Jorge Martin’s Portuguese MotoGP Dominance and a Gift From a Rival

Jorge Martin was dominant in last weekend’s Portuguese MotoGP race, and he received a gift from a rival (or two), too

Jorge Martin, Maverick Vinales, Enea Bastianini, 2024 MotoGP Portuguese Grand Prix. - Gold and Goose

Jorge Martin was devastating in the Portuguese MotoGP race last weekend, and he heads to round three with a healthy points lead. Is the Martinator now the title favourite?

Really, it’s impossible to answer that properly, because after two rounds the sample size of numbers to base such an answer on is big enough to build a case, but also small enough to invalidate with observations.

The biggest number in Martin’s favour, though, is the points margin he has over second-place in the riders’ standings: 18. That’s big enough to mean that, whatever happens on Saturday in Texas in just under three weeks’ time, he will have the points lead when the lights go out for the MotoGP Grand Prix of the Americas on 14 April.

Further, those 18 points go back to Brad Binder. KTM is closer to Ducati in 2024 than ever before, but it’s still more likely at this stage that Martin’s closest challenger comes from within Bolognese ranks.

So, where are they? 

Francesco Bagnaia crashed out of Sunday’s Portimao race after throwing away a certain victory in the Portuguese Sprint the day before, in an error that was either characteristic or uncharacteristic of the Italian depending on where your biases lie. At the same moment as Bagnaia, Marc Marquez crashed during the Portuguese Grand Prix, scoring zero points. The result, championship-wise, is that Bagnaia is 23 points behind Martin, and Marquez is 33 back.

The simultaneity of the Portuguese GP crashes of Bagnaia and Marquez was caused by them colliding on lap 23. Bagnaia had been passed by Pedro Acosta on lap 21, and Marquez was next up as the Italian faded. 

Bagnaia’s immediate response to being passed is always to look for the cut-back, to make an immediate retaliation. Look at Aragon 2021 where he responded to Marquez seven times in the last three laps to win his first race, or more recently at the 2023 Malaysian Grand Prix when he responded twice in half-a-lap to Jorge Martin, or to the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix when he cut back to the inside of Fabio Di Giannantonio when the #49 passed him for the lead with four laps to go. Even at this year’s Qatar Sprint, Bagnaia saw Aleix Espargaro to his inside twice, and both times he switched his approach to the corner to prepare the exit. Bagnaia knows his own strength on the brakes, and that anyone making ground on him in braking must run wide once they get to the apex, so once he sees someone on his inside he forgets about the corner entry and instead opens his line to beat his rival to the exit.

In the case of the Marquez pass, Bagnaia did his usual. He saw the front wheel appear in the downhill braking for turn five, sat up to open the corner, and then turned underneath Marquez. The difference between the previous cut-backs and this one was that, this time, Bagnaia didn’t have the front grip to close the line, and he slid into Marquez as shown by the reverse angle of the incident. At the same time, the inextinguishable determination possessed by Marquez meant he was always going to try to close the line himself to prevent Bagnaia’s repsonse. 

The collision was a racing incident, caused by two riders unprepared to give up points to the other. Both know they are likely to be title rivals down the line, and so any points lost could make a difference in November.

Bagnaia’s opinion was that the incident was just something that happens in racing, a perspective which can be challenged by watching the video and seeing that they crash when Bagnaia makes contact with Marquez. 

Marquez, on the other hand, said that Bagnaia was too ambitious in a fight for what was fifth place. Of course, the response to Marquez’ view would be that, surely then, Marquez himself was too ambitious in making two bike lengths on Bagnaia in braking for turn five over the same fifth position? Whatever the case, the result was advantage Martin.

The whole race was like that, as Martin went lights-to-flag to secure his first Grand Prix victory since last October’s Thailand Grand Prix. Portugal’s was a victory which followed Martin’s failure to win the Qatar Grand Prix -  a race he had the speed to win - from pole position. 

In 2023, Martin was often the rider to win the Sprint, but rarely the rider to reach the end of the Grand Prix with as much grip as his rivals. In Qatar, he overcorrected, being too cautious in the beginning, and setting his personal best lap of the race on the penultimate tour when Bagnaia - who led from fourth on the grid by the fourth turn - was already long gone.

In Portimao, though, Martin was perfect. The Sprint win never came on Saturday, instead going to Maverick Vinales, who spent most of the GP in second before a gearbox issue on the Aprilia forced his retirement.

In any case, Martin was the best rider on Sunday. He learned his lesson from Qatar - to use marginally more tyre in the beginning, taught to him by both himself and Bagnaia at the opener - and put his education to devastating effect. The difference between his fastest lap (1:38.823 on lap 20) and his slowest lap (1:39.436 on lap three) was 0.613 seconds. Further, while Martin did 12 laps in the 1:38s, 11 of which all came successively from lap 13 to lap 23, Vinales did eight, podium finishers Acosta and Enea Bastianini both did six, Francesco Bagnaia did two, Marc Marquez did one, and nobody else did any.

The Autodromo Internacional do Algarve was the scene of one of Martin’s biggest ever crashes, in which he sustained multiple broken bones and other injuries that kept him out for multiple races of 2021, his rookie MotoGP season. For Martin to deliver the most complete Grand Prix performance at the same venue would seem to complete one particular circle of Martin’s career. 

Another chapter of Martin’s career, that of his time with Pramac Ducati, will come to an end at the end of this season, in all likelihood, and, after last year, completing that particular circle will require a world title, something Portugal showed him to be as able as ever to deliver.

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