his twin Alex in World Superbikes after 10 years in the GP paddock.

As the weekend got underway, there were rumours flying around about the RNF team in MotoGP. It was being suggested that the team were in financial difficulties after their main sponsor CryptoDATA had allegedly failed to make payments throughout the season. Then team boss Razlan Razali announced that he was leaving the team, and it was suggested within the paddock that he had sold his shares in the team.

On Saturday the team released a statement to address the speculation in which they stated that they have a “contract for participation” in MotoGP until 2026, and that they have not been notified of any breach of contract, nor termination of the contract. The statement went on to say that the team has a contract with Aprilia, that rumours of financial debts are false, and that Razali still owns 40% of the team. The statement concluded that Razali’s decision to leave the team management was made over a month ago due to “the pressure made by the shareholders following poor performance and financial decisions.”

There was then a very brief statement released by Dorna on Monday which stated that the “MotoGP Selection Committee comprising members of FIM, IRTA, and Dorna Sports, have decided not to select” the team for the 2024 season. The statement continued that “repeated infractions and breaches of the Participation Agreement affecting the public image of MotoGP” had obliged the decision, and that more information would follow in due course.

The statement did also say that the Selection Committee would be reviewing applications for a new Independent Team which would use Aprilia machinery to join the grid for 2024.

I would presume that this means that Miguel Oliveira and Raul Fernandez’s rides are safe if they can get another team in place – Raul did take part in the post-season test on Tuesday, but there was no RNF branding on the bike, and he was listed on the timesheets as riding for “Aprilia Racing” rather than the RNF team.

It remains to be seen who might step in to take the grid slots – and Aprilia bikes – that are now available at short notice, but it will be interesting to find out.

It being the final round of the season, there were special helmets aplenty, with riders up and down the paddock having helmets to say goodbye or thank you to their teams. There were too many to mention all of them, but a couple of my favourites were from Jorge Martin who had the names of his team written on his helmet, with “What a team” and “thank you all” written alongside. Sam Lowes and Tony Arbolino both had a caricature of team boss Marc Van Der Straten on their helmets, and Aron Canet was running a Sito Pons replica.

MotoGP track action kicked off on Friday morning with a chilly FP1. There were crashes in the session for Joan Mir, Alex Marquez, and Taka Nakagami, and while all 3 were able to get up and walk away, Joan Mir was slow to his feet, and later transferred to hospital for checks. There were no fractures, but Joan would sit out Practice in the afternoon and be reviewed before FP2 on Saturday morning.

FP1 was topped by Zarco from Di Giannantonio and Jorge Martin. Pecco Bagnaia was down in 13th, but he is often a bit slower on a Friday morning.

There was a flurry of crashes early in the Practice session on Friday afternoon, with Aleix Espargaro, Marco Bezzecchi, Augusto Fernandez, and Alex Rins all crashing within minutes of each other. Things settled down a little, and by the half way point of the session, it was Di Giannantonio was at the top of the times, with title contenders Bagnaia and Martin down in 13th and 14th.

Less than 5 minutes later, Jorge Martin had jumped to the top of the times as he went earlier than usual with a softer tyre. Maverick Viñales set an all-new lap record to top the times a minute later. With 16 minutes to go, Jack Miller had a huge high-side and while he was thankfully able to walk away, there was debris on the track and the session was red-flagged while that was cleared.

The session got back underway, and Luca Marini and Raul Fernandez both suffered crashes at turn 1. There were mind games going on for the title contenders as Jorge Martin tried to follow Pecco Bagnaia out of pitlane with 6 minutes left on the clock. I figured Jorge was just jumping on the back of Pecco to apply a little pressure to the Italian who was still outside of the top 10 as he certainly didn’t need to follow him for the pace. As Jorge started to pull away from his garage, Pecco’s team boss Davide Tardozzi stood in Jorge’s path with a huge smile on his face, and Jorge had to ride around him.

Pecco brake-checked Jorge on the way out of pitlane, and the pair headed off on their out lap. Pecco ran way wide and Jorge followed him, clearly sure that the lap time he had set earlier in the session would be enough to see him through to Q2.

Miller crashed at turn 4 with three minutes remaining, bringing out the yellow flags for Martin and Bagnaia, but neither was on a lap that would change anything anyway. They did pick up the pace on the next lap though, and Martin jumped back up to 2nd place, with Bagnaia unable to improve on 14th.

