until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Bagnaia's criticism, Martin's defiance - MotoGP title race fireworks

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

MotoGP hopeful Jorge Martin came in for criticism from his employer Ducati over the tactics he'd used against rival Pecco Bagnaia in Friday practice for the Valencia finale.

Martin faces the task of overhauling a mammoth 21-point deficit to Bagnaia in the closing round of the season, with 37 points on offer.

But Martin took a tentative step towards that with what he acknowledged was more or less an "ideal" Friday - as he secured a spot directly in Q2 and Bagnaia failed to do so.

En route to that outcome, Martin followed Bagnaia relentlessly in the decisive closing stages of the second Friday session - to the point where Ducati team manager Davide Tardozzi seemingly attempted to half-heartedly block off Martin from getting out of his pit box in time to tuck in behind Bagnaia.

Speaking to Italian TV afterwards, Tardozzi described Martin's conduct as being within the framework of the rules yet something he personally disapproved of, saying it was "as ridiculous as what [Marc] Marquez sometimes does" and hinting it was not befitting of the premier class.

Martin's explanation

It was pretty obvious that Martin was considerably faster than Bagnaia on Friday even without a tow. He logged the second-best laptime in Bagnaia's wheeltracks but looked limited by the Italian at some parts of the lap.

"We took the gamble to go with Pecco," Martin said. "I thought that if he was going into Q2, I was going with him and if not, maybe I’d stay in Q1.

"I was knowing that I had to take that risk and finally I was able to do a nice lap."

But he did not shy away from the fact that he was also using "the only way to maybe put some pressure".

"He was, for sure, not happy about the situation," Martin admitted.

"For sure it’s not nice to see, it’s not what I want to do, it’s not what I’m used to, but it’s what I need. But I’m not going to the next level [in terms of] disturbing him."

Though it looked on the final lap of the session like Martin may try to pass Bagnaia and ensure the Italian can't do a top 10-worthy lap - before a Pol Espargaro-triggered yellow flag made the question academic - Martin insisted he was never actually going to overtake.

This, he felt, would've been "not fair" as it would've ruined Bagnaia's lap.

For all his almost-apologetic stance, however, he also suggested the factory Ducati team was overreacting to his tactics.

"I saw they were a bit upset about the situation - it’s clear it’s the only thing we can do. It’s not that I pushed him outside the track or something, I just followed.

"I think a lot of riders during the season, you saw them following me, following Pecco, and they say nothing. So I think they should relax a little bit and understand the situation."

And when asked by The Race about how he expected Ducati the manufacturer - whuch he is directly contracted to - to see the situation, he said: "Well, I am [riding for] Ducati.

"If I win the races or all the other results [I got] I did for my team, but also for Ducati, so I hope they are happy that I also want to win."

Bagnaia: Martin should focus on himself

Both Bagnaia and his Ducati team were very clear that Martin's tactics were not what compromised him on a Friday on which he just didn't seem to have the pace.

And while team-mate Enea Bastianini theorised that Bagnaia was having rear tyre issues, Bagnaia's explanation was that he was struggling particularly on corner entry - but that the big losses, "five tenths", were coming across just three corners.

"We will improve for tomorrow," he said confidently.

Bagnaia stressed that Martin has already been using him as a reference for "the last three races".

"It’s a bit better if he starts thinking on this job, on his work, because he said he had to win both races and [to] ride like this he’s losing time to be focused on his job," added Bagnaia.

"Right now he’s not the fastest, so it’s better I think to [focus on] himself."

Bagnaia suggested he was more amused than annoyed because "I was very slow, in any case I was struggling to enter into Q2" and that it was nothing new to him to be followed by riders anyway.

And when asked by The Race whether he saw an element of mind games to Martin's tactics given their respective pace on Friday, he said: "Absolutely. He needs to try something absolutely, but I was expecting [that]."

Tardozzi actions compared to infamous Moto3 incident

Martin's Pramac team-mate Johann Zarco said that he would not have used the same tactic - but primarily because he feels that, unlike Martin, he can't just switch between pushing and riding around slowly in an instant.

And as for a fairly firm defence of Martin's actions, this came from his good friend Aleix Espargaro.

"I didn't see anything really strange from Jorge's tactics," said the Aprilia rider.

"Yeah, he tried to make Pecco a bit nervous, but at the end of the day, if you analyse, Pecco had a free track, behind [Fabio] Quartararo [a bit up the road] to set his laptime - and he didn't.

"The thing that I didn't like was the member of the Ducati factory team, that stayed in front of Jorge's bike."

The Race asked Espargaro whether he saw a parallel between Tardozzi's actions and an infamous 2022 incident in Moto3, in which members of the then Husqvarna-badged Max Racing Team run by ex-500cc star Max Biaggi tried to obstruct a rival team's rider, Adrian Fernandez (brother of current RNF Aprilia MotoGP rider Raul), from leaving the pits.

One of the mechanics in question gabbed the brake on Fernandez's bike in that incident, and they were suspended as a result.

"They [the Moto3 team members] went back home," Espargaro responded bluntly to The Race's question.

He then referenced his own faux-pas from the last round in Qatar, in which he smacked Yamaha rider Franco Morbidelli on the helmet.

"What I did in Qatar was very bad, very bad. I paid €10,000. And one of the reasons why I paid the €10,000, the stewards told me, was that I damaged the image of the championship.

"Which I agree... Which he [Tardozzi] did as well."

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