until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

MotoGP

This high-stakes MotoGP reinvention has big 2025 implications

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

A rider with five premier-class wins - some of them dominant, some of them battle-earned - in 49 grand prix starts, Enea Bastianini has already arguably proven that he can fight for the title in MotoGP. What he hasn't proven is whether he can fight for the title in this MotoGP.

That seems like a harsh distinction to make, but it is a distinction Bastianini himself seems to be aware of. And the Italian, only 26, backs himself to figure out the current version of the championship.

But he's arguably in a position where he must fight for the title, not because Ducati even needs him to (arguably, it has Pecco Bagnaia for that and doesn't need Bastianini doing so too) but because Ducati has too many riders on its books who could and who it would hate to let go, knowing that other manufacturers could then deploy those riders to beat it.

Jorge Martin is openly angling for Bastianini's ride. On Thursday in Qatar, the current Pramac Ducati man and 2023 title contender said he "would have signed already" if the works seat was offered, and he saw the main rival for that seat as being himself - as in, he's sure Ducati would (or will) take him if he performs as he believes he should.

Martin alone is already a formidable enough threat. But most riders in MotoGP would sign on the dotted line if offered Bastianini's seat.

Whether any of them get the chance...well, you could make the case that depends entirely on whether Bastianini can apply his undeniable strengths to a format that doesn't fully correlate with them.

A NEW FOCUS

"My approach of this season is a little bit different compared to other seasons," said Bastianini ahead of this weekend's Qatar GP.

He was being asked about whether he was now back to his 2022 self - the rider of that breakout, title-long-shot, season with Gresini that earned him the Ducati factory nod before the injury-riddled 2023 write-off - but there's an implicit acknowledgement that even 2022 form isn't really enough.

"My objective is to be more constant. Also compared to the 2022 season, because, yes, I made four victories and also some podiums, but sometimes I was behind. 

"And I think I have worked also very well during the test to approach better the time attack - it's important to stay always on top, and my approach this year will be a little bit different, but let's see."

The qualifying aspect of it all is a no-brainer. Bastianini's career average grid slot in MotoGP is 12.3, which obviously won't cut it. But he is obviously capable of running lap record pace when everything aligns - he has a Red Bull Ring pole to his name, and was lapping up there with the best of them in this pre-season.

Bastianini will be as keenly aware as everyone else that, really, it's not so much about qualifying as it is about everything before lights out.

MotoGP 'lights out' has shifted to a day earlier now, with the introduction of the sprints. That means qualifying happens a session earlier and the 10 Q2 spots determined by practice are determined a session earlier.

So, even with the concession that the opening practice of the weekend no longer counts towards Q2 (the 10 initial spots are instead determined by Friday's second practice), you still have to be on pace much earlier - because you are, for all intents and purposes, qualifying on Friday.

FP1 data is obviously noisy. But it's probably not a coincidence that Bastianini's data for FP1 also leaves much to be desired - even in comparison to qualifying.

He averaged position 10.95 in FP1s in 2022 - compared to a 9.00 grid slot. In 2023, it was a 13.62 average in FP1s, versus 12.31 on the grid.

So it's no surprise that, when Bastianini is asked about the key aspect of his new approach, he says it's "to be more aggressive from the start".

"Because it's important, always, to be on the front, in all the sessions. Because if you need time to arrive on the target, sometimes it's too late, no? And this MotoGP is different compared to some years ago, it's always one fight."

ALL IN THE MIND?

The other problem for Bastianini - beyond the weekend preparation time being more compact - is that his speciality is now less valuable when it comes to the points distribution.

Back in 2022, he could miss Q2 and still salvage the weekend by virtue of his late-race pace. But since 2023 a Q1 exit is 'double-taxed', and the sprint race offers relatively little opportunity to really make up for it.

Bastianini wasn't the late-race master last year that he had been in 2022 - after all, he wasn't gelling well in the GP23, and was hurt more often than not.

But there were still glimpses, mostly notably that penultimate round in Qatar, where en route to a nothing-to-shout-about eighth place he logged the fastest lap of the race by over three tenths of a second on the 22nd and final lap. Each of the podium finishers was in the 1m54s range on that lap - Bastianini was in the 1m52s.

There will always be a place for a skillset like that - but it alone won't cut it when you're talking about having the best ride in MotoGP. So how does he bring out the pace earlier?

"I think it's more mentally, this situation. Me, I'm... not very aggressive at the start and also my riding style, you see my races, every time I'm much faster during the last part. 

"I've worked mentally to be more fast at the start compared to the last part of the race."

Qatar this weekend will be the first big test of that, but it's some of Bastianini's lesser-fancied tracks that will truly give us an answer.

And that answer may well be the difference between fending off Martin and others for the seat, or having to settle for the next-best gig.

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