The VROOM Blog: 2023 Season Review – Bagnaia doubles up with back-to-back titles
The 2023 MotoGP season was the biggest season we’ve ever seen. We were treated to 20 race weekends between March and November (it had been scheduled to be 21 rounds until the cancellation of the Kazakhstan GP), and with the introduction of the Saturday Sprint we saw lots of action across the season. One thing we didn’t see this season was a full grid of full-time riders.
2023 saw a remarkably high number of injuries for riders, and with Pol Espargaro out of action before the first race, followed by a string of injuries for other riders, there was not one grid this season that had a full complement of full-time riders.
The field this year was once again a highly decorated one – there were 13 GP World Champions with 24 World Championships between them. 13 of the riders heading into this season had won a premier class race, and all of the riders on the grid as the season began had won at least one race across the MotoGP categories. There was only one rookie in the class this season as Augusto Fernandez stepped up to the premier class as the reigning Moto2 World Champion.
Some riders had left the grid since 2022, along with the Suzuki team who bowed out with a victory at the end of last season. Remy Gardner and Darryn Binder were unable to keep their seats in MotoGP for 2023 and moved to World Superbikes and Moto2 respectively.
With the unexpected withdrawal of Suzuki, Joan Mir and Alex Rins were left trying to find rides for 2023 at the wrong time in 2022 and ended up moving to Honda – surely not the bike of choice at this time! Mir would line up alongside Marc Marquez at Repsol Honda, while Rins would team up with Taka Nakagami at LCR Honda. Other movers on the grid were Jack Miller from Ducati to KTM, with Enea Bastianini replacing Miller in the Factory Ducati squad alongside reigning champion Pecco Bagnaia – who would be running the #1 plate; Alex Marquez moved from LCR Honda to Gresini Ducati to join Fabio Di Giannantonio; while Raul Fernandez and Miguel Oliveria made the switch from KTM machinery to Aprilia as they joined the RNF team who had in turn switched from Yamaha to Aprilia.
Tech3 KTM was rebranded as GASGAS Factory Racing KTM Tech3 – which is a bit of a mouthful, “Tech3” will do – and saw Pol Espargaro return to the team alongside rookie Augusto Fernandez.
Teams that ran unchanged line-ups heading into 2023 were Yamaha who had kept Fabio Quartararo and Franky Morbidelli, Pramac with Jorge Martin and Johann Zarco, and VR46 with Marco Bezzecchi and Luca Marini.
The introduction of the Sprint this season meant that there were schedule changes to accommodate a race on Saturday afternoon. I say “race” but we’re not supposed to call it a race, it’s a “Sprint.” Fridays would now see P1 and P2 (no longer “free” practices) which would count towards whether a rider goes into Q1 or Q2. There would be a free practice session (FP) on Saturday morning which would be followed directly by Q1, and then Q2, with qualifying setting the grid for both the Sprint and the Sunday GP Race (excluding any penalties etc…)
Moto3 and Moto2 would then qualify before the MotoGP riders lined up on the grid for the Sprint on Saturday afternoon. The MotoGP class saw their Sunday morning warm up session halved to 10 minutes, while Moto3 and Moto2 lost their warm up sessions completely to make way for a rider parade which would see the riders driven around the track to wave to fans. That’s definitely a much better use of the time available on a Sunday morning…
The Sprints would be half the length of the main race on Sunday, and riders would be awarded “half” points. The winner would get 12 points, 2nd and 3rd would get 9 and 7 points, while remaining finishers down to 9th place would be given 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 point.
For the first time since 2006 the MotoGP season kicked off in Europe, with the paddock heading to the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve in Portugal in late March for the season opener while the usual venue of Lusail in Qatar underwent a revamp.
The P2 session on Friday afternoon saw an early red flag due to “technical issues” as the power had gone out in the paddock. The session got underway again only to be red-flagged once more as Miguel Oliveria and Pol Espargaro crashed within seconds of each other at turn 10. Miguel was quickly up on his feet, and headed to check on Pol who looked to be hurt following the crash. Pol was treated by medics trackside for close to 15 minutes before being transferred to the circuit medical centre, and then on to hospital in Faro via air ambulance.
Pol’s injuries were substantial – the Spaniard would later admit that they could have been career-ending – and saw him spend a week in intensive care, and we wouldn’t see him back on track until round 9 at Silverstone in August.
Marc Marquez claimed the first pole position of the season, thanks to a tow from Enea Bastianini, and he grabbed the holeshot in the first Sprint before Pecco Bagnaia moved into the lead on lap 2. Luca Marini wiped out Enea Bastianini as he crashed out at turn 5, with Enea suffering a fractured shoulder blade as he joined Pol Espargaro on the early season injury list.
It was Pecco Bagnaia who took the first Sprint victory ahead of Jorge Martin and Marc Marquez. There wasn’t a traditional podium for the Sprint top 3 – instead a ceremony took place on the start / finish straight, where riders were awarded medals instead of trophies, and there was no national anthem played for the winner.
The race on Sunday saw Jorge Martin take the lead before both Marc Marquez and Miguel Oliveira spent time at the front of the race in the early stages. Lap 3 saw Marc Marquez barrel into a corner and bounce his Repsol Honda off the side of Jorge Martin’s Ducati before slamming into the back of Miguel Oliveira and sending him flying.
Miguel was initially declared fit, but was later ruled out of the next round in Argentina due to tendon injuries in his leg.
Back on track, there were more crashes as Jorge Martin, Luca Marini, and Raul Fernandez all ended their races in the gravel. Pecco Bagnaia went on to win the race, and was joined on the podium by Maverick Viñales and Marco Bezzecchi.
Marc Marquez was handed a double long-lap penalty for Argentina, and this started a saga that would rumble on for several rounds. Marc suffered a hand injury in the crash that earned him the penalty, which meant that he would not be racing in Argentina, so the Stewards updated his sanction to state that he would serve the penalty in his next race, rather than specifically Argentina, and the Repsol Honda team – quite rightly – lodged an appeal against the change of sanction.
While I agree that Marc should have been penalised for the crash, the Stewards cannot just go changing the parameters of a sanction – if they say a rider must serve a penalty at a specific round and then the rider misses that round, that should be it done. I don’t think that’s fair; I do think that sanctions should be worded to say that riders must take the penalty in their next race, but if that is how the sanction was worded then that is what should stand.
Anyway, we headed straight from Portugal to Argentina with four riders already out injured, and reigning champ Bagnaia leading the standings from Viñales and Bezzecchi.
None of the injured riders were replaced for Argentina as they only have to be replaced after 10 days out, so we began the weekend with only 18 riders. Alex Marquez was the rider to take pole position – his first in MotoGP – and he was joined on the front row of the grid by fellow Ducati riders Bezzecchi and Bagnaia. Franky Morbidelli, who had a dismal 2022, was 4th on the grid.
