until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


10 moments that decided the incredible 2023 MotoGP title fight

by Simon Patterson
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Pecco Bagnaia is the 2023 MotoGP world champion.

That is the outcome most would have predicted on the opening weekend of the season in Portugal eight months ago, as Bagnaia dominated while many key rivals ended up hurt.

But the twists and tension that ensued during those eight months were incredible, as Jorge Martin mounted a late-season surge that brought the campaign alive and created MotoGP's finest one-on-one title fight in many years.

Here's our pick of the most significant moments.

1 Bagnaia dominates at Portimao while Martin gets hurt

Bagnaia: 37 Martin: 9 Difference: 28

At the first race of the year, it very much looked like we were in for domination from reigning champion Bagnaia, as he qualified in second then comfortably won both the sprint race and the main event on Sunday, a full haul of 37 points on the first weekend of the new format.

Behind him, Martin was left picking up the pieces of a bruising weekend. Though able to almost match his eventual title rival in the sprint by finishing second, he was one of the victims of Marc Marquez’s lunge on Miguel Oliveira early in the race on Sunday, ending up in the gravel with a fractured toe.

It slowed his early season charge, with only a modest points haul a week later in Argentina as a result - a situation saved mainly by Bagnaia’s crash out of the wet main race at Termas de Rio Hondo.

2 Vinales takes out Bagnaia in France

Bagnaia: 94 Martin: 80 Difference: 14

By the time the series got to Le Mans in May, Bagnaia had had a somewhat up and down start to his title defence.

Crashing out twice but also winning the two races he finished, the main aid to his championship was that no one else seemed to be presenting much of a threat to him, given that Martin also had two DNFs to his name and the closest contender in the championship was Marco Bezzecchi, 20 points adrift.

Pole position and a sprint race podium (behind Martin) hinted that Bagnaia was set to have a good weekend in France - but a mistake from Maverick Vinales on Sunday soon put paid to that, leaving both him and Bagnaia in the gravel as Martin rode to his first podium of the season, a result that very much started the run of momentum that he’s been riding since.

3 Two go to war in Germany

Bagnaia: 160 Martin: 144 Difference: 16

If you’re going to win your first race of the season and establish yourself as a genuine title contender, then the best way to do it is probably by roughing up the reigning champion in a last lap scrap - which is exactly what Martin was able to do when the series headed to the Sachsenring in June.

Taking both sprint and main race wins ahead of Bagnaia in second both times, it was Sunday where he really demonstrated what he was capable of - and both demonstrated how aggressive they were willing to be.

As they made contact multiple times while Martin set up his last lap win, it very much established that the Pramac rider was now ready to battle as he closed Bagnaia's points lead back down to only 14.

4 Martin gets penalised in Austria

Bagnaia: 251 Martin: 189 Difference: 62

Coming into the weekend at the Red Bull Ring in mid-August, Martin and Bagnaia had taken a race win apiece from the previous three rounds.

But it looked like Martin would be able to close the gap down a little bit again at the venue where he took his first ever premier class win back in 2020.

It all went wrong at Turn 1 of the sprint, though, when contact with the luckless Oliveira left the Portuguese racer in the gravel and Martin forced to work his way through the field again.

Able to only finish seventh, it then got even worse after the race when a long lap penalty was handed out, ending his hopes of battling Bagnaia for the Sunday win as the title leader romped to perhaps his most dominant victory of the season.

5 Bagnaia’s big bash at Barcelona

Bagnaia: 260 Martin: 210 Difference: 50

After his domination in Austria, it looked like Bagnaia was cruising. But in the next round, everything changed.

Pole position and second in the sprint race behind Martin reinforced the idea that Bagnaia had everything under control - and his perfect start on Sunday suggested that 25 more points were coming his way, until his monster Turn 3 crash.

With Bagnaia high-siding, hit by Brad Binder and hurting himself badly enough to bring out the red flags, it briefly looked like it might even be title defence over, especially after Martin finished the restarted race on the podium.

However, badly bruised but not broken, Bagnaia brought a hero’s performance to his home race at Misano only a week later to limit the damage with a pair of runner-up performances that at least kept him in the fight even as the gap shrank.

6 + 7 Mistakes in India and Indonesia

Bagnaia: 346 Martin: 328 Difference: 18

Heading to India for the first time still carrying the after-effects of the Barcelona crash, the last thing that Bagnaia could afford to do was concede significant points to Martin - but that’s exactly what he did by throwing it down the road while under no real pressure.

However, thankfully for him, Martin was quick to return the favour by doing almost exactly the same thing while seemingly cruising to one of his easiest wins of the year in Mandalika a few weeks later.

The points gap was, by then, close, of course - but it meant that one mistake cancelled the other out and kept the championship race alive.

8 Martin's Australia last-lap disaster

Bagnaia: 366 Martin: 339 Difference: 27

Still the man to watch despite his crash a week beforehand, Martin looked comfortable and in control throughout practice at Phillip Island - and backed that up in the race with a start to last lap lead.

But gambling on making a softer tyre last didn’t work for him - and he got properly duffed up on the last lap as a train of four riders (including Bagnaia) blasted past him to leave him fifth.

There was an additional sting in the tail too, as his incredible sprint race streak wasn’t able to continue because the Australian weather forced the cancellation of a race already postponed to Sunday, arguably costing him 12 key points given the high chance he'd have won it.

9 The ‘bad tyre’ in Qatar

Bagnaia: 437 Martin: 416 Difference: 21

At the penultimate round of the season, things were just about as close as they had been at any point of the year, with only 14 points between the two heading to Lusail and with momentum definitely in Martin’s favour, especially after a comfortable sprint race win while Bagnaia struggled to fifth.

That all flipped on its head on Sunday, though, as Martin dropped like a stone through the field while his rival fought for the win.

He put the blame firmly on Michelin afterwards for delivering him a bad tyre. It may be that there was more to it than that, especially given his poor start and need to push aggressively from the start.

The end result was the same regardless of the cause, though: a little bit of breathing room for Bagnaia as the series headed to Valencia.

10 Martin's Marquez tangle ends it

Bagnaia: 467 Martin: 428 Difference: 39

The drama was incessant through the finale weekend - Martin hounding Bagnaia in practice, Bagnaia (not for that reason) having to come through Q1 but then outqualifying his title rival, Martin still fighting through to win the sprint as Bagnaia fell to fifth, leaving them 14 points apart with just one race to go and then Bagnaia being handed pole for the decider pre-race via a Vinales penalty.

They battled at the front immediately, but not for long - Martin slewed off the road at Turn 1 on lap three in a near-miss with Bagnaia as he lined up a pass on his rival, then dramatically collided with Marc Marquez while trying to recover from ninth.

Bagnaia led the two factory KTMs pass him, benefitted when both made errors, then fended off Fabio di Giannantonio and Johann Zarco to officially wrap up his second title with a win as dramatic as the whole season turned out to be.

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