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Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) rocketed back into World Championship contention just days ago at the Gran Premio Animoca Brands de Aragon. Not only did the Spaniard finish third – his first podium in seven races – he was able to get back to less than a race behind Championship leader Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) in the MotoGP™ riders’ standings.
Quartararo was one of the unlucky ones when Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) slowed to catch a slide in the opening corners of the Aragon GP, with the Frenchman unable to avoid hitting the RC213V which was just in front of him. Both retired, meaning a rare ‘zero’ for the man who is at the top of the points table. Not only did Espargaro close to only 17 points behind Quartararo – with 125 still on offer in the five Grands Prix remaining this season – Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) is now just 10 off the pace.
However, that deficit of 10 would have been only five, if not for some another Ducati rider – a future teammate, no less – in the form of Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™). ‘La Bestia’ tailed Bagnaia for much of the Aragon GP before launching a bold pass on the final lap around the MotorLand and taking all 25 points for himself. He too is now being talked up as a Championship contender, having moved to just 48 points behind Quartararo, but the main chat in the paddock has been team orders – will Bastianini be told to help Bagnaia, or not? Bagnaia insists he doesn’t need help, and Bastianini says there have been no orders yet.
"I don't need help" - Ducati duo talk team orders dilemma
While there are eight Ducatis on the grid, there are two standouts at the moment and, according to Espargaro, the Bologna factory faces an important decision as to how it deals with the title aspirations of those two riders. It was a point which he made clear to the DAZN microphones on the Thursday before the Japanese GP: “A month ago, it seemed that having so many Ducatis on the track was criminal for Fabio or for me and now I think the enemy is at home, and that has to be managed. We’ll see how they do it, but I think ‘Pecco’ doesn’t have it that easy”.
The Bologna bullets also clinched the Constructors’ Championship at Aragon, for the third consecutive year. Bastianini’s victory at the MotorLand was Ducati’s 10th of a season in which it has had at least one bike on the podium at every single race. It now has a total of 346 constructors’ points, 129 more than its closest rival, Aprilia.
However, it’s the Triple Crown of constructors’, teams’, and riders’ title that Ducati really wants, especially having gone without the latter since Casey Stoner’s triumph in 2007. So, what will Bastianini do? Will he be an ally or an enemy for ‘Pecco’?