A new Championship leader means the MotoGP™ contenders have to reset their strategies with two races to go
105 points – that’s the turnaround which Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo team) has pulled off relative to Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) since his crash at the Sachsenring to seize the MotoGP™ World Championship lead at the Animoca Brands Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix. From 91 points behind the then-Championship leader, Pecco scored four wins in a row and now has three podiums in the last four races, the most recent of which has seen him move to a 14-point margin at the top of the table. Four riders remain a mathematical chance of lifting the trophy three weeks from now at Valencia, so read on for the full Championship picture.
The target for Bagnaia
With just two points separating Quartararo and Bagnaia when they touched down in Australia, there was always a chance that the Ducati rider would overtake the Yamaha pilot in the title race. The chances of that happening jumped when ‘El Diablo’ ran off at Miller Corner on Lap 4, and was almost certain when Quartararo crashed out at Southern Loop on Lap 11. The Frenchman now has three ‘zeroes’ in the last four races, and is without a podium in five. However, it could have been even worse considering Bagnaia led at the start of the final lap around Phillip Island before being overtaken by Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), leaving him to take third at the chequered flag.
Bagnaia overcomes on-track adversity to seize title control
So, instead of a 23-point deficit, the gap is just 14 points. Intriguingly, however, that means Quartararo’s hopes are not in his own hands – even if he wins in Malaysia and Valencia, he may not win the Championship given that the difference between first and second place in either Grand Prix is five points. In fact, a second place and a third place in the final two races would guarantee Bagnaia the title because, even if Quartararo does win both, they will be tied on points and the countback would read six wins to FB63 and five to FQ20. Will Pecco play percentages from now on, or go all-out?
Four still in the hunt
Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) had cause for frustration after finishing just ninth in Australia, but those seven points keep him in mathematical contention for the title. The Spaniard is, though, 27 points or more than a full race behind Bagnaia now, meaning he will have to fight tooth and nail to boost his prospects. The first aim for Espargaro in Malaysia will surely be to keep his Championship hopes alive, meaning having to gain at least three points on the Ducati leader, and then who knows what could happen in Valencia?
MUST-SEE: Quartararo is out of the Australia GP!
For Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™), the picture is not quite so nice. The Italian is 42 points behind his compatriot with 50 on offer for the rest of the season, so he faces a mountain to climb. 'La Bestia' is also the last remaining contender after Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) was taken out of the Australian GP by Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) and recorded a DNF. Miller is now too far behind to catch Bagnaia, but could, in theory still finish as high as second in the Championship, and what a way to end his time in red that would be?
So, the first MotoGP™ 'match point' of the season is in play at the Sepang International Circuit, and it has been earned by a rider whose hopes appeared dashed just eight races ago! Catch the PETRONAS Grand Prix of Malaysia on October 21-23.