Alex’s pole sees him and Marc become only the second set of brothers to take pole in the premier class (Pol and Aleix Espargaro are the other) and the first brothers to take consecutive poles. The Sprint was a wild one, and saw Franky Morbidelli leading in the early stages, eventually finishing in 4th place. Winning the Sprint was Brad Binder from 15th on the grid, ahead of Bezzecchi and Marini.
Joan Mir crashed out of the Sprint and joined the injury list – he was declared unfit due to “head and neck trauma.”
The race on Sunday was declared a wet one – the track was wet following earlier rain, and there was light rain continuing to fall as the riders lined up on the grid. Marco Bezzecchi took the lead into turn 1 and didn’t look back – he held on to the lead until the chequered flag to take his maiden MotoGP victory ahead of Johann Zarco and Alex Marquez. Franky Morbidelli was 4th for his best finish since he was 3rd at Jerez in 2021.
Bezzecchi became the 119th different premier class race winner, and the 34th in the MotoGP era. He also became the 8th rider to win in MotoGP having previously won in Moto3 and Moto3 – Rins, Viñales, Binder, Oliveira, Martin, Bagnaia, and Bastianini are the other 7 riders on that list.
Pecco Bagnaia had crashed and rejoined in the race, but was only able to finish in 16th place, meaning he took no points, and lost the championship lead to Marco Bezzecchi as the championship left Argentina behind for another year.
Next up was the Circuit of the Americas – or COTA – in Texas, and I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the race winner this weekend was a surprise… Marc Marquez was absent from one of his most successful circuits as he continued to recover from the hand injury sustained in Portugal, but there was still plenty of talk about Marc as the MotoGP Court of Appeal released a six-page document explaining that Marc is free to continue racing without any penalty until the Court can meet and make a decision on the appeal.
HRC test rider Stefan Bradl was called up to replace Marc for the weekend, with Ducati and KTM also fielding members of their test teams as Michele Pirro and Jonas Folger replaced Enea Bastianini and Pol Espargaro. Joan Mir and Miguel Oliveira both had to pass fitness tests as they returned from injury.
Hot on the heels of Franky Morbidelli’s best weekend in ages, there was talk of him losing his ride at Yamaha to World Superbike star Toprak Razgatlioğlu as the Turk was given a second opportunity to ride the M1 at a test in Jerez. Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis did say that his priority was to keep Franky, but he would need to perform well to keep the ride.
Pole position this weekend went to Bagnaia, who also took victory in a rather hot Sprint on Saturday afternoon. He was joined in the medal ceremony by Alex Rins and Jorge Martin. In gross news from the Sprint, Alex Marquez crashed out of the race having vomited in his helmet under braking at turn 12.
The race on Sunday took place in windier conditions than Saturday’s Sprint, and there was early drama for Jorge Martin who crashed out of the race taking Alex Marquez with him. There were quite a few crashers in this race, with Miller, Mir, Nakagami, Bradl, and Bagnaia – who was leading at the time – all crashing out of the race. Binder also crashed, but he was able to rejoin the race.
Alex Rins did the unthinkable and won the race on a Honda! He was the only Honda rider to finish the race, and in doing so he took the LCR team’s 100th podium, much to the delight of team boss Lucio Cecchinello. Joining Rins in donning a cowboy hat and heading to the podium were Luca Marini and Fabio Quartararo. Luca Marini was delighted to take his maiden MotoGP podium – Sprint ones don’t count towards GP stats – and while Quartararo was happy to be on the podium, he was very vocal about how unhappy he was with his bike.
Pecco Bagnaia declared post-race that he was very angry, but not with himself as he knew 100% that the crashes this weekend and last weekend (from 1st and 2nd) were not his fault – I bet his team loved that. He headed on to Jerez 2nd in the championship, 11 points behind Marco Bezzecchi.
In the run up to the paddock arriving in Jerez, we learned that the Kazakhstan GP had been cancelled due to “ongoing homologation works” and “current global operational challenges.” With no replacement race, the riders and teams would have an extended summer break.
World Superbike rider Iker Lecuona returned to the MotoGP paddock this weekend as replacement for the still injured Marc Marquez. Stefan Bradl was also present as a wildcard entry in HRC colours. With a post-race test happening on Monday, MotoGP Legend Dani Pedrosa was on track as a wildcard for KTM. Enea Bastianini was back in action this weekend, while Jonas Folger remained at Tech3 in place of Pol Espargaro.
Dani Pedrosa ruffled a few feathers by topping the times on Friday morning. Friday was a disaster for Yamaha, with Fabio Quartararo and Franky Morbidelli languishing down in 16th and 17th and headed for Q1 because some bright spark at Yamaha decided it was more important to test tyres for the Sprint in the morning session rather than try for a fast lap when the track was in the best condition to do so. Absolute madness, especially when your lead rider is already pretty vocal about how unhappy he is with the bike.
Saturday morning saw Enea Bastianini start the Free Practice session before pulling in to the pits and out of the remainder of the weekend. Enea said that while the pain in his shoulder was manageable, he didn’t have the strength to continue riding.
For the first time since the format was brought in, Yamaha failed to have any bikes through to Q2, with team boss Massimo Meregalli admitting that he had “some regret” about the tyre decisions made on Friday. Aleix Espargaro took pole position, and would be joined on the front row by Jack Miller – his first front row start for KTM – and Jorge Martin.
There was an exceptional press conference during the lunch break, where three men and one woman announced that from 2024 there will be a Woman’s Motorcycling World Championship. The idea of the championship is to “create opportunities for female riders who are already competing” and to “lay the groundwork for more equal representation across all motorcycle paddocks.”
We were told that it would be a one-make series that would run across six rounds within the World Superbike Championship. We have since learned that the bike in question is a Yamaha YZF-R7, and that the rounds of the championship will take place in Misano, Donington, Portimão, Balaton Park in Hungary, Cremona in Italy, and Jerez.
I said at the time it was announced that I didn’t think a Women’s championship was the way to go to encourage more women to compete at the World level, and I stand by that. I do agree that it would be good to see more females in the higher levels of motorcycle racing, but I don’t think this is the answer. Surely it would be better to tackle the issue from a grass roots level?
Sure, it would take a while to see the impact at the world level, but perhaps having a focus on encouraging young girls to take up racing and helping them to make progress through the ranks would be more beneficial in the long run. Something along the lines of what Faye Ho is doing at BSB – she runs her superbike team with male racers, but also runs 5 young female racers across the Junior Supersport and BMW F900 cup classes under the FHO Girls banner.
Anyway, it’s happening, and I do hope it is a success. I just don’t think it’s the way to go…
The Sprint race saw early drama – and a red flag – as Franky Morbidelli, Marco Bezzecchi, Alex Marquez, and Augusto Fernandez all crashed at turn 2. The riders lined back up on the grid for the re-start, and Brad Binder took an early lead ahead of teammate Jack Miller.
Binder and Miller battled for the lead throughout the Sprint, but it was Brad Binder who held on to take the victory, with Miller running wide on the last lap and gifting 2nd place to Bagnaia.
