The road to Pertamina Mandalika Circuit is paved with headlines, and we’re likely about to make some more.
At the end of the Jerez Test, the world seemed to be at Ducati’s feet. And in some ways after the Grand Prix of Qatar and the start of 2022, it remains so, but it’s a more complex equation than it appeared. It was ultimately the GP21 of Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) that took a stunning victory under the floodlights in Qatar as the Italian sophomore secured his first MotoGP™ win and the first for his team since 2006 – as well as making it look impressively achievable. With Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) taking a convincing second and an equally convincing debut for Honda’s new RC213V in third in the hands of Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) too – who led more MotoGP™ laps in one race that he had on all his previous starts combined – there’s a lot to unpack on the road to Lombok. So let’s go!
First, Ducati. For Francesco Bagnaia and teammate Jack Miller it was a pretty difficult first race of the season. Still looking for that sweet spot with the GP22 before crashing out and, in Miller’s case, suffering an electrical issue, it made for a damp squib for the Ducati Lenovo Team and one they’ll be wanting to right as soon as possible. Finding the sweet spot may be aided by experience gained in the Mandalika Test though, and reliability has seldom been an issue for the Bologna bullets, so there are two reasons to expect more red in the fight for the podium at Mandalika. Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) fell victim to Bagnaia’s mistake too, so the could-have-beens create a mystery there, and his teammate Johann Zarco seemed to go a little under the radar in P8. Have they got more in the locker?
Looking at Bastianini’s incredible race, they’ll need to find it soon if they’re to take on… themselves. Ducati lead the constructors’ Championship, just with the same bike that they won it with last season as the number 23 put in a near-perfect race on his GP21: out the box and on top straight away to make 1 the number of the Beast as we head for Round 2.
And now, KTM. It was a coy preseason for the Austrian factory – as much as that can apply when the top 21 on Day 3 of the Mandalika Test were covered by eight and a half tenths – but Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) broke cover with some serious form at Lusail. The number 33 was at the front from the off and remained there, homing in to within a few tenths of Bastianini by the flag, too. And that’s at a track that traditionally sees the orange machinery struggle a little more than others, so there are now likely a few whispers up and down pitlane, accompanied by a sliver of apprehension, about what exactly KTM will have in the locker going forward. Mandalika may well suit man or machine, and Binder suits the top step so much his two previous MotoGP™ podiums had been wins. Can the South African go one better in Indonesia? And can teammate Miguel Oliveira bounce back?
Another interesting talking point from Qatar most definitely originates with Honda. Pol Espargaro not only led more laps in one race than he ever had done before combined, and took the new RC213V to the podium, he also beat returning eight-time Champion Marc Marquez, becoming the first Honda to finish ahead of the number 93 when both saw the flag at Lusail. Given the more turbulent time non-Marc Marquez riders have had at times with the Honda, it speaks to the factory having accomplished a key goal for 2022: rideability – as well as serious speed. Pol Espargaro also topped the timesheets on Day 3 at Mandalika, which is an extra spring for his step on the flight to Indonesia.
Marquez will no doubt be up in the mix as his experience on the bike and physical condition both increase, however, and after such a difficult couple of seasons, a top five at Lusail is a patient warning for the rest: the number 93 very much races on. Can he take on the podium at Mandalika and hit back against his teammate?
For Aprilia, meanwhile, it was their best ever MotoGP™ race according to timesheets alone. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) may have finished fourth but it was the closest the Noale factory have ever been to the winner, so that’s a very good start for an RS-GP that looked lean and mean in pre-season. It was a more difficult opener for Maverick Viñales, however, and he’ll be looking for more at Mandalika. On Day 3 of the test the number 41 was third and the number 12 was seventh, split by less than a tenth, so Aprilia will be keen to see both bikes attack the bigger points hauls – and try and keep that fourth place in the Constructors’ rolling.
And then there’s Suzuki. There was many an eyebrow raise after Friday in Qatar saw a GSX-RR draft a Ducati, and straight line speed gains have certainly been made. Qualifying was fairly solid, and the start of the race so too. But as the laps ticked down the Team Suzuki Ecstar machines couldn’t quite get up into the podium fight, ultimately coming home in P6 – 2020 MotoGP™ Champion Joan Mir – and P7, Friday’s fastest Alex Rins. They’ll want a lot more at Mandalika and pitlane reporter Simon Crafar said in pre-season testing he expected the 17-corner layout to suit the inline four machinery, so it could be an interesting shuffle in Lombok. Mir did lose some track time at the test due to illness, so there may be more in the locker once we get down to racing business…
For Yamaha it was a tough Qatar GP. With reigning Champion Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) in ninth, it was the worst position for the top Yamaha in the season opener since 2006 – and it didn’t result from any one-off drama. The Iwata marque will be all hands on deck to convert Mandalika into a much better round, for both Quartararo and teammate Franco Morbidelli, who ended up in P11. Andrea Dovizioso (WithU Yamaha RNF MotoGP™ Team) was 14th too, with a whole lot of experience struggling to crack into the podium fight. Quartararo was just 0.014 off the top on Day 3 at Mandalika in testing though, so the track may prove a happier hunting ground – with a potentially better layout for the YZR-M1.
And finally, rookie watch. Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) was the breakaway star of the first half of the race as the Italian shot clear of his fellow debutants and made a few waves before crashing out, rider ok. That left Remy Gardner (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing) vs Darryn Binder (WithU Yamaha RNF MotoGP™ Team) as the battle for top rookie and, in the end, the battle for a first GP point. The reigning Moto2™ Champion took it by hundredths at the line, but Binder did likewise impress as he moves from Moto3™ – although Gardner felt he’d been pretty held up by some late lunges from the South African. Can Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) move forward at Mandalika and can Raul Fernandez (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing), after an impressive start, take back to the rookie top? The Spaniard missed some track time at Mandalika after a crash in testing, so he’ll be eager to get down to work.
One race down, 20 to go – and already a thousand talking points. Get ready to enjoy some more as MotoGP™ returns to race in Indonesia for the first time since 1997 in the Pertamina Grand Prix of Indonesia, with the roar of the grandstands set to rival the engines. The lights go out for the MotoGP™ race at 15:00 (GMT +8) on Sunday, so make sure to tune in for another stunner!
MotoGP™ CHAMPIONSHIP: TOP 5
1 Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) – Ducati – 25
2 Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) – KTM – 20
3 Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) – Honda – 16
4 Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) – Aprilia – 13
5 Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) – Honda – 11
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