Why Bagnaia would be a deserving 2022 MotoGP title winner... but not a great one

It's all change at the top of the 2022 MotoGP World Championship standings and suddenly it is Pecco Bagnaia and Ducati with the first match point in Sepang

Fabio Quartararo, Pecco Baganaia - Yamaha, Ducati, 2022 MotoGP

A week can certainly be a long time in motorsport but in the case of the 2022 MotoGP World Championship it feels like we head to this weekend’s Malaysian MotoGP at Sepang looking at an entirely different series.

Having spent months plotting the course of Fabio Quartararo’s crawl towards back-to-back titles against the shadow of the rapid decline-turned-revival of Pecco Bagnaia, the standings lead baton finally changed hands last time out at Phillip Island.

And just like that, here we are with two races remaining and a first match point belonging to a rider leading the MotoGP standings for the first time this season.

What has happened to Fabio Quartararo?

From Quatararo’s side, ceding the series lead at this critical juncture is a bitter pill to swallow, albeit one he has been chewing now for a disordinate amount of time now.

It’s very clear the Frenchman is valiantly wringing the Yamaha M1 for every ounce of remaining performance it has. 

At no point this year has Quartararo raced a bike capable of the steadfast strong results his talent is clearly capable of, as demonstrated by the woeful results of his stablemates muddling around towards the back of the grid. 

It has been pointed out on numerous occasions that Franco Morbidelli - a three-time race winner that on paper should be a match for Quartararo - has failed to deliver in 2022, but his paltry 31 points to his team-mate’s 219 remains a startling indication of Yamaha’s issue.

Should Bagnaia go on to clinch the 2022 MotoGP World Championship, Yamaha deserves to take a fair amount of flak for failing to deliver, its ‘laissez-faire’ policy of bike development amid a chorus of calls for change from Quartararo and expert commentators laid bare this year.

However, Yamaha isn’t solely to blame for its situation. Quartararo, as marvellous as he has been at maximising his package, has looked unsteady in recent rounds, almost as though he was resigned to the fact he would be overhauled before it actually happened.

A sloppy race in Phillip Island - a concertina-style circuit that didn’t have to benefit Ducati - and his strange afternoon in Thailand suggested he had become too distracted by the looming advance of Bagnaia.

Moreover, he’s achieved just a single podium since the summer break, a period during which Quartararo swaggered with the confidence that he had the measure of Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro, while Bagnaia - at this stage 66 points adrift - didn’t seem a contender.

Was 2022 MotoGP title always Pecco Bagnaia’s to lose?

However, it is credit to Ducati's Bagnaia that he has hauled himself back into this position, even if - being cynical for a moment - he has had every advantage going for him in doing so.

For one, even before the summer break, it was clear Quartararo was extracting some mighty results from his package, which had the flip-side effect of making him look both exceptional and vulnerable.

It was clear, however, that Bagnaia had always been a competitive rider on the most competitive bike, but mistakes and misfortune dogged both his campaign and confidence during the first half of the year.

A slap on the wrist for his drink-drive bungle during the summer break was a lucky escape and would have likely acted as a severe jolt for Bagnaia to knuckle down and start delivering the results he had already shown he was capable of on a more regular basis.

Even so, there is underlying cynicism that Bagnaia has had a disproportionate amount of assistance along the way thanks to Ducati’s sheer Armada of eight bikes both acting in the Italian’s favour, while getting in the way of Quartararo.

While pointing now to Dorna’s preseason allowance of so many entries from one manufacturer clutches at some straws, it’s perhaps fair to say few expected the Italian marque to exert so much control this deep into the season.

The rise of Enea Bastianini and - particularly in recent rounds - the strong emergence of the VR46 Racing squad with Marco Bezzecchi and Luca Marini has clearly annoyed Ducati’s rivals, particularly when it’s playing its strongest suit in qualifying and dominating the front three rows.

As well as acting as mobile chicanes for rivals to work their way through, Bezzecchi and Johann Zarco have both openly remarked they held back from overtaking Bagnaia in races, while Ducati is evidently enforcing ‘suggestive’ team orders without publicly doing so.

That’s not to discredit Bagnaia, who has been steadfastly impressive since the summer break, but perhaps this championship has always been Bagnaia’s to lose, even from such a long distance back.

It should be pointed out clearly that no rules have been broken here… but much like a Roman Abramovich-funded super rich Chelsea spending its way to the Premier League title, you can’t help but feel strength-in-numbers Ducati has bulldozed its way to the title through brute force more than finesse…