until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Ducati's 'big three' have turned 2024 into a title race of errors

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Four rounds in, MotoGP 2024 is delivering the titanic intra-Ducati scrap it promised - a proper rematch between Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin, with Marc Marquez also clearly a factor as long as his year-old Desmosedici allows him to be one.

In a way, it has the potential to be MotoGP's take on the recent 'big three' World Superbike era of Alvaro Bautista, Toprak Razgatlioglu and Jonathan Rea, except with more similar equipment.

Except, this big three is already very different. The WSBK tussle was largely underlined by dogfights - when it wasn't about Bautista checking out to win by 10 seconds - and it's true that there have already been some serious scraps between Bagnaia and Martin, not to mention the titanic Bagnaia/Marquez duel at Jerez.

But those aren't what's defining this title race. Those are five-point swings, three-point swings, one-point swings. What's counting the most is the points dropped - and all the key contenders are dropping them by the boatload.

In crashing out of the lead at Jerez, Martin has officially cemented this as a title race of mistakes, having come into Spanish Grand Prix Sunday with a 40+ point lead over Bagnaia and a 50+ point lead over Marquez.

"A strange crash," he said. "We looked a little bit into it, and I was doing exactly the same speed [as before] and I braked at the same point. So a bit strange, we need to understand the details a bit more.

"Maybe there were some corners where I was risking a bit more - but [the Turn 6 hairpin] wasn't one of them."

This is a familiar post-crash refrain, and usually there's some sort of parametre that explains it after all. Martin, for what it's worth, did also describe the fall as a "mistake" - so it's not like he suspects a mechanical problem or a tyre issue.

Whatever the case, it wrote off a whole heap of points. Probably not 25 points - Bagnaia had more pace, as Martin himself readily admitted afterwards, and Marquez surely did, too - but 20 or 16 points seems a fair assumption.

Martin was in a position to leave Jerez with a healthy buffer, and he did not.

Then again, the only reason Martin was in the position to lead was because Bagnaia made a big error at the end of the second lap, while threatening a breakaway. And then again, the only reason he was in a comfortable championship position was because Bagnaia - and Marquez, and, actually, Maverick Vinales - kept throwing points away.

Bagnaia and Marquez did Martin a solid by clashing in the Portuguese Grand Prix, the day after Bagnaia had thrown away a surefire sprint win. And Marquez had his whole brake situation at COTA - where he and Bagnaia made the still-dubious choice to race the soft rear tyre.

So did Martin, who that same weekend fell off twice on the same bike in qualifying - so it's not like Jerez is the first blot on his copybook. But now it increasingly adds up for all three - Bagnaia's probably left around 20 points on the table at least (not counting his collision with Brad Binder in the Jerez sprint, as he can't really be faulted for that), and now Martin has given up more than that.

And yet, even faced with Martin's exit and a chance to make up for their non-scores from the sprint, Bagnaia and Marquez still put it all on the line in racing one another for the Spanish GP win, to the point of heavy contact as Bagnaia counter-attacked into Turn 10 after being overtaken.

Bagnaia invited the contact in that moment, and Marquez accepted the invitation. It is completely plausible that one or both could've been down the road - Marquez certainly thought so! - for the benefit of a five-point change.

It is obviously good, for the spectators and the championship, that they both went for it as hard as they did. But it feels like a five-point change will not be what decides this title race.

After all, it wasn't the decider last year - instead, it was Martin's Indonesia crash, Qatar tyre disagreement and Phillip Island tyre choice. The reason any of those things mattered to begin with was Bagnaia's crash out of the lead in Barcelona.

The biggest illustrator of what actually matters right now is that Enea Bastianini sits third in the standings, just five points behind Bagnaia, despite not really having shown the performance to contend for wins.

Bastianini has been a much-improved rider in 2024 compared to his injury-ridden 2023, but he has never looked like conclusively the standout Ducati - while all of Martin, Marquez and Bagnaia already have.

Bastianini has been competitive but fairly subdued early in races in particular, and has consistently taken points hits in the sprints, but is keeping himself in the conversation just by finishing races.

He probably isn't quite competitive enough right now to go the distance against his three Ducati peers. But whichever of those Ducati peers manages best to emulate his points-scoring is the one who might just run away with this.

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