If we were denied a last-lap showdown between Francesco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin (that would have still handed the title to Bagnaia, who needed to finish lower than fifth if Martin won for the latter to take the title), then no one can complain that the season finale at Valencia wasn’t exciting, just as no one can complain that the season as a whole hasn’t been one of the best in recent memory.
What didn’t happen in Valencia? Bagnaia led at the start; Martin narrowly avoided hitting him, then crashed out a couple of laps later in a scary incident with Marc Marquez; Binder led then messed up under braking, dropping him to sixth; Miller led then crashed out; Bagnaia re-taking the lead; Zarco and DiGiannantonio pushing him all the way to the flag; Binder getting a post-race promotion to third after DiGiannantonio was demoted for a tyre pressure infringement….! You couldn’t have scripted it, which is something we’ve had occasion to say more than once this year.
In the Sprint race, Martin did what he needed to do and won – his ninth Sprint win of the season – while Bagnaia could do no better than fifth, narrowing the points gap to 14. It still left Martin with a mountain to climb in the Main race but, as this season has shown, anything can – and probably will – happen so he wasn’t out of the fight just yet.
But those hopes were dashed with his early crash in the Main race, while Bagnaia played with fire by having a too-low front tyre pressure. He had banked on being behind other riders, which would have raised the tyre temperature, so he played it cleverly by letting Binder and Miller through and following closely in their hot wake, knowing by this time that even if he didn’t finish, he would still be champion. But that’s not how he wanted to win the title; he wanted to win it from the top step of the podium and this he duly did, albeit still with the danger of a penalty for a low front tyre pressure as the ambient and track temperature were dropping because of the later-than-normal start time.
He got away with it, but DiGiannantonio didn’t, losing his podium (but at least gaining a seat with the VR46 team for 2024, the last seat to be confirmed) and this is a dire warning for 2024, when an infringement will result in immediate disqualification: no first warning – one strike and you’re out. Imagine how that could affect the championship! Quite how the powers-that-be at Dorna have allowed such a situation to come to pass is beyond everyone’s comprehension and it’s doing the sport no good, let alone the health of the riders: even this season we saw a ridiculous number of crashes and injuries, the vast majority down to having to run a too-hard front tyre: three times more Sunday races missed through injury than in 2022! Yes, there were double the number of races if you take into account both the Sprint and Main races but that brings its own issues that affected the whole team, not just the riders, and which are only going to get worse next year as the calendar expands again.
And still, the aero arguments rage. It is ironic that, in the last two races, Ducati riders have narrowly avoided accidents by being sucked into the dirty air of the bike in front and having to take huge avoiding action – Bagnaia against DiGiannantonio in Qatar and Martin against Bagnaia in Valencia. After all, let’s not forget that it was Ducati that started all this aero nonsense in the first place!
But let’s not get carried away with the negative after a season of so many positives. If Ducati dominated through having eight near-perfect bikes on the grid, then it certainly didn’t harm the quality of the racing, nor the unpredictability of the results: eight different winners is a healthy tally, especially when it included first-time Main race victories for DiGiannantonio and Zarco and Sprint race victories for Alex Marquez.
As usual, we look forward to 2024 with the hope that all the teams will be able to fight for victories. The Japanese manufacturers had it all their own way for a long time and no one begrudges the European teams’ rise to the top, but how much more exciting will it be if Honda and Yamaha can pull their collective fingers out and challenge at the front? There is always the danger, however unlikely, that Honda or Yamaha could do a Suzuki and pull out if the results continue to evade them, and that would do the sport no good at all. MotoGP is heading down a difficult hole at the moment, what with tyre pressures and aero and it will be interesting to see if Dorna can assert some authority and do what is best for the sport, even if it is bad for some of the teams.
As this is being written, the post-race Valencia test is taking place and it would be fair to say that all eyes are on Marc Marquez, on board the Gresini Ducati. He’s not disappointing, either, with lap times putting him at the sharp end of the timing sheets. Of course, this is testing so there is no clear indication of what any team or manufacturer is evaluating so you have to take the results with a pinch of salt but it was obvious that Marquez was determined to make a statement during his opening innings. Maybe the Ducati really is the bike that anyone can ride quickly?
Now we face that seemingly interminable wait until the 2024 season commences again in March. Not that the teams will think it is long enough: 2024 is going to be hard enough as it is, without a shortened off-season. For us sitting at home waiting, however, we’ll have to find other ways of passing the time. How about trawling the archives of www.zabikers.co.za for all our race reports and reliving the season? I can think of worse ways of killing time!