The rain held off, despite a brief shower which caused mayhem during the Moto3 race and meant the first race of the day had to be severely shortened and restarted (TV is king, and only absolute disaster can be allowed to move the start of the MotoGP race from its sacred 2pm CET slot), and so we got the dry MotoGP race we deserved. No descent into chaos and confusion, no randomized results based on gambles, smart or otherwise, or appetite for risk.
In fact, chaos is fast becoming a thing of the past in MotoGP. The first few races seemed like an absolute lottery, for one reason or another. In the first three races of 2022, there were 9 different riders on the podium, with nobody seemingly capable of getting on the podium a second time. At round 4, in Austin, we saw the first podium repeats, with Enea Bastianini and Alex Rins on the box once again, and Jack Miller making it 10 different riders on the podium in 4 races.
Since returning to Europe, order has been restored to the MotoGP hierarchy. Or perhaps it is better to say, a new hierarchy has established itself at the top of MotoGP. In the last three races, only one new rider has made it to the podium, Pecco Bagnaia at Jerez. Since Austin, the podium has very much seen the same people on repeat: Aleix Espargaro making it three third places in a row, Fabio Quartararo doubling up at Portimão and Jerez, and Johann Zarco, Jack Miller, and Enea Bastianini making a return.
Fabio Quartararo continues to lead the championship, despite a slightly disappointing result at his home grand prix. Aleix Espargaro's star continues to rise, the only rider with four podiums so far this season, and showing precisely the kind of consistency that wins championship. There's a Ducati near the top of the championship standings, though not Bologna's favorite son Pecco Bagnaia, but Enea Bastianini instead. And there's a chasing pack in pursuit of the leading trio, containing the two Suzuki riders, the two factory Ducatis, Johann Zarco, Brad Binder and Marc Marquez.
But the fact that Bastianini dominated and has now won three of the seven races is starting to put pressure on Ducati. And the sudden availability of Alex Rins and Joan Mir due to Suzuki's withdrawal has blown the rider market wide open. In many ways, what we saw at Le Mans held a lot of significance for the future, both in terms of the 2022 championship and for who ends up where – and who is left out in the cold – for 2023.
So in these notes, a few questions arising from the Le Mans round of MotoGP. Some with an impact in the short term, some which will matter over the longer term. And a look at why the race turned out the way it did.
- The meaning of Enea Bastianini's victory
- Why the wrong Ducati winning is causing contract headaches
- How Suzuki's withdrawal is shaking up the rider contract market
- The need for a rider union in MotoGP, and why it won't happen
- Aleix Espargaro is creeping closer to be the favorite for the title
- Fabio Quartararo can't overtake, and it's not necessarily down to the front overheating
- Why MotoGP riders can't overtake any longer, and why that is a really bad thing
Great leap forward
Before all that, let's start with just how fast this race was. And in fact, just how much faster MotoGP is compared to four years ago. On Friday, Enea Bastianini shaved 0.04 off Johann Zarco's record from 2018. On Saturday, that got taken to another level, with 10 riders getting under Zarco's previous lap record, and Pecco Bagnaia destroying it by nearly three quarters of a second.
A dry track meant this got carried into the race. Once again, 10 riders got under Maverick Viñales' race lap record from 2017, Pecco Bagnaia claiming the new record with a lap of 1'31.778, over half a second quicker than Viñales. And that wasn't just a one off. Enea Bastianini smashed Marc Marquez' record for race time by over 15 seconds over 27 laps. Five other riders finished faster than Marquez' time from 2018, including Marc Marquez himself.
Perhaps the fact that Marquez could only beat his own best race time by five thousandths of a second is a sign in itself of where the Honda stands currently.
The winner was not someone you might have expected on Saturday night. With Pecco Bagnaia on the front row, and Fabio Quartararo exhibiting fearsome pace, few had eyes for Enea Bastianini. His pace in FP4 was decent, but not exceptional, and there were plenty of riders who were obviously quicker than him.
The start of the race changed everything, though. Bastianini got an outstanding start, charging through to take second heading into the chicane, cleverly using the outside line and some superb braking to slot in behind Jack Miller. He messed that up at Turn 8 Garage Vert, running wide and losing two places to Pecco Bagnaia and Alex Rins.
He soon found his feet again though, and after Alex Rins crashed out – after a terrifying trip through the gravel at Turn 1, coming back onto the track almost directly in front of Miller and Bagnaia at Turn 4, sacrificing himself and the bike to ensure there were no collisions – he was soon hunting down the factory Ducatis.
What was most impressive about Bastianini was the way that he found to pass both Miller and Bagnaia, despite the difficulties of passing at Le Mans. He took a long time to line up both passes, sitting on the tails of the factory Ducatis and sizing up his options. He got past Miller by hanging onto the tail of the Australian through Musée and using the extra speed to force his way in front at Garage Vert.
Bastianini's pass on Bagnaia was even more inventive. Again, it took the Gresini rider a long time to line up, but on lap 21, he managed to close the gap to the factory Ducati enough to give him a fighting chance to outbrake Bagnaia into the Dunlop Chicane. Bagnaia responded superbly, seizing his chance when Bastianini went a fraction wide at La Chapelle to retake the lead, but Bastianini was not to be bested. He sat on Bagnaia's tail through Musée, preparing for a repeat of the pass on Jack Miller.
As it happened, he didn't need to try. Bagnaia was so focused on keeping Bastianini behind that he ran hot into Garage Vert and let Bastianini through. Half a lap later, Bagnaia made another mistake, pushing the front a little too hard into the first right at Raccordement and sliding into the gravel. It was game over for the factory Ducati rider.
That was part of the plan, Bastianini claimed afterward. "When I tried to overtake him, for me Pecco has a been a little bit nervous," the Italian told the MotoGP.com website. "He overtook me again and after he has made an error."
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