Pecco Bagnaia has taken a major step towards the 2023 MotoGP World Championship title with a run to second in the Qatar MotoGP, despite being upstaged by Fabio di Giannantonio taking a stunning maiden win at the Lusail International Circuit.
On a miserable evening for Jorge Martin, who struggled throughout after almost being flicked from his Ducati at lights out, Bagnaia recovered from a leery moment with four laps to go while battling for the lead with di Giannantonio to collect a valuable 20 points, while his rival laboured to a distant tenth.
With just two races - and a maximum of 37 points on the table - to come at Valencia next weekend, Bagnaia holds a 21 point lead over Martin to the Spanish finale.
However, if the evening began with all eyes were on the battle between Bagnaia and Martin for the title after the latter’s Sprint Race success on Saturday whittled the gap between the pair down to seven points, it ended with the focus firmly on di Giannantonio.
Still without a ride for the 2024 MotoGP season having been ousted by the incoming Marc Marquez, with the likelihood of a move to Repsol Honda now fading, the Italian proved he isn’t going without a fight with silky performance reminiscent of Enea Bastianini’s success for the team at Qatar in 2022.
Returning to the circuit where he made his MotoGP debut with the Italian team, while di Giannantonio was somewhat forgotten amid the hubbub of Bastianini’s surprise win 18 months ago, he made sure the attention was on him for his return as he recovered from a tardy start to shadow Bagnaia in second into the latter stages.
Noticeably quicker than his factory counterpart during the second-half of the race, di Giannantonio - ignoring unsubtle messages to hang back from Ducati - struck for the lead with five laps to go.
A lead Bagnaia had held from the very start after getting a mighty start from row two to thread between the front trio and hold his form for 17 laps.
However, upon encountering the slipstream down the home straight for the first time behind di Giannantonio, Bagnaia misjudged his braking and was forced to sit up, only just avoiding the rear wheel of his fellow Italian ahead of him.
Sending him wide, the mistake gave di Giannantonio the breathing room to relax to the flag, while Bagnaia too could sigh relief to slot into a comfortable second with Luca Marini running several seconds behind in third.
The result completes a triumphant trilogy of results for di Giannantonio, whose form has taken a noticeable upturn since it was confirmed he would be out of a ride for 2024. Beginning with his run to third place in the Australian MotoGP, he went on to finish second in yesterday’s Sprint Race before going one better in the main GP.
Despite missing out on the win, second for Bagnaia is more than enough for him to take a comfortable margin over Martin into next weekend’s Valencia finale.
Indeed, after winning Saturday’s Sprint Race, Martin came into the full-length encounter as the favourite for another victory. However, his race was all-but-ruined as soon as the lights went out, Martin’s front tyre failing to grip as the rear pushed down in the middle of the dusty second row.
Sending him immediately askew, Martin found himself down in ninth position as they filtered through the first corner and from thereon never looked capable of closing the gap to the front.
Indeed, despite briefly rallying to get himself up to sixth place, Martin would spend the race largely fighting a rearguard action, eventually being picked off by those behind to leave him tenth at the flag.
Back at the front, it was another Ducati 1-2-3, as Marini - the latest rider hotly-tipped for the Repsol Honda ride next year - consolidated a successful weekend by following up his pole position and top three finish in the Sprint Race with his second main GP podium of the season.
That came at the expense of Brad Binder and Alex Marquez, who both enjoyed stints in the provisional third place spot before being pushed back by Marini and then Maverick Vinales.
The Aprilia rider produced one of his strongest performances of the season to claw his way back into the podium fight having spent several laps bottled up behind the out-of-sorts Martin, Vinales eventually crossing the line in fourth from Binder in fifth and Marquez in sixth.
In seventh, Fabio Quartararo enjoyed another stealthy rise up the order from 13th on the grid on the underpowered Yamaha M1, ahead of Enea Bastianini - winner in Qatar last season and Malaysia last weekend - who showed impressive late pace to get up to eighth place from a low of 16th.
Jack Miller also made gains during the race to get the better of Martin in ninth, while Marc Marquez survived a late strike to his rear by Johann Zarco to finish 11th, followed by the Frenchman in 12th.
Behind them, Joan Mir scored points for only the fourth time this season with a solid run to 14th, while Augusto Fernandez faded to 15th on the best of the GasGas Factory Racing Tech3 bikes.
Qatar MotoGP, Lusail International Circuit - RACE Results
|2023 Qatar MotoGP - Lusail International Circuit - RACE Results - Round 19 of 20|
|1||Fabio di Giannantonio||🇮🇹||Gresini Racing MotoGP||Ducati GP22||22 Laps|
|2||Francesco Bagnaia||🇮🇹||Ducati Lenovo Team||Ducati GP23||+2.734|
|3||Luca Marini||🇮🇹||Mooney VR46 Racing||Ducati GP22||+4.408|
|4||Maverick Vinales||🇪🇦||Aprilia Racing||Aprilia RS-GP||+4.488|
|5||Brad Binder||🇿🇦||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||KTM RC16||+7.246|
|6||Alex Marquez||🇪🇦||Gresini Racing MotoGP||Ducati GP22||+7.620|
|7||Fabio Quartararo||🇨🇵||Monster Energy Yamaha||Yamaha M1||+7.828|
|8||Enea Bastianini||🇮🇹||Ducati Lenovo Team||Ducati GP23||+8.239|
|9||Jack Miller||🇦🇺||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||KTM RC16||+11.509|
|10||Jorge Martin||🇪🇦||Prima Pramac Racing||Ducati GP23||+14.819|
|11||Marc Marquez||🇪🇦||Repsol Honda Team||Honda RC213V||+14.964|
|12||Johann Zarco||🇨🇵||Prima Pramac Racing||Ducati GP23||+17.431|
|13||Marco Bezzecchi||🇮🇹||Mooney VR46 Racing||Ducati GP22||+14.807|
|14||Joan Mir||🇪🇦||Repsol Honda Team||Honda RC213V||+18.673|
|15||Augusto Fernandez||🇪🇦||GasGas Factory Racing Tech3||KTM RC16||+21.455|
|16||Franco Morbidelli||🇮🇹||Monster Energy Yamaha||Yamaha M1||+21.474|
|17||Raul Fernandez||🇪🇦||CryptoData RNF Racing||Aprilia RS-GP||+22.142|
|18||Pol Espargaro||🇪🇦||GasGas Factory Racing Tech3||KTM RC16||+27.194|
|19||Takaaki Nakagami||🇯🇵||LCR Honda IDEMITSU||Honda RC213V||+27.740|
|DNF||Aleix Espargaro||🇪🇦||Aprilia Racing||Aprilia RS-GP|
|DNF||Iker Lecuona||🇪🇦||LCR Honda Castrol||Honda RC213V|
|DNS||Miguel Oliveira||🇵🇹||CryptoData RNF Racing||Aprilia RS-GP|