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Opinion
MotoGP Indonesian GP

Why the Australian GP will define the race to the 2023 MotoGP title

OPINION: After Jorge Martin's crash while leading the Indonesian GP, this weekend's round at Phillip Island will gauge the recovery capacity of the Pramac rider against Francesco Bagnaia. With the factory Ducati rider hoping to use his return to MotoGP's top podium step as a launchpad, how the Australian meeting unfolds will give crucial clues about what to expect from the final stages of the championship chase

Jorge Martin, Pramac Racing

With five rounds in six weeks concluding the 2023 MotoGP season, the battle for the world championship is fast boiling down to a two-horse race between Francesco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin after VR46 rider Marco Bezzecchi - albeit still not mathematically out of contention - slid 63 points adrift of the points lead last weekend at the Indonesian GP.

The tug-of-war between Bagnaia on the factory team Ducati and Pramac's Martin on identical machinery has been widening its radius of action. Until a few days ago, they made practically no reference to each other. But that changed drastically at Mandalika. There, during his pre-event media duties, Martin declared that he was in a hurry to take the overall lead in the points table.

"If I can leave here as leader, I will try. I think the time has come," he said on Thursday, in a preview of what would happen the following day and, above all, on Saturday. Martin's inertia had led him to wipe 63 points from Bagnaia's lead since Saturday in Barcelona and until last Sunday seemed to remain in force in Indonesia, especially after Bagnaia was unable to make it into Q2 after Friday's practices.

"That only Pecco knows," Martin replied when asked if he thought his rival was feeling the pressure, before adding: "What is clear is that not getting past Q1 is a mistake."

Bagnaia simply threw out a reminder that would end up being prescient: "The last time I went through Q1 was in Jerez, and I ended up winning the race. Serenity is fundamental. When a problem is very localised, I am sure we will solve it."

That "serenity" to which Bagnaia referred at the end of Friday is what led him not to over-ride during Saturday's sprint, in which he crossed the finish line eighth, 5.465 seconds behind undisputed winner Martin. It also accompanied him during the long race on Sunday, in which Bagnaia effectively negotiated a very delicate situation due to the track conditions, as temperatures shot beyond 60 degrees and turned the circuit into a skating rink. Of the 21 riders who took the start, only 14 finished.

Martin's superb run of recent form culminated in the points lead after his latest sprint win, before the Pramac rider undid his hard work with a Sunday crash

Martin's superb run of recent form culminated in the points lead after his latest sprint win, before the Pramac rider undid his hard work with a Sunday crash

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

If we consider Martin got off to a good start - he went from sixth to lead before the first braking zone - Bagnaia's was even better. He made up more positions by the end of the first lap, as he went from 13th to sixth.

The touch between Brad Binder and Luca Marini on the second lap elevated him to fourth and then, on the third lap, Bagnaia overtook Fabio Quartararo to move into third. After the initial flash, the defending world champion lowered his pace so as not to risk more than necessary. That was exactly the opposite of what Martin did, as the Spaniard crashed halfway through the race on lap 13 of 27 when he was riding comfortably at the front of the pack and no one was bothering him.

By the time he lost the front end of his Ducati, Martin was almost three seconds ahead of Maverick Vinales, whom Bagnaia then overtook on lap 20 to end a streak of almost two months without a win on a Sunday dating back to when he did the double in Austria. In addition to returning him the championship lead that he had lost on Saturday, his fightback has given Bagnaia the psychological edge and launched a timely reminder.

"He will be annoyed until the first practice in Australia, but he will forget it there. We leave with a clear conscience, and with the feeling that, at this stage of the season, Jorge is the strongest" Gino Borsoi

"There are times when we talk too much, it's better to let things happen and talk later," he said, in a phrase that most interpreted as being directed at his main obstacle to retaining the crown. To those riders in the last two weeks who had labelled Martin as favourite, Bagnaia added: "I'm surprised because they are riders, not journalists, and they know how quickly things can change."

While it is true that Martin took 59 points off him in four events, from Barcelona to Motegi, Bagnaia scored the third most points in that same period (68), behind only Martin's haul of 127, and Bezzecchi's tally of 82. This raises the question of how real was the supposedly bad run of form experienced by Bagnaia, who in a single Sunday put the handbrake on this theoretical free fall.

Insight: 10 things we learned from the 2023 MotoGP Indonesian Grand Prix

The fight will not stop until the championship closes in Valencia in November. This weekend Australia will host the first leg of the final five stops of the calendar, during which time the paddock only has one weekend away from the track.

If up until Indonesia the ball was in Bagnaia's court, and he had to find the formula to break the dynamic that was catapulting Martin as much as it was undermining him, now it's up to Martin to prove that in addition to pure speed he also has the mentality to get out of a bad situation as his opponent has done. In his entourage, there are no doubts.

Bagnaia's strong recovery secured him a first win since August and will be a timely boost to his title hopes

Bagnaia's strong recovery secured him a first win since August and will be a timely boost to his title hopes

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

"Jorge has completed 14 races in a row without making a single mistake, recovering many points over Pecco, whom he overtook this Saturday in the overall standings," Pramac team manager Gino Borsoi told Autosport. "After such a long time, a failure could come. It's a statistic.

"He will be annoyed until the first practice in Australia, but he will forget it there. What is clear is that he doesn't have to recover from anything in particular, because everything works for him. We leave with a clear conscience, and with the feeling that, at this stage of the season, Jorge is the strongest."

Former rider Borsoi also believes that the result of last Sunday will be more beneficial for Bagnaia than detrimental to Martin: "The turning point is surely for Pecco, because, from a difficult weekend he has taken a victory".

MotoGP fans can only hope that Borsoi is right. If so, the duel between the best versions of Martin and Bagnaia will emerge on Friday at Phillip Island, which would be the best possible scenario to gauge how both respond to the events of Indonesia and will surely determine the path of the 2023 championship.

How Martin responds in Australia will be telling as to how he approaches the remaining races and whether his Indonesia setback will be anything more than a blip

How Martin responds in Australia will be telling as to how he approaches the remaining races and whether his Indonesia setback will be anything more than a blip

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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