Italy’s Enea Bastianini (pictured here) became the seventh race winner of the season at round 18 in Malaysia at the weekend, but really it’s the battle between Italy’s defending world champion Francesco ‘Pecco’ Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Spain’s Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) to determine who will be champion this season.
And that furious two-rider battle for 2023 MotoGP title honours continues at the Lusail International Circuit, in Qatar, this coming weekend, with round 19 of the world series.
Bastianini bounced back to top form with a sensational victory in the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang after leading the 20-lap race from turn one to the chequered flag.
It was Bastianini’s first win for the Ducati Lenovo Team, his fifth MotoGP career victory, his first since Aragon 2022 and his first podium since the Malaysian race last year.
The top 4 positions remained unchanged throughout, with Bastianini setting the pace and finishing 1.5 seconds ahead of Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing). In the battle for the final podium place, Bagnaia and Martin twice had a skirmish in the early laps, but Bagnaia was able to comfortably pull away to put a gap of 3.5 seconds between himself and the Spaniard at the flag.
With Sunday’s third place, Bagnaia’s lead over Martin has now increased to 14 points, with two rounds remaining and 74 points up for grabs. It was again an all-Ducati triumph, with the Italian manufacturer placing three bikes on the podium for the seventh time this year.
“It’s fantastic and emotional to get back to winning after a difficult period. Today I didn’t want anything else, I just wanted to win, I didn’t care about the rest, and I knew I could do it,” said Bastianini afterwards.
“In the race I pushed from the start as in qualifying, maintaining the gap, but I was totally at the limit, and couldn’t give anything more but in the end, the victory came.
“I think that something exploded inside me this weekend and I went back to having fun. Certainly, one of the keys is that we modified the engine braking strategy, coming into line with what we saw from Thailand. What changed also was that I am not continually making mistakes when braking, which until recently happened every lap. I’ve always said that when you get back to having fun, you also go a lot faster.”
Bagnaia knew just how import in was to finish ahead of his main rival for the world crown.
“For sure it was very important to finish in front of my rival today,” said Bagnaia.
“It wasn’t easy because after our battle I tried to catch the other two guys, but it was very risky because as soon as I was close to Alex, I struggled with too much tyre movement at the front, and it was better to finish the race and take the points.
“I’m very happy with everything, we managed to be competitive from the start of the weekend and I was in pole for the first time since Barcelona. Now we move on to Qatar which is another track where I go fast normally. There it will be the same situation and it will be important to fight back like we did today and give the maximum.”
Photo courtesy Ducati
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MotoGP World Championship standings:
|1||=||Francesco Bagnaia||ITA||Ducati Lenovo (GP23)||412|
|2||=||Jorge Martin||SPA||Pramac Ducati (GP23)||398||(-14)|
|3||=||Marco Bezzecchi||ITA||Mooney VR46 Ducati (GP22)||323||(-89)|
|4||=||Brad Binder||RSA||Red Bull KTM (RC16)||254||(-158)|
|5||^1||Johann Zarco||FRA||Pramac Ducati (GP23)||200||(-212)|
|6||˅1||Aleix Espargaro||SPA||Aprilia Racing (RS-GP23)||198||(-214)|
|7||=||Maverick Viñales||SPA||Aprilia Racing (RS-GP23)||175||(-237)|
|8||=||Luca Marini||ITA||Mooney VR46 Ducati (GP22)||171||(-241)|
|9||^1||Fabio Quartararo||FRA||Monster Yamaha (YZR-M1)||156||(-256)|
|10||˅1||Jack Miller||AUS||Red Bull KTM (RC16)||156||(-256)|
|11||=||Alex Marquez||SPA||Gresini Ducati (GP22)||149||(-263)|
|12||=||Fabio di Giannantonio||ITA||Gresini Ducati (GP22)||100||(-312)|
|13||=||Franco Morbidelli||ITA||Monster Yamaha (YZR-M1)||93||(-319)|
|14||=||Marc Marquez||SPA||Repsol Honda (RC213V)||84||(-328)|
|15||^4||Enea Bastianini||ITA||Ducati Lenovo (GP23)||76||(-336)|
|16||˅1||Miguel Oliveira||POR||RNF Aprilia (RS-GP22)||76||(-336)|
|17||˅1||Augusto Fernandez||SPA||Tech3 GASGAS (RC16)||69||(-343)|
|18||˅1||Alex Rins||SPA||LCR Honda (RC213V)||54||(-358)|
|19||˅1||Takaaki Nakagami||JPN||LCR Honda (RC213V)||52||(-360)|
|20||=||Raul Fernandez||SPA||RNF Aprilia (RS-GP22)||40||(-372)|
|21||=||Dani Pedrosa||SPA||Red Bull KTM (RC16)||32||(-380)|
|22||=||Joan Mir||SPA||Repsol Honda (RC213V)||24||(-388)|
|23||=||Pol Espargaro||SPA||Tech3 GASGAS (RC16)||13||(-399)|
|24||=||Lorenzo Savadori||ITA||Aprilia Factory (RS-GP23)||9||(-403)|
|25||=||Jonas Folger||GER||KTM Test Rider (RC16)||9||(-403)|
|26||=||Stefan Bradl||GER||LCR Honda (RC213V)||8||(-404)|
|27||=||Michele Pirro||ITA||Ducati Lenovo (GP23)||5||(-407)|
|28||=||Danilo Petrucci||ITA||Ducati Lenovo (GP23)||5||(-407)|
|29||=||Cal Crutchlow||GBR||Yamalube RS4GP (YZR-M1)||3||(-409)|