MotoGP in 2022 was a saga of two halves. Defending world champ, the suave Monster Energy Yamaha star Fabio Quartararo, marched to a commanding title defence up until the summer break and, despite the horsepower deficit to the fleet of Ducati machinery on the Grand Prix grid, was operating on the performance limit. The second phase of the racing season was all about the pretender-come-player: Francesco “Pecco” Bagnaia. An authentic protégé of MotoGP GOAT Valentino Rossi and his VR46 Academy, Bagnaia roared to a total of seven victories and ten podiums to regain ground, profit from Quartararo’s slips and become Italy’s first champ in the sport since The Doctor himself in 2009.
Red, Blue. French, Italian. Style, speed. It was an engaging match-up between the two fastest riders in the second half of 2021 that duelled again throughout a campaign that wound the pressure on the 23- and 25-year-olds until #TheDecider at Valencia, Spain.
The stage was set with a full house at the Ricardo Tormo Circuit, hot autumn sunshine and a title on the line. Bagnaia had triumphed in Malaysia two weeks previously, while Quartararo kept his hopes on tickover with a podium finish at Sepang. The odds were steep against the Frenchman, as Bagnaia massaged a 23-point cushion (with 25 points counting for a win). Fabio had to fly to the flag 1st, and Pecco just had to bring it home.
The pressure was as thick as the fireworks smoke that engulfed the ‘stadium setting’ once the 27-lap joust had finished. The tension remained high as Quartararo and Bagnaia bumped and barged their way around the first laps; the championship leader even had contact that damaged the aerodynamics of his Ducati.
“From that moment it was a nightmare, every lap I had to go on the defensive line,” he said.
Quartararo nursed a worn front tire to finish 4th. “Today I have no regrets, I gave my 100% to the end,” #20 commented. Bagnaia conservatively made his way to 9th and to history. “I saw the pitboard that I was world champion, and everything became lighter,” he remarked. “Everything was incredible. So much emotion.”
Afterwards, Bagnaia was hot property but had time to reflect on the greatest comeback in MotoGP: a deficit to his rival that once reached 91 points after the mid-season German round. “I lost faith in the championship for about an hour after that race, but I also knew there was a small chance and the work we did this year has been incredible,” Pecco said. “The way we performed in the second half of the year…we tried to analyse everything and from that moment we hit something incredible. We deserve this title.”
For his part, Quartararo was stoic, but already showing the first flickers of determination only hours after he had to concede his champion status.
“When you lose the title like that, at the end you always need to find the positives,” he offered. “Even if right now, I see 99% of negatives, the 1% positive is in the next four months I need to work for the first race and I will have even more hunger for training hard, preparing myself better and fighting harder for 2023.”
This year has been something of a barnstormer in MotoGP: the sport has wound tighter than a suspension spring. Six of the top ten closest finishes of all-time have come in the last eighteen months, as Grand Prix lives in a vacuum of margins. Rookies have shone, old hands have returned to be competitive, and true class has always risen to the top.
Valencia was a case in point. Suzuki may be waving goodbye to the championship as a participating manufacturer, but Alex Rins’ victory was masterful and by just 0.3 of a second. The Spaniard ran riot only a few weeks before in Australia, where the best race of the year – maybe the decade – was decided by 0.1. Rins, Joan Mir and Suzuki are victims of higher forces in ’22, but they still had the goods to rule even the most intense dust-up.
This season saw Marco Bezzecchi announce his MotoGP credentials with a podium finish and the ‘Rookie of the Year’ gong on the Mooney VR46 Ducati while teammate Luca Marini became the picture of top ten consistency. Cal Crutchlow mixed testing and racing duties for the final six rounds and slid into billing of second-best Yamaha. Darryn Binder showed the international bike racing fan community just how awesome and challenging it can be to vault from Moto3 direct to the premier class.
The 2023 season promises more. Much more. The new sprint race format means the provisional calendar of 22 Grands Prix will deliver double the punch with 44 starts and rubber-abusing action from March-November, from Argentina to Australia. Zip it up.