Ducati: 'We’re gonna need a bigger Desmosedici!'


Jorge Martin may have dominated the Portuguese GP but the way Pedro ‘Jaws’ Acosta tore through the pack aboard his KTM suggested that Ducati’s MotoGP superiority may not last forever

Pedro Acosta passes Pecco Bagnaia in 2024 MotoGP Portuguese GP

Acosta slips past Bagnaia at Turn 3 with five laps to go – the KTM looks more manoeuvrable than the Ducati


Halfway through Sunday’s Portimao GP, the race had turned into one of those ugly 800cc parades — a follow-my-leader procession, with no one able to get their teeth into the rider ahead.

Then Pedro Acosta arrived, gate-crashing a tedious cheese-and-wine party and transforming it into a banging rave. From, “Red or white? And what do you do into a living?” to “You can’t behave like that in public!”, “You can’t overtake there!” and “What the hell do you think you are doing – you need to treat your elders with more respect!”.

For the second race in a row the Spanish rookie was MotoGP’s saviour, dazzling fans with his supernatural skills aboard his RC16, just like Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi dazzled when they arrived in the premier class – breaking all the rules of what you can and cannot do on a big GP bike.

Sure, Márquez finished on the podium in his MotoGP debut and won his second race in the class (while Rossi crashed out of his first two 500cc races), but MotoGP is different now: it’s never been faster, tighter or more complicated.

Jaws pounced on his first victim. You could almost hear the theme tune building…

Acosta finally got third thanks to another rider hitting mechanical problems, but the result made him the third-youngest premier class podium finisher in 76 years of world championship racing. The youngest is American Randy Mamola, who took second at Imatra, Finland, in 1979, and Eduardo Salatino, in Argentina in 1962, a race which started with only 11 riders on the grid, all of them South Americans. Like Acosta, Mamola and Salatino were also 19 at the time.

Portimao was a much bigger test of Acosta’s talent and intelligence than the Qatar season-opener two weeks earlier. Lusail is a fairly straightforward race track and he had spent two full days there testing, so he went into the weekend fully prepared.

Acosta had never ridden a MotoGP bike around Portimao until Friday morning and the rollercoaster track is one of those venues with a thousand secrets. And to further complicate matters, FP1 was mostly a wipeout, because the track had been turned into a sandpit by overnight rain.

Enea Bastianini with Jorge Martin and Pedro Acosta on 2024 MotoGP Portuguese GP podium

Bastianini, Martin and Acosta on the podium – Acosta made history at Portimao, becoming the third-youngest premier class podium finisher in history


So his first useful MotoGP session was Friday’s afternoon’s pre-qualifier, when he missed direct promotion into Q2 by four-hundredths of a second. No bother, he made it into Q2 via Q1 on Saturday morning. And a few hours later finished seventh in the sprint, after coming through from 11th.

He was awesome in Sunday’s GP, in spite of what he’d said during practice.

“It’s tricky to pass in MotoGP, because when you are behind someone your wings don’t work in the same way and we lose a lot of stability in the uphill sections, like Corner 8 (before Portimao’s notorious jump) and the last corner.”

He started the big race well, lost a place to fellow KTM rider Brad Binder, then got into the groove. On lap five Binder dived inside Red Bull team-mate Jack Miller at Turn 1, pushing Miller slightly wide and Jaws pounced on his first victim. Up to seventh. You could almost hear the theme tune building…

Two laps later Jaws went for Binder at Turn 1, his RC16 dancing beneath him. Hard to describe what bravery it takes to attack at Turn 1, especially when you’re still wearing your MotoGP L-plates: braking from almost 220mph, then plunging down that steep incline, like falling off the edge of the Earth. But he made the move stick.

After the race this journalist was brave — or stupid — enough to ask Binder if he’d learned anything from spending the next few laps behind Acosta. Like every other rider who had been asked the same question this year all the South African had for the youngster was admiration.

“When he passed me he was rolling!” Binder laughed. “He’s really special. When you watch him ride you can see how good he is — the way he can control the bike, how he carries a lot of corner speed and picks up the bike nicely. He’s a really class act”

Downhill start of 2024 MotoGP Portuguese Sprint

The start of the sprint – Miller, Viñales and Bagnaia plunge into Turn 1, where Bagnaia lost the race a few laps later


Next up, six-time MotoGP king Marc Márquez. It took Jaws just one lap to close the gap and he went straight on the attack, not wasting one nanosecond. He repeated his Turn 1 Binder pass to slice past with an inch or two to spare, like Márquez wasn’t even there.

