until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

MotoGP

What’s going on with a lost MotoGP 2023 title threat

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

“We have to stay calm. To be more focused on the set-up, on the sensation, to not think about the result. Because at the moment we aren’t competitive.”

Enea Bastianini’s 2023 Austrian Grand Prix weekend was a far cry from how he’d gone at the track last year.

OK, unlike this year he did not actually score points at the Red Bull Ring in 2022 – yet his pole position left more of an impression than the wheel rim failure in that year’s race.

It was a maiden pole for a rider who had gained the reputation of a feared Sunday specialist, and the show of one-lap speed was ominous. And it was no huge surprise when a few days after the weekend Ducati announced Bastianini would be getting a factory ride for 2023. His form in the wake of said announcement turned him into one of the presumed favourites for the 2023 crown.

The ‘favourite’ tag did not survive first contact with actual MotoGP racing in 2023, albeit through no fault of Bastianini’s – as being caught up in a Luca Marini crash fractured his shoulder and sidelined him for many months.

But now that he’s back, and been back for a little bit, there have still been no signs of that Bastianini of old. And indeed, pre-season had already suggested the migration from the refined GP21 he had at Gresini last year to the ever-developing GP23 was not going smoothly.

Post-injury Bastianini was not really fit enough to meaningfully assess before the summer break, but has hardly kicked on after it. Q2 proved out of reach both at Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring, and fighting for the lower reaches of the top 10 or right outside of it has been the norm.

That isn’t necessarily catastrophic in a vacuum, given the mitigating circumstances, but it is certainly an uneasy situation for a rider occupying MotoGP’s most-wanted seat, and one who currently seems to be around seventh-fastest of Ducati’s eight full-timers.

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The problems he had in the pre-season, both with the character of the engine (which is more aggressive than the Ducati unit he’d thrived with) and engine braking, appear to have stuck around. At Silverstone, Bastianini said the 2023 bike felt for him like being on a “chopper” – which meant he couldn’t get it turned in for the corners.

It was more of the same at the Red Bull Ring, at least to begin with. “The problem is in all the corners – all the corners, on entry, it’s not good. It’s difficult to stop the bike.

“Compared to the old one this bike is different, and at the moment my riding style is not the correct one.”

He reiterated the following day: “At the moment it is impossible for me to push and to try to get a great result. The problems are always the same.”

Bastianini is also not proving particularly lucky. He was compromised by the multi-bike shunt at the start of the Austria sprint – which he described as “really close to the Portimao crash – I thought ‘not again’!”. On Sunday, he reported some sort of ride height device problem on the opening lap, and also wasn’t happy with the condition of his rear tyre.

This he described as being a “disaster” that made it “impossible” to get on the throttle and created spin “like in the rain”. And his addition that “we have checked also the [data of the] other riders and the situation wasn’t this one” certainly sounded like he was pointing to an external factor, perhaps the quality of that specific Michelin rear tyre, though he stopped well short of that.

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In any case, Bastianini’s trademark race pace longevity isn’t something that has been at all visible this season. His opportunities to show it off have been limited, yes, but last year even when he’d start around 13th place you could reliably count on a charge, and so far this hasn’t materialised in 2023.

Still, Bastianini has at least seen glimpses of progress – he was encouraged to have topped the Sunday warm-up in Austria. And he’s not alone in believing he just needs a bit more time.

“One good thing about the old bike was that every track was with the same setting, it was working everywhere, more or less. The new bike you have to work [on], and for me, the races he lost at the start of the season make this improvement slower,” said team-mate Pecco Bagnaia of Bastianini’s situation with the GP23.

“But he’s gaining, for sure, feeling with the bike.”

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