until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Will MotoGP title rivals' 'allies' play a role in finale?

by Simon Patterson, Valentin Khorounzhiy
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The MotoGP title fight is more on a knife edge after Friday practice than it looked coming into the weekend, with a complicated first day for Pecco Bagnaia meaning his 21-point buffer over Jorge Martin no longer looks quite as commanding.

And while the two of them might both be factory-contracted Ducati racers, it’s starting to look like their team-mates might increasingly play a role in their battle - even before there are to points to play for in Saturday afternoon’s sprint race.

That’s because while Martin might have enjoyed a relatively straightforward Friday at the Ricardo Tormo circuit and wound up second-fastest, Bagnaia had to content with not only Martin’s persistent badgering in the day’s second session but other issues that left him "very slow" and ultimately outside of the top 10.

Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin, Ducati, MotoGP, Valencia

This means he is now destined to establish his all-important grid spot by first having to contest Q1.

He'll start that 15-minute session alongside three other Ducati riders - and, with the looming threat of a title showdown between the factory rider and his satellite compatriot Martin, it may well be that orders are issued at least to ensure that the route is left relatively clear for Bagnaia in the morning,

However, that’s not a situation that has so far arisen, according to his Ducati colleagues - who say that, for now, it’s still very much a case of playing their own cards and seeing what happens.

Bastianini's outlook

When The Race asked Bagnaia’s team-mate Enea Bastianini if he would be free to fight for Q2 on Saturday, he replied: “I hope, yes".

“I work for one team, but also I have to work for me, because I can do a great race.

“Probably tomorrow Pecco will come back, because today he had some problems with the rear that was visible on the data. I think we can fight for the Q2 together."

Asked whether there'd be a mandate to work together, he said: “We haven’t spoken about this yet, but now we have time, so let’s see.”

“I hope to be a problem,” joked Bagnaia’s fellow VR46 Academy racer Luca Marini - albeit somebody who represents a Ducati satellite team in VR46 and isn't directly contracted to the Italian manufacturer.

“Now is the moment to think of my weekend, because maybe Ducati can ask Enea to let us past, because it would be fantastic, one less!

"I think it will be very tough tomorrow to pass through Q1.”

Bagnaia not asking for help

It is worth noting that from his perspective, though, that team orders aren’t something that Bagnaia is asking for either, with the Italian’s performances from earlier in the season leaving him confident that he doesn’t really need the added boost at this point in the weekend.

“For Ducati I will ask [the other riders] not to open the gas, and maybe I will have another opportunity,” laughed Bagnaia.

“But I don‘t like team orders, I feel I have the potential to be in Q2, and in the case that I’m not, I wasn’t in Q2 in Mandalika, I started in P13, and I won the race. We will try to do the maximum.”

What Zarco can do

However, while it might not be a factor in the day’s first major session, Martin’s own team-mate Johann Zarco made one thing abundantly clear at the end of the day - that he’s more than happy to repeat his Qatar performance and to battle with anyone and everyone should he be in a position to help out the other side of the garage.

Largely sacrificing his own race at Lusail to play a rear gunner role for Martin, he’s instead aiming this time to try to take points off Bagnaia for Martin this weekend if the opportunity presents itself.

“I would love to,” the Frenchman explained when asked by The Race if he can help Martin, “and I’m happy that I will have the capacity to play to play for pole position tomorrow. If I can be on the front row, the best thing I can do is get between him and Pecco.

“It’s too hard to prepare a plan [of working together] before the race. We’re all pushing at the maximum.

"Even Pecco, he was only six tenths away but he’s not qualifying [directly for Q2]. It seems a disaster but it’s not.

“What I lived in Qatar was very frustrating. Maybe it was the best thing to do, but I could not skip away from him [Martin].

"Seeing that he cannot get the speed, maybe I could have got a fifth or sixth and got more points for myself, but I did not feel like I could do it so I stayed behind him.”

Zarco, however, seemed very confident there would be no repeat of the situation - also because it wouldn't really make sense mathematically - and backed Martin to go for the full 37-point haul from the weekend.

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