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Talking points ahead of the San Marino MotoGP™

Thursday, 7 September 2023

Are Aprilia timing their run perfectly for the jam-packed end to the season? Can Ducati's riders stay out of trouble? And can Jack Miller be as rapid off track as he is on it at Misano?

Was last weekend's Grand Prix of Catalunya a one-off, or a sign of things to come? We'll find out soon enough, with round 12 of the MotoGP™ season taking place at Misano for the elaborately-named Gran Premio Red Bull di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini this weekend (September 8-10).

Last weekend in Barcelona was arguably the first time all year where it felt like Ducati didn’t have the rest at their mercy, Aprilia showing well even before championship leader Pecco Bagnaia's scary first-lap crash on Sunday, and Aleix Espargaro belatedly throwing his hat into the championship picture with his second Grand Prix win in the past three events.

Misano (we'll call it that, everyone else does) doubles as the final European round before the lengthy string of flyaway events that sees MotoGP™ head through Asia before arriving in Australia in late October, and Monday's post-Misano test is the final chance for the teams to try any new upgrades before the push for the season's finish line – although there's one rider who will be hoping the test comes and goes in a flash …

What are the main talking points ahead of Misano? These.

Form vs health

With 20 extra races added to the schedule this year by virtue of each event now having a Saturday Sprint to go with a Sunday Grand Prix, injuries were always going to play a part in the story of the season – 20 more races mean 20 more race starts, 20 more first laps, and much more risk for the stars of the premier class.

We've seen the likes of Joan Mir, Miguel Oliveira and – of course – Marc Marquez miss significant time this season already with bumps, bruises and worse, and the dramatic pair of first-lap incidents in Catalunya saw reigning world champion Bagnaia seemingly get away with little more than myriad contusions from his vicious high-side and being hit by Brad Binder's KTM, but Bagnaia's Ducati teammate Enea Bastianini fracturing his left hand and left leg in the first-corner pile-up that preceded Bagnaia's crash.

Bastianini, whose first year in the factory Ducati squad was derailed from race one when he broke his shoulder in a crash with Portugal with Luca Marini, will miss at least the next three events after surgery earlier this week.

The reason staying injury-free is almost as important as the stopwatch? The uneven nature of this year's calendar – the final nine races from here take place across just 11 weekends, with two triple-headers to negotiate – means that any extended time off the bike could be as costly as it is painful.

Bagnaia's series lead is a relatively comfortable 50 points heading to Misano, but he only needs to look across to his teammate to know that the best ability is availability …

Miller's races before the race

Jack Miller is a man who enjoys his job, but this is one weekend he'll be pleased to get over and done with as quickly as possible regardless of the result. The Australian was at a low ebb after being miles off the pace in 16th in the Catalunya Sprint, but showered his KTM crew with praise after they turned his bike "upside down and inside out" for him to recover a much more competitive eighth-place result in the Grand Prix proper.

The 28-year-old is always rapid at Misano, a high-grip surface that's the polar opposite of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya last weekend. Miller was on pole for the San Marino GP last year and has five front-row starts at the venue, so speed isn’t the issue; staying power has been, as none of those starting spots have yielded a podium so far.

Speaking of rapid … Miller will stick around for the one-day post-race test on Monday, and then hightail it back to Australia afterwards, his wife Ruby set to give birth to the couple's first child late next week. A strong showing that rekindles his early-season results will make that frantic flight all the more bearable …

Honda's hopes sit with test

The timesheets painted a bleak picture in Barcelona for Honda; Mir, Takaaki Nakagami and Alex Rins' stand-in Iker Lecuona filling the final three places, in one order or another, in qualifying, the Sprint and the Grand Prix.

Marquez used Miller as a reference in Q1 to somehow slither his way into Q2 at the Australian's expense, but even the six-time MotoGP™ champion's genius could only take him so far over more than one lap, the Spaniard scrounging three points for 13th in the Grand Prix.

Since his return from his latest injury absence, Marquez's tone and body language has changed, no longer willing to risk everything to bend a deficient bike to his will in order to achieve a middling result if he's actually able to stay on board.

Monday's test to see what Honda has in the pipeline for 2024 is critical, and fans the world over will be hanging on Marquez's every word afterwards to ascertain his feedback while wondering what his next move will be if there's no light at the end of the tunnel.

San Marino MotoGP™ fast facts
Circuit name/location: Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, Italy
Length/laps: 4.23km, 27 laps (MotoGP™), 25 laps (Moto2™), 23 laps (Moto3™)
Grands Prix held/debut: 19, 1985
Most successful rider: Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo (three wins apiece)
2022 podium 1st: Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati), 2nd: Enea Bastianini (Ducati), 3rd: Maverick Vinales (Aprilia)

The 2023 San Marino Motorcycle Grand Prix will be available to watch live on Foxtel and Kayo. See our What time does the 2023 San Marino MotoGP™ start in Australia article for timings.