On Saturday evening we learned that the Stewards had decided Franky Morbidelli was to blame for the first lap pile up, and handed him a long lap penalty. Not only was the penalty nonsense – it was a first lap racing incident, and many riders agreed that the penalty was unnecessary – but the response from the Stewards to Yamaha’s appeal was that Franky had been “ambitious” in trying to overtake Alex Marquez. It wasn’t even the usual “overly ambitious” that they often use – there isn’t one rider on any grid who isn’t ambitious, and penalising them for such is ridiculous.
In addition to all of that, journalist Niki Kovacs reported that the Stewards had told Yamaha that Franky should have considered the fact that Alex can be an aggressive rider when trying to make a pass. What nonsense – imagine having to think that you shouldn’t try to overtake another rider because they might be aggressive.
The main race on Sunday afternoon began in an almost identical way to the Sprint – Miller took the lead from Binder and Martin, before the race was red-flagged following a multi-rider crash at turn 2. This time the incident involved Fabio Quartararo, Miguel Oliveira, and Marco Bezzecchi. Bezzecchi managed to stay upright, but Quartararo and Oliveira crashed, with Miguel being transferred to hospital with a dislocated shoulder and fractured humerus.
The race was re-started and Quartararo was handed a long lap penalty for “causing” the earlier crash – again, it was a racing incident and the penalty was unnecessary. The Stewards were really on one this weekend too – Quartararo was penalised again for touching the green paint at the end of his long lap. He was looking behind him to make sure he rejoined the track safely – it would have been much worse if he had just barrelled back on to the track and stayed clear of the green.
Bagnaia made a rather harsh move on Miller and was told to drop a position as punishment, but there was no action for Miller who had made a similar move on Martin. Nothing like a bit of consistency, eh?
Anyway, Bagnaia won the race ahead of Binder and Miller, to extend his lead at the top of the Championship to 22 points ahead of Bezzecchi.
After a weekend off, the paddock rolled into Le Mans for the French GP, and the 1000th GP in World Championship history. I would have thought that there would be been more fuss or fanfare around the fact that it was the 1000th race, but there wasn’t much at all. There were some photos released of riders wearing ridiculous “1000GP”, and the official hashtag for the weekend was changed to #GP1000, but that was it. And they couldn’t even keep that consistent – was it GP1000 or 1000GP?
There was finally a conclusion to the Marc Marquez penalty appeal saga ahead of this weekend, with the MotoGP Court of Appeal concluding that the Stewards were wrong to adjust Marc’s original sanction, and so the adjustment of the penalty was annulled. So the original sanction, which said Marc had to serve the penalty in Argentina stands, and as he didn’t race in Argentina the penalty doesn’t have to be applied elsewhere.
While I’m not keen on a rider not serving a deserved penalty, this was the correct decision in my opinion. The Stewards cannot just change the wording of a penalty once it’s been issued – I don’t know why the wording doesn’t always say that the penalty should be served in their next race. They haven’t even managed to be consistent going forward either, with some penalties continuing to be issued for a specific race.
On track in Le Mans, we saw Lorenzo Savadori, Jonas Folger, and Danilo Petrucci in as replacement riders for Miguel Oliveira, Pol Espargaro, and Enea Bastianini. Pecco Bagnaia took pole position, and then the holeshot in the Sprint, but it was Jorge Martin who went on to take his first Sprint win, with Binder and Bagnaia in 2nd and 3rd.
The race on Sunday saw Bagnaia continue his run of either winning or crashing as he came together with Maverick Viñales and the pair engaged in a little bit of fisty-cuffs in the gravel. Marco Bezzecchi won the race ahead of Pramac teammates Jorge Martin and Johann Zarco, with rookie Augusto Fernandez finishing in an impressive 4th place. Aleix Espargaro was the first finisher on a Factory bike in 5th. Bezzecchi’s win gave Ducati their fourth successive win in Le Mans, with Petrucci, Miller, and Bastianini having won the French GP between 2020 – 2022.
Three weeks on from France, Mugello was the next round, and the medical centre was once again a busy place with 5 fitness tests required. Enea Bastianini, Miguel Oliveira, Raul Fernandez, Pecco Bagnaia, and Luca Marini were all passed fit to race.
The speculation that Franky Morbidelli might lose his ride to Toprak Razgatlioğlu was ended this week when it was announced that Toprak was staying in World Superbikes, but was moving to BMW. An odd move for sure, but I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do with the BMW…
Franky was subjected to lots of questions from the media about whether he felt he was doing enough to keep his place at Yamaha, and Franky turned the question back to Dorna’s Jack Appleyard by asking “do I want to secure another year with Yamaha?” There had also been some talk about Yamaha making a move for Martin, but Ducati’s Paolo Ciabatti quickly shut that down.
Pramac Ducati ran a pretty cool livery this weekend – it was based on Dante’s Devine Comedy, and saw one side of the bike representing “Hell” and the other “Heaven / Paradise” to show how MotoGP can seem like both Heaven and Hell at times.
Andrea Dovizioso was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a MotoGP Legend this weekend too.
On track, we saw Pecco Bagnaia score a perfect weekend – he took pole position, and won both the Sprint and the race. Jorge Martin, fresh from his first podium of the season in France, took 3rd in the Sprint and 2nd in the race to move into the top 3 of the championship for the first time in 2023.
Elsewhere, Alex Rins suffered a crash in the Sprint that saw him break his tibia, fibula, and ankle. The team confirmed he would have surgery and would miss at least the next two rounds, but this would be an injury that would follow Rins for the rest of the season.
Next up was the Sachsenring in Germany – a place where Marc Marquez was once King. His performance this weekend though was anything but regal, with the Spaniard suffering a 5th crash of the weekend in warm up on Sunday morning which led to his withdrawal from the race.
This was after telling the media on Thursday that he had been in meetings with Shinji Aoyama (Senior Managing Executive Officer at Honda Motor Co.) and Koji Watanabe (President of HRC) to discuss the future of the HRC project, and that he was fully committed to using the next races to try and improve the project and the bike for all Honda riders going forward.
P2 on Friday afternoon saw a spectacular – though scary at the time – crash for Marc Marquez and Johann Zarco. Zarco was leaving pitlane as Marquez was entering turn 1, and Marc lost control of his Honda which slid across the track and slammed into Zarco’s Ducati, tearing the front of the bike away and sending Zarco crashing to the ground.
It was a freak accident, and I wouldn’t lay the blame with either rider, but what followed from Marquez was appalling. He ran off back towards the pits without any apparent concern for Zarco who was still lying on the ground, and then when speaking to media later in the day, he said that if anyone could have avoided the incident it was Zarco, as he could see that he was coming into the corner. I’d love to hear who Marquez would have thought was to blame in the incident that happened a few minutes before his own, when his brother was leaving the pits as Maverick Viñales crashed in turn 1 – if Maverick had wiped Alex out would it have been Alex’s fault?
It’s just nonsense, and from an 8-time World Champion too. There’s no denying Marc’s talent, but sometimes his actions and attitude leave a lot to be desired.
