The prospect of rain, an eclectic front row and a title on the line, but with the line drawn in middle of a feisty pack – there were a lot of reasons to be equal parts anxious and excited about the penultimate race of the season. Thankfully the rain stayed away and the premier class rewarded us with a tense battle to the final lap, when Pecco Bagnaia secured a seventh victory of the season and sealed the team’s championship for Ducati. Although they had plenty of reasons to celebrate, the Bologna squad suffered through 20 laps of intense pressure from Enea Bastianini, who spent the race taunting his future teammate before settling for second. While Bagnaia had a perfect race, rival Fabio Quartararo wasn’t too far off and claimed the final step of the podium to take the title fight to a final round decider.
Poleman Jorge Martin had made a great start to lead the field from the off, but Bagnaia stole the spotlight with what he himself called the best start of his career, going from ninth on the grid to second by turn two, ahead of Bastianini and Marc Marquez. Quartararo followed his example with a great first few corners, climbing into sixth, behind Franco Morbidelli, who caused no further trouble for his teammate and focused on keeping the chasing Suzukis at bay in the early laps. Brad Binder made some quick progress into ninth, with Aleix Espargaro lingering in 10th and battling Marco Bezzecchi after a sluggish start for both riders. Their teammates didn’t fare much better, both dropping out of the top 15 on the opening lap and with Luca Marini going on to retire with a mechanical issue.
Meanwhile, Martin was in a rush to escape right out the gate and held a seven tenths’ advantage after the first couple of laps, while Bastianini held station behind – close behind – Bagnaia and with Marquez dropping one second back and into the clutches of the Yamaha and Suzuki duos. Morbidelli was less of a threat at that stage, the Italian serving his first of two long lap penalties on lap five and dropping to 10th position, but Quartararo was keener to get past Marquez and was helped by the Honda man leaving the door wide open at the first and last corners. Quartararo picked up fourth place on lap five and was left with two and a half seconds to find to the leading trio, where Martin maintained a one second gap over his Ducati colleagues. If two of the title contenders were enjoying their rapid comebacks, Aleix Espargaro continued to struggle and dropped to 15th, behind Jack Miller and Cal Crutchlow, and soon came under fire from Morbidelli, who had lost further ground after his second long lap penalty.
Back at the front, disaster struck on lap seven, when Martin gifted Bagnaia the lead by unceremoniously crashing out, but this also handed Quartararo a podium position. The Frenchman was almost three seconds behind Bagnaia and Bastianini but was enjoying a one and a half second buffer to the next group, where a rampant Bezzecchi was quite fiercely battling Marquez and Joan Mir, with Alex Rins more patiently in tow. Bezzecchi looked like the quickest of the lot and soon stretched a bit of a gap over the Spanish trio, while closing in on Quartararo to join the podium battle and try to play his part in the title fight.
The hierarchy had settled by the halfway point of proceedings, with Bagnaia closely stalked by Bastianini – a bit too close for comfort for the Ducati garage - while Quartararo appeared unable to make any significant inroads into their three-second advantage. Bastianini eventually decided that lap 11 was the right time to make his move and took the lead at turn four, leaving Bagnaia with a decision to make – and he made it quickly, immediately showing intentions to retaliate. While all eyes were on the somewhat unexpected victory battle, Bezzecchi was steadily reeling in Quartararo, the gap down to half a second with nine laps remaining and about to put Ducati in the uncomfortable situation of asking for favours publicly.
While the cameras lingered on Ducati’s whispering holy trinity, Bagnaia appeared keen to take matters into his own hands, glued to the rear tyre of his future teammate and attacking at the final corner with seven laps remaining. Although Bastianini still seemed keen to respond, the attention briefly turned to Quartararo and Bezzecchi, who were yet to trade places but had closed in to 1.5 seconds of the two leaders. Although the Frenchman was not closing in at a fast rate, he soon put a second into Bezzecchi and distanced the Italian with four laps remaining. The Suzukis had lost over four seconds on the podium battle while dealing with the Marquez bottleneck, but the Honda man was keen to keep entertained for the remaining laps and gladly mingled with his compatriots. However, a threat was coming from behind, where Jack Miller found some late pace to gain ground inside the top 10, also helped by Mir fading from the battle for fifth and crashing out with three laps left.
Bagnaia and Bastianini entered the final lap still inseparable and although the Pramac man kept everyone’s heart rate up right until the chequered flag, Bagnaia secured victory by two tenths of a second. Quartararo claimed third over two seconds later, to ensure the title battle goes to Valencia, while Bezzecchi secured a safe fourth, six seconds ahead of Alex Rins. The Suzuki man got a bit of breathing room from Marquez in the final handful of laps, while the Honda rider came under late pressure from Miller, the Australian stealing sixth place on the last lap. Binder, Johann Zarco and Morbidelli rounded out the top 10 positions over the line, although Aleix Espargaro was handed back 10th after a review of a last lap tangle with Morbidelli.
Bagnaia and Quartararo head to the final round separated by 23 points in the world championship battle, while Espargaro gives up his title hopes and keeps third place by a sole point from Bastianini.
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