Enea Bastianini defied a troubled first season at the factory Ducati team to take a shock victory at the Malaysian Grand Prix, the Italian earning his first podium finish of what’s been a miserable season with a stunning display to become the seventh different MotoGP™ winner this year.
Bastianini, who has battled a broken collarbone, ankle and hand this year and only started 20 of a possible 35 races, was untouchable in scorching conditions, storming from the front row of the grid to take the lead on lap one, controlling the pace from there to comfortably win by 1.535secs for his fifth premier-class victory.
Under pressure to keep his ride alongside world champion Pecco Bagnaia for 2024 with Pramac Ducati rider Jorge Martin emerging as a genuine front-runner this season, Bastianini issued a timely reminder of the quality that saw him signed as Jack Miller’s successor at Ducati’s A-team in the first place.
Third on the grid comfortably beat his previous best qualifying result this year (sixth in the Portugal season-opener), while his fourth place in the Sprint was his best Saturday showing of the season, usurping his seventh in Indonesia.
Before Sunday, a pair of eighth-place finishes (in Germany and Indonesia) were his best main-race results, and the victory elevated him to 15th in the championship standings.
Sprint winner Alex Marquez (Ducati) finished second, while Bagnaia extended his championship lead over Martin by one point despite finishing third to Martin’s second in the Sprint, but gaining back those points lost on Saturday and more in Sunday’s Grand Prix, third for Bagnaia and a distant fourth for Martin seeing Bagnaia’s lead creep up to 14 points.
After the last-lap battle for the lead at Phillip Island and the late-race brawl for victory in Buriram, Malaysia was a more tame affair as riders battled tyre wear and skyrocketing front tyre pressures, a brief early skirmish between Bagnaia and Martin as tense as it got up front. The top four positions didn’t change for the final 16 laps, with a charging Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) providing much of the entertainment as he surged to fifth in the final eight laps.
Elsewhere, the first title of the year was sealed in Malaysia, Spaniard Pedro Acosta taking the Moto2™ crown with a second-place result to become a two-time world champion before heading to MotoGP™.
The 19-year-old, who will partner Augusto Fernandez at GasGas in the premier class next season, won the 2021 Moto3™ championship as a rookie before taking the intermediate-class title in his second Moto2™ season, winning seven of this year’s 18 races to become the youngest champion in the category’s history.
It was a tough day for anyone not riding a Ducati – the Italian manufacturer took five of the top six places – which meant eighth place for KTM’s Jack Miller was a decent result on a Sunday where tyre wear and the heat saw the field spread out over the 20 laps, and five riders fail to finish.
As Miller did in Saturday’s Sprint – where a superb start saw him jump from 10th on the grid to a points-paying finish in sixth – the Australian was a man on the move when the lights went out on Sunday, gaining four places on the opening lap and staying sixth until lap 12, when Quartararo used the Yamaha’s superior grip to drop Miller to seventh.
Quartararo’s teammate Franco Morbidelli demoted Miller one further place on the penultimate lap, but Miller hung on to eighth at the flag after repelling Fabio Di Giannantonio (Ducati) by 0.195secs on the blast out of the final corner to the finish line.
In Moto3™, Joel Kelso kept his strong end-of-season run rolling with well-judged seventh place, the Australian scoring points for the third race in a row while finishing inside the top 10 for the fourth time this year, climbing one place to 18th in the world championship as a result.
Kelso did well to avoid a dramatic lap five multi-rider crash at Turn 4 which eliminated title-contenders David Alonso (GasGas, Colombia) and Dani Holgado (KTM, Spain), but became detached from the front group as he checked up to avoid taking a spill himself.
His race came down to a one-lap showdown for sixth with CFMOTO Racing PruestelGP teammate Xavier Artigas (Spain) and Artigas’ compatriot Adrian Fernandez (Honda), the Darwin 20-year-old finishing at the back of a trio of riders separated by just two-tenths of a second after 15 laps.
While Bastianini’s shock win was the biggest Sepang surprise, Alex Marquez’s stellar weekend equally defied expectations after he won the Sprint on Saturday and finished second on Sunday, both results well-earned after he came into the weekend battling sickness.
The Gresini Ducati rider was only in this third weekend back after breaking three ribs in India in September, but was on song from the first laps in Malaysia, topping Friday practice, qualifying in fourth place and taking his second Sprint win of the year after previously saluting at Silverstone in August.
Sunday’s second place matched his podiums for Repsol Honda in France and Aragon in 2020 – his rookie MotoGP™ season – as his best long-form premier-class results, and was his second Grand Prix podium of the season after he finished third in Argentina.
Number to know
25: Ducati locking out the top six places in qualifying was the first time a manufacturer had achieved that feat since the 1998 Italian Grand Prix; Honda riders occupied the top six slots on the grid at Mugello 25 years ago.
The Beast is back! It’s fantastic – after this shit season for me has arrived this victory. We have started this weekend with a different mind, from this arrived this great result. I pushed like a bastard for all the race!
Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix: top 10
- Enea Bastianini (Ducati) 39mins 59.137secs
- Alex Marquez (Ducati) +1.535secs
- Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati) +3.562secs
- Jorge Martin (Ducati) +10.526secs
- Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) +15.000secs
- Marco Bezzecchi (Ducati) +16.946secs
- Franco Morbidelli (Yamaha) +18.553secs
- Jack Miller (KTM) +19.204secs
- Fabio Di Giannantonio (Ducati) +19.399secs
- Luca Marini (Ducati) +19.740secs
Riders' championship standings (top 5)
- Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati) 412 points
- Jorge Martin (Ducati) 398 points
- Marco Bezzecchi (Ducati) 323 points
- Brad Binder (KTM) 254 points
- Johann Zarco (Ducati) 200 points
Round 19: Qatar (Lusail International Circuit), Nov 17-19