This website uses cookies for analytics and personalised content. View our Privacy Policy for more information on cookies.
Skip to main content

Five to follow: Who's favourite for the Island?

Wednesday, 18 October 2023

Wondering who will stand on top of the MotoGP™ podium at this year's Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix? Who should your hard-earned be invested in? We've got answers…

It's easy to say: predicting a winner of the MotoGP™ races headlines the MotoGP™ Guru by Gryfyn Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix 2023 this October is hard. The reasons? Plenty. But some riders stand out as more likely victors than others, which we'll get to.

After an Island classic 12 months ago where the top seven finishers were covered by eight-tenths of a second, it's little wonder that the list of contenders is long, and paring them back to a quick quintet was painful. But before we get to the list, consider some context.


For one, the Island layout is one of a kind. There's just four anti-clockwise tracks on the calendar as it is, but no other track carries the consistently high corner speed that the Island does.

Secondly, Japanese factories have typically ruled the roost in Australia, which is in stark contrast to everywhere else in 2023. Honda and Yamaha have had their struggles this season, but those two marques – plus Suzuki, who won with Alex Rins here last year before withdrawing from the sport two races later – have won every race here since 2010, when Casey Stoner saluted for Ducati.

TICKETS: There are not one but two premier class races at this year's MotoGP™ Guru by Gryfyn Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix 2023. Purchase tickets today!

Finally, Australia being off the calendar for two years in 2020-21 means that some of the sport's younger guns have had very little exposure to the Island on MotoGP™ machinery. Yamaha's Fabio Quartararo has two Island premier-class starts on his CV (and zero finishes), while the likes of Pecco Bagnaia, Jorge Martin, Marco Bezzecchi and Brad Binder have – at most – only a pair of outings in Australia despite their overall experience in the category.

That's enough nuance; how about some names? In descending order of how we see their chances, here's our five men most likely – with one asterisk…

Jack Miller/Brad Binder, KTM

OK, so we broke our own rules by going with an either/or answer to which KTM rider could break new ground for the Austrian manufacturer Down Under, but hear us out.

Miller's home record is decent – a MotoGP™ podium secured on the last lap for Pramac Ducati in 2019 is his high-water mark – and there's something about racing at home in front of a fervent local crowd (and at a track that has a corner with his surname on it, remember) that demands inclusion here. Miller's Island qualifying prowess – he's started inside the first three rows of the grid five times – is another factor, especially when combined with the KTM's ability to get off the line. Get out front early, and you never know …

Binder, meanwhile, has made a step up this year as KTM has become the biggest thorn in Ducati's side. His Island CV is stacked, too; the South African won here in Moto3™ (2016), Moto2™ (2018 and 2019), and has two other podiums in the lower classes to his name – for five straight years from 2015, Binder stood on the rostrum in Australia.

KTM has never finished better than 10th in Australia before; you'd get short odds on that stat being smashed, but by which rider?

Maverick Vinales, Aprilia

The 2023 Aprilia – with its penchant for making up ground hand over fist in long, fast corners – is tailor-made for a layout like the Island. And while someone like Miguel Oliveira, given lower-class Island CV, is stiff to miss this list for that reason, the Portuguese rider only has the potential to do it on a MotoGP™ bike. Vinales already has.

No matter what Vinales has been on in whatever category he's been in, the mercurial Spaniard has always been slippery in Australia, and this year should be no different.

A winner here on a Kalex in Moto2™ (2014) and for Yamaha in MotoGP™ (2018), Vinales was on pole and set the fastest lap in 2019 in a race-long battle for the win with Marc Marquez, no mean feat given the eight-time world champion's speed in Australia, before crashing out in a last-lap fight.

Pace, then, clearly isn't the problem. Knowing when (or if) it'll be deployed is what makes Maverick so compelling yet confounding at the same time, and there's a chance this year could end up like last year's anonymous fade to 17th from 12th on the grid.

But if he qualifies well and gets away early – like he did last weekend in Indonesia when he finished second – Vinales is likely to be right in the mix.

Marc Marquez, Honda

Yes, we see you shaking your head. Honda has largely been lost this year, and part of that has been Marquez stringing together only a handful of races before another crash and another injury and another stint on the sidelines.

At any other circuit, he's not making the top 10 of this list, particularly as his focus shifted to not pushing at his customary 99.9 per cent after he came back at Silverstone in August. But this is Marquez and Phillip Island we're talking about, and it's easy to see how he could overcome the limitations of his machinery – and how his hyper-competitive instinct could override logic – in Australia.

Marquez's Island record is, as he calls it himself, "on or off". Wins in 2015, 2017 and 2019. Crashes from the lead in 2014 and 2016. Five poles in a row between 2014 and 2018. Oh, and remember he once came from 38th on the grid after a penalty to finish third in Moto2™ in 2011 …

Last year's second place was Marquez's landmark 100th MotoGP™ podium, one where he felt – his words – that he knew the answer to the question of whether he still had what it took after years of injury and frustration since 2020. As the time ticks down on his Honda tenure, little in 2023 suggests he should be back on the Island rostrum this year – but you'd be crazy to count him out.

Pecco Bagnaia, Ducati

Put simply, Australia has never seen the best of Bagnaia, which is partly a coincidence of timing and, more pertinently, a sign of how far he's come, and how fast.

Two top-four results in his two MotoGP™ visits is nothing to be sneezed at, sure – but they both come with context. In 2019, when then-Ducati teammate Miller pipped him to the final podium spot after Vinales fell ahead of them on the last lap, fourth was one of just three top-10 results in a rough rookie season.

Last year, with championship leader Quartararo crashing out and Bagnaia needing only to finish 13th or better to take over at the top of the standings, the Italian finished third in the second-closest top 10 of all time, but rode like a man with a bigger prize on his mind.

MotoGP™ missing out on the Island in 2020 and '21 coincided with Bagnaia's rise from promising prodigy to front-running force, meaning he's never shown his A-game here. On track for successive world titles, his best is clearly very good. But if any rider is to snap Ducati's drought in Australia, it's more likely to be …

Jorge Martin, Ducati

If Bagnaia is the best rider in MotoGP™, Martin might be its fastest. The rapid Spaniard has a one-lap turn of speed that regularly makes you do a double-take in qualifying, and while converting those poles into something more meaningful on race day has been a challenge in the past, the Pramac Ducati rider has made big progress in that area this year – last weekend’s blunder when leading in Indonesia notwithstanding.

Martin is the fastest rider ever at the Island – that's fact more than opinion, after his pole lap of 1min 27.767secs last year shattered Jorge Lorenzo's circuit record that had stood for nine years. As the stakes were raised, he simply went faster – Martin took four-tenths of a second off his previous-best time on his pole lap, which was breathtaking for its sheer audacity.

He wasn't far off last year – finishing eight-tenths of a second behind the winner at most other races usually gets you better than a seventh-place result – and for a first big-bike visit to the Island, it was highly impressive.

Martin is just as fast now as he was then, but capitalises on that speed more regularly. He'll need to be consistent, as Bagnaia's unerring accuracy doesn't allow for even the slightest of wobbles. But if a rider from a European factory is finally going to win in Australia after more than a decade of disappointment, we're backing Martin to manage it.

Loading Poll...