Bagnaia's smile says everything about his state of mind. He arrived at Motegi with many doubts and the belief that he could resolve them, but it's one thing to think it and another to do it. After the two sessions of free practice he can claim to have followed up theory with practice and this is confirmed by the 2nd time, just 29 thousandths behind Binder.
“Finally I'm happy! - Pecco celebrated - It's been a long time since I was in the top 5 in the first free practice session and I'm happy with my time in the second. My sensations improved with each ride. I'm very satisfied, I can finally push when braking and now I can breathe a sigh of relief, we understood what the problem was and when I decided to push I could see the difference. There's still something missing to be fully happy, but we're really close to finding the balance. Not only do I brake strongly, but I also have good cornering, another thing that was missing in the last GPs."
The question is: what went wrong with the world champion's Desmosedici?
“It wasn't a problem, I was doing something different and the bike behaved differently – was his explanation - I prefer a more stable bike and in the last weekends it was too nervous: it was easy to lose the rear and difficult to be consistent. The setting I used today is very similar to that of Austria, but not the same."
The work was not easy.
“We proceeded step by step, the first two runs in the morning were the best, then I went back to the India setup and I felt something strange, my times went up by a second - explained Bagnaia - Then, in the afternoon, we focused on improving my sensations. In the first time attack I kept a bit of a margin, while in the second I pushed as normal and was able to be strong in braking, which was a relief."
So both he and Binder beat Jorge Lorenzo's track record which had stood since 2015. Why for so long?
“In my opinion it was a matter of circumstances, today it didn't rain, last year it happened in FP2, plus we hadn't raced here for two years. That time it was done with Bridgestones, I don't know them, but I think they helped with the braking" was his view.
The important thing is that Pecco is now back on track…
“After India we had a great desire to react - he said - In a difficult condition I was 2nd in the race and, perhaps, if I had arrived in that position we would have looked less for a problem. That weekend served as a lesson for us, it taught us that we must always stay on the ball. I have to say a big thank you to my team who stayed up late every night to find a solution. We have improved a lot, but we still lack a bit of repeatability in braking. Before I couldn't do it for even one lap, the rear was always dancing around a bit, now I'm more constant and stronger when braking. Tomorrow we will focus on other areas, but I already have my basic setup."
At this point he needs to think about his opponents, about Martin and Bezzecchi who are breathing down Bagnaia’s neck in the standings.
“The first thing I thought was that it's tough to have Binder in first place, he's tough to beat when he starts in front. At the moment I’m not paying too much attention to what the other two are doing because I know they will be fast. I'm more focused on solving my problems."
The only remaining unknown factor is the possibility of rain on Sunday.
“I'll do the best with what I have, I'm doing well in the wet this year, but in those conditions it's always difficult to predict what will happen” concluded the world champion.