Martin closes gap on Bagnaia as Alex Marquez wins Malaysian MotoGP sprint

motorsport11 November 2023 08:09| © AFP
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Jorge Martin, Alex Marquez and Francesco Bagnaia © Gallo Images

Alex Marquez won the Malaysian MotoGP sprint race at Sepang on Saturday ahead of championship rival duo Jorge Martin and Francesco Bagnaia, who saw his lead at the top cut to 11 points.

Spain's Marquez romped home on his Ducati nearly 1.6 seconds ahead of compatriot Martin, who gained two points on Italy's Bagnaia in their championship tussle with three races left.

It was a disappointing afternoon for title-holder Bagnaia, who started on pole on his factory Ducati and led for half of the 10 laps before slipping into a distant third.

Bagnaia is on 396 points heading into Sunday's race and Martin is on 385, their title duel set to go right down to the wire.

"We did the maximum and the maximum was not enough today to win," said the 26-year-old Bagnaia, who was at a loss to explain exactly where his race had gone wrong.

"This race will help us understand something for tomorrow.

"My feeling wasn't the best, absolutely."

The Italian, who smashed the Sepang lap record in qualifying to snatch pole from rival Martin for the sprint and Sunday's race, made a clean start to retain his lead at the first corner.

Martin, also on a Ducati, slipped to fourth early on.

The Prima Pramac rider recovered and then engaged Marquez in a battle for second as Bagnaia maintained his advantage at the front in mostly serene fashion.

But Gresini Racing's Marquez – who started fourth on the grid – saw off Martin and then seized his moment to snatch the lead from Bagnaia with five laps to go.

Martin soon darted past Bagnaia as well, relegating the championship leader to third in a flash.

Marquez stormed away from there, establishing a lead on Martin of more than a second for the remainder of the sprint.

"Today I was on a mission," said Marquez.

"I did everything to perfection."

Bagnaia's factory Ducati teammate Enea Bastianini was fourth.

Marquez's older brother Marc, the six-time MotoGP world champion, has had a weekend to forget so far, qualifying a lowly 20th and coming 21st in the sprint.

Ducati bikes had dominated the qualifying, with Bagnaia snatching pole position from Martin late in a dramatic session.

Martin came off his bike late in qualifying when pushing hard to beat the Italian but was unhurt.

The top six places on the grid were all Ducatis.

After the 20-lap race at Sepang the season goes to Qatar and then the last grand prix of the campaign in Valencia, in what looks set to be a thrilling conclusion to the championship.

Alex Marquez is not in contention for the title – and that makes him dangerous, said Bagnaia.

"He's got nothing to lose and today he demonstrated that," said the Italian.