Definitely living up to what he says is his greatest talent: “Big balls… big balls.”

By this point of the race Acosta’s RC16 was bearing the scars of his on-the-limit riding – scraping through the red paintwork on both sides of his RC16’s fairing on both sides, which isn’t meant to happen in MotoGP!

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Next up, fourth-placed Pecco Bagnaia. The reigning world champion and Qatar GP winner proved a bonier victim to swallow. Acosta followed the factory Ducati rider for 13 laps during the mid-stages of the race when the leading half-dozen riders followed each other in an orderly procession, like they were in a Formula 1 race.

Portimao isn’t a tyre-burning track like Lusail, where Acosta torched his rear tyre while making fireworks in the early laps, so this time he didn’t fade. Lap after lap, he was just a tenth or two behind Bagnaia, always teetering on the brink, but beautifully so. Once he ran wide exiting Turn 1, his RC16 squirming around, but he didn’t fight it, he just let the bike do its thing and then got back on the gas.

Finally on lap 21 of 25 he set up a superb move on Bagnaia at the Turn 3 hairpin, stopping his bike inside the Ducati, getting it turned, running a bit wide, the pair nearly colliding when Bagnaia tried to get him on the cutback.

“The Pecco overtake was the one I enjoyed the most, because I was able to spend many laps behind him to understand what he was doing with his body to find grip and understand what he was doing to not destroy his tyres, because on Sundays he’s one of the best at these things,” said Acosta the student of Bagnaia the professor. “I had the opportunity to see many things, so I’m more than happy.”

Pedro Acosta with a smile on his face at 2024 MotoGP Portuguese GP

Acosta was delighted with third place – even if it was gifted to him by Viñales’s sick Aprilia. He was a delight to watch all weekend


In other words, he’s more like a robo-shark: part killer, part computer.

More than ever MotoGP is a team sport and Acosta never stops heaping praise on the people around him.

“I only have good words for the whole team because it’s not so easy to come to a new track with a MotoGP bike with no experience and it’s not easy to manage my head because I’m not the easiest person in a race week. They are working like hell – every morning I wake up I have twenty messages from my data guy and crew chief, with many things to check and to understand where to improve.

“They are making an amazing job and also the Pierer Mobility Group. Step by step the brand is coming closer to be the best of the whole grid. We are coming!”

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This is a hugely important point. MotoGP is only two rounds into a 21-round season but KTM has made the most progress since last year. The RC16 is super-fast everywhere and seems to be a more malleable motorcycle than the Ducati, so riders can play with it and make a little of their own magic, whereas the Desmosedici needs to be ridden the way your engineers tell you to ride it.

The RC16 seems strongest in that super-critical point — using the rear brake to help stop the bike as you aim for the apex and then using it to help it turn. That’s what allowed Acosta to make his move on Bagnaia.

“Where it funnels down from Turn 1 to Turn 3 you can pitch the thing sideways and get it to stop on a dime piece and follow the white line on the inside, which was difficult on the Ducati,” said KTM’s Miller, a former factory Ducati rider.

And Acosta’s input — riding the RC16 at an even higher level — will only help further shrink Ducati’s advantage. “Together we can keep pushing and get this project going forward,” added Binder.

Martin leads at Turn 1 of 2024 MotoGP Portuguese GP

Off the edge of the world at Turn 1 – Martin took the lead here on the first lap of the GP and never relinquished it


Bagnaia – who had led the Saturday sprint until he made a mistake – had difficulties from the start of the GP.

“As soon as we started I was in trouble,” he said after his worst weekend since Argentina last year. “I was struggling behind the guys at front to close the line with the same amount of grip. They were very fast at Turns 4 and 5 – they gained two-tenths in every acceleration out of 4 and again two-tenths at 5. I was trying to use different lines, trying to have the same speed as them but I was always going wide, so we need to understand why.”

One problem Bagnaia had was chatter, which has affected most GP24 riders at one time or another this year.

“I tried to close my line and he closed his line and we collided”

His other problem came in the sprint. When the rear end came up in the air as he braked into Turn 1. This was a combination of circumstances. The smaller fuel tanks teams use for sprint races carry nearly all their fuel under the rider, quite far in the back, so as the fuel load reduces, the rear end gets lighter. Bagnaia had failed to make allowances for that and the downhill plunge into the first corner.

And what did Bagnaia see of Acosta when he came past on Sunday?

“When Pedro arrived he had a really fast pace, with a lot of spin and slide.”