Pecco Bagnaia took pole position, but it was Jorge Martin who won both the Sprint and the race on Sunday to give Ducati their first win at the Sachsenring since Casey Stoner in 2008. Bagnaia was 2nd to Martin on both occasions, and on Sunday, Ducati scored their first ever 1-2-3-4-5 result with Zarco, Bezzecchi, and Marini following Martin and Bagnaia across the line. The last time a manufacturer filled the top 5 in a race was Honda back in Rio in 2008.
Jorge’s successful weekend saw him move ahead of Bezzecchi to 2nd in the Championship, 16 points behind Bagnaia as the paddock headed to Assen for the final race weekend before the summer break.
While there was no official news of rider signings this weekend, there was plenty of rumour and gossip, with Marc Marquez at the centre of quite a lot of it. Pedro Acosta had doubled down on previous statements that he was not looking to stay in Moto2 for 2024, and that he wants to move up to MotoGP, ideally with KTM. There was talk that to solve their 5 riders onto 4 bikes problem, KTM might ask to take over the grid slots vacated by Suzuki, but Dorna wants to keep those for a “new” manufacturer rather than one already on the grid.
There was speculation that KTM could field another manufacturer that falls under their umbrella – Husqvarna or MV Agusta, for example – and the favourite rider in the rumour mill to join Acosta in that team was Marc Marquez. Marc was of course contracted to Honda, but he hasn’t been happy with their performance for a while now, and team boss Alberto Puig came out this weekend and said that Honda are not looking to keep hold of unhappy riders who do not wish to be there…
Talking of Honda, Iker Lecuona and Stefan Bradl were in to replace Joan Mir and Alex Rins as they continued to recover from injury, with Jonas Folger still in for Pol Espargaro at Tech3. Pol did pay a visit to the team this weekend, and it was great to see him looking so well. Lorenzo Savadori was back for another wildcard ride with Aprilia too.
Aside from MotoGP action this weekend, there were some other results worth mentioning. Jaume Masia won the Moto3 race to take Honda’s 250th win in the lightweight class, Jake Dixon finally won a Moto2 race, and Angel Piqueras – who we now know will replace Jaume Masia at Le0pard next season – wrapped up the Red Bull Rookies Championship with 2 rounds and 4 races remaining following a run of incredible consistency.
Piqueras also went on to wrap up the JuniorGP Championship this season too, completing the double just as Jose Antonio Rueda had done last year.
Marco Bezzecchi became the 13th different polesitter in 13 races at Assen, and went on to take the Sprint victory ahead of Bagnaia and Quartararo. Bagnaia won the race on Sunday to become the first rider to win back-to-back races at Assen since Valentino Rossi in 2004 and 2005, and he was joined on the podium by Bezzecchi and Aleix Espargaro.
As MotoGP headed into a five-week summer break, Bagnaia had increased his championship lead to 35 points, with Martin in 2nd, and Bezzecchi in 3rd only 1 point behind Martin.
We arrived at Silverstone for the British GP, and we were using the pits on the Hamilton straight this weekend, with the paddock having used the national pit straight in recent years. There had been a fair bit of news over the summer break – Franky Morbidelli was leaving Yamaha, and Alex Rins had wrangled his way out of a two-year deal at LCR Honda to take the spot left by Franky at Yamaha. Franky was being linked with a move to Ducati with either VR46 or Gresini, as well as a direct swap with Rins to LCR.
This weekend saw the first mention of Marc Marquez to Gresini too, with poor Fabio Di Giannantonio having his bike linked with several riders including Marc and Franky, as well as Moto2 riders Tony Arbolino and Jake Dixon.
Other news saw the early stages of the tyre pressure monitoring rules being brought into place – we all love that rule, don’t we?! There was also a change to how the weekend sessions will impact whether riders head to Q1 or Q2 – the only session that will count towards Q1 / Q2 going forward would be the hour long “Practice” session on Friday afternoon, with Friday and Saturday morning sessions becoming “Free Practice” 1 and 2.
I think this season may have been the busiest one ever for the medical centre on Thursdays, and this weekend was no exception with 6 riders – Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Fabio Quartararo, Jorge Martin, Fabio Di Giannantonio, and Marc Marquez – all needing fitness tests as they returned to the paddock following either injuries that have kept them out of previous rounds, or injuries sustained and surgeries carried out during the summer break.
The only full-time rider missing Silverstone was Alex Rins, and he was replaced by Iker Lecuona who had been scheduled to defend his crown at the Suzuka 8-hour race, but instead was asked to run around at the back of MotoGP on a relatively uncompetitive bike. The team he was due to ride for at Suzuka won too, and I think it’s a real shame that he had to miss out on that opportunity. I think perhaps he thought he might be rewarded with a MotoGP ride given all the replacement rides he has done this season, which would have made missing Suzuka make sense, but he will be remaining in World Superbikes next season, with Alberto Puig stating late in the season that Lecuona had “never been an option” for a seat in MotoGP with Honda.
Marco Bezzecchi took pole position for the second race in a row, with Alex Marquez taking the Sprint victory ahead of Bezzecchi and Maverick Viñales. The Sprint this weekend was the first in which none of the 4 premier class champions on the grid – Bagnaia, Quartararo, Mir, and Marc Marquez – have scored a point.
Silverstone is one of those circuits where we often see a different winner, and Aleix Espargaro continued this trend to become the 9th winner in 9 races at the circuit as he won ahead of Bagnaia and Binder on Sunday. There was controversy over Bagnaia’s 2nd place finish as he very much looked to have touched the green on the final lap – which is an instant demotion of 1 place – but he held on to 2nd ahead of Binder who has been a victim of that rule many times this season. Brad’s KTM team did speak to Race Direction about Bagnaia touching the green, but they were told he hadn’t triggered the sensors.
We saw history made in Moto3 at Silverstone as rookie David Alonso took victory to become the first Columbian rider to win in any class of GP racing. Columbia is the 13th country to have won in Moto3, and the 30th in GP history.
Following a weekend off, MotoGP rolled into the Red Bull Ring for the Austrian GP, with the completion of the weekend marking the half-way point of the season. Alex Marquez was confirmed as remaining at Gresini Ducati for 2024, while KTM announced they have extended Brad Binder’s contract to see the South African remain with them through to 2026.
All the other KTM riders – Pol Espargaro, Jack Miller, and Augusto Fernandez – were all busy declaring to the press that they were sure of remaining in their seats for next season. Jack and Pol both said they have contracts for next season, while Augusto was confident that news would be coming soon and that he had been told he would be staying put.
There was a strong rumour heading into the weekend that Johann Zarco might be jumping ship at Pramac Ducati to take the seat vacated by Alex Rins at LCR Honda, and by Sunday morning the French media were saying it was a done deal. On Sunday evening Pramac announced that Zarco would indeed be leaving them at the end of the season, before Zarco spoke to several media outlets to say he would be moving to LCR despite nothing official from LCR until the following Tuesday when they did announce that Zarco would be joining them for 2024 and 2025.
