Francesco Bagnaia

Crunching The Numbers: Predicting Race Outcomes - Which Session Matters Most?

It is no secret that FP4 is my favorite part of a MotoGP weekend. Every Saturday afternoon I watch the live timing carefully for signs of which MotoGP rider has the best race pace, usually pinging comments back and forth with Neil Morrison over WhatsApp. Once the results PDF is published, I pore over the Analysis timesheets, showing times and sector times for each lap, as well as which tires were used, and how fresh or used they were.

Based on that information, plus the outcome of qualifying, listening to what riders have to say and discussing the day with others, I try to make as informed a guess as possible of what might happen in the race. I try to estimate who looks to have the best race pace, based on lap times set in longer runs on very used tires. And if a rider hasn't used older tires – switching between two different rear tires, for example – I try to estimate whether their pace on used tires drops off more than the times in FP4 show.

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Valencia MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 2: Hot Tarmac, The Sad Loss Of Suzuki, Electronic Oddness, And Frustration For Aprilia And Honda

Going into the final MotoGP race of the year at Valencia, we were all expecting Ducati to dominate. After all, they had utterly dominated the 2022 season. Ducati had won 12 of the 19 races so far (7 by Pecco Bagnaia), had at least one rider on the podium for 25 consecutive races, taken 15 pole positions, and had at least one rider on the front row for 39 races. In 2021, Ducati had locked out both the front row of the grid, and the podium at at Valencia.

After qualifying, Ducati had increased their pole tally to 16 in 2022 and extended their streak of consecutive front row starts to 40. Jorge Martin started from pole, and Jack Miller qualified third. But that something had changed was clear from the rest of the grid. Marc Marquez was second on the Repsol Honda – a fit Marquez can use his genius to pull a fast lap out of the bag, but the Honda is in no shape to sustain that over race distance – while the second row consisted of Fabio Quartararo on the Yamaha, Alex Rins on the Suzuki, and Maverick Viñales on the Aprilia. Valencia was not looking like being a Ducati whitewash (redwash?) again.

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Valencia MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Pecco Bagnaia And Gigi Dall'Igna - The Long Road to The Championship

Pecco Bagnaia celebrates in Parc Ferme with Ducati

Gigi Dall'Igna has done it at last. After nine seasons, the Italian engineer has achieved his dream, and done what Ducati hired him to do: win a MotoGP title. After 125 and 250 titles with Aprilia, he now has a MotoGP crown to add to his trophy cabinet.

Of course, it is Pecco Bagnaia who will actually hold the title. And it goes without saying that it was Bagnaia who did the hard work of winning out on track. Seven victories is the best total for a Ducati rider since Ducati's last world championship, Casey Stoner in 2007 (Stoner won 10 races), and the way he dominated the second half of the season was phenomenal. In the final ten races of 2022, Bagnaia was averaging 19 points a race, and missed out on the podium twice: a crash at Motegi, and that tense final race in Valencia.

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Valencia MotoGP Saturday Round Up: A Closer Title Fight Than Anyone Expected

When I went for my motorcycle license nearly four decades ago in The Netherlands, I turned up for the test in the middle of January, in the pouring rain, and with a hangover after staying out the previous night. As I rode out of the test center to start the practical part of the test, feeling the odds stacked against me, I accepted I would fail and relaxed, riding around thinking I would try again a few months later. I passed first time.

The test for my car license in the UK, nearly a decade later, was much the same story. As I was about to drive off to start the test, the examiner asked me if I had perhaps forgotten something, pointing at the seatbelt I had not fastened. Failed at the first hurdle, I thought, and was surprised when I passed that as well.

What does a quaint tale of driving tests back in the Pleistocene era have to do with MotoGP? Quite a lot, as it turns out. I passed the tests because I had no nerves, having believed that all was already lost. I relaxed, focused on just riding or driving round, and forgot about the stakes.

Abandon hope, and prosper

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Valencia MotoGP Friday Round Up: The Importance Of Qualifying, Dealing With Nerves, And The Optics Of Nepotism

Conditions at Valencia were near ideal on Friday, promising a stable weekend of practice for the first time in what feels like forever, but is probably only since Aragon. Nobody is concerned about rain, and even the temperatures are not much of an issue. The only thing the riders are worried about is the wind, blowing down the straight and causing issues with the bikes' aero packages.

"We changed the fairing," Luca Marini, fastest man on the first day said. "The smaller fairing with so much wind, the bike is easier to ride but we lose in acceleration, wheelie and top speed. So I hope for less wind to use the standard fairing which is much better for me."

Jack Miller struggled with the wind as well, complicating the process of getting the right setup. "I had to understand first of all where the wind was coming from, what we needed to do to get the bike working better in the wind," the Ducati Lenovo rider said. "A couple of rogue gusts smashed me coming out of the last corner during one of my best laps of the morning. And as the bike started to wheelie, it disappeared from underneath me."

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The 2022 MotoGP Finale At Valencia: The Decider, Or Already Decided?

Fabio Quartararo, Pecco Bagnaia, and Enea Bastianini on the podium at Sepang. Quartararo needs to win, but he also needs Bagnaia to fail

The final MotoGP round of the 2022 season is being billed by series promoter as "The Decider". The reason for the billing is simple: Pecco Bagnaia arrives at Valencia with a very comfortable lead over Fabio Quartararo, but the title is still up for grabs.

In theory, at least. Bagnaia leads Quartararo by 23 points, and has 7 wins to Quartararo's 3. In effect, this means that Bagnaia needs to finish 14th or better to be certain of the title. But even more reassuring for the Ducati Lenovo rider, Quartararo has to win the race to even have a chance of successfully defending his 2021 title.

What are the chances of both of those events happening? Let's examine each event separately. First, the chance of Pecco Bagnaia finishing 15th or worse at Valencia. His first couple of seasons in MotoGP did not go particularly well for the Italian. Ruled out of the race in 2019 after knocking himself out and fracturing a wrist in 2019, crashing in the first Valencia race in 2020, then ending in 11th in the second race there a week later.

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Sepang MotoGP Subscriber Notes: How (Not) To Win A Championship, And A Morbidelli Revival

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.

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Sepang MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Pressure, Tows, Bumps, And Championships

There is a cliché about sports events having a "pressure cooker atmosphere", but in the case of the Sepang MotoGP race, it is almost literally true. A combination of withering heat, completely saturated humidity, and incredible pressure is cooking up an explosive climax to the MotoGP championship.

With a championship on the line, the pressure is plain to see. In the previous 18 races, Pecco Bagnaia had just 12 crashes. On Saturday, he added another two to that tally. Fabio Quartararo has had six crashes in the 18 races before this weekend, and added another during FP4, fracturing a finger in his left hand in the process. Likewise Aleix Espargaro, who has added another two crashes this weekend, taking his total to 13. For the record, the current crash leader is Darryn Binder, with 22.

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