Winning a MotoGP championship is hard. Arguably, the individual riders championship is the hardest title in the world to win. Apart from the basics – talent, and the opportunity to develop it – you also need to have persuaded a factory team with a competitive bike that they should sign you to race for them. You need the right people around you, and the right tools to take on the very best riders in the world, on the fast racing motorcycles ever built.
That last part, getting on a competitive bike, may be one of the hardest parts. Even with six factories and twelve seats (to be reduced to five factories next year), getting to join the right factory at the right time is tough. It is easy for factories to take the wrong direction, and go from being competitive to struggling. Yamaha's botched engine upgrade this year is evidence of that. Or Honda's radical update to the RC213V which has improved one weakness while removing the bike's greatest strength.
Then you have to go through an entire season of 20-plus races without making too many mistakes or getting caught up in the mistakes of others, without crashing and being injured, or without mechanical problems. You have to stay fit, stay focused, rack up wins when you can and points when you can't. And you have to control your nerves once you get close to finally wrapping up the championship.
On Saturday, it looked like all three of the candidates for the 2022 title had failed this latter test. Pecco Bagnaia had crashed out on his hot lap in Q2 and qualified ninth. Fabio Quartararo had mistimed his second run and was twelfth on the grid. While Aleix Espargaro had suffered chatter and a lack of acceleration to qualify tenth.
If any of the three had pretensions of glory, they would have to put in a championship-worthy ride on Sunday. If not, they would arrive at the last race of the season coming off the back of a decidedly lackluster performance, where they collected a handful of points and the differences in the title chase remained largely unchanged.
Pecco Bagnaia and Fabio Quartararo did just that, shooting to improbable podiums from the third and fourth row of the grid. Aleix Espargaro faltered, though perhaps not entirely of his own doing. Bagnaia and Quartararo both rode the races of champions, and because of the points differential for the top five places, Bagnaia put one hand on the 2022 title. And it all came down to the start.
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