Bagnaia against Martin, in Qatar the spotlight is once again on the two of them. Indeed, only on the two of them because after Sepang it is arithmetic that says that the MotoGP title this year will go to either Pecco or Jorge. It is difficult to know which of the two is the favourite. The numbers demonstrate the advantage of the Italian, who with 2 Grands Prix and 4 races to go until the end has a 14-point advantage over the Spaniard. Enough to be able to fight for his first match point in Losail, even if arriving at the endgame on Sunday won't be at all easy. Between the sprint and the race, Bagnaia should score 24 points more than Martin, therefore just under the full score for the long race: in that case he would be champion for having picked up more points than his opponent.
In the 18 Grands Prix that have taken us to Qatar, Pecco won 6 races against Jorge's 4, the rider from Chivasso is also ahead in pole positions (7 to 4), while the situation is reversed in the sprints, with the Pramac man on the top step of the podium 7 times, compared to 4 for the world champion. A few figures that explain how the fight is balanced and its outcome is anything but a foregone conclusion.
At this point in the season, every smallest detail can make the difference, every point won or lost, for a final sprint that puts nerves to the test. It is said that the pressure is all on Bagnaia and in a certain sense that’s true because he can achieve a historic result, that of defending the title, something only two riders before him achieved in MotoGP: Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez. Furthermore, he races for the factory team and therefore has the 'duty' to win.
For Martin the situation is different, as being in a satellite team one can argue that whatever happens it will be a success, but these are clichés that do not convince anyone anymore. Even when Jorge claimed last Sunday that "since I'm now sure that no matter what happens I'll be 2nd in the championship now I can take a risk", it was difficult to fully believe him. Because a title in MotoGP is something special and taking it home in a private team (even if with an official bike and great support from Ducati) even more so.
So, the pressure is there for both, and it must be managed. Bagnaia has the experience of last year to fall back on, but in 2022 he was fighting with Quartararo who was in difficulty, now he has a tough and fast opponent in front of him.
The Malaysian Grand Prix was in a certain sense the appetizer of what is to come: a challenge session after session, race after race, in which to try to outwit the opponent. At Sepang Bagnaia did it in qualifying with a pole position that had more psychological value than anything else, the same happened in the race, when he responded twice to Martin's overtaking. A constant standoff.
Jorge, however, is not the type to give up and, having calmed the burning spirits of youth, he is now a rider who also knows how to think. In Malaysia he did it on Sunday, understanding when it was necessary to settle for the result and limit the damage. Ultimately, the only thing the two rivals cannot afford is a mistake. Were Pecco to do it, he would throw away his hard-earned treasure in an instant, if it happened to Martin, he could say goodbye to his world championship dreams.
Everything is in their hands and in their heads, but the two challengers are not racing alone, and the other riders could be important variables in the fight for the title. Especially the Ducati ones, the only ones who can continuously keep up with Bagnaia and Martin and slot in between them. There are no games between Ducati teams, Alex Marquez's results in Malaysia demonstrated this. Team games, however, are something else and in Sepang there was collaboration between Pecco and Bastianini. The former lent a hand to the latter in practice, Enea then reciprocated in the sprint by covering Bagnaia's back. Having a fast garage mate helps to speed up the work during the weekend and to have a 'friend' in the race, something that Martin seems to be missing with a very fluctuating Zarco.
And that is another small detail in the picture that is taking shape, as we wait to find out if it will show Bagnaia's face or Martin's.