With just 30 seconds remaining, Pol Espargaro crashed, once again bringing out the yellow flags and disrupting the laps that Bagnaia and Martin were on. The chequered flag was waved and we had one title contender directly through to Q2 as Martin sat in 2nd place behind Viñales, while Bagnaia would have to battle through Q1 having finished the session in 15th place.

Joining Viñales and Martin in heading directly to Q2 would be Zarco, Diggia, Alex Marquez, Brad Biner, Marc Marquez, Raul Fernandez, Jack Miller, and Aleix Espargaro.

Ahead of FP2 on Saturday, Joan Mir withdrew from the weekend to spend a few days resting in order to be able to ride in the test on Tuesday. VR46 also announced that Luca Marini would be leaving them at the end of the season after 6 years with them. Marini joined the VR46 team ahead of the 2018 season where he raced in Moto2, before moving up to MotoGP in 2021 as part of the Esponsorama team with VR46 backing, before the team took over those grid slots to become the VR46 Team for 2022 and 2023.

Both Fabio Quartararo and Fabio Di Giannantonio has crashes at turn 10, and the session was topped by Marco Bezzecchi from Alex Marquez and Bagnaia. Jorge Martin was 6th.

Pecco Bagnaia looked like a man who meant business at the beginning of Q1 – he was straight out of pitlane and into a quick out-lap before setting the fastest of the first laps. By the time the riders pitted for a change of tyres, Bagnaia was sitting in 2nd place behind Alex Marquez. Bagnaia was quickly out of pitlane again, and was already starting his flying lap as teammate Enea Bastianini was leaving pitlane.

Bagnaia pulled himself to the top of the times, and then pulled into the pits with just over a minute of the session remaining. He held on to the top spot, and would be joined in heading through to Q2 by Alex Marquez.

There was some quick thinking from Jorge Martin as the riders rolled out of pitlane to start Q2 – Marc Marquez pulled a tear-off from his visor and dropped it, only for it to cling to the front of Martin’s bike. Luckily Martin saw it and was able to remove it before it caused any issues – remember when Jack Miller’s Ducati sucked in a tear-off from Quartararo and it ended his race?

After the first run of laps Binder, Martin, and Miller held the front row. As everyone headed back out on track, Jorge Martin had jumped onto his second bike – and a hard front tyre. Quite why you would decide to go for hard tyre in a qualifying session is beyond me, and Martin would surely pay the price. He was clearly struggling to get the bike to turn, and despite red sectors at the beginning of his laps, the remaining sectors were quickly turning to grey.

The session seemed to end for most riders with 2 minutes remaining on the clock – Bagnaia was already back in the pits, Martin was cruising, and Marc and Alex Marquez were crashing (not together, but within a minute of each other). With 6 seconds remaining, Bagnaia tried to leave the pits, but was beaten by the red light and had to push his bike back up pitlane.

Viñales took pole position – his first since joining Aprilia – and would be joined on the front row by Bagnaia and Zarco, with Miller, Binder, and Martin on the second row. Bezzecchi, Alex Marquez, Marc Marquez, Raul Fernandez, Diggia, and Aleix Espargaro rounded out the top 12.

As the riders lined up on the grid for the Sprint, Jorge Martin’s teammate Johann Zarco was asked about team orders – he said that there was no instruction from the team, and that he was hoping to score a podium. Jorge needed to beat Pecco if he wanted to keep his championship hopes alive until Sunday.

Bagnaia made a great start and was leading into the first corner from Viñales and Binder, with Viñales moving into the lead at turn 2. Binder ran wide at the same corner, and Martin did not need to be asked twice to take 3rd place from the South African.

Martin was now directly behind Bagnaia, and he made a move to pass him, but ran wide and allowed Binder and Marc Marquez through, dropping him to 5th. He kept his cool though, and was soon back up into 3rd place, as Bagnaia dropped back to 5th place and into the clutches of a strong looking Fabio Quartararo.

While all of this was going on, Viñales was taking advantage and now had a lead of almost a full second over Binder and Martin. On lap 4 Marco Bezzecchi passed Quartararo, and no sooner had I finished wondering if he would play wingman for fellow VR46 Academy rider Bagnaia, Quartararo had passed him back!