I’m not entirely sure that jumping from arguably the best bike on the grid to one of the worst is a smart career move, but it sounds as though Ducati were only willing to offer Zarco a one-year deal, and he said himself that he believes he can contribute to the development of the Honda.
Just as Jaume Masia had secured a landmark victory for Honda in Assen, this weekend Deniz Öncü took KTM’s 100th victory in the lightweight class.
Savadori was again in as a wildcard for Aprilia, while Iker Lecuona continued to deputise for Rins at LCR.
Pecco Bagnaia had another “perfect” weekend, taking pole position and the Sprint win. His 50th GP podium on Sunday was a victory too. He was joined on the podium by Binder and Bezzecchi, and extended his championship lead to 62 points over Martin, with Bezzecchi a further 6 points back in 3rd.
Elsewhere, Marc Marquez finally finished a race – Sprints don’t count – for the first time in 301 days, as he finished his first race since Sepang last year.
Catalunya was up next, and marked the beginning of a run that would see 10 GPs in just 13 weekends. Marco Bezzecchi was announced as remaining with VR46 for next season, while Marc Marquez continued to fuel rumours that he was looking to leave Honda by rocking up to a press event in casual clothes rather than team clothing, but apparently, he is now no longer contractually obliged to wear team clothing at such events.
Davide Tardozzi confirmed this weekend that Enea Bastianini would remain in the Factory Ducati team for next season despite rumours that he might be replaced by Jorge Martin given his recent strong performances, while Tony Arbolino and Jake Dixon were ruled out of a move up to MotoGP as they both re-signed with their Moto2 teams.
Pecco Bagnaia took pole position, but it was Aleix Espargaro who would go on to do the double and claim both wins at his home GP. Aleix won the Sprint with a wheelie across the line ahead of Bagnaia and Maverick Vinales. Sunday’s race was a dramatic one, and there was drama before the race even started for Iker Lecuona who crashed on the sighting lap. He returned to the pits and managed to get round to the grid on his second bike, but the team had to work hard to convert it from the wet setup to a dry one (there was possible rain forecast so the second bike was set as wet in case of a flag-to-flag race) on the grid.
Bagnaia grabbed the holeshot to lead into turn 1 ahead of Jorge Martin, but behind them Enea Bastianini was in too hot and wiped out Zarco, Alex Marquez, DI Giannantonio, and Bezzecchi, which spread the chasing pack as they avoided the turn 1 chaos.
The fact that the pack was spread out a little was a blessing in disguise as before we had even processed who was out of the race at turn 1, race leader Bagnaia high-sided and was thrown violently from his Ducati, landing on the track and in the path of the chasing pack. Somehow, almost everyone was able to avoid hitting Bagnaia or his Ducati, but Brad Binder had nowhere to go and ran over Bagnaia’s legs before falling from his KTM.
There was a delay as Bagnaia was treated on the track and cement dust was laid to treat contamination on the track from Binder’s bike which had been smoking after contact with Bagnaia. There was all kinds of speculation about Bagnaia’s condition – because why bother waiting for anything official when you can just speculate? – but by Sunday evening the team had let us know that he was somehow relatively okay, and was planning to try and race at his home GP the next weekend.
That’s some advert for the kit these guys wear, because his ‘only’ injuries were a sore coccyx and a large haematoma from his knee to his ankle on his right leg. It really is remarkable that nothing was broken.
The race was restarted once Bagnaia had been transferred to the medical centre, with only Bagnaia and Bastianini missing from the grid. Bastianini had been given a long lap penalty for causing the turn 1 incident, but he was still in the medical centre as the race got going again, and we were later told he had fractures to his hand and ankle that would require surgery.
Aleix Espargaro won the race ahead of teammate Maverick Viñales, with Jorge Martin in 3rd. On the cool down lap, Maverick picked up a flag in memory of his late cousin Dean Berta Viñales, before he and Aleix swapped bikes for the rest of the lap. Speaking after the race, they explained that it was a symbol of the team work between them to bring the Aprilia to level it is at now.
Aleix was joined in parc ferme by his young twins Max and Mia, before the pair were escorted onto the podium to hand the winner’s trophy to their Dad.
The tyre pressure monitoring system went live this weekend, and Maverick Viñales was the first rider to be handed a formal warning for his first offence of a low tyre pressure in the race.
With Bagnaia not scoring in the race, Martin closed the gap at the top of the championship to 50 points, with Bezzecchi and Binder a further 21 and 23 points behind in 3rd and 4th.
Following the dramatic Catalan GP, we were straight on to Misano, where we would see both the MotoE and Red Bull Rookies reach their conclusion. Pecco Bagnaia was declared fit ahead of the weekend, less than a week after that crash in Barcelona, while teammate Enea Bastianini was at the circuit, but out of action for at least the next 3 rounds having had surgery following his Barcelona crash.
Enea wasn’t replaced by the team for this round, and as Iker Lecuona was back on World Superbike duty, LCR Honda drafted in Suzuka 8-hour winner Takumi Takahashi while Alex Rins continued his recovery. With there being a post-race test on Monday, we saw test riders Michele Pirro (on the Aruba.it liveried Ducati), Stefan Bradl (HRC), and Dani Pedrosa (KTM) all make wildcard appearances this weekend.
Having confirmed Bezzecchi was remaining with VR46 last time out, this weekend the team confirmed that they would be unchanged for 2024 with Luca Marini re-signing too. The rumour mill surrounding Marc Marquez was at a fever pitch this weekend with some speculating that not only was he on his way to Gresini, but that he would also being taking the Repsol, Red Bull, and Estrella Galicia sponsorship money with him, and at one point he was going to be buying the whole team!
There was nothing official at this stage, but Marc did tell Gavin Emmett on Sunday afternoon that what he needed from Honda was facts and actions, rather than excuses and promises.
The MotoGP paddock lost a big name this weekend as Mike Trimby – founder and CEO of IRTA – passed away on Friday evening. Mike spent his final day working in the paddock attending meetings and having dinner with his team. Many teams carried black ribbon tributes on their bikes for the rest of the weekend in tribute to the man who was often credited as being the one that made MotoGP what it is today in terms of rider safety and respect, giving riders and teams a much-needed voice when he founded the International Road Racing Teams Association (IRTA) back in 1986.
A tribute was held for Mike on Saturday evening with the whole paddock turning out on the start / finish straight to remember him with a minute of silence which was followed by a round of applause.
Mattia Casadei won the MotoE World Championship – upgraded this season from a World Cup to a World Championship – in the first of two MotoE races, to give Sito Pons a fairytale finish as the Pons team bows out of the MotoGP paddock at the end of this season.
While Pecco Bagnaia had scored a couple of “perfect” weekends so far this season, this time it was Jorge Martin’s turn to take pole and both wins in the championship leader’s home round. The top three was the same in both the Sprint and the race, with Martin winning ahead of Bezzecchi and Bagnaia, while Franky Morbidelli – who finished in 15th – was now the only rider who had finished in the points in all 12 races so far.
