Factory Ducati MotoGP rider, Francesco Bagnaia took another commanding victory in the MotoGP 2023 season, this time at the Dutch TT. It was his fourth victory of the season, and the third podium in a row beginning the Italian round in Mugello.
As was in the German GP, P1 did not begin well for Bagnaia as he struggled with the Ducati Desmosedici GP23’s stability particularly in the hard braking zones and in high speed corners. Assen’s layout consists of only one real straight at the front, while most braking had to be performed while the motorcycle carries varying degrees of lean angle. Consequently, he overshot several corners three times during the session. Cameras caught him being overcome by emotions and gesticulating angrily at the bike toward the end of the session.
Bagnaia ended the session in 12th with the best time of 1:33.498, while his teammate Enea Bastianini was in 17th. The latter is still struggling with his fitness.
But it was Bagnaia’s VR46 Academy compatriot and fellow Italian, Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46) who showed early pace, completing the session as the fastest rider 1:32.246 on the GP22 – the bike which Bagnaia rode to the championship last year. He recorded 1:32.246, which was 1.252 seconds clear of Bagnaia.
Maverick Vinalez (Aprilia factory team) and Alex Marquez (Gresini Ducati) completed the Top 3.
Bezzecchi improved on his P1 times to stay on top of the Combined Practice timesheet. Jorge Martin (Pramac Ducati) and Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) slotted in behind him. Bagnaia clawed his way up the order to 4th, but still 0.200 seconds behind.
The session was disrupted by (another) of Marc Marquez’s (Repsol Honda) crash. He had tried to gain a two from Vinalez’s Aprilia but the manoeuvre only lasted two corners before he crashed out. The mishap meant that other riders who passed the yellow flag zone had their best times scrubbed. He ended P2 in 19th.
Q1 is the last chance for two of the fastest riders to head into Q2 to vie for the Top 12 starting grid positions. Johann Zarco set the fastest early in the session but was pipped by Miguel Oliveira (RNF Aprilia) but both went into Q2.
However, the session was marred by another incident involving the hapless Marc Marquez. This time, he had tried to gain a tow from Bastianini. The latter slowed down to look behind as he exited the pits, and Marquez did the same, which ended with the latter ramming the rear Bastianini’s Ducati and crashing out of the session. That meant Marquez qualified 17th while Bastianini 18th for the start of the Sprint and Main races.
Bezzecchi stated his intentions as soon as the session got underway and held that advantage in the first half of the session. Bagnaia overhauled everyone else and slotted into 2nd, followed by Vinalez, the latter who has had a good record at the venue. Last GP’s winner, Jorge Martin could not mount a serious challenge and found himself in 10th.
The second half was where the riders truly put the hammer down. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Yamaha) did well to install the fastest time, but was soon overhauled by the Ducatis. First it was Bezzecchi who broke the circuit’s record, followed by Bagnaia who returned the second fastest time, also under the track record. Bagnaia had Luca Marini (Bezzecchi’s teammate) in his tow, which need the latter the 3rd place on the grid. Quartararo’s time was still enough to solidify 4th on the grid.
Brad Binder (KTM) was wrestled his RC16 to 5th, considering that the bike was ill suited to stop-start action and quick direction changes.
Everyone had expected Binder to grab the holeshot into Turn One with the quick-starting KTM, but it was Bezzecchi instead. However, Bagnaia managed to enter the inside of the corner edged him out for the lead. They were stalked by Binder and Quartararo.
Bagnaia could not shake off Bezzecchi and the latter overtook on Lap 4 after a brief battle. Their fight gave a chance for the following two to close up behind Bagnaia. But Bagnaia managed to keep Binder behind who was visibly overriding his KTM. They crossed the line: Bezzecchi, Bagnaia, Binder, Quatararo, Aleix Espargaro. And then drama: Binder was penalised 3 seconds for riding over the green paint outside the track at the last chicane and was pushed back to fifth. Quartararo was promoted to 3rd on the podium.
Marc Marquez announced his withdrawal from the race during the prior evening. He was declared unfit by the medical staff after breaking a rib.
This time, Binder made good on his KTM’s strength and was first into Turn One at the start. Bagnaia was again ahead of Bezzecchi. Behind, Aleix Espargaro’s Aprilia ran into Luca Marini’s rear tyre which broke the Aprilia’s front right wing and pushed the brake lever up to point skyward.
Binder fought hard to keep his lead while using a soft rear tyre among other riders who were using the medium rear tyre. But Bagnaia soon found an opening on Lap Three and pushed through for the lead. He opened up a 0.5 second gap by the end of that lap alone.
Bezzecchi could not find a way past Binder until the last 10 laps, and began hunting down Bagnaia. But Bagnaia skilfully reeled off lap after metronomic lap since the beginning and was controlling the race pace up front to keep Bezzecchi 1 second behind until the end.
Behind them, Binder now had to contend with the pressure from Espargaro who found his late race pace, despite a broken front wing. Binder kept Espargaro at bay until the finished line for the last podium position. Or did he? A message on TV screens suddenly showed “3 SECOND PENALTY FOR #33, EXCEEDING TRACK LIMITS”. Binder had again ran over the green paint in the final chicane like he did during the Sprint, this time relegating him to 4th behind Espargaro.
Francesco Bagnaia has increased his lead in the championship to 35 points over second placed man, Jorge Martin as the GP field heads into the 5-week summer break.
|MotoGP 2023 Rider Standings (Top 10 after 9 Rounds)|
|1.||Francesco Bagnaia||Ducati Lenovo MotoGP||194|
|2.||Jorge Martin||Prima Pramac Racing||159|
|3.||Marco Bezzecchi||Mooney VR46 Racing Team||158|
|4.||Brad Binder||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||114|
|5.||Johann Zarco||Prima Pramac Racing||109|
|6.||Luca Marini||Mooney VR46 Racing Team||98|
|7.||Jack Miller||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||79|
|8.||Aleix Espargaro||Aprilia Racing||77|
|9.||Fabio Quartararo||Monster Energy Yamaha||64|
|10.||Alex Marquez||Gresini Racing MotoGP||63|
All images: Ducati Corse