Binder and Martin were closing in on Viñales – his gap was now down to 0.3 seconds – and Fabio Quartararo made a move on Bagnaia only to crash out of the race immediately after. Binder tried to pass Viñales, but he was putting up a fight and the pair battled for a few corners before Binder made the move stick to take the lead of the race. Sorry, Sprint – we must remember that we’re not supposed to call them races…

Meanwhile, Jorge Martin was having to hold off Marc Marquez, who was no doubt looking to sign off his time at Honda with a decent result. Martin managed to hold him off, and even managed to pass Viñales and Binder to take the lead. Di Giannantonio was now all over Bagnaia – who was still in 5th place – but he seemed unable to find a way through. Or – the cynical among you might think – he didn’t want to find a way through and ruin his chances of replacing Luca Marini at VR46. I doubt this would have been the case, but you just never know.

Marc had moved ahead of Viñales, and that was how the Sprint ended – Martin took the win ahead of Binder and Marquez, with Viñales 4th, Bagnaia 5th, and Diggia in 6th. Bezzecchi, Alex Marquez, and Zarco rounded out the points scorers.

In taking the win, Martin had ensured that we would have to wait until Sunday to find out who would be the 2023 MotoGP Champion as he had cut Bagnaia’s lead down to 14 points. It would still be a big task for Martin to win, but there was still a chance.

Speaking after the race, Martin said that it “was win or crash” this weekend, and so far, he had done what he needed to do. Marc Marquez was visibly emotional on the Sprint podium, and was delighted to have given Honda a strong result on their last weekend together. Did I mention already that it is their last weekend together?

Warm up on Sunday morning saw Maverick Viñales ignore a “meatball” flag for smoke coming from his Aprilia, and continue to cruise around the track and return to pitlane. The “meatball” flag means there might be something wrong with your bike so you should get off the track immediately. Immediately, not whenever you feel like it, or once you’ve cruised round the rest of the track possibly dropping fluids onto the track.

I had my head in my hands listening to the commentators on the world feed saying that cruising back to the pits showed just how experienced Viñales is. COME ON. The rule is get off immediately, riders in their first year of racing know that. Maverick later argued that there was no oil or any other fluid leaking from his bike, but he couldn’t be sure of that at the time, that’s the point of the flag!

Anyway, he was given a 3-place grid penalty for ignoring the flag, which promoted Bagnaia to pole, and brought out all the conspiracy theorists…

The session was topped by Zarco, from Binder, Martin, Raul Fernandez, and Marc Marquez. Bagnaia was 12th, but it was cold, and I doubt anyone was taking too many risks ahead of such an important race.

There were tributes beginning to be displayed for riders leaving teams, with LCR and VR46 both filling the sponsor boards behind the rider’s chairs with photos of their time together.

Fabio Quartararo was missing from the session, having woken up with a high fever, but the team were hopeful that he would be okay for the race.

Before the big MotoGP finale, there was Moto3 and Moto2. Both championships had already been decided, in favour of Jaume Masia and Pedro Acosta, but there were still other championship positions up for grabs. In Moto3, Ayumu Sasaki took his first victory of the season to secure 2nd in the championship.

I’m a sucker for a good fairytale, so I was a little torn between wanting Aron Canet to finally win a Moto2 race in the final ever race for the Pons team, and hoping that Sam Lowes might find a little magic to win in his last race in the paddock. As it was, Fermin Aldeguer was writing his own fairytale, and put in a stunning performance to become the first rider since Toni Elias in 2010 (the first year of Moto2) to win four consecutive races in the intermediate class. Fermin’s win also meant that he secured 3rd in the championship behind Pedro Acosta and Tony Arbolino.

Ahead of the MotoGP race, Valentino Rossi was on the grid and when asked about replacing Luca Marini in his team, he said that no decision had been made yet. He said that they did have “the Di Giannantonio option” but they would wait until Monday to decide. There had also been talk that Celestino Vietti might get promoted from Moto2 as he is already a VR46 rider, but I don’t think he’s quite ready for the jump up to the premier class – especially when you have a rider hitting the form that Diggia has over the last few rounds…

Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin each lined up on the grid knowing that they had a chance of claiming the MotoGP crown. Bagnaia knew that all he needed to do was finish in the top 5 and he was champion again, regardless of where Martin finished. For Martin though, he needed to finish in the top 3 and then hope that Bagnaia had a bad race. If Martin wins, Bagnaia needs to be 6th or lower, if Martin is 2nd, he needs Bagnaia 11th or worse, and if he finishes 3rd, he needs Bagnaia 15th or worse. It seemed a steep climb for Martin, but you just never know what might happen in MotoGP.

