Enea Bastianini has experienced an absolutely unfortunate 2023. Knocked down in the first Sprint Race by Luca Marini, he paid dearly for a start to the season spent in the infirmary. Then when he returned to a good level of form, the final strike came in Barcelona, with another forced period of stoppage. In the meantime, market rumours are putting pressure on him, with Martìn indicated by many as a possible candidate to replace him at Ducati Factory in 2024.
Yet, despite all these premises that would have destroyed the minds of many riders, Bastianini arrived in Malaysia confident that he could do well. Saturday's front row and 4th place in the Sprint 'protecting' Bagnaia already seemed like a high point in his 2023 season. But the real masterpiece performance came today, with a crystal clear victory in the Grand Prix that silenced in one fell swoop all those observers who doubted that we would ever be able to see the same Beast everyone admired last season again.
"After a shitty period, it's nice to return to victory - Bastianini burst out - Today I didn't want anything else, I knew I could do it. I did a sort of qualifying for the whole race, I was destroyed but in the end the victory arrived. I felt I was at my limit, to stay at that level I also made some small mistakes. But today I absolutely wanted to win, something exploded inside me this weekend and I went back to having fun. It's really nice, I'm too happy."
What was your feeling as soon as you crossed the finish line.
"An explosion of emotions, of anger, an outburst. I was finished, I struggled to celebrate but it was a nice liberation after a year like this. Anger because nothing came out no matter how much I worked on the bike, but this weekend something changed. The head always does something, but what you have on the bike is also useful and here I had confidence in my bike. The anger was for not having succeeded before, for everything that happened and for many things that many people don't know."
Also because maybe you knew you were in doubt?
"I don't know if I've really been questioned, I don't want to say anything. It’s a rumour that I heard about here from the press, but then in the garage this was never talked about and Pernat never talked to me about it either. Mine is a small response to Ducati, but Jorge has done the whole championship like this, I only did one race. It's difficult to base it on what I've done this season."
You said you wanted and could win a race this year, you were true to those words.
"I never say things just to say things, I say them if I'm sure I can do it. I was perhaps 99% sure, I knew that some tracks would help me like Sepang. This made me take a step on a mental level, I arrived with the desire to do well, but I didn't imagine it would be so good."
What did you change on your Ducati to regain these good sensations?
"I changed the engine braking strategy a lot and we met my needs. Here we changed the bike a lot from an electronic point of view. Now I don't make mistakes when braking, so when we go back to having fun we also go fast because I can repeat my lap after lap, before I made a lot of mistakes when braking."
Did you expect to be able to experience a weekend like this here in Sepang?
"We arrived here aware of what we could do, we were very convinced of what the race setup would be, and what the race would be. I have to say thanks to the team, they never stopped believing in me. I want to thank also my mother, my family was close to me. Alice, my girlfriend, washed me for twenty days when I was injured. She was always with me all the time at home, in those moments my head used to explode, it's normal that it’s like that. I dedicate this victory to them, but above all to Alice because I think she suffered with me. They were behind me so much in this dark period."
A ray of light in a difficult season.
"I think the season hasn’t been difficult, but a real disaster! Too many injuries, so much pain. I went three months without training at the beginning of the year and this weighed heavily. Now I feel great, it was a great race. Yesterday after the Sprint I understood that I could do something great, I wanted to have the mentality to exit the first corner first. The team worked very well from the start, we tried many new things that worked on the bike".
Pulling away was the only strategy.
"It was important to stay in front, if you're behind it's difficult due to the tire pressure to be fast and pass those in front of you. Alex was on me for the whole race, he was always close, except at the end".
What do you think of the rumours about a possible swap between you and Martìn in 2024?
"It's simple, Jorge had a great season and I didn't, because I was really far away. But I know why this happened. Now I sent a message to Ducati, I feel good in the team, I feel good with Pecco. And I think that it's a good situation, but I don't know the possibilities and Ducati's choice. They gave me confirmation that I would stay here, but I don't know if anything will change."
Yesterday you were also a team man for Pecco.
"I work for Ducati and yesterday it was important for me to be with Pecco, I helped him by staying behind. He's fighting for the title and I'm fighting for nothing, so it wouldn't have made sense to pass him. But today when I realized I could win I only thought about this. I'm here to be fast but also to work for the team. I don't know what will happen in the future, but I'm in Ducati Lenovo and I also work for them."
Now we go to Qatar, where you won last year.
"I have incredible memories of 2022 for Gresini. It seemed unachievable to win there but I did it. Let's see how this year will go with the new asphalt and with different tires but now I'm confident in what I can do, my relationship with the team has improved, so I'm happy to continue."