The 2022 MotoGP™ World Championship title race will be decided at the season finale in Valencia, despite Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) claiming a magnificent seventh win of the campaign at the PETRONAS Grand Prix of Malaysia.
Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) made Pecco and Ducati sweat to finish a close second, as a fabulous effort from reigning World Champion Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) saw the Frenchman claim P3 to take his title defence to the wire.
P9 to P1, P12 to P3 – the title race remains alive!
The rain was holding off for the start of the race as #MatchPointPecco burst into life as Bagnaia got a spell-binding launch. The Italian went P9 to P2, Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) held onto P1 from pole, Quartararo got a great start and was P5 on Lap 1 after passing teammate Franco Morbidelli, with Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) up to P9 on the opening lap. Bastianini, the other rider in the title frame, was P3 behind Pecco.
At the end of Lap 2, Martin was 0.8s clear of Pecco. Bastianini was tucked up right behind his 2023 teammate in P3, Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was 0.7s away from Bastianini in P4, with Quartararo a further 0.6s down the road in P5. A mistake on Lap 3 saw Aleix Espargaro slip from P11 to P14, as the Spaniard struggled to get going in the early exchanges.
Quartararo moved past Marc Marquez at the beginning of Lap 5 as the eight-time Champion was wide down at Turn 1. Now, the gap Quartararo had to bridge to Bastianini and title rival Bagnaia was 2.4s, with the two Italians now 1.2s away from race leader Martin.
Pushing at the front, Lap 7 then threw up huge drama for Martin. The Spaniard was down at Turn 5 and what did that do? Hand the lead to Bagnaia. As things stood, with Pecco P1 and Quartararo P3, the gap heading to Valencia would be 23 points. Close, but not enough for the title to be decided today. Furthermore, Bastianini was still climbing all over the back of Pecco. A predicament to say the least for Bastianini and Ducati – does he stick, or does he twist?
Quartararo was 2.8s away from the lead duo but cue the Jaws music: a certain Italian riding a Mooney VR46 Racing Team Ducati was coming. That man was Marco Bezzecchi and the 2022 Rookie of the Year was charging. If Bezzecchi got the better of Quartararo and Bagnaia won the race, that would be enough for the latter to win the title in Malaysia.
A huge moment in the race then came. Turn 4, Lap 11. Bastainini was up the inside, late on the brakes and through on Bagnaia for the lead of the race he went. Quartararo was still P3, 2.7s away, with Bezzecchi now just 0.5s down on his VR46 Academy friend and fellow Italian’s rival.
Race leader Martin crashes out and hands Bagnaia the lead!
Seven to go. Bastianini and Pecco were locked together, with Bezzecchi right behind Quartararo. Pecco at this stage of the race looked to have a better pace and at Turn 15, just before the clock ticked to six laps remaining, Bagnaia led again. Would Bastianini retaliate? Now we were back to the situation a few laps earlier. If Bezzecchi got the better of Quartararo, and Pecco stayed P1, it would be World Champion Pecco. Everything was on the line here and to add to the palpable tension, Quartararo was starting to gain on the Ducati duo up front.
Five to go. The gap to Bastianini’s rear wheel from Quartararo’s front tyre was 1.6s. Four to go. Pecco led by 0.4s, Bastianini was 1.6s ahead of Quartararo, and Quartararo was now 1.3s ahead of Bezzecchi. Aleix Espargaro’s title hopes were now diminishing by the lap, the number 41 on his 300th Grand Prix appearance was P11.
Three to go, the situation was unchanged. Two to go. Quartararo was marginally quicker than the leaders but the gap was 1.5s over the line – not enough to mount more pressure. The good news for El Diablo was Bezzecchi being 2.4s in arrears.
Electric start from Bagnaia sees him jump up seven places!
The final lap in Malaysia. Pecco and Bastianini were split by nothing, surely the latter wasn’t going to make a move at this stage? Turn 4 passed by – the earlier passing point – as Turn 9 appeared. Bastianini didn’t go for a move but it was a little close for comfort. Nothing came of it though, Bagnaia kept his cool and took the chequered flag to win in Sepang to take a 23-point lead to the season finale in Valencia. Bastianini was 0.2s away from victory to finish P2, with Quartararo doing a phenomenal job to end the race on the rostrum to still be in with a chance at keeping his MotoGP™ crown.
The points scorers in Malaysia
Bezzecchi’s charge to the podium didn’t quite come to fruition, but P4 for the Italian was another fantastic job done. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) rounded out the top five, the Australian GP race winner was 1.5s up the road from sixth place Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) – the Australian produced a great comeback ride from P14 on the grid to help Ducati Lenovo Team pick up the Teams’ title.
Marc Marquez ended the race down in P7, Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) claimed eighth, with Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) rounding out the top 10. After a three-second penalty, Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) finished P11 after contact was made with Espargaro at Turn 14, with Morbidelli also taking two Long Lap penalties in the race.
Cal Crutchlow (WithU Yamaha RNF MotoGP™ Team), Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) and Raul Fernandez (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing) were the final point scorers. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) – who managed to re-join –, Darryn Binder (WithU Yamaha RNF MotoGP™ Team), Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing MotoGP™), and Tetsuta Nagashima (LCR Honda Idemitsu) crashed out alongside Martin, with Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) forced to retire with a technical issue.
So, after a magical return to Malaysia, we head to Valencia with the MotoGP™ title race still left on the table. Bagnaia vs Quartararo, Ducati vs Yamaha, Italy vs France. See you at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo.
1. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) – 20 laps
2. Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) + 0.270
3. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) + 2.773
4. Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) + 5.446
5. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 11.923
6. Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) + 13.472
7. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) + 14.304
8. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 16.805
9. Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) + 18.358
10. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) + 21.591