They both made great starts to the race – Bagnaia made the most of pole position to lead into turn 1, while Martin had jumped to 3rd, and was into 2nd place by turn 2. Were we going to see the two title contenders battling on track? No is the short answer to that question.

Marco Bezzecchi crashed out of the race following contact with Marc Marquez, and though the incident was placed under review, the Stewards decided that there was no need for further action. Bezzecchi was furious though, and had some strong words post-race, saying “there is nothing to explain, he hit me and he make me crash” and when asked if he could understand why there was no action taken, he said it was because it was Marc Marquez and he always gets away with it.

Back on track, Jorge Martin was forced to run wide at the beginning of lap 3 after he appeared to get caught in the slipstream of Bagnaia’s bike – similar to the incident between Bagnaia and Diggia last time out. Martin was dropped back to 8th and now faced the race of his life if he was to take the championship. He immediately set about trying to make up places, passing Alex Marquez for 7th place and lapping 0.5 seconds a lap faster than Bagnaia who was still leading from Binder and Miller.

As Binder put pressure on Bagnaia, Martin and Viñales were having a battle over 6th place, and though Martin did eventually prevail, he then attempted a move on Marc Marquez which cleaned Marc out and sent Martin hurtling through the gravel before crashing just before the tyre wall. That was Martin’s race – and his championship – over. He had said on Saturday that it was win or crash, and that’s how he went out. The move on Marc was a bit rash, perhaps if Martin had taken his time, he could have made the move cleanly, but as I’ve said before, ifs and buts don’t win championships.

Marc himself said after the race that he had no hard feelings towards Jorge – he was battling for a championship so he understood how he was riding.

As Martin trudged off, and the marshals helped Marc to walk away, Ducati were notifying Bagnaia via his pit board that Martin was out. That was it – Bagnaia was a back-to-back MotoGP champion, and the first to defend the number 1 plate since Mick Doohan back in 1998. It didn’t matter where – or even if – Bagnaia finished the race, he was champion once more.

We saw Jorge arrive back in the Pramac garage to a round of applause – he’s had a fantastic season, and he was still going to finish 2nd in the championship.

Back on track, Bagnaia had dropped to 3rd place, having allowed Binder and Miller through. Bastianini and Augusto Fernandez both crashed out of the race on lap 10, before Binder ran wide a few laps later, dropping to 6th and promoting teammate Miller to the lead. Would we see Miller become the first rider to win on 3 different manufacturers?

On lap 16, Binder was trying to move forward and passed Alex Marquez for 5th place, punting him wide as he did so, allowing Diggia to follow through. Binder has form for this kind of move this season, and was handed a “drop one position” penalty. Rather than drop back behind Diggia who was behind him, Brad passed Viñales ahead of him, and then allowed him back through.

I know that technically he did drop back a place, but surely that is a loophole in the rule? Brad was then able to easily pass Viñales again to take 4th place, with Diggia hot on his heels to take 5th place from Viñales too. On lap 19 Jack Miller answered our earlier question about becoming the first rider to win on 3 manufacturers by crashing out of the lead.

Bagnaia now found himself back in the lead of the race, with Zarco and Binder behind him, and Diggia, Viñales and Alex Marquez behind them. There had now been so many crashers that everyone who finished the race would score points. Alex Rins joined the list of crashers on lap 20, crashing at turn 1 to bring the curtain down on his time with LCR Honda.

Viñales was under pressure from Aleix Espargaro and Raul Fernandez, and he ran wide allowing them both through, with Franky Morbidelli closing in too. Franky passed Viñales for 8th, before Diggia passed Binder for 3rd. Diggia was soon closing in on Zarco, and by lap 25 he was on the rear wheel of the Pramac Ducati. Zarco lost 2nd place to Diggia a lap later, and then Diggia spent the final lap of the race all over the back of Bagnaia.

Bagnaia held on though to win the final race of his 2nd championship winning season, ahead of Diggia and Zarco. Binder, Raul Fernandez, Alex Marquez, Franky Morbidelli, Aleix Espargaro, Marini, and Viñales rounded out the top 10.

