until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


MotoGP’s ‘jungle’ awaits Bagnaia if he doesn’t speed up

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Francesco Bagnaia’s low-key start to the Valencia MotoGP weekend has injected a glimmer of intrigue into what has largely looked as a formality of a title decider – because the Italian may have to face up to MotoGP’s ‘jungle’.

Bagnaia’s task is a simple one on paper, the Italian needing just a top-14 finish to deliver the crown in case of a Quartararo win – something that in itself has looked a long shot given Quartararo’s recent form relative to the Ducatis and the Bologna marque’s 1-2-3 at Valencia the year before.

Yet while Friday practice for this year’s Circuit Ricardo Tormo finale produced another Ducati 1-2-3, Bagnaia had placed just 17th and ninth in the two respective sessions.

“The bike is quite different compared to last year, and this track, I feel it a bit more, that feeling,” he explained. “In the braking I’m struggling a bit more than normal, also the rear grip was a bit too low.

“So we have worked on that direction – and finally we improved a lot in the second exit of FP2. But still missing.”

He ultimately was just 0.230s off pace-setter Luca Marini (and, notably, 0.005s off Quartararo) but also only half a second up on 15th place, and having featured firmly in the middle of the timing screens for the vast majority of the day’s mileage.

Bagnaia felt content with his day’s progress and believed a lower level of wind forecast for Saturday can play to his advantage, but he also acknowledged to MotoGP.com that he is “feeling a bit the pressure on the time attack” and that he “wasn’t taking any risk”, having already made “too many mistakes” at Sepang (where he crashed in practice and qualifying).


If that mindset carries into Saturday, it can improve Bagnaia’s chances of avoiding any injury setbacks and thus putting himself in position on Sunday to score the two points he needs.

But, should he qualify where he finished on Friday, it would imbue an extra relevance to Quartararo’s Yamaha stablemate Cal Crutchlow’s assessment from the day prior.

“It’s going to be difficult [for Quartararo] but anything can happen here,” Crutchlow said.

“Look back in the previous years, it’s so easy to not finish this race. Fabio has nothing to lose – if he doesn’t finish the race, who cares? Whereas Pecco has everything to lose.

“He needs to finish, it’s a strange racetrack, hard to finish anyway. Can run off the track easy and lose eight or nine places.

“And you don’t want to be back with us.”


Crutchlow’s account of Bagnaia’s first-lap difficulty in the 2020 Valencian Grand Prix is a seeming exaggeration, as in that race he himself got caught up by Bagnaia having to take a wider line through Turn 1 and was actually the one losing more positions – but that same race did then feature Quartararo getting Turn 2 horribly wrong to go from P11 to last.

And his “you don’t want to be back with us” warning, rather than being a hint that Quartararo’s Yamaha stablemates will seek to make Bagnaia’s life harder, is simply a reference to the wild nature of MotoGP racing further down the order.

“I just mean, in that battle in Malaysia, we were passing each other like a proper race, like we used to pass each other [before overtaking became harder].

“So you don’t want to get back there, that’s for sure. Because anything can happen.”

Crutchlow had already said back in Sepang that it “was absolutely mental back there – I don’t know how many wings came off, but there were 10 of us going completely mad”, and it was a sentiment echoed by Bagnaia’s team-mate Jack Miller, who’d spent most of the season towards the front but was 17th after the first lap in Malaysia.

“When you get stuck back with those guys, sort of 10th back, s**t gets pretty dodgy there on the first lap. I hadn’t been back there in a while. It wasn’t very fun.”


Consider also Aprilia rider Maverick Vinales’ impression of the Aragon Grand Prix a month prior. “Starting 16th, it’s a jungle,” he said.

“When you start in the front, everyone is calm, respects everything. In the back, nobody respects nothing. They just lift the brakes and go.

“When you start at the back, this is what you pay.”

Bagnaia should still comfortably have the pace to make the top 14, not to mention the Ducati allies to ease his points-scoring mission – and given Quartararo was only 0.005s quicker in qualifying simulations and on an overtake-reluctant bike, it could prove a moot point anyway.

But mid-pack tussling would likely exacerbate the chances of MotoGP’s champion-elect making a potentially championship-ruining error.

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