It is said that Paganini did not like to grant encores, but for a rider to do so is the most complicated exercise to complete. So much so that in MotoGP, before today, only two had succeeded: Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez. Pecco Bagnaia, world champion this year like last year, also joined the small club in Valencia, a double that puts him slap bang in the history of the world championship. Yet achieving it was not at all easy, what seemed obvious to him at times seemed impossible, until the last race ended with a victory that put the championship in his hands.
2023 for Pecco was the opposite of 2022, that of his first success. Then he started badly, very badly indeed, then he recovered, unstoppable, against a Quartararo in crisis who was unable to respond. This season, quite the opposite happened. At the start, Bagnaia was perfect: sprint and race in Portimao, just to make it clear that the number 1 on the fairing was not there by chance. Then the usual mistakes, the gratuitous errors, to which the Piedmont rider has accustomed us all too often: Argentina and Austin were two GPs thrown away, in Le Mans he was saved by the shared contribution with Vinales, but all in all even that tumble was avoidable. A throwaway Pecco, but it didn't matter, because when he reached the finish line he was on the podium, when he didn't win, and no rival had the same consistency as him, even when he had the same speed. The doubles at Mugello and the Red Bull Ring seemed to have put things straight, but in truth the worst was yet to come. Because Martin, up until that point a small annoyance, a speck on the horizon of the rankings, would become Bagnaia's nemesis. Jorge, his old teammate from the Mahindra days in Moto3, when they shared a room and competed on the PlayStation. Fate would pit them against each other again and not in front of a television.
Barcelona was the turning point of the season, the GP in which Pecco felt unbeatable, so much so that he never even thought about giving up not even against the very fast Aprilias, who weren't even a problem in the standings. He tried on Sunday, he had put himself in front, until his Ducati, at the second corner, threw him into the air and when he landed on the asphalt there were almost 20 MotoGP bikes ready to hit him. Only Binder was unable to avoid him, but the most incredible thing was that in the impact the world champion suffered nothing other than blows and bruises, no fractures.
Incidents like this, however, leave other signs. Misano passed by with a double podium, but Martin flew in the home of the world champion, as in India (where Pecco crashed, once again) and then in Japan. The points in the standings become fewer and fewer, the lead got smaller and on Saturday, after the Sprint in Indonesia, the Spaniard from the Pramac team was leading the World Championship. A mistake in the long race put Pecco back in the lead, but Jorge seemed to be the fastest. Pecco has to dodge the shots, play a waiting instead of an attacking game, as if he had lost that speed from the beginning of the year. In Australia it was a wrong tyre choice that put Martin out of contention, but in Thailand he scored another double whammy.
The champion seemed to be on his knees, the 66 point advantage he managed to accumulate halfway through the season was reduced to a handful. Above all, he was no longer able to beat Martin on equal terms, it always took some unforeseen event on the Spaniard's part to get ahead of him. Jorge was the fastest, everyone said, but it remained to be seen who was the strongest.
Once in Valencia, however, the numbers proved to be on Pecco's side: 21 points, maybe not enough to sleep easily. In fact, on Friday he woke up in a nightmare, slow, nervous, but above all 15th. At that point, the only thing he could do was demonstrate that his number 1 was not on his Ducati by chance. The Piedmont rider has a tendency to complicate his own life, but also to reverse situations that would seem desperate. In the Sprint he made a wrong choice of tyres and allowed Martin to recover 7 points. On Sunday, however, he didn't do anything wrong, when instead Jorge was knocked out due to the pressure and crashed to the ground, taking Marc Marquez with him.
At that point Bagnaia did like the greats: he won the title and the race. Without settling for the result, with a free mind, "Go Free", as he put on his leathers. Free at last to be the strongest, once again world champion. He is still the number 1.