Bagnaia had a basketball themed championship celebration, stopping to dunk a golden basketball and collect 3 championship rings (one in Moto2, two in MotoGP), before collecting his golden helmet and riding what was possibly the slowest in-lap I’ve ever seen!

Once Bagnaia had arrived in parc ferme, Martin left his garage and fought his way through the crowds to congratulate Bagnaia on his championship. He explained his crash with Marc to Bagnaia before hugging him and leaving him to celebrate.

Martin said following the race that he was proud of his season, and that he will be MotoGP champion, hopefully next year, but if not then maybe the year after, while Bagnaia said that he didn’t have the words yet, but he wanted to thank his team for all their work.

There was a little post-race drama when the tyre pressure information was released, and Diggia was demoted to 4th place for a tyre pressure infringement. They had let him go on the podium and participate in the post-race press conference before they announced that though. Honestly, this rule is going to ruin the racing. I know they say it’s a safety issue – and I don’t know what the answer is – but there needs to be another way of dealing with that.

There was a funny video released by KTM who gave Binder his own podium celebration by making him stand on a step in his garage and spray some prosecco. The final podium result saw Zarco promoted to 2nd, with Binder in 3rd.

Bagnaia is now only the 3rd rider in the MotoGP era to successfully defend the championship after Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez, neither of whom opted to run the number 1 plate.

On Monday, HRC announced that Luca Marini would be joining them for 2024 and 2025, while VR46 announced that Diggia would be joining them for 2024. It was also announced on Monday that there will be new concessions brought into place for next season – we’ll look at that in more detail at the start of next season, but essentially it means that Honda and Yamaha are being given the opportunity to catch up with their European counterparts.

Following on from the race weekend, there was the post-season test on Tuesday, which saw riders out on the bikes they will race next season. There was massive hype around Marc Marquez – there was a constant crowd of journalists outside the Gresini garage all day. While the hype annoyed me a little – there were 6 riders on different bikes – I did quite like that it took some of the focus away from Pedro Acosta as he steps up to the premier class.

He has said previously that the hype around him when he moved up to Moto2 had a negative impact on him, and there was a good chance that would have been the case again as he moved up to MotoGP, but now Marc was stealing all the headlines, it allowed Pedro to go slightly under the radar on Tuesday.

Other riders on new manufacturers were Zarco on the LCR Honda, Rins on a Yamaha, Morbidelli on the Pramac Ducati, and Luca Marini on the Repsol Honda.

There was a slow start to the day as it was quite cold – it is the end of November! Honda clearly meant business though – Marini was the first rider on the track, and after an hour there had only been 8 bikes on track, 4 of which were Hondas.

Marc didn’t go out until the second hour, but when he did, he was on the pace very quickly. After 7 laps, he was 0.3 seconds off the pace being set, and the smile on his face when he removed his helmet once back in the garage spoke volumes. Marc and Gresini aren’t allowed to talk about the test due to contracts – much the same for most riders swapping teams – but Gresini posted a picture of the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland with the colours of the cat changed to the navy blue and red Marc had worn during the test on their social media at the end of the day.

As a side note, the navy blue and red colours that Marc and his Ducati sported during the test were so much nicer than the weird blue they run through the season!

Pedro Acosta had a smile similar to Marc’s after his first run too, and I am really looking forward to seeing how he gets on next season. Reunited with former teammate Augusto Fernandez, Pedro has again had to switch from his preferred number 37. He used 51 for his first season in Moto2, but for next season he has chosen 31, and the cleverly designed number means that at first glance the 1 looks like a 7. That’ll be fun for the commentators next season!

We can’t read too much into the times set during tests, particularly on a cold November day, but as was expected Maverick Viñales was fastest – it’s becoming his thing to top tests. Binder and Bezzecchi were 2nd and 3rd, with Marc Marquez finishing the day in 4th place.

There was a 15-minute practice start session to end the day, but more than half the field were already out of their leathers. Four of those who have changed bikes – Franky, Pedro, Rins, and Zarco – did go out though to get a few practice starts under their belts.

So that’s it – MotoGP is done for another season, and what a season it has been. We have seen the introduction of the Sprint, and a championship battle that went right down to the final day of the season.

Pecco Bagnaia is your 2023 MotoGP champion, and I already can’t wait for next season!

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