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MotoGP Thailand GP

10 things we learned from the 2023 MotoGP Thailand Grand Prix

The MotoGP title race is set up for a frantic finish, as Jorge Martin chipped away at Francesco Bagnaia’s points lead across the Thailand Grand Prix. With Brad Binder a solo warrior for KTM and Aprilia cooking its riders, only the front-running Ducatis will now contest for the top honours. That, plus the latest twist in the Honda and Marc Marquez divorce, dominate the top talking points from this weekend

Jorge Martin, Pramac Racing, race start

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Jorge Martin responded to his recent MotoGP defeats in brilliant fashion in a thrilling Thailand Grand Prix as the title race hots up.

The Pramac rider came to Thailand under scrutiny after his crash from a comfortable lead in Indonesia and losing victory in Australia to an unnecessary tyre gamble. But he bounced back emphatically, taking pole, winning the sprint and holding firm in an epic grand prix to cut Francesco Bagnaia’s championship lead down to just 13 points.

With three rounds to go, Bagnaia must buck up his ideas on Saturdays if he wants to arrest Martin’s charge, with the factory Ducati rider only seventh in the sprint before scoring second on Sunday.

KTM’s Brad Binder finished second in the sprint and repeated this on the road in the grand prix, only for a track limits penalty to demote him to third. Nevertheless, it was another fine showing for the South African who continues to prove he is a cut above the rest of the KTM stable right now.

Aprilia endured a miserable grand prix as extreme heat from the RS-GP cooked its riders, while off-track a new name has emerged as the frontrunner to take Marc Marquez’s seat at Honda in 2024.

So, with just three rounds remaining in 2023, here are the 10 things we learned from the Thailand Grand Prix.

1. Martin steps up after recent mistakes

Having made key errors in recent rounds, Martin produced perfection in Thailand

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Having made key errors in recent rounds, Martin produced perfection in Thailand

Jorge Martin admitted to being “mentally destroyed” after winning the Thailand GP. Clearly, the mask has lifted on his comments that the pressure to win the championship is not on him.

Coming off of two grands prix in Indonesia and Australia in which he lost wins while leading comfortably, the balance of the championship battle very much swung back in favour of Francesco Bagnaia.

Martin needed a bulletproof Thailand weekend to counter that pressure. And he rose to the occasion in a way befitting of a prospective champion. Smashing the lap record for pole again, he was untouchable in the sprint to take his fifth Saturday win in succession. It was a big one, with Bagnaia struggling to seventh and seeing his points lead cut to 18.

After the unnecessary tyre gamble in Australia, Martin played it safe and went with the majority on Sunday in Thailand with the hard rear option. By no means the fastest rider in the GP (his best lap 0.191s slower than Bagnaia’s), Martin managed his race brilliantly.

His lead never surpassed 0.330s as he ensured his tyres were kept in reserve for the onslaught to come from KTM’s Brad Binder and Bagnaia – both of whom shredded their rubber by the end.

Now just 13 points behind Bagnaia, Martin felt his win was “a real hit on the table to make people see that I can battle”. With just three rounds left in 2023 and all at circuits Martin is strong at, he may well have learned from his hardest lessons at the critical time.

2. Bagnaia must cure his Saturday malaise

Bagnaia is leaking points in the Saturday sprint races

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Bagnaia is leaking points in the Saturday sprint races

Francesco Bagnaia has spent all of 2023 using his Fridays to work on race pace, but this flyaway portion of the campaign has seen him falter too much on Saturdays.

The sprints may only be worth half points, but he has only scored 21 on Saturdays since India while Martin has tallied up 48 and hasn’t been toppled in a sprint since Barcelona - before he began his run of five wins from Misano onwards. In terms of Sunday points, Bagnaia has scored 85 since India while Martin has 81.

Bagnaia at least made direct passage to Q2 in Thailand but could only convert that to sixth, and he paid dearly for a poor start and a “useless” battle between Alex Marquez and Johann Zarco in the sprint. Seventh was all he could muster, and this was despite feeling “so, so good on my bike”.

Sunday was a different story, with Bagnaia starting better and riding quicker. But he used a bit more of his tyre than he would have liked battling the likes of Marc Marquez early on.

Starting on the front row with the launch he had, he would have avoided this and maybe have been able to take the upper hand in his battle with Brad Binder and Martin. Tellingly, he was “angry” with the points loss of the sprint after finishing the GP third before a Binder penalty boosted him to second.

In the Bagnaia/Martin battle, the latter still has the out-and-out speed. But Bagnaia cut a confident figure after the GP, stating how he had “discovered something important” for the final races in a failed double overtake into the last corner on Binder and Martin late on.

What he found, he didn’t say, only adding that he has “found our speed again”. But he must start showing this on Saturday now to stop Martin eroding his championship lead further.