By the final stages Bagnaia was in real trouble with his tyres, while Márquez found life easier on used tyres, because he’s at his best when he’s sliding around.

On lap 20 of 25 Márquez rode his fastest lap. On lap 21 Bagnaia rode his slowest lap. Two laps later Márquez lunged inside the champ at Turn 5, ran wide on the exit and tightened his line, while Bagnaia saw a gap at went for it. Boom! They collided and down they went.

Pecco Bagnaia leads Marc Marquez in 2024 MotoGP Portuguese GP

Márquez got faster in the final laps as Bagnaia got slower – eventually their paths would cross.


“When Marc arrived he tried to overtake and he went wide, so I tried to close my line and he closed his line and we collided,” explained Bagnaia. “It makes me angry, but it’s normal, it’s a racing incident, so we have to move on to the next one.”

Márquez had other ideas.

“In the last laps I started to be faster and faster, because I feel better with used tyres, but then came Turn 5 and the crash,” he said. “For me it was a mistake from Pecco, but not just the incident. He tried to come back, okay it was too optimistic, but contact can happen, but it was a mistake because we were fighting for fifth and sixth, two points more or two points less. He was suffering a lot with his rear tyre, so when there are a few laps left and you know that you will lose the position it’s not necessary to come back in that aggressive mode.”

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Márquez remounted to finish 16th. Bagnaia was unable to restart. The pair’s collision was important. They both knew they’d come face to face at some point and they both knew they mustn’t back down when that time came. And that’s exactly what happened – neither gave in. Their next clash should be box office.

And then the final drama. Jorge Martin had led from the start, chased all the way by Maverick Viñales, who never got close enough to attack and then came under pressure from Bagnaia’s team-mate Enea Bastianini.

As they raced past the pits for the penultimate time Viñales suddenly slowed, waving a leg to warn riders behind him. Then at Turn 1 his Aprilia flung him off, when he finally found second gear.

Only Viñales knew that he’d had gearbox problems since the early stages. Every lap he struggled to shift from fifth to sixth, costing him top speed and lap time. His bike was almost 5mph slower than the fastest RS-GP in the race, due to this problem. So, might he have had the pace to beat Martin without that glitch? Quite possibly.

Viñales’s gearbox finally went bang at the end of that penultimate lap.

Maverick Vinales in King Kong mask at 2024 MotoGP Portuguese GP

Vinales and his Aprilia were King Kong in Saturday’s sprint – and they might have won again on Sunday if his RS-GP’s gearbox hadn’t gone AWOL


“I heard a very strange sound from his bike,” said pole-starter Bastianini, who only just missed the stricken Aprilia as he rode past and into second place.

The first two riders home were delighted to lay their Portimao demons to rest: Bastianini’s 2023 season was ruined by another Ducati-on-Ducati clash at Turn 5, while winner Martin suffered serious injuries in a huge 2021 crash at the track, which had him considering retirement.

Martin’s first GP victory since Thailand last year announces him as a 100% title contender this year — he’s now in his fourth season in MotoGP, so he’s faster, calmer and more mature.

In Saturday’s sprint he took third, behind winner Viñales and Marc Márquez, despite struggling with chatter because he used the softer rear for the shorter race.

“To win here – where I almost lost everything – now I’m here in first place”

On Sunday, using the less grippy and longer-lasting medium rear he had no such problems. Martin took the lead into the first corner and that was that, so he left Portugal with an 18-point championship advantage over Binder, with Bastianini and Bagnaia a few points further back

“This consistency we are demonstrating is the most important thing today,” he said. “The key was the start – I was really committed to take the lead in the first corner and I tried a lot to close the door at Turn 3 – this was my key to win.

“At the beginning I took that three-tenths lead to maintain the lead and as soon as I started pushing I saw they weren’t able to close the gap. As soon as they closed a bit, I pushed again, so I think it was a really mature win.

“I’m really happy and proud of the team because we are doing great work with the new Ducati, which is working better on Sundays than Saturdays [because softer, grippier tyres cause the most chatter]. And to win here – where I almost lost everything, almost stopped racing – and now I’m here in first place. I’m so grateful to this track because I learned a lot from it.”

MotoGP now has a three-week wait until the Grand Prix of Americas at COTA, following the cancellation of the Argentine GP. COTA is an anti-clockwise circuit, so Márquez has won there seven times, because he prefers going left. Data shows he’s already the fastest Ducati riders in left-handers, but last year’s winner Álex Rins is also a super-specialist there.