The key moments that led to Bagnaia’s historic maiden MotoGP title

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Sportem
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Bagnaia came into the 2022 season as one of the favourites to fight for the championship having ended up just 26 points behind 2021 title winner Fabio Quartararo at the conclusion of a breakout campaign for the Ducati rider.

But a troubled pre-season on the GP22 put Bagnaia onto the back foot, with the Italian electing to revert to a 2021-spec engine prior to the opening round of the year in Qatar.

Bagnaia’s problems of understanding the new Ducati plagued the first five rounds of his season, as he crashed out trying to recover from ninth on the grid in Qatar; struggled to 15th in the wet Indonesian GP; took back-to-back fifths in Argentina and America; and was eighth after battering himself with a qualifying crash in Portugal that left him last on the grid.

Coming into the sixth round of the season, Bagnaia was 38 points adrift of Fabio Quartararo – who’d had a similarly difficult start to 2022 on the underwhelming Yamaha package – and his title hopes were already on the rocks.

It was at this point that he set himself on the path to the 2022 world title, albeit by unconventional means that – at one stage – had basically ended his hopes.

Here are the key moments that ultimately won Bagnaia the 2022 world title.

1 May 2022 – Spanish Grand Prix – Jerez

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team, Fabio Quartararo, Yamaha Factory Racing

Photo by: Dorna

Bagnaia had begun to make strides in understanding the 2022 Ducati at the previous round in Portugal, gaining more confidence on the front end of the bike.

At Jerez, the Bagnaia that ended the 2021 season with four victories re-emerged as he qualified on pole and then fended off chief rival Quartararo by 0.285 seconds in the race to claim his first win of the season.

Bagnaia cut his championship disadvantage to Quartararo down to 33 points as he moved up from 10th in the standings to fifth.

Carrying a shoulder injury from his Portimao qualifying crash, which he was “worried about”, Bagnaia said his Jerez win was a result of stopping so desperately trying to adapt the bike to himself and work with what he had.

“I think we did a good thing in stopping trying to adapt this bike to me and just leaving the bike the same,” Bagnaia said at Jerez. “For sure this bike needed a different riding style because now I can be faster in the corners. So, it’s a bit different. But finally I think that I’m back to my best shape like I was last year and I would like to continue like this now, not losing points.”

29 May 2022 – Italian Grand Prix – Mugello

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Bagnaia’s title hopes had taken another knock just as he was getting them pointing in the right direction at the French Grand Prix, when he crashed battling future factory Ducati teammate Enea Bastianini for victory.

Coming to his home round at Mugello, Bagnaia trailed Quartararo by 56 points – though claimed he felt no pressure to win the Italian Grand Prix.

Angry after only managing fifth in the wet-to-dry qualifying on Saturday, Bagnaia quickly marched into the lead and got to the chequered flag 0.635 seconds ahead of Quartararo to register his second win of the season.

It moved him to 41 points behind Quartararo, though at this stage it was still very much looking like the Frenchman’s title to lose as he limited the damage expertly at a venue he was very much expected to struggle at on the Yamaha.

But that Mugello win did open Bagnaia’s eyes to the problems he had already caused himself and just what he needed to do going forward.

“I did more mistakes, so I have to be more like a machine already from this race,” Bagnaia said after Mugello.

26 June 2022 – Dutch Grand Prix – Assen

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Bagnaia’s plans to become “a machine” after the Italian GP had backfired in spectacular fashion coming to the first part of the season’s curtain closer at Assen.

The Ducati rider was wiped out by LCR Honda’s Takaaki Nakagami at the first corner of the Catalan GP, while Bagnaia crashed out of the podium places at the German GP a week prior to Assen.

This meant he was 91 points adrift of Quartararo in the standings and his hopes looked all but lost.

In a clear statement of the improvements both Ducati had made with its bike in 2022 and Bagnaia’s own adaptation to the GP22, he qualified on pole at Assen and went on to win the race.

It was perfectly timed, as it coincided with Quartararo’s first DNF of the season after he’d collided with Aleix Espargaro, before a second crash ruled him out. It would net Quartararo a long lap penalty for the British GP, which would ultimately have a wider impact on the title battle than first realised.

“Terrified” that he would crash while leading the race as spots of rain appeared at Assen, Bagnaia left Holland 66 points behind Quartararo going into the summer break. His title hopes were still remote at this stage, but not impossible.

7 August 2022 – British Grand Prix – Silverstone

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Bagnaia had endured a tough weekend in the run-up to Sunday’s British GP at Silverstone, having generally lacked pace to be considered a victory contender.

Putting his Desmosedici fifth on the grid, a long lap penalty for Quartararo as a legacy of his Assen collision with Espargaro – who himself, second in the standings at this stage, was carrying an ankle injury from a heavy crash in FP4 – at least offered Bagnaia a chance to claw back some points.

Taking on advice from two MotoGP legends in the shape of Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner – the rider he has succeeded as Ducati world champion – Bagnaia was able to transform his weekend and stormed to victory after fending off Aprilia’s Maverick Vinales in the latter stages.

Commenting on the advice he got from Stoner, Bagnaia said: “He was great at finding traction at the exit of the corner, and this was his suggestion for today. I tried to wait more on opening gas, it was a bit better.

“The problem was that I did maybe on the remaining five or six laps, it was without rear grip, so in this last part of the race I was just doing my riding style because I wasn’t able to use the rear tyre.

“So, I just tried to push a lot in the braking to stop the bike before using just the front tyre because the rear was dragging a lot.”