3. Honda looks like losing one rider to Gresini and gaining another for 2024

Is this the face of a future factory Honda rider?

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Is this the face of a future factory Honda rider?

At the start of this triple-header, Miguel Oliveira emerged as Honda’s favourite to replace Marc Marquez next season.

At the end of it, it seems Fabio Di Giannantonio – the rider Marquez will replace at Gresini Ducati next year – is in line to get that ride. As reported by Autosport on the eve of the Thailand GP, Honda’s options have become limited by its insistence on signing a rider for only one year.

It wants to keep its options fully open for 2025 when all but Brad Binder come onto the rider market. But with the likes of Oliveira keen for job security, Di Giannantonio has hopped the queue.

He remained tight-lipped about the affair but noted on Sunday after finishing ninth in the grand prix that “something nice” for his future is on the way.

While DiGia will, in reality, be trading the best bike on the grid for the worst in 2024, the young Italian’s recent boost in form with back-to-back career-best finishes – including his podium in Australia – have shown he isn’t merely a seat warmer.

4. Marquez’s comments about strong Honda atmosphere ringing true

Marquez is stilling giving his all to finish his time at Honda on a high

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Marquez is stilling giving his all to finish his time at Honda on a high

Over the last few weeks, a lot of people have tried to clunkily draw comparisons to Valentino Rossi leaving Honda to Marc Marquez doing so.

When Rossi elected to leave, it was because he felt undervalued by the Honda top brass, who moved to dismiss the importance of the rider relative to the bike in its title success with the Italian legend between 2001 and 2003.

The situation for Marquez couldn’t be any different. He agonised over his decision and needed to make a change for the sake of his own mind – to rediscover his enjoyment for riding and find out if he can still truly be competitive in MotoGP.

During the Thailand weekend, Marquez remarked that the atmosphere within Honda hasn’t changed since he made his decision to leave. That certainly tallies with Honda team manager Alberto Puig confirming over the weekend that Honda will allow Marquez to test the Ducati in Valencia next month. This was not afforded to Rossi all those years ago when he signed for Yamaha.

Fourth and sixth in Thailand showed Marquez isn’t easing off the gas, noting after the grand prix that he wants to keep that “intensity” going to the end of the season as it’s the best way to begin his new project with Gresini.

While even he thinks it’s unlikely that he can score a farewell win for Honda, there’s nothing to suggest he won't give it a damn good go: for both his own glory and for a team he still considers family.

5. MotoGP title fight officially becomes all-Ducati affair

A Ducati rider will win this year's MotoGP world title...

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

A Ducati rider will win this year's MotoGP world title...

Ducati is already in the midst of its best season ever in MotoGP. It is now just one win away from matching Honda’s all-time record of 15 in a single campaign after Thailand.

With the constructors’ championship already secured and a Ducati team guaranteed to win that title, the Italian marque will, for the first time ever, celebrate successive riders’ crowns.

Already an outside hope, KTM’s Brad Binder has officially fallen out of the mathematical threshold to win the championship. This leaves just Martin, Bagnaia and VR46’s Marco Bezzecchi in the game now.

Bezzecchi is 79 points off, so needs a big weekend in Malaysia with just 111 points up for grabs after finishing sixth in the sprint and fourth in the grand prix in Thailand. The Italian set the fastest lap in the grand prix but lost too much time battling with team-mate Luca Marini to be able to make a dent on the lead battle.

6. Aprilia is cooking its riders

Aprilia's MotoGP bike is becoming too hot to handle, but not for the right reasons

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Aprilia's MotoGP bike is becoming too hot to handle, but not for the right reasons

Aprilia’s first stint in MotoGP isn’t fondly remembered, with the most notable moment for the RS Cube the day at the Sachsenring it burst into flames and tried to kill Colin Edwards in 2003. While not as bad nowadays, extreme heat seems to be an issue still plaguing Aprilia riders.

Throughout this flyaway portion of the season, and in recent years, Aleix Espargaro has noted how the RS-GP has struggled with reliability in hot temperatures and how it radiates immense heat. In Thailand, the Spaniard – having finished fifth on track but dropped to eighth due to a tyre pressure penalty – made quite a scary revelation that the heat being kicked out of the bike was making it hard for him to breathe.

“It was a difficult race,” he said. “I couldn’t breathe. It was the hardest race of my life. In the last three laps I was panicking because I tried to breathe and I couldn’t. So, I was super, super worried. When I came into the pits I thought I was going to die, I couldn’t breathe.”

Maverick Vinales retired from the GP due to physical problems from the heat of the RS-GP, while RNF’s Raul Fernandez battled a similar thing to Espargaro on his way to 15th.

Aprilia has tried in recent rounds to fix this heat issue, but nothing has worked so far.

