Reigning world champion Francesco Bagnaia (right) and Jorge Martin during a press conference held at the Lusail International Circuit, yesterday. Picture: Rajan Vadakkemuriyil
Doha, Qatar: Reigning world champion Francesco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin are looking to seal maximum points promising gripping action in the MotoGP Qatar Airways Grand Prix of Qatar 2023 weekend getting underway today.
The two riders are the only ones left in pursuit of the championship crown with Ducati’s Bagnaia leading the title race with a slim 14-point lead ahead of the season’s penultimate event – featuring the calendar’s only floodlit sprint race and Grand Prix at the Lusail International Circuit.
Italy’s Bagnaia, who can secure the title even before the final weekend in Valencia later this month, is not considering the Qatar MotoGP a “match point”, as he hopes to extend his lead over the Spaniard. He would clinch the championship again if he manages to stretch his lead over his Pramac Racing’s rival to 37 points or more in Qatar.
Bagnaia did that in the season-opening Portuguese Grand Prix when he outscored Martin by 28 points, claiming the sprint race as well as the Grand Prix, but it will be “too much” for him to repeat that feat.
“I’m not considering this weekend like a match point, honestly. I have to gain 23 points I think, and that’s too much in a single weekend,” Bagnaia told a press conference yesterday.
“Jorge is doing a really great job and it will be more important to think session by session, to work like the past weekend in Sepang and try to be competitive.”
Asked if beating Martin in the Qatar GP his goal this week, Bagnaia said: “Yeah, maybe that would be better because 14 points to lead the championship is nothing, 37 points or weekend is a lot, so you can gain or lose a lot of points in one weekend. It will be important to stay calm and work well and try to do the maximum because last weekend he gained 3 points on Saturday and then lost four on Sunday, so it’s very balanced and I think it will be a head-to-head.”
The 26-year-old is also banking on his team’s fine record at the Lusail track where Ducati has earned six victories so far.
Francesco Bagnaia (left) and Jorge Martin pose with the MotoGP World Championship trophy ahead of the MotoGP Qatar Airways Grand Prix of Qatar 2023, yesterday. PIC: MOTOGP
“We’ve always been competitive here, apart from last year when it was at the wrong part of the season. But the lap record is still mine and I think our bike suits very well to this circuit.”
Speaking on the new track surface, Bagnaia said: “I think it will be better for everyone. New asphalt means more grip. We always arrive here in March when it’s cold at the beginning, so for me it will be better, but we need to see for the tyres because we will race in different conditions compared to the past years and it will be a lot hotter. It’ll be a big question for the tyres, for sure.”
Martin, meanwhile, is assured of a second place irrespective of the outcome of the two weekends after Marco Bezzecchi slipped out of the title race following the Malaysian Grand Prix.
The Spaniard is aiming to overturn Bagnaia’s lead ahead of the season finale.
“I don’t know the maths, I just know I need to recover points. This is my target. I’m already second in the Championship even if I don’t ride in the next two races so I just need to attack and recover points,” he said yesterday.
The Lusail International Circuit which has been hosting the MotoGP since 2004 is known to be a tricky track producing spectacular battles among riders over the years, and Martin was expecting more pulsating action at the iconic venue.
“It will be super close for me. It’s difficult to understand now but it will be a close battle between all the fast riders. It’s a good chance to recover points but also a good chance to lose a lot of points. We need to be clever and fast and try to win it,” said the 25-year-old, who crashed out of the last year’s race with Bagnaia following a contact between the two riders.
Bagnaia’s current teammate Enea Bastianini racing for Gresini Racing then won the last year’s Grand Prix of Qatar.
Today, the first MotoGP free practice will start at 3:45pm followed by the second free practice to begin under lights at 8pm.
Qatar Airways Grand Prix of Qatar
14:00-14:35 Moto3 Practice Nr. 1
14:50-15:30 Moto2 Practice Nr. 1
15:45-16:30 MotoGP Free Practice Nr. 1
18:15-18:50 Moto3 Practice Nr. 2
19:05-19:45 Moto2 Practice Nr. 2
20:00-21:00 MotoGP Practice
13:30-14:00 Moto3 Practice Nr. 3
14:15-14:45 Moto2 Practice Nr. 3
15:00-15:30 MotoGP Free Practice Nr. 2
15:40-15:55 MotoGP Qualifying Nr. 1
16:05-16:20 MotoGP Qualifying Nr. 2
17:50-18:05 Moto3 Qualifying Nr. 1
18:15-18:30 Moto3 Qualifying Nr. 2
18:45-19:00 Moto2 Qualifying Nr. 1
19:10-19:25 Moto2 Qualifying Nr. 2
20:00-20:45 MotoGP Tissot Sprint (11 Laps)
15:40-15:50 MotoGP Warm Up
17:00-17:35 Moto3 Race (18 Laps)
18:15-18:55 Moto2 Race (20 Laps)
20:00-20:50 MotoGP Race (22 Laps)
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