The reigning Champion sends a clear message to his rivals, with Bezzecchi 2nd and Aleix Espargaro 3rd as Binder loses out on ANOTHER top 3
A lot was riding on the Motul TT Assen as Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) went from struggling for form in Practice 1 to adding another win to his 2023 title tilt, outpacing Tissot Sprint winner Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) on Sunday.
Bezzecchi went into the Grand Prix race as the rider to beat with incredible pace around the Assen circuit, but was forced to settle for second place on Sunday. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) once again crossed the line in third but was demoted out of the top three for exceeding track limits, this time on the last lap, which promoted Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) into third to take an important Grand Prix podium.
Action underway in Assen
The grid settled on one of the most iconic circuits on the 2023 MotoGP™ calendar, as with points to be won ahead of the summer break. The pressure was on for the title-fighting trio as third-placed rider in standings, Bezzecchi, was looking strong in the Netherlands after taking pole and the Sprint win. With just 31 points covering the top three, there was plenty to play for with Championship leader Bagnaia sat alongside Bezzecchi on the front row and third overall, Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing), facing a mountain to climb from the fourth row.
When the lights went out it was Binder who flew his way into the lead of the race from fifth on the grid, diving up the inside of Bagnaia at Turn 1 to snatch the holeshot at the apex, elbows out as ever. Binder led the way on lap one ahead of Bagnaia and Bezzecchi, with Aleix Espargaro and Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) keeping themselves in contention in fourth and fifth.
Meanwhile, Maverick Vinales (Aprilia Racing) had made a good start to his Grand Prix, flying up to fifth from seventh on the grid. The opposite was true for Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) as he then crashed out from behind the Aprilia, leaving Viñales to shoot off. He was the fastest rider on the circuit, too, past Marini on a charge until he crashed out.
Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) also suffered early dramas, he enjoyed a return to the top three in Saturday’s Tissot Sprint but got a terrible start in Sunday’s Grand Prix dropping down to 12th place from 4th on the grid, and then crashed out alongside Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) in a premature end to their races.
Closer look: CCTV captures Quartararo & Zarco’s Assen crash
Survival of the fittest
Meanwhile at the front, Bagnaia took the lead from Binder with 24 laps to go, making light work of the South African to put down a blistering pace at the front. The Italian began to put the hammer down, with Binder latched onto his rear wheel and Bezzecchi next up, the top three beginning to break away from the rest of the field.
The laps ticked away and it seemed Bagnaia was controlling the pace, stretching out the leading battle. But Binder and Bezzecchi were still very much on the chase, and with 10 to go Bezzecchi had enough of following the KTM. The Italian decided it was his turn to follow the race leader Bagnaia as he pushed the South African to one side to take over in second, the mission now: catch Pecco.
It went down to eight-tenths, back up to a second, and then down to nine-tenths. Then it was 1.3, 1.1… but Bezzecchi couldn’t breach the gap. Binder wasn’t going down without a fight either, as he tried all he could to bite back.
By the last lap, it was clear: Bagnaia had controlled the race perfectly, just staying clear of Bezzecchi as the two came home separated by just over a second. But the fight for third rolled on…
Fine margins make the difference in MotoGP™
By the last few laps, Binder had company from Aleix Espargaro and Martin, with the three glued together. First it looked like the Aprilia was closest to try and strike on the KTM, and the number 41 homed in on the first part of the final lap. But Binder put in a masterclass defensive performance and fended off the two behind to cross the line in third… or did he?
Fine margins decided the South African’s fate once again, however, as a track limits breach on the final lap warranted a +1 position penalty, demoting him to fourth.
Turn 8 strikes twice as Binder loses P3 AGAIN!
Espargaro had his hands full on the last lap with Martin trying to find his way through, too. It was an epic drag to the line that saw the Prima Pramac Ducati pull alongside the factory Aprilia as they crossed the line side by side, with almost nothing in it – but that almost nothing was enough to see Aleix Espargaro awarded that final place on the rostrum. Binder is classified fourth, and Martin fifth.
Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) finished sixth ahead of Marini as the Italian got mugged through the final chicane mid-race, losing four positions at once. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMISTU) bagged P8, some distance up the road from Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) and rookie Augusto Fernandez (GASGAS Factory Racing Tech3), who rounded out the top 10 in a solid Sunday effort.
It was a big weekend for Bagnaia’s 2023 Championship campaign as the Italian not only displayed the ability he and Ducati have to overcome a lack of feeling in Practice but also showed his Championship rivals he means business in 2023. MotoGP™ now takes a short break for the summer before returning to action at the Monster Energy British Grand Prix from the 4th to the 6th of August. Make sure to keep up to date with all of the action as it unfolds on motogp.com!
1. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team)
2. Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) +1.223
3. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) +1.925
4. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing)+1.528
5. Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) +1.934
6. Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) +12.437
7. Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) +14.174
8. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU) +14.616
9. Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) +29.335
10. Augusto Fernandez (GASGAS Factory Racing Tech3) +33.736