Valencia, Turin, Madrid (28/11 – 25)
Ducati’s Francesco Bagnaia retained his MotoGP world title with many records; there are nevertheless signs that the Ducati rider will face sterner competition next season. The Italian rider won the 2023 season-ending MotoGP Grand Prix in Valencia on Sunday to clinch his second world title in a row. The protege of Valentino Rossi becomes the third rider to take back-to-back MotoGP titles since the introduction of the class in 2002. Only Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez previously managed to do that.
Bagnaia is the first rider to successfully race and defend #1 in the premier class since Mick Doohan did it back in 1998. With 15 podiums in 2023, Bagnaia becomes the Ducati rider with the most podiums in a single season. He overtakes Casey Stoner, who held the previous record of 14.
Having been crowned MotoGP World Champion in 2022 and 2023, it’s easy to assume that Bagnaia will continue to dominate, just as his mentor Rossi and Marquez did. But there are ominous signs that indicate competition will get harder for Bagnaia and Ducati next season. Bagnaia himself admitted that the 2023 MotoGP season was already harder for him than 2022. Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo has been a very challenging rival for Bagnaia in 2022.
However, Bagnaia said the fight with Pramac’s Jorge Martin this season was closer and more severe, given they were on nearly-identical Ducati machines. “Last year Fabio started really well but as soon as I started to win, he was more in trouble,” said Bagnaia. “He was fast, he is super-fast but his bike was not giving him the possibility to fight against me. We were in a different situation. With Jorge, after Barcelona, he was with much more confidence every weekend and it was difficult to stop. It was more difficult this year. Sharing more data is useful but more stressful sometimes.”
The introduction of sprint races in the 2023 MotoGP season complicates things for Bagnaia. Though Bagnaia still managed to win four out of 15 Saturday events, there was another rider who became the specialist in the halved-distance races.
That rider is Martin, who finished first nine times in sprint races. His ability to perform well in sprint races has made Martin the main rival to Bagnaia this season. Noted also that Ducati Lenovo is no longer the best team in MotoGP.
That title now goes to Prima Pramac, Martin’s team. Other teams, especially those with Ducati’s Desmosedici and European machines, are catching up. Rider changes in the 2024 season will also provide another challenge for Bagnaia if he wants to defend his title again. The legendary Marc Marquez finally realized that Repsol Honda could no longer provide him with adequate bikes to compete at the highest level.Marquez moves to Gresini Racing, riding a Desmosedici GP23 motorcycle. With a more competitive bike, Marquez should perform better next season than he has been able to do in the last two years. The two legacy Japanese teams, Repsol Honda and Yamaha, were not able to keep up with European teams this season – but it would be unwise to count them out in 2024. Repsol Honda has hired Luca Marini, Valentino Rossi’s brother, to join 2020 world champion Joan Mir a team rider.
Yamaha will try their best to improve the competitiveness of Fabio Quartararo, whose contract expires at the end of the 2024 season. Quartararo has given the Yamaha bosses an ultimatum. If there is no powerful bike in the pits at the Sepang test in February, he will change teams and brands after 2024.
“There have not been many opportunities for me to get a podium this year,” Quartararo said. “We expected a lot in some races, but then we had problems finishing in the top 10 or even top 15. That is really hard to understand and hard to cope with. That’s why the 2023 season is the most difficult of my career. Now it will be crucial which bike Yamaha builds for 2024. That will clearly determine which choice I make for 2025,” said the 2021 MotoGP world champion.