Bagnaia has first 2023 title chance, goal “to increase the gap”

Francesco Bagnaia will have his first chance to clinch the 2023 MotoGP title in Qatar on Sunday.
Francesco Bagnaia, MotoGP race Malaysian MotoGP, 12 November
Francesco Bagnaia, MotoGP race Malaysian MotoGP, 12 November

The Italian, seeking to become MotoGP’s first repeat title winner since Marc Marquez, takes a slim 14-point advantage over Jorge Martin into the penultimate round.

Everything thus currently points to a final round decider in Valencia next weekend but there is a mathematical chance for Bagnaia to be champion in Qatar, should he increase his title lead to at least 37 points by Sunday evening.

A maximum of 37 points are now available at each round, with 12 for victory in the Saturday Sprint adding to the 25 for winning the main GP.

Bagnaia would thus need to outscore Martin by 23 points over the pair of Lusail races, a scenario that hasn’t happened since the Portimao season opener, when Pecco took a perfect 37 and Martin just 9 points after crashing on the Sunday.

As such, it is not purely in Bagnaia’s hands, and the 26-year-old says his focus is simply on “increasing the gap” this weekend.

"I'm happy to be back racing in Qatar this weekend. It's another track where we have always been competitive,” Bagnaia said.

“In the Malaysian GP, we finally managed to be fast right from Friday, and we were back on pole, something that hadn't happened since Barcelona. Here too it will be important to be able to do the same.

“14 points of advantage in the standings are not many, so the goal will be to try to increase the gap on Jorge in the Championship."

Bagnaia has won six Sunday GPs, the tie-break in the case of equal points, compared with four wins by Martin. A 37 (rather than 38) point lead would be enough for Bagnaia on Sunday since it would require Martin not winning, meaning the Spaniard could not match Bagnaia's six victories.

But it’s not just Martin who stands between Bagnaia and the top step in Lusail.

His own team-mate Enea Bastianini returns to the scene of a debut 2022 MotoGP victory on a high, after winning for the first time in factory red last Sunday in Sepang.

"Last week at Sepang I finally got a weight off my chest and now I feel freer!” Bastianini said. “I'm back to having fun on the bike and consequently being fast.

“This weekend we will race in Qatar, another track where I have been competitive in the past and where I won my first MotoGP race last year!

“I don't know if I can repeat myself again, but I definitely want to try!"

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