'Elegant' Bagnaia in third title quest on MotoGP's 75th anniversary

rugby06 March 2024 03:15| © AFP
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Francesco Bagnaia © Gallo Images

Francesco Bagnaia embarks on his quest for a third straight MotoGP crown in Qatar this weekend as motorcycling's fast and furious elite category celebrates its 75th anniversary.

MotoGP has come a long way since the inaugural six-race season in 1949: in 2024 Bagnaia and the pretenders to his crown will criss-cross the world for 21 races culminating in Valencia in November.

The Spanish track has been the scene of high drama recently with the title going down to the wire in 2022 and 2023 as MotoGP has emerged as a welcome antidote to Red Bull's towering dominance on four wheels.

Formula One would dearly love a large chunk of MotoGP's competitiveness at the moment.

Like Bagnaia, Max Verstappen has won the F1 title the past two years, but in a markedly different manner.

Bagnaia's combined winning points margin in the past two riders' standings was a mere 56 points.

The lop-sided nature of Red Bull's superiority in F1 resulted in Verstappen winning his past two titles by 436 points, with last weekend's season-opening Red Bull 1-2 in Bahrain suggesting F1 fans are in for another long haul.

While Verstappen killed off last year's F1 title with six races to go, Bagnaia was only assured of his when Jorge Martin's bid for the crown bit the dust with only laps of the season remaining.

The 2022 season also went down to the wire in a golden era for the sport when Bagnaia became the first Italian to win on an Italian bike.

It was little wonder then that on Monday Bagnaia and Ducati announced they were continuing their ideal marriage in a new two year deal.

"Pecco is truly the perfect rider for Ducati.

"He represents our values at their best: style, elegance, and performance. Not only is he fast, determined, and tenacious on track, but he also stands out for his elegance and education off the track," said Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali.


The 27-year-old Turin rider, who joined the Italian team in 2019, laid down an ominous marker in pre-season testing, landing the track record in both Malaysia and Qatar.

"I feel great with my bike. We are at 80 per cent in terms of consistency. We move to Qatar in good shape," said the man who learnt the ropes at retired Italian legend Valentino Rossi's VR46 academy.

For one impartial observer, retired five-time world champion Jorge Lorenzo, Bagnaia is made up of more than just flesh ad bones.

"Pecco is that kind of rider that is like a robot, they need everything going perfect to feel strong and when they feel strong they are unbeatable," said the Spaniard.

"So I think these two titles that he won make him believe much more in himself and now his confidence is in the sky."

But Lorenzo is not fooled into thinking the 2024 title race is a Verstappen-style forgone conclusion.

"Of course Pecco is favourite, but Jorge Martin is very strong making poles and Marc Marquez will always try to be in the front, he is is like a bulldog, he never gives up."

Six-time world MotoGP champion Marquez is starting a new chapter to his decorated career, switching from Honda to answer a call to take up brothers in arms with his younger sibling Alex at Ducati's satellite team Gresini Racing.

Hampered by injury since a crash at the start of the 2020 season he will be hoping the switch in surroundings will pay dividends.

"My goal is to feel pleasure again on a motorcycle, to experience something different after three, four difficult seasons," said the 31-year-old.

"I can't wait, I'm like a child who has new shoes, as they say in Spain. It's been two years since I last won a race."

As Marquez tries to regain his MotoGP mojo, Martin has his sights set on upping his game having come so agonnisingly close last term.

“The bike has made a great improvement, it was super aggressive in testing, hopefully it can be super aggressive when we start racing," said the rider with Ducati's Pramac satellite outfit.

"This season we have to work on the details - last season we were fast, we have to keep the same speed.

"Can I be champion? For sure I can!"

The MotoGP grid has been busy playing musical chairs with Marquez one of many switching stables and new American team Trackhouse taking over RNF.

But none of the new appointments has stirred up more interest than the arrival of rookie Pedro Acosta at Red Bull GASGAS Tech 3.

The 19-year-old Spaniard, Moto3 champion in 2021, has until the German MotoGP in July to become the youngest topflight winner since Marc Marquez in 2013.