Ducati were down several riders for the test on Monday – Bastianini was out injured, while Bagnaia and Bezzecchi both decided to sit out the test to rest their injuries. Michele Pirro had picked up an ankle injury in the race on Sunday, and Di Gianantonio was suffering pain in his shoulder following a crash on Saturday.
Next up was a first trip to India, and Jorge Martin had cut Pecco Bagnaia’s lead in the championship down to 36 points, with Bezzecchi a further 29 points back in 3rd.
The Buddh International Circuit became the 74th different circuit to hold a premier class GP, and the 34th circuit to hold a race since the MotoGP era began in 2002. The Indian GP marked the first of the “fly-away” races, and we did have some more riders confirmed in seats for 2024 ahead of the weekend.
Taka Nakagami was confirmed as remaining with LCR Honda, while Pramac Ducati announced that Franky Morbidelli would be joining them for next season. Franky moving to Ducati means that all four of Valentino Rossi’s VR46 Academy riders will be on Ducati machinery for 2024. Franky said he hopes the move to Ducati after a couple of difficult years on the Yamaha would give him the opportunity to prove what he is capable of. Me too.
Ducati also acknowledged the possibility of Marc Marquez on a Ducati next season for the first time this weekend, with both Paolo Ciabatti and Davide Tardozzi answering questions posed by the media about the move. Tardozzi simply said that Marc is a great rider, while Ciabatti said that there is an opportunity for Gresini to sign Marc, but they are awaiting his decision.
Marco Bezzecchi took pole position ahead of Martin and Bagnaia – nothing unusual there, but there were two Repsol Hondas on row 2 with Marc Marquez and Joan Mir lining up in 5th and 6th behind Luca Marini who was 4th. With Quartararo and Morbidelli performing well this weekend as well, it seemed that the unknown of a new circuit and having to start from scratch was levelling the playing field a little.
Alex Marquez was ruled out of the rest of the weekend – and the following weekend in Japan – as he was diagnosed with 3 fractured ribs following a Q1 crash.
The Sprint start was delayed as officials attempted to dry out damp grid spots following earlier rain, but we were soon underway and Jorge Martin took victory ahead of Bagnaia and Marquez. Luca Marini joined Alex Marquez on the injury list having crashed out of the Sprint and broken his collarbone.
The race on Sunday was shortened from 24 to 21 laps at the request of the riders due to the high heat and humidity, and it’s just as well it was shortened – Jorge Martin required medical help at the end of the race as he rolled down pitlane and begged his team for water having finished 2nd to Marco Bezzecchi.
Martin explained later that he had ‘just’ been dehydrated. He made his way onto the delayed podium alongside winner Bezzecchi and 3rd place man Fabio Quartararo. It was quite the historic podium, with Bezzecchi taking Ducati’s 80th win, Martin taking Pramac’s 50th podium, and Quartararo taking his own 30th MotoGP podium.
The championship battle was certainly hotting up – Bagnaia crashed out of the race on lap 13 which meant he scored no points – with Jorge Martin having cut the gap to 13 points ahead of the Japanese GP.
Luca Marini and Alex Marquez both missed the Japanese GP due to injuries sustained in India, while Michele Pirro was back in action as replacement for Enea Bastianini who was still recovering from his Barcelona incident. Cal Crutchlow returned to the grid as a wildcard rider for Yamaha.
Jorge Martin took pole position and then the Sprint win on Saturday as they managed to complete the 12 laps in dry conditions despite the ominous looking clouds overhead. They weren’t so lucky with the weather on Sunday, with rain starting to fall as the riders were on their warm up lap ahead of the race.
Jorge Martin took the lead, but with the white flag now being waved – meaning that riders could now switch bikes – almost all riders peeled into the pits for a bike swap before the end of the first lap. Suddenly Pirro was leading the race from Quartararo, Bradl, Morbidelli, and Crutchlow, with Jorge Martin the first rider on wets in 6th place.
As everyone else eventually pitted for wets, it was Aleix Espargaro who had made his way to the front of the race, but by the time the race was red-flagged on lap 13 due to the weather conditions, Jorge Martin was leading Bagnaia and Marc Marquez.
I thought the red flag was a good call – the conditions looked horrendous, with rain continuing to fall and spray being thrown up by the tyres. The riders were sent back out for a quick re-start procedure, but the conditions still looked sketchy – there was rain falling and there looked to be areas of standing water too. Many riders waved their arms as the rode the warm up lap, and the red flag was thrown again before they got back round to the grid.
The riders pulled into pitlane unaware that a result had now been declared – the clear visors that riders wear in wet conditions gave a perfect view of Jorge Martin’s eyes as his team indicated to him that he had won the race! Jorge was joined on a rather soggy podium by Bagnaia and Marquez, and had now closed the gap to Bagnaia in the championship to just 3 points.
With Franky Morbidelli finishing in 17th place – there were now no riders who had scored points in every race.
After a weekend off, the paddock reconvened in Mandalika for the Indonesian GP on a track that had been fully resurfaced since the last visit. There was big news heading into this weekend as HRC had finally announced that Marc was leaving, before Gresini announced that he would be with them for 2024. While the shock factor had been taken out of the news because it had been rumoured for so long, it was still big news for MotoGP. Marc has been with Repsol Honda for his whole premier class career – they have 6 championships, 5 Triple Crowns, 59 race wins, and 64 pole positions together.
KTM had also solved their rider issues for next season – Pedro Acosta will step up to MotoGP, and he will replace Pol Espargaro in the Tech3 squad, with Pol stepping back to “fill a crucial and very valued position for the Pierer Mobility Motorsport project” next year. It wasn’t clear what that meant, but it does sound as though he will be testing for KTM and may even be given some wildcard rides throughout the season.
I think this was the right decision for KTM – Pedro Acosta is a huge talent, and they didn’t want to risk him jumping to another manufacturer, as they did with Jorge Martin, while Pol is at the other end of his career. I mean no disrespect to Pol – he is a Moto2 World Champion – but he has been in MotoGP since 2014, and he has never won a race. The other option for KTM would likely have been to dump Augusto Fernandez, but he had been having a solid rookie season, and would it really have made sense to pick Pol over Augusto? I don’t think so, not based on current form.
Bagnaia’s weekend didn’t get off to the best start as he failed to make it through to Q2 for the first time this season and would be starting the Sprint and the race from 13th on the grid. Luca Marini was the rider to take pole – his first in MotoGP. Jorge Martin took the Sprint win ahead of Marini and Bezzecchi – both of whom were quick to shove ice packs into their leathers post-race as they recovered from collarbone injuries. (Marini’s from India, Bezzecchi’s from a training accident between Japan and this round).
Jorge Martin’s Sprint win meant that he was championship leader overnight, but Bagnaia fought back on Sunday to win the race from 13th on the grid, and with Martin crashing out of the race, Bagnaia regained the lead. He had 18 points over Martin as they headed to Australia.
Joining Bagnaia on the podium in Indonesia were Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo, but it was Fabio Di Giannantonio in 4th place who was the most emotional in parc ferme (he was top Independent rider) having scored his best result since stepping up to MotoGP hot on the heels of being made unemployed.
