The Gresini rider took a brilliant victory in the Sprint as Martin’s P2 sees the gap between him and Bagnaia close to 11 points ahead of Sunday’s Sepang showdown.
The final chapter of the 2023 Championship story is underway and the momentum swung a little more in the direction of the purple corner in Saturday’s Tissot Sprint. With Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) taking a classy, dominant victory, it left Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) and Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) to battle it out as the former claimed P2, with polesitter Pecco having to settle for P3. Now, the gap ahead of Sunday’s race is just 11 points.
The battle commences…
It was a cracking start for the Ducati factory duo as Bagnaia led teammate Enea Bastianini into Turn 1, but Alex Marquez quickly joined the party into the first corner as he slotted himself into P3 to pick off Bastianini for P2 a few corners later.
Martin had dropped down to 4th place on Lap 1 but pounced on Bastianini in the final sector. The Red Bull KTM Factory Racing duo of Brad Binder and Jack Miller took advantage as they quickly followed pursuit and demoted the Italian further.
Bagnaia held strong in the lead until the end of the second lap when a last-corner dive bomb from Alex Marquez saw the Spaniard briefly take the lead for half a corner. Having ran wide the #73 then fell into the clutches of Martin who was eager to latch onto his title rival Bagnaia. The pair swapped and changed positions over the next few corners until Marquez eventually made a move stick on his compatriot and set his sights on the race leader.
Marquez kept the pressure on as Bagnaia could feel the Gresini rider breathing down his neck with the chequered flag drawing closer and closer. Marquez made his move with four and a half laps remaining, which invited Martin to pounce on Pecco who had no answer for either of the Spaniards.
Marquez put the hammer down in the lead and began to stretch out the leading group. The Gresini rider was untouchable at the front as he went on to take victory by an impressive 1.589s.
Martin also had the bit between his teeth as he slowly pulled away from the factory Ducati behind him. The #89 finished 1.5s ahead of Bagnaia in 2nd place as the Champion sealed a damage limitation job in P3.
The return of the beast
Meanwhile, Bastianini had picked off the KTMs and made his way back onto the rear wheel of his teammate. With Bagnaia struggling for pace Bastianini played the team game behind the #1 and remained in his shadow until the chequered flag came out.
The Beast did come under pressure in the final moments as Binder had found some late Sprint pace to latch himself onto the back of the factory Ducati riders. Bastianini ran wide at the final corner which invited Binder through, however, the Italian got the cut-back and used the Ducati power to full advantage as he snatched 4th place back on the drag to the line.
One second back from this battle was the other KTM Factory Racing rider of Miller. The Aussie kept himself within the mix for most of the Sprint to bring home a solid 6th-place finish.
Another second back was Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) who fended off Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) to take 7th place. The Italian’s teammate Luca Marini took the final Sprint point in 9th ahead of Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) who rounded out the top 10.
As the title battle continues to rage on there’s no telling which way the pendulum will swing. The PETRONAS Grand Prix of Malaysia still has plenty to give in the 2023 Championship story with Grand Prix points up for grabs on Sunday. Can Bagnaia bounce back, or will Martin continue to apply the pressure? Find out at 15:00 local time (GMT +8)!
|1||ALEX MARQUEZ (GRESINI RACING MOTOGP™)|
|2||Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing)||+1.589|
|3||Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team)||+3.034|
|4||Enea Bastianini (Ducati Lenovo Team)||+3.242|
|5||Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing)||+3.310|
|6||Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing)||+4.318|
|7||Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team)||+5.307|
|8||Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing)||+5.501|
|9||Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team)||+6.420|
|10||Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing)||+7.241|