7. First tyre pressure penalty dished out

Espargaro dropped down the order with the first tyre pressure penalty since the rule came in

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Espargaro dropped down the order with the first tyre pressure penalty since the rule came in

Aleix Espargaro’s Sunday didn’t really get any better once he’d climbed off his bike. Only once he got his breath back did the FIM stewards give him another punch to the guts.

The fifth place he had fought so hard for was stripped from him via a three-second penalty, as Espargaro became the first rider to cop proper punishment for contravening the new tyre pressure rules.

As his second offence this season since the rule came into force, it dropped him to eighth in the results. Martin, Marc Marquez and Pol Espargaro were handed official warnings for contravening this rule as this was their first offence.

If Aleix Espargaro runs underneath the legal tyre minimum for more than 30% of a sprint or over 50% in a GP again, it will result in a six-second penalty.

8. Quartararo finds positives out of Yamaha’s negatives

Quartararo has been upbeat about Yamaha's upturn in results even if performances haven't matched

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Quartararo has been upbeat about Yamaha's upturn in results even if performances haven't matched

Fabio Quartararo’s fighting fifth position in the Thailand GP comes on a weekend where a better showing for the Yamaha was predicted. Michelin’s stiffer tyre casing to cope with the heat demands of the circuit has been a big help to Quartararo already this season.

In India and Mandalika it helped him to the podium. And while a repeat result was never on offer this weekend, with Buriram highlighting “all of our weak points”, Quartararo sounded much more positive than he has done for a while.

The 2021 champion felt that the weak points of the Yamaha being fully on display allowed him to give “really clear” feedback to the Japanese marque for the development of the bike. He also pointed out that his best results of the year are coming in a portion of the calendar the Yamaha has typically struggled at in recent years.

“We can see that the different tyre helps us because the others cannot generate that much power on the tyre,” he said. “And if you see it’s clearly an advantage [in] India, Thailand, Mandalika. We go back to Japan, struggling, Phillip Island, struggling. So, we have to understand really well.

“But I’m really happy because the last few years at the end of the season generally we were doing our worst. And now we are doing our best results of the season. So, hopefully, Yamaha can make a big step forward.”

9. Binder stars again as other KTMs struggle

Binder flourished while the other KTM floundered in Thailand

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Binder flourished while the other KTM floundered in Thailand

South Africa’s victory in the Rugby World Cup left Brad Binder with a “win or bust” mentality coming into Sunday’s grand prix in Thailand.

The KTM rider has been without a Sunday victory since his incredible slicks-in-wet win at the Red Bull Ring in 2021. The wait goes on, but he gave it a good go in Thailand, chasing Jorge Martin hard and briefly overhauling him on lap 23 before ultimately losing second due to a track limits penalty.

Binder – who was also second in the sprint - admits he chewed up his rear tyre a bit too much for the final two laps. This also had a hand in the moment that sent him onto the green run-off section on the last tour, earning him a penalty.

Michelin’s stiffer rear casing brought to Thailand impacted the KTMs in general, with traction proving a major issue. Hence Jack Miller could only muster 16th, while Tech3 GasGas pair Augusto Fernandez and Pol Espargaro were 17th and 18th.

Second on the road, the next best KTM to Binder at the chequered flag on Sunday was Miller, 17.5s adrift. KTM has made strides with its RC16, especially with the introduction of its carbon fibre chassis in Japan – which has improved a key weakness in rear grip.

The traction issues which blighted the other KTMs seemed non-existent for Binder. This is perhaps explained by Pol Espargaro, who noted the South African is so strong because he can brake hard into corners and carry a lot of corner speed.

While he may no longer be in title contention, Binder is proving again why KTM signed him up to the end of 2026 and just what he will be able to do when the RC16 package is as strong consistently as Ducati.

10. Zarco shows why Pramac team orders haven’t been issued yet

Zarco's inconsistency has stopped him from being a title showdown spoiler

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Zarco's inconsistency has stopped him from being a title showdown spoiler

During the Thailand weekend, Australian GP winner Johann Zarco was asked about team orders and whether Pramac had held any discussions with him about helping his team-mate Jorge Martin in the title race.

Zarco noted that “Martin is so fast, so even with the crash today he got the fast lap before. So, almost he can race without taking care of me because at the moment he is very, very fast and he can be fast whenever he wants.”

Indeed, Zarco was not anywhere close to replicating his Phillip Island heroics at Buriram. Finishing 10th in the GP, Zarco was 9.377s off of Martin at the chequered flag (though his pace was not too dissimilar to his team-mate’s).

Phillip Island win aside, Zarco’s form in the second half of the season has been too hit-and-miss to make any team orders calls effective. Luckily for Pramac, Bagnaia’s team-mate Enea Bastianini is not in a position to be a tail-gunner as he slowly adapts to the GP23 in his heavily injury-curtailed year.

MotoGP has one week off until a triple-header finale to round out the 2023 season

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

MotoGP has one week off until a triple-header finale to round out the 2023 season

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