Pecco vs Martin: it’s official. The fight for the 2023 FIM MotoGP™ World Championship is now a duel, and it’s a duel split by just 14 points as we head into the final two race weekends. It was also an early race duel at Sepang as the two went toe-to-toe in the fight for the podium, with Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) defending with everything he had against now sole challenger, Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing). But that was the fight for third!
Up ahead, Enea Bastianini’s (Ducati Lenovo Team) fantastic return to form continued as the number 23 moved through to the lead, set some absolutely searing pace, and wasn’t to be seen again. Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) kept him honest enough, however, with the number 73 following up his Sprint win with another Grand Prix podium.
It was almost three abreast into Turn 1 once the lights went out, with the front row side-by-side. Bastianini played it safe, Bagnaia was on the outside, and it was Martin who let the brakes off – diving up the inside to very briefly take the holeshot. But he was deep and Bagnaia took the chance to try and cut back in, but the #1 wasn’t in the postcode of the apex either. He got back past Martin but Bastianini was already through, as was Alex Marquez.
Pecco held on to third against Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) but Martin wasn’t so lucky, getting shuffled back behind the Italian and left with a little more work to do from fifth
And so Bastianini led Alex Marquez, with a small but increasing gap back to some stunning early race fireworks. Once Martin was able to get back past Bezzecchi, he was right on the tail of Bagnaia and the teams, factory and grandstands held their breath as the show began.
The number 89 was all over the number 1 but he attacked and was denied, attacked and was denied as the two scythed round Sepang near side-by-side. It was stunning, and it could prove important in terms of more than just points. On Sundays when they've both seen the flag, the reigning Champion has only finished ahead of Martin once since the Red Bull Ring – on the day of Johann Zarco's history-making win in Australia. Bagnaia hasn’t beaten Martin in a Sprint since Catalunya. But at Sepang, the reigning Champion also turned the tables in qualifying, nabbing pole from Martin and outqualifying the number 89 for the first time since Barcelona.
From that huge shot of adrenaline though, it became an ebb of tension as the laps ticked down. Bastianini led Alex Marquez, both in some clear air. Bagnaia was in a “safe” third, and Martin a safe fourth, as the battle behind was the next.
By five laps to go, Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) had arrived at Bezzecchi, and this time the Yamaha rider struck quickly, slicing through almost immediately. The he was left trying to hold off the mighty power of the Ducati out the final corner and down the main straight into Turn 1, but it was mission accomplished – Quartararo was up into the top five as Bezzecchi officially dropped out on title contention.
At the front, Bastianini pounded on. With just over a second in hand, sometimes up to 1.5, the Beast was keeping very calm as he carried on – and very, very fast. He crossed the line for his first win since Aragon last year with a second and a half in hand, becoming the seventh different winner this season. Alex Marquez returned to the Grand Prix podium in second, Bagnaia took that vital third, and Martin was forced to settle for fourth to end the PETRONAS Grand Prix of Malaysia 14 points adrift. Still, there are 74 left in play.
Quartararo took fifth from Bezzecchi, with Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™’s Franco Morbidelli putting on a charge into seventh, with Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) P8. Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) was hot on the heels on the Australian, and they had Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) for company too as he completed the top ten.
Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing), Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing), Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Augusto Fernandez (GASGAS Factory Racing Tech3) and his teammate Pol Espargaro completed the points – with one notable name missing out on some being Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) as he crashed out of the battle with Miller and Diggia, rider ok.
That’s it from Sepang and another stunning weekend. Every point is pivotal, and no it’s just 14 of them with 74 to play for. This is it: Pecco vs Martin. One of them will be crowned the 2023 FIM MotoGP™ World Champion… and the first match point comes in Qatar for Bagnaia. So don’t go anywhere… it’s GAME ON next weekend!
|Enea Bastianini (Ducati Lenovo Team)
|Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™)
|Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team)
|Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing)
|Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™)
|Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team)
|Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™)
|Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing)
|Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing MotoGP™)
|Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team)
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