The Losail circuit, in Qatar, will be the scene of one of the final acts, if not the actual finale, of the challenge for the 2023 riders’ title. On the one side, an always competitive Pecco, with some missteps, who has always been able to maintain his calm and who now finds in his teammate, an important potential ally and not the only one.
On the other, Jorge Martin, who has few friends in the battle, but who has been able to learn from the experience of 2022 to contain his impetuosity and fight, sometimes even losing, even with his head. Fourteen points separate the two brand mates, in a season which has seen the Spaniard triumph in four races and obtain eight podiums, fewer than those of his opponent.
Yet the Madrilenian has kept his opponent within range, thanks precisely to those sprints which have given Martinator, especially in the second half of the season, an almost undisputed dominance over the short distances. Seven victories for Jorge in this new mode which promises to be the deciding factor in the last two events of the season. With the tyre pressure joker used by Bagnaia in Malaysia, the two riders will now fight on equal terms.
Today you and Pecco are going head-to-head for the title, but a few years ago, seven to be precise, you shared garages and dreams in the Mahindra team.
"It was nice to see those images again - says Jorge - I looked at them with a smile, it also helped me keep my head away from the pressure of the championship for a while. I remember many moments together and a lot of respect between us. And it’s an honour to have him here next to me now to fight for the title together."
Yesterday you were on the dunes in the company of Nasser Al-Attiyah, five-time winner of the Dakar rally. Did the experience help you find your composure before the final rush in these last two races?
"It was a fantastic day, it helped me disconnect my brain after Malaysia. On Sunday I think I ran "stuck", I felt like I risked crashing at every corner, and this didn't help me express my full potential".
However, the Spaniard is looking more at the present than anything else. In Qatar, the penultimate round of this long season, he will not be able to afford any more mistakes.
“I don't know the maths exactly; I just know I need to recover points! So this is my target. I'm already second in the championship, even if I don't race the next two rounds. So I'm already in second and I can just change that position to first. So I will take all the risk I can and maybe take some gambles to try to do it.”
After Bastianini's victory last week, in which he admitted to having protected his teammate, Marini and Bezzecchi will also most likely support their friend and rival Bagnaia. Your rival in the title race seems to have more friends than you do now.
“I don’t care about friends; I just care about myself – said the Spaniard – I feel that if I do my 100%, I can beat all of them. So, I am focused on the weekend, focused on myself and then if somebody will help him or not, it’s not my problem. I cannot control that, so I don’t really care.”
Another of the unknown factors of the Qatari event will be the asphalt, recently redone.
"I haven't yet had the opportunity to check the conditions personally, but it's clear that interpreting the effects on tyre wear will be one of the keys to understanding this race. Here at Losail, we already have a lot of data, but the different conditions could force us to start from scratch again. We will have to be intelligent and know how to adapt quickly."
With this in mind, having eight Ducatis on the track could be an advantage as well as a disadvantage, considering that the battle between the two of you will take place on the same Ducati.
"It's something that we know is the case and we have to deal with it. In my case it's a disadvantage, I haven't changed the setup for many races so by now Pecco should know it well! - jokes the Spaniard - it's clear that it's not an optimal situation but I will also have access to his data." To which Pecco's response, however, was not long in coming: "fortunately we have different riding styles".
A battle is on the cards therefore on the Losail circuit where the echoes of past duels still resonate, such as those between Dovizioso and Marquez.
“It's a good chance to acquire a lot of points. But there's also a good chance to lose a lot of points. So we need to be clever, fast and try to win.”
Compared to the other championship events, this one has the flavour of a possible match point. Is the pressure starting to show?
“I think for sure there is a lot of pressure, we all know this. I feel like it’s a really important weekend because we cannot make any mistakes. If you make a mistake, you will lose the championship. So, we need to be fast but also not make any mistakes.”
Another type of pressure will also be part of the battle: that of tyres, with both riders warned in recent races and sanctions that could overturn the results.
"It will be a gamble for both of us, we are both in the same condition. In the last race Ducati played it safe by taking advantage of this new rule, and this gives me a lot of confidence that I can do well in this race. With the tyre pressure, however, it is never easy to make predictions, I hope that the fate of a championship will not be taken with an official decision."
However, the Spaniard is not entirely convinced that everything will be decided in Qatar. Our thoughts therefore turn to Valencia, a circuit that has favoured Martin in the past and to which his fans will flock.
"Since my Moto3 days I have always been competitive on that track, I obtained my first victory in MotoGP there, and having my fans there will certainly be a good spectacle. I am confident that I can do well in Spain and recover points if the battle for the title will continue."
The battle is also raging on social media, with many celebrities already siding with one or the other rider. Who would you like to support you in this last rush of the championship?
"My first choice would be Valentino, he has been my idol since I was a child, but I imagine that in this situation it will be difficult to have his support - Jorge then jokes - perhaps that of a tough guy like Jason Statham?".
Is this type of media support something you think is good for this sport?
"I think it has a positive influence, but personally I am only thinking about my race, it doesn't have that kind of effect. MotoGP is already the best show in the world, we need to give people the opportunity to see the races to appreciate their beauty over time".