Enea Bastianini’s robust Malaysian Grand Prix victory challenge may have actually helped Francesco Bagnaia see out his crucial MotoGP win, according to their Ducati stablemate Luca Marini.
The duel between the Ducati 2023 factory team-mates was a major talking point after the race, having become the fight for victory after Pramac rider Jorge Martin crashed out of the lead.
Despite Bagnaia’s chances of taking a major step towards the 2022 title at Sepang, Bastianini – himself an outside title contender at that point – overtook him for the lead and then kept up the pressure after being re-passed.
VR46 rider Marini, who knows Bagnaia well as a fellow protege of Valentino Rossi’s and was a major rival of Bastianini’s during the latter’s title-winning Moto2 campaign, got to watch their duel from the sidelines after being forced into his first-ever MotoGP retirement early on after an apparent malfunctioning, potentially debris-related, of his ride height device.
Marini not only saw no issue with how Bastianini raced Bagnaia, but suggested it may have actually been beneficial.
“It’s normal. I think normally. They managed really well, they made a good race, and that’s it,” Marini said.
“And also I think this helped Pecco [Bagnaia] to stay focused. Having another rider behind you helps you stay very centered on what you have to do.
“If you are alone and look behind, [Fabio] Quartararo is gaining a lot of time, you can start to think a little bit too much.
“While like this he was focused on just managing the gap with Enea and fight with him, and this strategy worked because at the end Quartararo was really fast but couldn’t recover the gap.”
Bagnaia has had three instances in his MotoGP career of crashing from the lead, two of which came when he was trying to manage a gap – relative to Maverick Vinales in 2020 and Marc Marquez in 2021 (pictured above), both times at Misano. The only other instance was last year at Mugello, when he fell on the opening lap, having been unsettled by the pre-race minute of silence for Moto3 rider Jason Dupasquier, who’d passed away after a crash that weekend.
But while there was no suggestion that Bagnaia objected in any way to Bastianini’s robust challenge at Sepang, the Italian did acknowledge he had to take an extra risk to ensure he could beat his future team-mate.
“Enea was forcing a lot, it was one of the hardest parts of the race when he overtook me,” Bagnaia said. “It was quite difficult to follow him at the start – he was with more traction in fast corners, I was with more traction in slow corners.
“But I was braking so hard. I think the braking was the thing that helped me win the race.”
Bagnaia had what looked like a relatively close call with the rear of Bastianini’s Ducati at the fast turn 7 right-hander on lap 14, admitting he “risked a bit” as he ran out wide onto the green paint, having carried more corner speed than Bastianini.
But that didn’t keep him from setting up what would prove the race-winning move later in the lap.
“When I overtook him, I just tried to force a bit, and with three laps to go maybe I was 0.5s in front, then I slowed a bit down because the rear tire was overheating too much,” said Bagnaia. “Just to have the possibility in the last lap to push again.”
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