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MotoGP Dutch GP

10 things we learned from the 2023 MotoGP Dutch GP

As MotoGP heads into its extended summer break, the world title fight appears to be a three-way all-Ducati affair after Francesco Bagnaia denied Marco Bezzecchi a perfect weekend at Assen. Elsewhere, the nightmares at Honda and Yamaha took fresh twists, while plans both on and off track for 2024 began to pick up pace

Enea Bastianini, Ducati Team

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Francesco Bagnaia extended his MotoGP world championship lead with victory in the Dutch Grand Prix and in the process halted a clean sweep by Marco Bezzecchi, who topped every practice session, grabbed pole and won the sprint race.

That all shook out to see the reigning world champion take a 35-point lead over Jorge Martin into the summer break, with Bezzecchi just one further point behind in third.

A battered and bruised Marc Marquez was absent from the Cathedral of Speed on Sunday as his faith in Honda took another hit, while Fabio Quartararo was still able to find comfort on an otherwise tough pilgrimage for Yamaha.

Here are the 10 things we learned from the 2023 MotoGP Dutch GP.

1. Sometimes Ducati and Bagnaia do have to come from behind

Bagnaia extended his points lead with his fourth grand prix win of the season on Sunday

Bagnaia extended his points lead with his fourth grand prix win of the season on Sunday

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Given that a ‘bad’ weekend for Francesco Bagnaia right now appears to mean settling for second place, it’s easy to assume that the Ducati factory team only has to turn up at the track in order to help itself to (at worst) a podium.

But as Bagnaia reminded anybody who would listen after his grand prix win at Assen, it’s not always that simple. This was another example of a weekend where things on his side of the garage didn’t start smoothly on Friday. It took until the warm-up session on Sunday morning to get the bike purring at its best.

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“Both at the Sachsenring and here at Assen, we didn’t start in the best way, and had to build through the weekend,” he explained. “I noticed something that my bike wasn’t doing right in the sprint race, so we tried to find something this morning in the warm-up. And we found it!

“We improved our situation across the weekend. Sachsenring was the same, and so was Jerez. And being capable of improving like this is something I can be really happy about with my team.”

While Bagnaia surely makes a good point, cynics may point out that the data sharing within the vast army of Ducati bikes on the grid makes it easier for a Ducati crew to find its way out of trouble within the confines of a MotoGP weekend. RA

2. Bezzecchi is a title fighter – it is up to him and Martin to catch Bagnaia

Bezzecchi won the sprint after topping qualifying and every practice session but couldn't hold off Bagnaia in the main event

Bezzecchi won the sprint after topping qualifying and every practice session but couldn't hold off Bagnaia in the main event

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Many pre-season predictions would have one out of the top three correct heading into the summer break. Defending world champion Bagnaia on the factory Ducati was always likely to have a say, but it would’ve taken some bold guesses to pick Jorge Martin and Marco Bezzecchi as his nearest challengers.

But through a combination of Ducati’s domination, Honda and Yamaha struggles, numerous injuries across the grid and standout performances from Martin and Bezzecchi, they are the two that will take the title fight to Bagnaia. The Italian’s 35 and 36-point lead is a comfortable cushion to lean on over the summer siesta, but the defending champion won’t be relaxing on it given he began to overturn his own 91-point deficit to Fabio Quartararo this time last year.

But what Martin and Bezzecchi don’t have in their armoury is a vastly superior bike that Bagnaia had 12 months ago, with Martin on equal GP23 equipment with the Italian and Bezzecchi on the year-old GP22.

Bezzecchi, arguably the star of the show at Assen, resisted assertions of a title fight the last time he took centre stage back at Le Mans, but those attributions will be harder to shake off this time.

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Indeed, superstar performances, like Bezzecchi in Argentina and France and Martin in Germany, coupled with off weekends for Bagnaia (like Argentina, the United States and France) could give either rider a chance to wipe out the deficit in one swoop.

For MotoGP’s sake, albeit in the context of a three-way Ducati fight, it is exactly what the series needs over the second half of the year. HC

3. Martin looks to have made his 2024 decision

Martin lamented being overlooked for a factory Ducati seat, but has all the tools he needs for success at Pramac

Martin lamented being overlooked for a factory Ducati seat, but has all the tools he needs for success at Pramac

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

It was an unlikely scenario in which Jorge Martin wound up on a factory Yamaha for 2024, but that link looks all but dead now.

Martin wasn’t happy to have been overlooked for the factory Ducati seat that went to Enea Bastianini for 2023 but it was never a disadvantage, as the Italian marque ensured machine parity and full support for the Spaniard at Pramac.

And he’s used this to full effect in 2023, taking a double victory in Germany that he followed up with sixth in the sprint race and fifth in the grand prix at Assen to maintain his second place in the riders’ championship.

Speaking ahead of the Dutch GP, Martin sensibly noted: “I’m happy where I am. I don’t see a reason to change. I have a factory bike, an amazing team that is pushing for me. I feel like 2024 should be the same.”

