Caught your breath, addressed your sunburn and warmed up your hands after Phillip Island yet? The Island being the Island, all three things are guaranteed; what’s also a nailed-on certainty is that we get a MotoGP™ classic every time the series hits our shores, another Island tradition that endures after Johann Zarco’s spectacular last-gasp breakthrough win last Saturday.
There’s no rest for the world’s best on two wheels, though; the series shifts to Buriram this weekend for the fourth running of the Thailand Motorcycle Grand Prix (October 27-29), with Pecco Bagnaia’s championship defence looking stronger than his pace suggests with four rounds remaining this season.
There’s plenty of pre-race talking points, as usual – now our fingers have thawed out, we’re running with these three.
Martin has no margin for error
In a six-day span from the full-distance Grand Prix in Indonesia to Saturday’s rescheduled feature in Australia, Jorge Martin should have scored 50 points; the Pramac Ducati rider left the Island for some downtime in Sydney with just 11, after his soft rear tyre choice blew up in his face in the closing stages at Phillip Island.
Martin led for 316 of the 324 corners before being overwhelmed on the last lap to finish fifth; the Spaniard had Bagnaia’s measure all weekend across practice, qualifying and 26 of the 27 laps, but shipped another nine points to the reigning world champion. Bagnaia now has a lead of 27 points with four weekends left, and is displaying the body language of someone who feels in control.
Sunday’s Sprint race cancellation at the Island was a lost opportunity for Martin to claw some points back and salvage something from a weekend where the stopwatch showed his dominance. One more slip-up in Thailand, like crashing from the lead at Mandalika and needlessly gambling on a tyre that had durability concerns in Australia, might be a bridge too far for his title chances.
Now or never for ‘Bez’
Good as Zarco’s win was in Australia – and it was great given it took him 120 Grands Prix to get to the top step – the cancellation of Sunday’s Sprint meant the Frenchman couldn’t add any points to the 25 he earned on Saturday, meaning he left Australia 179 points behind Bagnaia with a maximum of 148 available.
Brad Binder is hanging in there, but at 142 points adrift of Bagnaia, Thailand shapes up as the weekend the KTM man is mathematically eliminated from contention unless something extraordinary goes his way. Which leaves Martin and Marco Bezzecchi as the only riders who can dethrone Bagnaia, and the Mooney VR46 man is now in must-win territory.
Bezzecchi’s high points this season have been stratospheric – his win in India four rounds ago was stunning – but the broken right collarbone he sustained in a training accident before Indonesia was horrendously timed. He’s battled on gamely since, but at 73 points behind Bagnaia, ‘Bez’ is going to need to dial up his dominance from Argentina, France and India in Thailand while hoping for some help from Bagnaia to at least give himself a shot.
‘Diggia’ is deserving
The Sunday – sorry, Saturday – Grand Prix podium at Phillip Island featured three faces smiling even more than usual. Zarco, for that long-awaited win, and Bagnaia, for putting one over on Martin, were beaming. But it’s hard to imagine they were any happier than Fabio Di Giannantonio, who broke through for a maiden Grand Prix podium as his career crossroads comes into sharper view.
We know why he’s being ousted from Gresini Ducati – ‘Diggia’ is realistic enough to know that if Marc Marquez wants to ride your bike, you’re on the outer – but his response to not being signed all year and then realising his premier-class window is closing has been magnificent. At the past three race weekends, he’s matched (eighth in Japan) and then beaten (fourth in Indonesia and third in Australia) his best-ever results, and emphatically answered the question of whether he’s good enough to stay on the grid.
But where to go? Repsol Honda need a Marquez replacement, but would he want a bike Marquez can’t wait to get off (and one teammate Joan Mir keeps falling from) even if Honda’s flagship team actually wants him? There’s an argument that, given the propensity for riders to miss races these days with injuries in seasons that feature 40 starts, that Di Giannantonio would be better off as a Ducati super-sub, a gun for hire who can fill any of their eight seats if someone is unavailable.
It's a storyline still to shake out, but another improvement on that career-best run he’s on in Thailand would surely make the Italian’s bargaining power higher than ever.