Features 22 Nov 2023

Three Things: MotoGP championship fight 2023

A closer look at the battle at the top of the premier-class this season.

The 2023 MotoGP World Championship fight has been nothing short of exciting, with the title going down to the wire at round 20 this weekend between Francesco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin at Valencia. With different leaders and momentum changes, this Three Things feature takes a closer look at the battle for the top spot in the standings throughout the year so far.

Image: Supplied.

The opening stages

For the first time since 2007, Lusail didn’t host the first round of the championship, and instead, Portimao commenced the season between 24-26 March. Underlining his intentions of defending the title, Bagnaia won the first-ever MotoGP sprint race and backed that up with the Portuguese GP victory the following day. However, he wouldn’t hold the championship lead for long, as impressive Italian Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) scored his first-ever MotoGP win next time out in Argentina, mastering the wet conditions while Bagnaia crashed out. After two rounds, Bezzecchi led Bagnaia by nine points, while Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) was down in P7 and 28 points back, notably not scoring in Sunday’s race at Portimao. Bagnaia rebounded to win the sprint race at Circuit of The Americas (COTA). Likewise, Martin didn’t finish the Austin race either, and Bezzecchi extended his championship lead with a P6 finish. Moving onto Jerez, round four, and Bagnaia reclaimed the championship advantage with a second on Saturday and P1 Sunday, while a challenging weekend for Bezzecchi saw him score just a single point. At this stage, Martin was still yet to find his stride, still P7 in the standings and 39 points from the front. Le Mans followed, and crucially, Bagnaia was brought down and out of the race in an incident with Aprilia Racing’s Maverick Vinales. Bezzecchi closed in with victory in France, while Martin scored his first GP podium of the season in P2. Bagnaia then swung the momentum back in his favour with a perfect points haul at Mugello, while Martin came alive in Germany with his first double sprint and grand prix win of the season. Following the opening third of the 2023 campaign, Bagnaia led the way on 160 points, while Martin’s strong Sachsenring outing bumped him to second on 144, while Bezzecchi sat third and 34 points from the top spot.


The iconic Dutch TT marked round eight of the 2023 season, and Bagnaia responded to Martin’s German GP success with his sixth win of the year at Assen. Saturday victor Bezzecchi was second, while Martin endured a mediocre weekend that saw him emerge with 15 points from the two outings. Following the European summer break, sprinkles of rain in the closing stages at Silverstone kept everyone on their toes, but out of the title contenders, Bagnaia emerged best with another podium in P2 to extend his lead to 41 points, while Martin was sixth and Bezzecchi suffered a costly DNF after he fell while running second. The Red Bull Ring followed, and Bagnaia looked closer to having one hand on the championship trophy with another 1-1 scorecard across the weekend, while Martin was seventh on Sunday and Bezzecchi didn’t score in the sprint. Bagnaia entered Catalunya with a 50-point lead, but disaster struck on the opening lap of the race when he crashed exiting turn two, and with nowhere left to go Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) had no choice but to run over his leg. Bagnaia wasn’t able to take part in the restarted outing, and despite sustaining multiple contusions, the Ducati Lenovo Team rider was able to escape major injury. That said, it was clear he was riding in pain next time out at Misano, having to use the rear ride height device to help lower the bike every time he jumped on. Martin smelled blood and delivered his second 1-1 sweep of the season in San Marino, while a gutsy weekend from Bagnaia saw him emerge with a pair of thirds, behind second-placed Bezzecchi on Sunday. Entering the flyways, it was still advantage Bagnaia, with a 36-point margain ahead of Martin, but it was clear at this point the highly-determined Spaniard was beginning to build momentum. Third was Bezzecchi, who remained with an outside shot at the title, 65 points back.

Image: Supplied.

Final flyaways

A new addition to the MotoGP calendar in 2023, India marked the first of a seven-race flyaway stint, and Bezzecchi was the paceman at the Buddh International Circuit. His chances of victory in the sprint were effectively ruled out after a first-turn incident with teammate Luca Marini, but he converted his pace on Sunday to take an important 25 points. Martin was second, while crucially, Bagnaia lost the front while running second on lap 14. He didn’t finish the race, and the gap between him and Martin was reduced to just 13 points. Game on. As often seen at the Japanese Grand Prix, wet weather played its role at Motegi, but the Spanish rider mastered the varying conditions to win both the sprint and full-length race, taking another 10 points out of Bagnaia who went 3-3 across the weekend. Round 15 followed in Indonesia, and Bagnaia was really under the pump when he failed to make qualifying two, and had to start both races at Mandalika from 13th on the grid. The reigning champion was only able to progress to P8 in the sprint, losing the championship lead to Martin who was victorious. The tables turned on Sunday, however, and Bagnaia delivered a champion’s performance to take back the top spot in the standings after a calculated charge to victory from the fifth row of the grid, while Martin crashed out of the lead, equipped with the soft front tyre. Notably at this round, Bezzecchi pushed through the pain of a recently broken collarbone, and while a P5 finish was a commendable effort, it effectively ruled him out of having any reasonable shot at the title. Martin showed an immense pace in Australia, but a key factor at Phillip Island was the inclement weather forecast, which ultimately saw the sprint race and full-length GP switch places on the schedule. Martin took a gamble and used the soft rear tyre during the pushed-forward Australian GP, and built a comfortable buffer in the first half of the encounter. However, as the laps progressed in the race’s second half, it was clear he was struggling, and on the 27th and final lap, he was caught and passed by the leading group, dropping back to P5. A saving grace for Martin was that his teammate Johann Zarco won the race, instead of Bagnaia who finished second. Nonetheless, it’s clear Phillip Island was an opportunity lost for the Prima Pramac Racing rider, with the sprint race cancelled on Sunday due to the extreme weather. Needing a strong weekend to turn the points situation back in his favour, Martin delivered his fourth 1-1 of the season in Thailand, while Bagnaia recovered from a P7 result on Saturday to finish a close second on Sunday at Buririam, benefiting from a penalty for Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) who was second across the line. The gap between Bagnaia and Martin, 13 points with three rounds to go. Martin crashed in qualifying at Sepang, while Bagnaia secured pole position. In the sprint in Malaysia, Martin was able to claw back another two points as the pair finished second and third respectively, before Bagnaia extended once more on Sunday with a third-place finish, Martin a distant fourth. Looking at the most recent outing at Qatar, the momentum continued to swing behind the duo, with Martin winning the sprint race while Bagnaia was fifth. Come Sunday and Martin really struggled, scoring his worst GP result finish of the season in P10, adamant he was on a bad rear tyre. Meanwhile, Bagnaia was edged for victory by Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing) under the Lusail lights, but was able to extend his championship advantage to 21 points after a P2 finish. Looking ahead, one round remains in the 2023 season, which is Valencia this weekend at the Ricardo Tormo Circuit. Bagnaia does hold a healthy advantage now, and Martin will need to essentially win if he is to have any shot, but the thrilling title fight should go right down to the wire with no room for error from either rider.