Bagnaia can’t “relax” at Valencia MotoGP

Francesco Bagnaia has said his 21-point championship lead over Jorge Martin isn’t enough to “relax” at the Valencia MotoGP finale this weekend

Francesco Bagnaia, 2023 MotoGP Qatar Grand Prix. - Gold and Goose

Last weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix saw two twists in the MotoGP championship, and Francesco Bagnaia now leads by 21 points ahead of the finale in Valencia.

Both title contenders - Bagnaia and Pramac Racing’s Jorge Martin - both suffered with alleged underperforming rear tyres at the Qatar Grand Prix last weekend. Bagnaia, though, was more fortunate than Martin, because he had to deal with his tyre for the 11-lap Sprint, whereas Martin was stuck with it for the 22-lap Grand Prix. Martin’s team had also expected him to be spending much of the race at the front, and so set a high front tyre pressure, which became too high when he ended up stuck in the pack after spinning off the start. 

Bagnaia entered Qatar with a 14-point lead in the championship, and left with 21 points over Martin with 37 left on the table.

"After the Qatar GP, we arrive in Valencia with a 21-point lead over Jorge,” Bagnaia said. “They definitely give us a bit more breathing space, but they are still not enough to relax completely.”

Bagnaia has good memories in Valencia, having clinched the title there last year. Perhaps more importantly, though, he won the Valencia Grand Prix ahead of Martin in 2021. “Valencia is a track where we have been fast in the past and where we have the potential to do well,” the Italian said. “Our approach to the weekend will not change compared to the other races. The goal will always be the same: to work well from the first session on Friday and try to fight for the win in the race.”

Pressure is an integral part of any championship battle, but this year has been an opposite scenario for Bagnaia compared to 2022. Last year, the Ducati-mounted Italian was fighting against Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo, against whom he had a machinery advantage, and therefore a speed advantage, which allowed him to overturn a 91-point deficit to claim his first title. This year, on the other hand, Bagnaia has been almost overwhelmed by Martin’s speed at times, speed which probably makes Martin the favourite to win both races this weekend. 

Despite being perhaps on the back foot in this regard, Bagnaia insists he is “calm and looking forward to getting on track for this season's last act.”

2023 MotoGP championship permutations

The 2023 weekend format, and particularly the introduction of Sprints for 2023, mean that it is difficult to say today - the Thursday before the race - precisely what Bagnaia needs to do to wrap-up the title this weekend, and therefore what Martin needs to do to overturn his deficit. 

Instead, we can look only at Saturday’s Valencia Sprint, after which Martin must be trailing by no more than 24 points in order to keep the fight going on and into Sunday’s Grand Prix. (A 25-point deficit for Martin after Saturday would hand the title to Bagnaia due to his unmatchable Grand Prix win tally of six for the season, compared to the four wins of Martin in full-length GP races this year so far.)

With 12 points available in the Sprint, Martin could conceivably cut the gap to Bagnaia down to nine points, should he win and the Italian fail to score on Saturday. 

On the other hand, for Bagnaia to win the title in the Sprint in two days’ time, he must out-score Martin by four points. That means, for Bagnaia to be crowned on Saturday, that:

  • If Bagnaia wins, Martin must finish no better than third
  • If Bagnaia finishes second, Martin must finish no better than fifth
  • If Bagnaia finishes third, Martin must finish no better than seventh
  • If Bagnaia is fourth, Martin must finish no better than eighth
  • If Bagnaia is fifth, Martin must finish no better than ninth
  • If Bagnaia is sixth, Martin must finish no better than 10th
  • If Bagnaia is seventh or lower, the battle will continue to Sunday regardless of where Martin finishes

The condition that Bagnaia must out-score Martin on Saturday to go into Sunday confirmed as the 2023 champion very much gives the advantage to Martin, who has beaten Bagnaia in every Sprint since San Marino, and in 10 of the 18 so far in 2023. The last time Bagnaia beat Martin in a Sprint was in Barcelona. Since the Catalan Grand Prix, Bagnaia has made the Sprint podium in four of the seven Sprints; whereas Martin has won six of those seven, finishing second in the other (Malaysia, when Alex Marquez won).