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MotoGP

How Australian GP schedule swap can influence MotoGP title race

by Simon Patterson
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The Australian Grand Prix's big schedule shake-up comes in an attempt to dodge impending high winds and bad weather - but, with the MotoGP sprint race at risk of being lost, there's also a potential impact on the close title battle between Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin, as 12 valuable points could go begging.

The 27-lap main race at Phillip Island is being brought forward to Saturday as the inclement weather risk is for Sunday, with the shorter 13-lap sprint provisionally moved back a day, "weather permitting".

It comes just as Bagnaia is experiencing another tough start to a MotoGP weekend. A second dip of Friday form in two weeks means the defending champion and points leader will have to attempt to progress from Q1 to Q2, something he failed to do at the Indonesian Grand Prix last weekend.

Bagnaia built up in his normal manner in Friday's second practice by not rushing into his time attack mode, and ended up with the 11th-fastest time. He conceded that might have been a strategic error from him and his team.

“As soon as we put the soft rear for the time attack, I started to have problems,” he explained. “So maybe the best strategy was to start like all the other riders, more or less, with the soft, to analyse before what was the reaction of the soft.

“But we decided that the strategy maybe was the best one in terms of [preparation for] the race. But I'm struggling a lot on the acceleration in the entrance of fast corners, my bike is too aggressive, very nervous.

“For example from the last corner to the finish line I am losing two tenths from Martin, and this is unbelievable considering I am missing all the traction. This was more or less the issue, but like Mandalika the feeling with the bike is not that bad, so this is strange.”

And Bagnaia said with the experience from Mandalika - he ultimately won Sunday's race, albeit after Martin fell from the lead - and his usual slower Friday pattern of 2023 so far, he was trying to keep his calm - and that while his single-lap pace might be down, his race pace gave him confidence he was not in a terrible position at a Phillip Island track that offers more overtaking opportunities than arguably anywhere else on the calendar.

“The thing is, it's strange that we've moved from a circuit to another circuit with the same setting and more or less and for me it's not working, every time,” he said. “It's not the first time, Mandalika wasn't the first time.

“It's more or less all the season that we arrive Friday, we struggle a lot, Saturday is better and Sunday then we are the fastest. So... in that case we have a day less for being the fastest, but it's true also that in this track it's more difficult to have a clear advantage.

“Looking at the pace we had this morning, looking at the pace I had this afternoon, we're one of the most competitive in terms of laptimes, in terms of consistency with the tyres. We used the medium, more or less all the others used the soft. So for me our work was better than the others. We had just to improve on starting already with a better feeling.”

But while Bagnaia is very much someone you can count on to perform more on a Sunday than in Saturday’s sprint races - and who therefore should benefit from the schedule change that's flipped the two and may yet result in the sprint being cancelled - the factory Ducati rider wasn’t totally convinced.

Competing against satellite Pramac rider Martin, who has made the new format his own in the opening season of it, Bagnaia said the tyre-wear issues he is facing might mean that the race containment strategies he’s normally expert at might be more difficult to implement this time around.

“It can be also the opposite situation,” he insisted, when asked by The Race if the format would suit him over Martin.

“I prefer the long race, normally. I love to race and doing control, we are very good on it. But today was quite difficult to remain constant with the tyres, the rear tyre was destroying the soft, the medium is the hard from last year.

“So, it's quite difficult but in 2019 I was starting 13th or 14th and I finished fourth. And I think I'm a bit better than 2019. So comebacks are possible here.”

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