Phillip Island in Australia was up next, and the weather forecast was grim. So grim that they swapped the Sprint and the race in the schedule – the full-length race was moved to Saturday afternoon, and the Sprint was moved to Sunday after Moto3 and Moto2 should the weather allow.
The weather did not allow, and we didn’t see a Sprint in Australia, but it was the right call – the weather was cold, wet, and windy, and had already seen the Moto2 race stopped after 9 laps (and 10 crashes).
Jorge Martin had taken pole position, but went into the first Saturday GP race since Assen in 2015 with a tyre gamble that would not pay off. He was one of only 3 riders – Pol Espargaro and Marc Marquez were the other two – to select the soft tyre ahead of the race, and while he got off to a flier, ultimately the tyre was done, and he was dumped from 1st to 5th on the final lap. There was some celebration to be had in the Pramac garage though, with Johann Zarco finally managing to win a MotoGP race! He took victory ahead of Bagnaia and Di Giannantonio who was showing that he deserves a place on the grid next season.
Johann Zarco stopped trackside on his in-lap to perform his first victory backflip since Valencia 2016, and I don’t think there was anyone at the circuit that wasn’t delighted to see the return of the backflip!
Martin’s disastrous tyre choice coupled with Bagnaia’s podium meant that Bagnaia had extended his championship lead to 27 points as the paddock headed straight to Thailand.
The Thai GP was the final race weekend of a triple-header before a weekend off, and Jorge Martin was on a mission to close the gap to Pecco Bagnaia in the championship. He took pole position, and his 5th Sprint win on the bounce, with Binder and Marini joining him for the Sprint medal ceremony.
Ducati were now guaranteed to win the championship this season, as following the Sprint results, Brad Binder was no longer able to score enough points to surpass Bagnaia, Martin, or Bezzecchi.
Jorge Martin also won the race on Sunday, with Pecco Bagnaia in 2nd and Brad Binder in 3rd. There had been a pattern developing over the last few rounds where Jorge Martin wins the Sprint, and then Bagnaia and his team spend Saturday evening studying Martin’s data – all Ducati teams and riders have access to each other’s data – and then make improvements ahead of the race on Sunday. This weekend, for example, Bagnaia was 7th in the Sprint and 2nd in the race.
While I understand why Ducati allow the sharing of the data, it must be so frustrating for Martin and his team – or any Ducati rider who finishes ahead of Bagnaia on a Saturday – that they are basically helping him improve. Anyway, Martin’s 4th double of the season meant that he had closed the gap to Bagnaia to 13 points.
There were differing approaches to the week off between Thailand and Malaysia for the two at the top of the championship. Jorge Martin stayed in Bali, which would presumably allow him to remain acclimatised to the heat and humidity, and be less susceptible to jetlag, while Pecco Bagnaia went home to Italy before flying out to Malaysia.
Alex Rins was once again out of action following a further surgery on his broken leg, with Iker Lecuona in at LCR Honda for this round and the next. Lecuona wasn’t the only World Superbike rider on the grid this weekend – newly crowned double champion Alvaro Bautista made his return to the MotoGP paddock for a wildcard ride. Hopes were high for Bautista heading into the weekend – he had completed a couple of successful tests on the Ducati earlier in the season – but the results were disappointing. It later transpired that he had been suffering with a shoulder injury, which is a shame because I would have liked to have seen how he would have gone had he been fully fit…
There was lots of talk about who might replace Marc Marquez at Repsol Honda this weekend, with Moto2 rider Fermin Aldeguer confirming on Thursday that there had been a phone call from Honda, but that there was no contract on the table yet. Alberto Puig was quick to dismiss this as “100% false” – but why would Aldeguer make it up? Then Puig said that Pol Espargaro returning to the team was a “real possibility” but Pol quickly shut that down too!
By the end of the weekend, the name on everybody’s lips was Luca Marini. Some media were reporting it as a done deal, but Luca himself was fairly tight-lipped. He did say though that it was a privilege to be considered and that all he wanted to do was what was best for his career. One might argue that moving from a Ducati to a Honda might not be what is best for anyone’s career.
There was more ridiculousness from the Stewards this weekend as Fabio Quartararo was handed a fine for undoing his helmet while riding back down pitlane after the Sprint. Fabio was not impressed, and quite outspoken about the Stewards, saying that he feels that they just close their eyes and pick a penalty to give to a rider that they don’t like. I can understand his frustration – he regularly undoes his helmet as he rolls back down pitlane, but this is the first time he has been fined. I don’t know why they couldn’t take him aside and warn him about it before jumping straight in with a fine. Especially when we often see riders stop after races and throw boots or gloves into the crowd and ride back without them on – where are the fines for that?
Pecco Bagnaia took pole position, but 3rd was the best he could do in the Sprint as Alex Marquez took the win, with Jorge Martin in 2nd. On a weekend when there was more speculation that Enea Bastianini might be swapped with Jorge Martin for next season – the idea being that if Jorge goes on to win the championship, Ducati wouldn’t want the #1 plate on an Independent team bike – Enea scorched to his first victory of the season. He was joined on the podium by Alex Marquez and Pecco Bagnaia.
Jorge Martin finished in 4th place, so the championship gap was now 14 points as the battle officially became a two-horse race with Bezzecchi too far behind to beat either Martin or Bagnaia to the title. Jorge Martin was also crowned the best Independent Team Rider this weekend.
Elsewhere this weekend, Moto3 rookie Collin Veijer took his maiden victory to become the first Dutch winner in any GP class since Hans Spaan at the 1990 Czech GP. In Moto2, Pedro Acosta took 2nd place in the race behind Fermin Aldeguer to claim the Moto2 crown and become the youngest ever Moto2 champion, and the 2nd youngest rider – behind Dani Pedrosa – to win the intermediate class championship.
Next up was a trip to Qatar, bumped to later in the calendar to allow upgrades to be made to the facilities. There was a considerable amount of drama this weekend – Jaume Masia claimed the Moto3 championship in a way that didn’t sit right with many, Aleix Espargaro smacked Franky Morbidelli around the head, and Jorge Martin claimed a dud tyre ruined his race!
FP2 on Saturday morning saw Aleix Espargaro make contact with Franky Morbidelli as he barged past him, and then he started waving his arms around as he so often does. I will point out that although Franky is sometimes guilty of riding slowly on the racing line, he wasn’t on this occasion. Aleix continued gesturing to Franky, and Franky raised his hand in a “calm down” gesture only for Aleix to reach out and slap Franky’s helmet.
Both were called to the Stewards office, and Aleix was handed a 10,000 Euro fine – which isn’t a huge amount of money to Aleix – and a 6-place grid penalty which would see him line up next to Franky.
Luca Marini secured pole position, and while he got off to a good start in the Sprint, it was Jorge Martin who took the victory. Di Giannantonio was in 2nd, with Luca Marini in 3rd place.
