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Bagnaia runs rings around the rest in Austria

Monday, 21 August 2023

Ducati's reigning world champion makes light of the Spielberg summer heat to destroy the opposition at the Red Bull Ring, extending his series lead to more than two Grands Prix worth of points as the season wrapped up its first half on Sunday.

Reigning world champion Pecco Bagnaia made a tricky task look easy at the Austrian Grand Prix, the Ducati rider leading all 14 laps of the Saturday Sprint and all 28 laps of Sunday's Grand Prix to push his series lead to 62 points at the halfway mark of the 2023 campaign.

In some of the toughest conditions of the year – the ambient and track temperatures were well into the 30s at the Red Bull Ring, a layout notoriously tortuous on tyres and brakes – Bagnaia was in a class of his own, taking his 50th Grand Prix podium in imperious style by beating Brad Binder (KTM) by 5.191secs.


The pair of victories made it nine wins from 20 starts across the short and longer-format races for the Italian this year, and came on a weekend that was more problematic for nearest rivals and Ducati stablemates Jorge Martin and Marco Bezzecchi.

Martin finished third in the Sprint, but not without controversy after he triggered a first-corner crash that eliminated Bezzecchi and Miguel Oliveira (Aprilia), and later took out Ducati's Luca Marini. The Spaniard finished seventh in Sunday's Grand Prix after being hit with a long-lap penalty for his Saturday indiscretions, but retained second in the championship standings.

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With Binder no match for Bagnaia up front but comfortably having the rest covered to achieve a pair of second-place finishes for the weekend, the main intrigue of a processional Sunday race was the fight for the final podium spot between Mooney VR46 Ducati teammates Bezzecchi and Marini, and Gresini Ducati's Alex Marquez.

Bezzecchi pushed his way to the front of that trio to maintain third in the championship, but is now 68 points behind runaway leader Bagnaia with half the season still remaining.

Elsewhere, Honda's Marc Marquez completed a Grand Prix for the first time this season – and for the first time in 301 days dating back to last year's Malaysian Grand Prix in October – when he finished 12th, the eight-time world champion the only rider to roll the dice with a soft rear tyre for the race after he qualified just 18th.

Aussie watch

Jack Miller endured his least competitive weekend of the season at the Red Bull Ring, the KTM rider plummeting to 15th place after qualifying in fourth.

The scorching track temperatures were always going to prove challenging for Miller, who has regularly struggled to maintain tyre life throughout his first campaign with the Austrian manufacturer. Miller gained a place on the opening lap when Marini had a wobble out of the first corner, but fell out of podium contention when Alex Marquez passed him at Turn 9 on lap four.

Miller's race became one of holding on from there, and a warning for breaching track limits on lap 12 showed how hard he was pushing to no avail. He was picked off by GasGas pair Pol Espargaro and Augusto Fernandez on the final lap to finish the race outside of the points in 16th, but re-gained one spot and one world championship point when Espargaro was issued a post-race three-second penalty for not serving a long-lap penalty for track limits infringements during the race.

Miller finished 25.475secs behind Bagnaia, his largest deficit to a race-winner this season, but maintained eighth in the standings with 96 points after finishing fifth in Saturday's Sprint.

In Moto3™, Miller's countryman Joel Kelso fell just short of a points result for the second race running, the CFMOTO Racing PruestelGP rider finishing 16th at the Red Bull Ring and missing out on the top 15 by seven-hundredths of a second.

The Darwin 20-year-old once again shone on Saturday by qualifying ninth, but a lap 14 track limits infringement saw him have to complete a long-lap penalty, dropping him out of the points with six laps remaining.

At the halfway mark of the season, Kelso sits 20th in the world championship standings with three points finishes from eight starts with his new team.

Surprise packet

In a Grand Prix that offered zero drama for the win and little fighting outside of the battle for third between Bezzecchi, Marini and Alex Marquez, Saturday's Sprint provided the biggest surprise of the weekend when Pol Espargaro, in just his second full weekend for the season after suffering horrendous injuries from a crash at the Portugal season-opener, piloted his GasGas machine to an impressive sixth place from 13th on the grid.

With Moto2™ championship leader Pedro Acosta bound for the premier class next year and either Espargaro or teammate Augusto Fernandez – who are both under contract – likely to have to make way for the rising Spanish star, Espargaro's stellar Sprint was a reminder of his fighting qualities, particularly as he's still nowhere near fully fit.

Number to know

3: Bagnaia's dominant Austrian weekend made it three races this year where he's won the Sprint and Grand Prix proper, Portugal and Italy being the other two. Martin (in Germany) is the only other rider to do the double this season.

Austrian Motorcycle Grand Prix: top 10

1. Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati) 42mins 23.315secs
2. Brad Binder (KTM) +5.191secs
3. Marco Bezzecchi (Ducati) +7.708secs
4. Luca Marini (Ducati) +10.343secs
5. Alex Marquez (Ducati) +11.039secs
6. Maverick Vinales (Aprilia) +11.724secs
7. Jorge Martin (Ducati) +12.917secs
8. Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) +19.509secs
9. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) +20.231secs
10. Enea Bastianini (Ducati) +20.729secs

Riders' championship standings (top 5)

1. Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati) 251 points
2. Jorge Martin (Ducati) 189 points
3. Marco Bezzecchi (Ducati) 183 points
4. Brad Binder (KTM) 160 points
5. Johann Zarco (Ducati) 125 points

What's next?

Round 11: Catalunya (Barcelona, Spain), Sept 1-3