Features 3 Aug 2023

Rewind: MotoGP 2023 so far

Reflecting on the first eight rounds of the premier class this year.

With the five-week-long European summer break coming to an end, racing in the 2023 MotoGP World Championship resumes this weekend with the British GP. In this latest Rewind feature, CycleOnline reflects on the opening eight rounds of the season so far before the series roars back into life at Silverstone.

Reigning MotoGP world champion Francesco Bagnaia started his 2023 title defence with a maximum points haul from Portimao, concluding the weekend on top at the Portuguese Grand Prix.

Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) won the newly-introduced sprint race on Saturday and continued his winning form to take out Sunday afternoon’s GP, ahead of Aprilia’s Maverick Vinales who kept the pressure on to the flag to finish second, just 0.687s from the lead. A solid ride from Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) saw him finish third, the Italian 2.726s from Bagnaia come race-end.

Notably, pole setter Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) collided with home-hero Miguel Oliveira (CryptoData RNF MotoGP Team) in the early stages, with right leg injuries sustained in the fall ruling the Portuguese rider out of Argentina. Additionally, Marquez broke his hand in the incident and would be sidelined until Le Mans.

Portimao also marked the first time a European round hosted the seasoning opening grand prix since 2006, with Jack Miller completing his maiden GP with the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team in P7 in Portugal.

In what proved to be a weekend of attrition, Pol Espargaro (Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing) suffered a sizeable highside at turn 10 in the second practice session and sustained a pulmonary contusion, jaw fracture and a fractured dorsal vertebra in the fall. The injuries have seen Espargaro sidelined since and replaced by Jonas Folger, but the Spaniard is set to make his return at the British GP this weekend.

Additionally, freshly-minted Ducati Lenovo Team rider Enea Bastianini fell in the sprint race at Portimao after Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) collided with him on the second lap. He broke his right shoulder blade in the crash and was absent until Friday of the Spanish GP, but there he was forced to withdraw because of ongoing pain in his shoulder. He returned at Mugello.

It was a breakthrough MotoGP victory for Bezzecchi in the wet conditions at Termas de Rio Hondo for round two, taking the lead in the first corner of the race and delivering a calculated and composed performance on his way to a career-first premier-class win.

A spirited charge secured Zarco the runner-up position, showing strong pace as the race progressed to work his way forward from P8 and make a decisive move on Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing) in the closing stages to secure 20 points. Third marked the first podium for Marquez with Ducati, the number 73 also securing pole position for the weekend.

Image: Supplied

Notably, Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) charged from 15th to first to win the sprint race, but fell on the opening lap of Sunday’s GP and was classified P17. Defending champion Bagnaia crashed on lap 17 while running second, later crossing the line in 16th position.

Joan Mir (Repsol Honda Team) didn’t contest the Argentinian GP following injuries sustained from a fall in Saturday’s sprint. The Repsol Honda rider suffered cranial and cervical trauma in the incident.

Keeping his composure when it counted, Alex Rins prevailed in a dramatic Americas MotoGP to take a first premier-class victory with LCR Honda Castrol at round three.

It was pole-setter and sprint race winner Bagnaia who held the lead for the opening laps, trailed by Rins in second. Disaster struck for the reigning world champion, however, on lap eight when he crashed out at turn two and was unable to complete the race.

Rins then managed the lead out front to take a 3.498s victory, achieving the feat in just his third race weekend onboard Honda’s premier class platform, ending a 539-day race-winning drought for the Japanese manufacturer in MotoGP.

Marini ultimately finished second, edging Monster Energy Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo who made a welcome return to the podium in third.

Notably, only 13 riders completed the race, and Alex Marquez, Martin and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) didn’t finish the first lap. Australia’s Miller was among the list of non-finishers, but prior to his fall on lap seven, he had charged his way to third position and was keeping pressure on the leading duo of Bagnaia and Rins.

MotoGP number one Francesco Bagnaia edged Jerez sprint race winner Brad Binder in style to win at round four, as Miller joined them on the podium.

A hard-fought 24-lap affair eventually saw Ducati Lenevo Team’s Bagnaia cross the finish just 0.221s ahead of Binder, with Miller making it a Red Bull KTM podium double for the second day in a row. KTM Factory Racing wildcard Dani Pedrosa showed throughout the round he is still more than capable of competing at the pinnacle of the sport, ultimately finishing seventh in the Spanish GP.

Moving onto the fifth round of the 2023 season, Bezzecchi closed to within just one point of the championship lead as he claimed victory in the 1000th GP at Le Mans while Bagnaia and Vinales collided.

