until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Why MotoGP's favourite is stumbling out of the blocks - again

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

At a track where he had a clear edge of performance over everyone else the year before, Pecco Bagnaia was left staring at the Ghost of Season Past after his thoroughly beige 2024 Grand Prix of the Americas weekend.

"Considering everything, for sure we have to understand the situation and solve the problems," he said.

"Because right now it's quite difficult.

"The situation is very similar to 2022. That at the start of the season I had to race in defence."

Bagnaia was 10th in the standings, averaging just over six points per race, after the first quarter of that 2022 season - having come into it as a likely title contender but having struggled through a deeply messy pre-season with Ducati that included a (correct in hindsight) decision to forsake the latest spec of the engine.

Though his pace sorted itself out soon enough and he started winning, a 91-point deficit at the halfway point meant he really should've been out of it - with only Yamaha's sharp competitive decline and Fabio Quartararo's desperation to compensate for it giving Bagnaia a second chance that he took.

The following season had started sketchily, too, but in a different way - with speed but errors - yet 2024 was supposed to be an improvement on both, given that unlike 2022 in particular Bagnaia was over the moon with the quality of the newest Desmosedici, and that it looked a bigger upgrade on its predecessor than the GP23 had been relative to the GP22.

Yet the performance has been erratic once again. Bagnaia won in Qatar and he should've won the Portimao sprint, but he has also gone missing in some of the sessions. His COTA weekend packed in all sorts of ups and downs, but without his usual Sunday trick of leaving the best for last.

On Friday, he'd felt he'd had his best opening day to a weekend in ages. But after the sprint, which was ruined for him by massive wheelspin off the line but also looked very unimpressive pace-wise, he cut a confused figure, seemingly hinting at a belief that both he and team-mate Enea Bastianini had a soft rear tyre that wasn't quite right.

The centrepiece of that apparent belief - or at least of Bagnaia's confusion - was one specific lap. A 2m02.414s, his ninth lap in Saturday morning practice, on a medium front that had done 14 laps and a soft rear that had done 11 laps.

Bagnaia was bewildered by how far off that pace he was in the sprint on the same rear tyre compound. And he got closer in the main race on, again, the same rear tyre, but not close enough (especially as his pace cratered soon after).

Different track conditions between those sessions can make comparisons iffy, but putting these laptimes side by side with what 2024 COTA winner Maverick Vinales did is telling.

Vinales v. Bagnaia fastest laps

Saturday morning practice
Bagnaia 2m02.414s (14 laps medium front, 11 laps soft rear)
Vinales 2m02.556s (9 laps soft front, 8 laps soft rear)

Vinales 2m02.275s
Bagnaia 2m03.236s

Vinales 2m02.575s
Bagnaia 2m02.901s

It isn't clear if Bagnaia changed his mind over the Saturday issue after Sunday's disappointment - probably not, because he was at least able to access a higher initial pace in the grand prix race.

Then the rear tyre began to chatter.

"I was thinking before lap six that I was able to fight for a win, or for a podium, for the top.

"But I started to have a lot of chattering, a lot of vibration on the left side, and it was very difficult to manage everything. And I completely destroyed the front tyre on the right side. So it was also very difficult to do corners on the right side."

The rear vibration has been a persistent issue with the GP24 over the season so far, albeit an inconsistent one. It seemed to be bothering Martin the most over the pre-season - now it is clearly hindering Bagnaia.

That, though, makes it even more surprising that he - and all the other Ducatis - elected to run the soft rear in the race, despite the fact it's the softer rubber that has generally been inducing chatter so far.

Bagnaia insisted it was the right choice, pointing out that Bastianini could've fought for the win on a soft rear if not for a less-than-perfect start to the race.

But Bastianini, at his best a tyre whisperer unmatched by any of his current MotoGP peers, was actually still ahead of the medium-rear shod Vinales even after his messy opening laps, only for Vinales to deal with him and absolutely cut through the rest of the field.

In any case, both Bastianini and Martin beat Bagnaia on the same tyre, and that has to sting.

"It's strange," said Bagnaia of the performance patterns of the 2024 Ducatis. "Enea didn't have any chattering this weekend, also today, but he was really in trouble [at points] in the weekend.

"I was feeling good, Martin was super fast, but today struggled. It's difficult to understand, like this, with three bikes - because Franky [Morbidelli] right now is still learning, so it's difficult to put him on the same package. Enea was struggling with the brakes, was struggling to let the bike turn, but today was super fast."

Martin - who also had some vibration on Sunday, "losing one or two tenths every lap", but felt it wasn't too dramatic - has beaten Bagnaia in five of the six races so far, and is a tidy 30 points ahead. Whatever the vices of the 2024 Ducati, he is coping better.

"I know perfectly, all my trust is in my team, that we will solve the problem, with the calm that we always had, and we will be again fighting for the top," said Bagnaia.

But a comeback against a top rider on the same bike is unlikely to be as straightforward as it was against Quartararo's ever-fading M1 in 2022.

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