Quartararo struggled to eighth ahead of Espargaro, allowing Bagnaia to move up to third in the standings and cut his advantage down to just 49.

All of this came after Bagnaia had to field questions about a drink driving incident in Ibiza just a week after he won the Dutch TT at Assen, though he insisted those events were not weighing on his mind as he tried to salvage his title hopes.

Bagnaia would later say on the eve of his title win that the Silverstone win gave him “a lot of motivation” given how he turned that weekend around, and was one of the key points on his path to glory.

18 September 2022 – Aragon Grand Prix – MotorLand

Enea Bastianini, Gresini Racing

Enea Bastianini, Gresini Racing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Coming into the 15th round of the season, Bagnaia had won four-successive races and capitalised on various woes for Quartararo to put himself just 30 points behind the Yamaha rider in the standings in second.

Returning to the scene of his maiden MotoGP triumph one year prior, Bagnaia was dealt a golden opportunity when a mistake for the returning Marc Marquez triggered a collision on the opening lap that took Quartararo out of the race.

Bagnaia locked horns once more with Bastianini, as he did at the previous San Marino GP, but elected to play it cautious when the Gresini rider overtook him on the last lap.

Taking the chequered flag in second, Bagnaia was then just 10 points behind Quartararo and for the first time started to truly consider himself as a title challenger.

“For sure now it’s more clear that we are close,” he said after Aragon. “10 points is the lowest distance I ever had [to a championship leader] from the start of a season. So, for sure I will try to think about the championship, but not so much. I will think just about my work, I know that in Japan it will not be easy.”

2 October 2022 – Thailand Grand Prix – Buriram

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team MotoGP

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team MotoGP

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

As it happened, Japan had not at all been easy for Bagnaia. Struggles in a wet qualifying left him down in 12th on the grid and he spent much of the dry race at Motegi trying to break into the top 10.

When he found some rhythm at the end of the race, Bagnaia crashed trying to pass Quartararo for eighth on the final lap and lost eight points to the Frenchman.

When the Thailand GP was struck by a heavy rain ahead of lights out, Bagnaia was at further risk of losing ground in the standings.

But a pep talk from his Ducati teammate Jack Miller on the grid reassured Bagnaia that he could be fast in the wet, and the Italian duly went on to finish third while Quartararo failed to score points when an error in front tyre pressures from his crew chief meant he could finish no higher than 17th.

Bagnaia was also boosted by factory instructions from Ducati leading to Pramac’s Johann Zarco giving up his chase for third as he couldn’t find a safe way to overtake Bagnaia.

At the end of the Thailand weekend Bagnaia was just two points behind Quartararo.

16 October – Australian Grand Prix – Phillip Island

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Many believed Quartararo’s title defence hinged on what happened at Phillip Island. While the Yamaha lacks power, the layout of the Australian GP venue was the best-suited of the remaining races to the bike.

But once again Quartararo was hindered by the M1’s limitations as he started from fifth and was forced into two mistakes – the second taking him out of the race – by having to override the bike.

Bagnaia, just as he did at Aragon, took stock of the situation and played it smart, electing against a risky last-lap rebuttal to both Alex Rins and Marc Marquez pushing him out of the lead.

Third was a good enough result for Bagnaia, as he marched 14 points clear of Quartararo to lead the championship for the first time in his MotoGP career.

No rider in history has overturned a 91-point deficit to take over a championship lead, but Bagnaia kept his feet on the ground as he approached his crucial match point.

“I will just try to do the same as we did from the summer break,” he said in Australia. “Just thinking session by session, doing a good job and being prepared for the race and then see if it will be possible to be crowned there.

“But just be smart, take care about everything because it will be important to finish the race and be in front. If I start thinking about the pressure, I will put pressure on myself.”

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

Photo by: Ducati Corse

23 October 2022 – Malaysian Grand Prix – Sepang

Faced with his first match point in Malaysia, Bagnaia’s Sepang weekend was far from straightforward.

Two crashes on Saturday – one in FP3 that left him in Q1, and a second in Q2 that left him ninth on the grid – knocked his confidence and led to him feeling pressure in the championship race for the first time. 

An inspired charge from ninth to second at the first corner led to him battling with Gresini’s Bastianini for victory at Sepang, with the factory Ducati rider prevailing. 

It marked his seventh – and most crucial – win of the season, as it put him 23 points clear of Quartararo, who was third at Sepang, going to the Valencia finale. 

The race also imbued Bagnaia with the feeling that he could ride quickly on the Ducati without having to force it.

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

6 November 2022 – Valencia Grand Prix – Ricardo Tormo

The points situation ahead of the final round of the 2022 season had left Bagnaia simply needing to finish 14th or higher to win the world championship regardless of where Quartararo was.

Bagnaia was outqualified by the Yamaha rider, the Italian starting eighth with Quartararo in fourth.

While Bagnaia briefly jumped ahead of Quartararo off the line, it wouldn’t be until lap 2 that he would make a proper overtake on his title rival – with the pair making contact at Turn 2 battling over fifth.

Quartararo came through on lap 4 at Turn 6 and broke away, while Bagnaia steadily slipped down the order to ninth.

But it was still enough for him to win the world championship, and thus making Bagnaia the first Ducati rider in 15 years to achieve the feat and the first Italian to do so since Valentino Rossi in 2009.

Fabio Quartararo, Yamaha Factory Racing, Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

Fabio Quartararo, Yamaha Factory Racing, Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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