The Moto3 race was Jaume Masia’s first opportunity to take the championship, but even if he won the race, he would need Ayumu Sasaki to finish outside the top 5 or the championship would go down to the final round the following weekend. On two separate occasions, Masia ran Sasaki wide while passing him in the same corner. Once you could understand, but twice in the same corner and only when passing your title rival seemed a bit dodgy. Masia was given a conduct warning on his dash, and he knocked the aggression off.
His teammate though, was a whole other level of unnecessary aggression. Adrian Fernandez nerfed Sasaki twice in the final laps of the race, pushing him out of the top 5, and with Masia winning the race, that was the championship over. I really wanted to be pleased for Masia, but winning the championship because you put in a couple of dodgy moves when you’re usually a clean rider, and because your teammate rode like a wrecking ball just doesn’t seem right.
I’m not saying Masia isn’t a worthy champion – he has had a great season – its just that the behaviour of both Le0pard riders this weekend left a lot to be desired, particularly when you consider that the same team was up in arms a few seasons ago when their championship contender was wiped out at a crucial moment by a wayward Darryn Binder.
The MotoGP race saw Jorge Martin have a nightmare start as he dropped to 8th place while Bagnaia took the lead. Fabio Di Giannantonio went on to take a stunning win – his first in MotoGP – ahead of Bagnaia and Marini, and it was lovely to see almost every rider stop to congratulate him on the cool down lap.
Jorge Martin finished in 10th place, and was quick to blame his rear Michelin tyre. In a race the team would surely rather forget, the Pramac team became the first Independent Team to take the Team’s Championship in the MotoGP era.
We headed from Qatar straight to Valencia for the final round of the season, with 21 points separating Bagnaia and Martin which meant that should Bagnaia have a strong Sprint, he could wrap the title up on Saturday afternoon.
There were plenty of things happening for the last time at Valencia – many riders were having their last rides with their current teams, Sam Lowes was having his last (for now anyway) race in the MotoGP paddock as he heads off to World Superbikes, the Pons team were bowing out of racing. The only one of these that most people seemed interested in though was Marc Marquez’s last weekend with Honda – I get that it’s a big deal, but bloody hell, they did all bang on about it.
There were rumours aplenty this weekend about the RNF team, and long story short (because it was fairly detailed in my Valencia blog) the rumours said the team were having money issues with bills outstanding, and boss Razali selling his shares in the team. Team boss Razali did announce that he was leaving the team, and then the team released a statement to say the money rumours were incorrect and that Razali still owned 40% of the team.
Then Dorna released a brief statement on the Monday after the race to say that the RNF team would not be on the grid next season due to “repeated infractions and breaches of the Participation Agreement affecting the public image of MotoGP”, and that they would be looking for a new Independent team to take over the slots and the Aprilia machinery.
Raul Fernandez participated in the post-season test on Tuesday following the race weekend on an Aprilia with no sponsorship branding (Miguel Oliveira was out injured), and he was listed on the timesheets under “Aprilia Racing” rather than RNF.
We have since learned that an American team (Trackhouse Racing, who have enjoyed success in NASCAR) will be taking over – they will keep the Aprilia bikes, and the two riders who have contracts for next season, but I would imagine that the plan for the team will be to bring some American talent back in to the premier class. We might yet see Joe Roberts in MotoGP on an Aprilia after he turned them down last time they asked!
Maverick Viñales took the final pole position of the year, before Jorge Martin won the Sprint to keep the title fight alive until Sunday. Joining Martin in the Sprint top 3 were Brad Binder and a clearly emotional Marc Marquez.
Going into the race on Sunday, Bagnaia had a 14-point lead over Martin, so it was going to be a tough ask for Jorge – who had earlier described this weekend as “win or crash” – to take the championship.
Maverick Viñales disengaged his brain in morning warm up on Sunday and ignored the meatball flag, choosing to ride back to the pits rather than getting straight off the track. He was handed a grid penalty which promoted Bagnaia to pole and brought out all the social media conspiracy theorists…
As Bagnaia and Martin lined up on the grid, each knew what he had to do to become champion. Jorge needed to win the race and hope Pecco had a nightmare, while Pecco “only” needed to finish in the top 5 and he would be a double champion. They both made great starts to the race, with Pecco into the lead, and Jorge behind him in 2nd by turn 2.
Marco Bezzecchi was wiped out by Marc Marquez and when asked later in the day about why he thought the Stewards took no action he said because they never do with Marquez…
Then Martin’s race – and his championship – fell apart. He looked to get caught in the slipstream of Bagnaia’s bike – something we have seen a lot this season with the Ducatis – and was forced to go wide, dropping back to 8th. He tried to fight back, but as he battled with Marc Marquez, he made contact with the Repsol Honda, ending both of their seasons in the gravel.
Martin was clearly devastated, and the Factory Ducati team were quick to put a message on Bagnaia’s pit board to tell him Martin was out. That was it – Bagnaia could park up now and still be champion, but that’s now how sports people think, and he took his second MotoGP championship with a race win.
Jorge was greeted with a round of applause when he returned to his garage – he was still 2nd in the world after all. Marc Marquez said later in the day that he had no hard feelings towards Martin for the move that ended his time with Honda in the gravel – he has been in the position to fight for championships, and he understood why he was riding the way he was.
Jorge spoke to the media after he had been to parc ferme to congratulate Pecco, and he said that he is proud of his season, and that he will be MotoGP champion one day. I think (and hope) he’s right!
Pecco Bagnaia becomes the first rider since Mick Doohan in 1998 to successfully defend a championship while running the #1 plate, which is some stat. Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi have defended titles in that time, but neither ever ran the #1 plate.
Over the weekend, the VR46 team had announced that Luca Marini would be leaving them at the end of the season, and then on Monday HRC announced that he would be with them for 2024 and 2025, before the VR46 team announced that Fabio Di Giannantonio would be joining them.
I’m not sure how the move to Honda will go for Luca, although I do hope it works out for him, but I’m sure the move to VR46 will be a successful one for Diggia – he finally seems to have figured out the Ducati, and another season will hopefully see him get stronger.
Following on from the title celebrations and the Awards gala on Sunday, there was a test for MotoGP riders on Tuesday that saw riders out on 2024 machinery. Of course, much of the focus was on Marc – there was a mob of photographers outside his Gresini garage all day. He made them wait until the second hour of the test before he even left the garage, but it wasn’t long until he was up to speed. 7 laps. It took him 7 laps to be with 0.3 seconds of the fastest time, and though he wasn’t allowed to speak to the media, the smile on his face said it all.
In one way the attention Marc was getting was good – it took a bit of it away from rookie Pedro Acosta, who had admitted earlier in the season that all of the pressure when he moved up to Moto2 got to him a bit. Pedro had a solid day, and much like Marc he had a wide smile on his face.
The test was topped by – surprise, surprise – Maverick Viñales, ahead of Binder and Bezzecchi, with Marc finishing the day in 4th place.
And that’s it – MotoGP has finished for another year, and I already cannot wait for the pre-season tests which kick off in February, before the season gets underway in March with Qatar returning to its traditional slot as the season opener. See you then!