until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Verstappen comparison shows how far MotoGP leader has come

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Pecco Bagnaia’s MotoGP rival Fabio Quartararo likening the Italian’s current form to Max Verstappen’s domination of Formula 1 is certainly somewhat hyperbolic – yet indicative of how much more complete the reigning champion has appeared as of late.

An Austrian Grand Prix double – a lights-to-flag win in the sprint by 2.056s and another lights-to-flag win in the main race by 5.191s – has given the imperious Bagnaia a 62-point lead in the championship.

Given there is still a maximum of 370 points up for grabs this season, Bagnaia’s position is nowhere near as comfortable as Verstappen’s – who has won eight grands prix on the trot and leads by 125 points. His lead is now 60.7% of the remaining points, compared to 16.8% for Bagnaia.

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However, Quartararo – whose hoped-for title challenge this season collapsed immediately as the 2023 Yamaha was swiftly found lacking – sees a parallel.

Asked if anyone can stop Bagnaia this season, Quartararo said: “No. I think he’s a little bit Verstappen now.

“Yes, he has the best bike – but you can have the best bike and not do the results. It’s a combination. And it looks like right now the combination he has with the bike, the confidence he has with the bike, when you’re winning-winning-winning, you feel that you are unstoppable.

“And this is the feeling he has now. He looks easy on the bike, he knows how to use the bike.

“So right now I don’t see no one that really can be faster than him.”

There is nothing novel in Bagnaia winning and dominating races, nor going on a strong run of form, given this was required for his title last year as he overcame a huge early-season points deficit to Quartararo.

Yet there is a certain aura of ‘inevitability’ that has surrounded his latest successes that perhaps wasn’t there before – and it’s likely that which is at the centre of the comparison with Verstappen.

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In Austria, Bagnaia faced potential complications from the new tyre pressure enforcement rules – which some have expected to hit Ducati harder than other manufacturers – and having two KTMs, famed for lighting-fast starts, lining up close behind him.

But an apparent Ducati upgrade that “helped me in the first part of the acceleration” meant he led into Turn 1 both times, and both times he never looked under serious threat of losing the lead after that.

On Sunday, Brad Binder managed to stay within range – just two or three tenths behind – for several laps to begin with. “But from lap five-six I started to realise, ‘jeez, he’s really looking after his rear tyre – and I might run into a bit of bother later in the race’.”

In those first laps, as close as Binder was, an overtake never looked on. And soon the battle for victory was over. Bagnaia was half a second clear after 10 laps, then 3.2s clear after 20.

If sprints are counted as races – and that is emphatically what they are – it means Bagnaia, once known as being unreliable when it comes to delivering consistent results, has finished 10 in a row. One of them, the Silverstone sprint, was admittedly a points-less mess in mixed conditions. But the nine others have all yielded first or second place.

Bagnaia, for his part, told Italian publication GPOne that he was “absolutely not” the Verstappen of MotoGP.

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But he’s certainly as close as ever to that status – and his nearest championship rival Jorge Martin, whose Sunday in Austria was compromised by both lap deletions in qualifying and a long lap penalty after his role in triggering a multi-bike sprint crash, knows time is running out to change the course of the 2023 title race.

“I feel I was the only one that maybe could put some pressure on him… maybe not for the win [but early on], because he was pretty fast at the end. I feel like I was the only one who could be closer,” said Martin.

“I was losing a little bit on corner nine, but the rest I was really close or faster than him.

“Hopefully we can put together a good qualifying in Montmelo [Barcelona], because it will be key to battle for this championship. If not… we will then have to fight for second.”

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