Di Giannantonio does it in Qatar as Bagnaia takes charge
Ducati’s Fabio Di Giannantonio became the eighth different MotoGP™ rider to win in 2023 after breaking through in Doha, while Pecco Bagnaia has one hand on the championship after a shocker for title rival Jorge Martin.
Reigning world champion Pecco Bagnaia will take a decisive 21-point lead into next weekend’s MotoGP™ season finale in Valencia after finishing second in Sunday’s Qatar Grand Prix, where Ducati’s Fabio Di Giannantonio stormed to a maiden premier-class victory to become the eighth different winner this season.
Di Giannantonio, who has uncorked the best results of his two-year MotoGP™ tenure since it was announced he’d be making way for Marc Marquez at Gresini Ducati next season, remains unemployed for 2024 but couldn’t have been more impressive in Doha after he hunted down and passed long-time race leader Bagnaia with four of 22 laps remaining, pulling away to win by 2.734secs.
While disappointed not to convert on his pace from fourth on the grid, Bagnaia took advantage of a season-worst Grand Prix for chief title rival Jorge Martin, the Pramac Ducati rider making a dreadful start from fifth on the grid and fading to 10th in the race, his worst full-distance result of the season after battling rear grip issues.
Martin, who had hacked Bagnaia’s series lead to just seven points after winning Saturday’s 11-lap Sprint, now has a mountain to climb in Valencia, where a maximum of 37 points are available across the weekend.
Sunday’s race quickly became a showdown between Bagnaia and Di Giannantonio after the rest of the front-running group, featuring pole-sitter Luca Marini (Ducati), Di Giannantonio’s teammate Alex Marquez and KTM’s Brad Binder, began to fall back at half-distance.
Di Giannantonio, who took his maiden MotoGP™ podium when he finished third in last month’s Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island, bullied his way into the lead on lap 19, with Bagnaia narrowly missing clipping the back of his compatriot’s Ducati at the first corner on the next lap as he tried desperately to reclaim top spot, the scare seeing him settle for second place.
Marini just held off a fast-finishing Maverick Vinales (Aprilia) for third, while the big mover late in the race was last year’s Qatar winner Enea Bastianini (Ducati), Bagnaia’s teammate surging through from 15th on the grid to finish eighth and set the fastest lap of the race (1min 52.978secs) on the last lap.
Vinales’ teammate Aleix Espargaro was one of just two retirements in the race, capping a wild weekend for the Spanish veteran.
Espargaro was fined 10,000 Euros and docked six places on the grid after lashing out at Yamaha’s Franco Morbidelli in Saturday practice, slapping the Italian rider in the head after being baulked on track. Espargaro then crashed in Saturday’s Sprint, suffering a small left fibula fracture, and retired in pain just six laps into Sunday’s Grand Prix.
Jack Miller salvaged a top-10 result from a weekend that looked to have gone off the rails in Qatar, the Australian finishing ninth after qualifying 16th and failing to make much progress in the Sprint.
Just 12th in Saturday’s 11-lap entrée, Miller immediately jumped to 12th after the lights went out 24 hours later and started to make moves on lap eight, passing Ducati’s Marco Bezzecchi for 11th and latching onto the back of Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo, who was similarly back in the pack after qualifying 14th.
The KTM rider moved past Pramac Ducati’s Johann Zarco and Honda’s Marc Marquez to move to ninth with 10 laps to go, then passed title contender Martin on the next lap to sit eighth before his pace dropped into the 1min 54 bracket with seven laps left.
Miller had nothing left to hold off the charging Bastianini, dropping to ninth on lap 20, and fell one place to 11th in the standings after Ducati’s Alex Marquez managed top-six results in the Sprint and Grand Prix proper.
In Moto3™, Miller’s compatriot Joel Kelso finished 13th after running with the front group for much of Sunday’s 16-lap race, a moment under braking at the first corner on lap seven seeing him fall out of the top 10 for the first time after qualifying seventh.
Kelso looked likely to fall out of the points when he dropped to 15th on the penultimate lap, but overtook two rivals on the last tour to bank his fourth points-scoring finish in succession to consolidate 18th place in the standings.
It’s hard to imagine a result more surprising than Di Giannantonio’s victory, the fourth in his 146-race world championship career and first since the 2021 Moto2™ race in Jerez.
The 25-year-old has seen his potential premier-class windows close as the season has progressed, Marquez’s Repsol Honda seat that appeared to be his likely going the way of Marini, and Marini’s Mooney VR46 Ducati spot set to go to Moto2™ hotshot Fermin Aldeguer, the Spaniard who won for the third time in succession in Qatar.
Second, in Saturday’s Sprint, just 0.3secs behind Martin was a taste of what was to come for the likeable Italian, who remains hopeful he can somehow stay on the grid after the best month of his career.
“I think that I’m doing everything on time … I think it’s a bit of an unreal situation, and hopefully we can work things out,” Di Giannantonio said.
“It’s an explosion of emotions … I would pay all my money to re-live this moment forever.”
Number to know
8: Sunday’s all-Italian podium was the first time three Italian riders had locked out the rostrum for over eight years when Valentino Rossi won the 2015 British Grand Prix ahead of Danilo Petrucci (second) and Andrea Dovizioso (third).
What to say? The weekend has been unbelievable. I’m speechless. When I was behind Pecco, I said ‘hey, maybe this is my opportunity’ – and we did it.
Qatar Motorcycle Grand Prix: top 10
- Fabio Di Giannantonio (Ducati) 41mins 43.654secs
- Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati) +2.734secs
- Luca Marini (Ducati) +4.408secs
- Maverick Vinales (Aprilia) +4.488secs
- Brad Binder (KTM) +7.246secs
- Alex Marquez (Ducati) +7.620secs
- Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) +7.828secs
- Enea Bastianini (Ducati) +8.239secs
- Jack Miller (KTM) +11.509secs
- Jorge Martin (Ducati) +14.819secs
Riders' championship standings (top 5)
- Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati) 437 points
- Jorge Martin (Ducati) 416 points
- Marco Bezzecchi (Ducati) 326 points
- Brad Binder (KTM) 268 points
- Johann Zarco (Ducati) 204 points
Round 20: Valencia (Circuit Ricardo Tormo), Nov 24-26