The opening round of the 2023 MotoGP World Championship may have felt very different with its revised schedule and new Sprint Race format, but that didn’t stop Ducati Lenovo’s Pecco Bagnaia from picking up where he left off in 2022 as he consolidated his status as hot title favourite in Portimao.
The Italian continued the rich vein of form that enabled him to close down Fabio Quartararo during the second-half of the 2022 season and snatch the title, with his victories in Portugal - including the Sprint Race - taking him seven wins in the last 12 starts.
While chaos occasionally reigned around him, Bagnaia kept a cool head on both occasions, despite winning in very different manners.
Indeed, while he waited until the final lap to pounce on Jorge Martin for victory in the Sprint Race, he took command of the main feature from lap two and was never headed thereafter.
His fine form comes after a pre-season where Bagnaia was largely untouchable, with a maximum haul of 37 points in Portugal making him the clear man to beat in Argentina next weekend.
“Sincerely I am very happy, we have done the perfect job, I only missed the pole position,” he mused. “My feeling with the new bike is incredible, so it was different this race because we had the test here, so we were prepared.
“In one week we will be in Argentina, it will be a new track with a new layout, but the bike has great potential. We are really strong, my riding style suits this bike [the GP23] more, so let’s continue like this.”
Reflecting on comments made by riders after the Sprint Race that the shorter distance will prompt more aggressive riding and lead to injuries, such as those for his teammate Enea Bastianini, Bagnaia pointed out there were similar issues in the full-length feature too.
“It was a big jungle again, I saw the videos. The riders said it was a jungle with the sprint race, but it was the same today over 25 laps so, the sprint race is not the problem, it is the approach of the riders, this is the big difference.“