In a near repeat of a year ago, Francesco Bagnaia will take a 21-point world championship lead into the Valencia MotoGP season finale.
Last time around Bagnaia was battling Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo for what would be his first premier-class crown.
The factory Ducati star was 23-point ahead of the Frenchman heading into the finale, when only 25 points were still available and went on to seal the crown with a nervy ninth place, his second-worst finish of the year.
This time around there are still 37 points up for grabs, due to the addition of 12 points for the Saturday Sprint race.
That means Bagnaia’s advantage over Jorge Martin is not as overwhelming as a year ago, but also that he needs to focus more on riding to his maximum than ‘managing’.
There are numerous scoring scenarios, but if Martin wins both the Sprint and Sunday races, a top five for Bagnaia in each would allow him to defend the crown. But if Bagnaia can lift his lead to 25 points after the Sprint, he could be crowned on the Saturday.
“Honestly, the best way to not be affected by the pressure is just to think about doing the maximum. Just focus on doing the best race possible,” Bagnaia said.
“Last year, honestly I suffered a lot in Valencia, even if I had a 23-point gap. I will arrive in Valencia more or less in the same [points] situation this time but more prepared.
“The thing that is worrying me more at this moment is the weather. On the 26th of November in Valencia you never know what will happen. But fingers crossed and let’s see.
“We are in the best position possible, in front by 21 points. Jorge will have to push a lot, and we can manage a bit.
“But starting to think about managing is not the best way to deal with the pressure, so it will be important to remain focused on doing the same routine as a normal weekend.”
Reflecting on the past two seasons, Bagnaia didn’t hesitate to pick 2023 as the harder title fight.
“Yeah, for sure this is the hardest one,” Bagnaia said. “Fighting against a rider that is so strong and so energetic when he’s on track, on time attack, on sprint race, it’s not easy. Considering also that he has completely my bike and we can share data.
“So for sure, compared to last year, it’s much harder. I think we are managing well the situation, considering every time on Sunday we are very competitive. We are very strong. But for next year, and for Valencia, I will have to improve a lot the feeling on Saturday.”
Bagnaia is seeking to become the first repeat MotoGP title winner since Marc Marquez in 2019, and the first to do so carrying the #1 plate since Mick Doohan in 1998.
Weather forecasts current predict a cool but dry weekend in Valencia, which will be followed by a post-race test on Tuesday.
Keyword: Qatar MotoGP: Francesco Bagnaia: Weather a worry for Valencia title decider, 2023 hardest fight