Though confirming his contract stipulates he could leave Ducati for 2024 if a factory team makes an offer, the only one with a spare seat right now is Yamaha and it won’t give him a title-winning bike.

Naturally, top riders want the ego boost a factory team contract offers. But ultimately the most important thing is winning, and that’s what Martin will continue to do with Pramac and Ducati in 2024. LD

4. Yamaha can still dare to dream…at Yamaha circuits

Sprint podium for Quartararo was a rare bright spot in a recent fallow spell for Yamaha that gives it hope for historically friendly upcoming tracks

Sprint podium for Quartararo was a rare bright spot in a recent fallow spell for Yamaha that gives it hope for historically friendly upcoming tracks

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Just when it looked like things couldn’t get any worse for Yamaha, its old friend Assen handed the beleaguered manufacturer a break. Sure, the long streak of Yamahas taking Dutch Grand Prix victory in (at least) every odd-numbered year was finally broken, but Fabio Quartararo’s sprint race podium was as good as a win right now.

That third place may have been inherited, thanks to Brad Binder’s penalty. And yes, Sunday went horribly awry for the Frenchman. But the pace was there throughout the weekend. Proof that on the right sort of circuit, the Yamaha can still compete.

This is a fantastic boost for the team as it heads into the summer break. Before Assen, it hardly looked like it would be worth Yamaha turning out for the second half of the season. Now it can cautiously look forward to some of its happier playgrounds, starting with the next round at Silverstone.

The squad will also have its eye on Barcelona and perhaps Misano as races where Quartararo could yet shine. Barcelona was one of only three races the 2021 world champion managed to win last season.

Wins are probably still a big ask, particularly since holding track position may not be as easy on some of those tracks as it was at Assen. But Yamaha has at least some grounds for optimism when the venue suits. RA

5. Marc Marquez and Honda need a break – but could temporary become permanent?

Marquez's future with Honda was the subject of intense scrutiny at Assen as he again missed the grand prix after a disappointing sprint

Marquez's future with Honda was the subject of intense scrutiny at Assen as he again missed the grand prix after a disappointing sprint

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

To quote TV mega-hit 'Friends', Marc Marquez and Honda will go into the summer stating “we were on a break”. The Ross and Rachel of the MotoGP world, when it’s good it is really good. But when it’s bad…

The triple-header must have felt like an ever-worsening nightmare in the #93 camp, with Marquez enduring a pick-n-mix of injuries with each heavy fall meaning he only started three sprints and one grand prix race, picking up three points in total.

While this season is a write-off – Marquez is still yet to see the chequered flag on a Sunday – attention has turned to whether the talismanic Spaniard will even be in Honda colours next year as speculation grows on him seeing out the final year of his current contract.

As is well known, Marquez’s exit options are slim for next year, but Assen might represent a breaking point after it was announced he had suffered a literal fracture to a rib to go with a fracture in his left hand from his bruising German round the weekend before. Honda team boss Alberto Puig – MotoGP’s Roy Keane when it comes to handing out assessments – gave out some tough love.

“We have a contract, but every person is free to do what they want in life,” Puig said. “And Honda is not a company that wants to have people who are not happy being at Honda. So, of course, we have a contract, but Honda respects Marc a lot. I want to think [he will stay] based on the contract, but I don’t have a [magic wand].”

With Puig seemingly confirming Honda’s backdoor was unlocked if Marquez wished to exit from it, attention immediately swung to the six-time MotoGP world champion, but he felt it wasn’t the right time to comment with emotions swirling.

“Now I am in a big moment and I cannot think about this,” he remarked. “You cannot decide things about your future when you are in such a condition. During this month and a half, I need to rebuild my body and the mental side. I am in one of the worst moments of my career. But I’m very lucky that I am in one of the best moments in my personal life, with a very good team around me. Everything is stable and this helps a lot.”

Both will use the summer break to recover, recharge and reflect. It will be the main point of focus for everyone in six weeks’ time at Silverstone. HC

6. All riders need the extended break to recover from injuries

The summer break will be an important chance for riders carrying ailments, such as Honda's Joan Mir, to get back to fitness

The summer break will be an important chance for riders carrying ailments, such as Honda's Joan Mir, to get back to fitness

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Speaking of needing a bit of R&R, Marquez isn’t the only one. In fact, probably every rider on the MotoGP grid is nursing an ailment of some kind – be it physical or mental – as a gruelling triple-header supercharged with sprint races comes to a close.

By a stroke of fortune MotoGP has been gifted an extended summer holiday for a second year in succession, and this year it has grown by two weeks due to the cancellation of the inaugural Kazakhstan GP that was lined up for the 7-9 July. Six weeks off is almost as long as the winter off-season when factoring in post-season and pre-season testing and while it has its drawbacks, forcing MotoGP out of the spotlight for an elongated period, it will be a welcome relief to those in the paddock.