Bezzecchi survived what were chaotic opening laps at the French GP to work his way to the lead, ultimately stretching out his advantage at the front to take a 4.256s victory ahead of sprint race winner Martin.

A late fall from the returning Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) elevated Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) to P3 – a popular podium at his home GP. MotoGP rookie Augusto Fernandez scored his best result of the season to date in P4.

Notably, Bagnaia and Vinales collided in the early laps while battling for second, both riders falling during the incident in the final sector and unable to finish the race.

Luca Marini (Mooney VR46) and Alex Marquez came together the next lap when the Italian saved a front-end slide out of turn three and his trajectory left the number 73 with nowhere to go to avoid the incident. Both riders were battling for podium positions at the time and ultimately did not finish the race.

Image: Supplied.

Miller led throughout the opening laps but began to drop through the field as the race progressed. He ultimately retired from the race following a fall in sector two in the final laps.

Next up was Mugello, and it was a perfect weekend for Bagnaia, qualifying fastest before converting pole position to sprint and grand prix victories in Italy.

Bagnaia led across the line every lap and withstood Martin to capture victory in the Italian GP, his winning margin 1.067s ahead of the Spaniard. Meanwhile, Zarco battled his way through to P3, completing an all-Ducati podium. Title-contender Bezzecchi finished P8, leading Bastianini who completed his return in P9.

Marc Marquez crashed out of P4 in the opening half of the race, while teammate Mir – set to return at Silverstone – was ruled out of the Italian GP with a hand injury sustained Friday afternoon. Additionally, Rins was forced to the sidelines after a crash in the sprint race, suffering a broken leg in the incident.

A memorable weekend for Martin at round seven saw the number 89 take victory in both the sprint and German GP at the Sachsenring, edging MotoGP leader Bagnaia to draw closer in the points.

Saturday winner Martin took the lead from pole-setter Bagnaia by lap three in the GP, maintaining roughly a 0.5s advantage for much of the opening half of the race.

The final 10 laps proved the be thrilling, with Bagnaia and Martin swapping the lead back and forth, running within close proximity. The Italian made contact with the back of Martin exiting the final corner on the penultimate lap, however, leaving him with time to claw back.

Try as he might, he was unable to take the lead on the final lap and the number 89 claimed victory by just 0.064s – the second-closest finish in the MotoGP era. Zarco completed the podium, 7.013s from the lead. Miller launched to the early lead once more, and was the top non-Ducati home in P6, and was third in the sprint race in Germany.

After multiple falls during the weekend, Marc Marquez made the decision not to compete in the German GP following a crash in the morning warm-up.

Image: Supplied.

Martin’s success in Germany closed him to 16 points from championship leader Bagnaia as the MotoGP World Championship moved to Assen.

Come round eight and Bagnaia extended his lead at the top of the 2023 MotoGP standings entering the European summer break, taking victory in the Dutch TT.

It was Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) who grabbed the holeshot in Sunday’s MotoGP race, leading for the opening two laps before Bagnaia pounced and took control at the front.

From that point, Bagnaia never lost control of the lead but was kept honest for the entire race by the chasing group behind, with Saturday’s sprint race winner Bezzecchi ultimately taking the chequered flag in P2, 1.223s from the defending champion.

It was heartbreak for Binder who crossed the line third, but was demoted to P4 due to exceeding track limits on the final lap, a near-carbon copy of the penalty he received in the late stages of Saturday’s sprint that cost him a shot at the top three. Aprilia Racing’s Aleix Espargaro benefited and rounded out the rostrum on Sunday his first podium of the 2023 season.

Strong pace towards the end of the race by  Martin brought the Prima Pramac Racing rider into contention, completing the top five just 1.934s from Bagnaia out front.

Notably, Quartararo  – who was third in Saturday’s sprint race – crashed out in the early stages of Sunday’s encounter, with Zarco  also falling in the incident with nowhere to go.

Quartararo underwent surgery to commence the summer break. He was diagnosed with bruising on his left elbow and hand, but additionally injured his foot while running in preparation for the event.

Marc Marquez  did not compete in Sunday’s grand prix, declared unfit due to a rib fracture, while Australia’s Jack Miller crashed out on lap two. The Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider finished 11th in Saturday’s sprint race.

Following Assen, Bagnaia holds a healthy 35-point lead over Martin, with Bezzecchi in third and just a single point further back as the 2023 MotoGP World Championship will resume at Silverstone, commencing this Friday with practice.