Conspiracy theories in MotoGP? Surely not! But listening to Jorge Martin after the race in which he finished tenth, severely denting his championship hopes, it was clear he was letting his emotions get the better of him and he was pointedly questioning why his rear tyre was so bad when no one else seemed to be struggling.
However, watching Martin perform his practice starts throughout the weekend, the rear end was all over the place from a standstill and it was the same in the Main race, although his Sprint race – which he won – was unaffected.
Talking to TNT Sports’ Neil Hodgson, MotoGP Riders’ Association chairman Sylvain Guintoli said: “The rear grip wasn’t right. It looked like he was struggling, he couldn’t extract his bike on the turns. Looking at his sprint race there was a massive contrast. Something went wrong.”
When asked to reply to any “conspiracy theory” that Martin was allocated a faulty tyre by explaining the process, Guintoli claimed: “The reality – and I’m not saying yes or no – is that it’s highly unlikely that a bad tyre was given to Martin. As soon as something goes wrong, the riders blame the tyres. The way that the tyres are selected for the race, every tyre is accounted for. They know exactly where that tyre has been.”
Ex-racer Hodgson had his own views, not dissimilar to Guintoli’s: “I’ve got to say, I definitely think it’s a faulty tyre. It’s a graphic example. It spins up – he’s the only one. The bike doesn’t turn – watch him throughout the race, it doesn’t turn at all. That’s the rear grip. It plays a huge part. Zero acceleration, bizarre, like he got the wrong mapping. That’s the tyre. Occasionally it can happen, you get a tyre that’s not quite the same as the other one. It happens – it’s just a shame it happened at this stage of the season.”
All that aside, we were promised a fantastic Main race after the outcome of the Sprint race, which Martin won in fine style, first by getting his elbows out against Bagnaia – on two occasions! – and then resisting pressure from DiGiannantonio to win, while Bagnaia could only finish fifth.
After the Sprint race, Bagnaia’s comments made for interesting reading, especially in light of what happened in the Main race. Asked why he had been unable to fight for Sprint victory after a strong pace in practice, Bagnaia suggested some kind of tyre issue.
“Working in a way all the weekend, having the same feeling all the weekend and then when it was very important to do a good result, my feeling was totally changed,” he said. “The only thing changed was the tyre and it’s quite strange having this feeling. But it’s something that can happen. We are just a bit unlucky to have found this situation in the race.”
Is it possible that there was a bad batch of tyres, that only affected Bagnaia and Martin, the two championship contenders? Let the conspiracy theories begin.
The Main race saw Bagnaia make the perfect start while Martin floundered around, dropping to eighth. He recovered to sixth fairly quickly but couldn’t escape the attentions of Marc Marquez and making no inroads on Marini: in fact, he was dropping further and further behind, being passed by Viñales, Marquez, Quartararo and Miller.
Meanwhile, DiGiannantonio was harrying Bagnaia and making a mockery of the fact that he doesn’t have a ride for 2024. He finally got past the reigning champion but Bagnaia wasn’t giving up, only to narrowly avoid taking the both of them out at the end of the pit straight as he got his braking wrong. Taking himself out would have been bad for him (but very good for us wanting a close fight to the title chase right to the final round!) but to take out DiGiannantonio on the cusp of his first MotoGP victory would have been hard to swallow.
As it was, the move left DiGiannantonio with a healthy lead, giving us the eighth winner this year and the biggest two-finger salute to everyone who was writing him off thanks to no ride in 2024. He has finished fourth in Indonesia, third in Philip Island, second in the Qatar Sprint race and now first in the Main race and he clearly believes it will be harsh on him if he loses out on a seat next season:
“I am speechless about this argument about whether he deserves a seat next year,” began Di Giannantonio. “I think I am doing everything on time. It’s just my second year in MotoGP. If you look at the other riders, we are in the best championship in the world, the highest level of motorbikes in the world. The level is super high! It takes time to make things work out, finally, we made it, but I think we’re completely on time.” It does seem harsh but, then, that is MotoGP. There is a possible lifeline for DiGiannantonio with VR46 but that team has suggested it is more interested in bringing a rider up from Moto2. However, such a decision would be hard to justify if a proven GP winner is available.
And so to Valencia for the final round and, potentially, one (or two?) last twists. Even if Martin wins both Sprint and Main races, all Bagnaia has to do is finish fifth in both to take the title and it’s hard to see him failing to do that. Hard: but not impossible.
Remember Valencia 2006? Rossi led Nicky Hayden by eight points heading to the last round and then crashed out of the race, handing Hayden the title. Sunday’s Qatar race showed that Bagnaia is not infallible and, for the luck of the gods, could have skittled himself and DiGiannantonio out, meaning that even tenth place for Martin would have closed the points gap to nothing. Level-pegging going into the final round! Just imagine!
If Martin crashes out of either Valencia race, the title goes to Bagnaia, in all probability. If Bagnaia crashes out, then Martin can lift the crown. The permutations are almost endless but you’d have to say that the odds are in favour of Bagnaia.
Oh, and let’s not forget that either could lift the title, only to have the cup dashed from their lips if they were found to have breached the tyre-pressure rule and get a three-second penalty added to their race time!
Maybe Valencia will be exciting after all!
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To enter, simply fill in the form below and answer the question. After Sunday’s Valencia race has concluded, we will pick a correct entry at random and inform the winner via email.