It should provide all riders with enough time to return to fitness – Alex Rins’ nasty leg break one that may require more recovery time – but the likes of Marquez, Fabio Quartararo, Aleix Espargaro, Miguel Oliveira, Enea Bastianini, Joan Mir and Pol Espargaro can all use the time to heal bones and muscles before the next gruelling chunk of the season.

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And they’ll need it. The British MotoGP on 4-6 August is only round nine of 20 and starts a run of 12 races in 17 weeks. HC

7. Pirelli Moto2/Moto3 tyre supply deal an interesting subplot in F1 saga

Moto2 and Moto3 bikes will have Pirelli tyres next year as Dunlop bows out - could the Italian manufacturer eye a move into the top class too?

Moto2 and Moto3 bikes will have Pirelli tyres next year as Dunlop bows out - could the Italian manufacturer eye a move into the top class too?

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

One of the bigger shake-ups to hit the Moto2 and Moto3 classes over the last decade is the news – revealed by Autosport during the Assen weekend – that Pirelli will take over from Dunlop as sole tyre supplier from 2024.

This comes at a time when Pirelli’s tenure as Formula 1’s sole tyre supplier could be coming to a close, as it faces competition from Bridgestone for the contract from 2025 onwards.

MotoGP’s current tyre supplier Michelin is locked in until the end of 2026, but the potential loss of Pirelli’s F1 contract will leave it looking for another major world championship to partner with over the next few years.

Thus, its Moto2/Moto3 (having already acted as long-time supplier to the World Superbike Championship) foray could be seen as dipping its toe in the MotoGP waters. LD

8. Acosta’s MotoGP step gets seal of approval from top riders

Acosta has set many tongues wagging with his prowess in the junior categories

Acosta has set many tongues wagging with his prowess in the junior categories

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

First reported by Autosport and confirmed during the Assen weekend by the rider himself, Pedro Acosta’s move to MotoGP is nearing as he settles on KTM to make the step.

It’s an unsurprising development, but one that has been met with anticipation by top riders in the MotoGP paddock – as one would expect when talking about a potential generational talent.

“We know he’s ready. If he believes he’s ready, then that’s all that matters,” KTM’s Jack Miller commented. “I like that he’s young, he’s confident and that’s what you need to do when you are that age.

“You need to say what you think. For sure, I’m excited at the prospect and hopefully, KTM can keep him in the family of course because we would love to have him on one of our bikes.”

Marc Marquez, who caused a similar stir 10 years ago when he stepped up to MotoGP after a headline-grabbing junior career, added: “Of course he’s ready. He’s showing a very good performance, already last year in the end of the year, and now this year. So, yeah, he’s ready to move to MotoGP.” LD

9. First format revisions set for 2024

Will Fridays be a little less intense in 2024? Oliveira doesn't think so

Will Fridays be a little less intense in 2024? Oliveira doesn't think so

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

The new weekend format in MotoGP has taken some adjustment, but most of the complaints about the sprint revolution have largely subsided.

However, one gripe that has persisted has been the intensity of Fridays. Because of the addition of sprints, the qualifying groups for Saturday morning are decided based on the combined times at the end of FP2 on Friday.

This has led to Friday sessions turning into mini qualifyings, which a number of riders have complained is compromising their weekends because it is stopping them from carrying out any meaningful testing.

As reported by Autosport on Thursday, MotoGP has agreed that from 2024 only the times in FP2 will count towards who goes straight into Q2 and who has to face Q1.

RNF Aprilia’s Miguel Oliveira felt this won’t really change much, while Francesco Bagnaia noted that – while a positive change – riders would need the tyre allocation adjusted for this to truly work to give them one more front option. LD

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10. Riders must accept accountability is part of the game

There was plenty of spotlight on Miller after his Sachsenring comments

There was plenty of spotlight on Miller after his Sachsenring comments

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Jack Miller’s barbed comments towards unnamed rivals during the German GP, in which he told them to “shut the fuck up and get on with the job”, instead of complaining about their motorcycles, was a major talking point heading into the Assen round.

The KTM rider didn’t back down from his comments, which is commendable, and clarified that he made them as he felt complaints about manufacturers was bad for the health of the championship.

That argument is a bit flimsy: the fact those manufacturers are struggling is a bad image for the championship, as is the fact that two world champions – Fabio Quartararo and Marc Marquez – are being limited by the massive shortcomings of their motorcycles.

Miller also clarified that his comments weren’t aimed directly at Marquez, who didn’t comment on the situation, before claiming his words were taken out of context and made into “clickbait”.

These were words said in an open media debrief attended by a press officer and reported by countless outlets – if there was a genuine case for words being taken out of context, there was ample time and scope for this to have been fixed by the team.

Miller, as all riders are, is free to speak his mind. This should be actively encouraged. However, part and parcel of free speech is that you must accept counterarguments and accountability. In that sense, riders should just “get on with the job”. LD

By Richard Asher, Haydn Cobb and Lewis Duncan

Miller retired from the grand prix after an early crash

Miller retired from the grand prix after an early crash

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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