Epic Jerez MotoGP duel makes Bagnaia the best he’s ever been


Marc Márquez had his best MotoGP weekend ever with Ducati – pole position and an enthralling by-any-means-necessary duel with winner Bagnaia

Pecco Bagnaia leads Marc Marquez in 2024 Spanish GP

Marquez going for the kill – but Bagnaia didn’t roll over


Somewhere deep in a bunker in deepest Colorado, USA, a gang of high-fallutin’ billionaire executives sit in Liberty Media’s underground lair, nervously acknowledging the capo di tutti capi, who sits there, gently stroking his cat, like Ernst Blofeld.

A giant TV screen slowly unwinds from the varnished-wood ceiling.

“So this, my friends, is our latest acquisition…” says Liberty president Greg Maffei.

What appears on the screen looks like something out of a war movie: men and machines scattering in all directions.

“WTF is this?!” screams one executive.

“Don’t worry, it’s a sport we just bought,” says Maffei.

“Relax, it’s only a couple of riders who’ve just collided at 100 miles an hour”

“A sport?!” continues the nervous executive, speed-dialling the company lawyer. “I thought Formula 1 was a sport – this is more like the D-Day landings.

“Well,” says Maffei. “As you should know, an English writer guy called George Orwell once wrote, ‘Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting’. So here we are.”

At this moment the cameras zoom into a cloud of exploding gravel and two disintegrating motorcycles. Out of the dust stagger two armoured figures who charge at each other, buzzing on adrenaline, grievous bodily harm in their hearts.

“What the hell is going on?!” exclaims the nervy exec, by now sweating heavily and reaching for a glass of Scotch.

“Relax, it’s only a couple of riders who’ve just collided at 100 miles an hour – they’re just having a minor disagreement, that’s all,” explains Maffei.

“Are we sure this is legal?!” says old nervy.

“Well, we hope so because we just paid four billion bucks for it,” says Maffei.

“Four billion?! How much did we pay for Formula 1?!”

“Eight billion,” shrugs Maffei.

Pecco Bagania on MotoGP podium with Marc Marquez and Marco Bezzecchi at 2024 Spanish GP

Márquez and Bagnaia sent the 144,000 Jerez fans wild. Bezzecchi scored his first podium of 2024


“That doesn’t make sense!” The sweating exec takes a swig of Scotch and relaxes back into his Bauhaus armchair. “Okay, Greg. You know what this reminds me of? That movie Rollerball. It’s awesome. I thought stuff like this only happens in Hollywood. So, how fast do these ’cycles go?”

“About two hundred and twenty-five.”

“That’s in those weird European kilometres per hour, right?”

“No, that’s miles an hour.”

“Jesus! That’s insane!

Jorge Martin leads in the 2024 MotoGP Spanish GP

Martin grabbed the lead after a Bagnaia mistake – his own mistake would be more serious


“And they’ve even got dancers on the podium. We paid eight billion for F1 and we didn’t get dancers on the podium for that – why not?!”

“No, the dancing guy was Marc Márquez – he was happy because he just finished second. He’s Spanish and he’s dancing for the Spanish fans – a hundred and forty thousand of them.”

“Is he high or what? And what’s that stuff all over the right arm of his riding suit.”

“That’s rubber from the winner’s front tyre. They rode into each other at eighty or so and didn’t crash. But you shoulda seen the guy who beat Márquez, the Italian guy on the red bike who’s the reigning champ, Pecco Bagnaia. In the race before this one he got squashed between two other riders and was pinged into the air like he’d hit the ejector seat button. This time he stayed on and won the race.”

“Are we really sure this is legal? Bagnaia and Márquez must’ve been mad at each other after they ran into each other?”

“No, they had the time of their lives!”

“Well, you know what, why don’t we just sell F1 and keep MotoGP? We can make this into the biggest sport on this planet – it’s so wild!”

Liberty Media bought MotoGP a couple of weeks before the previous round at COTA, USA. Since then the GP racing has been epic. Coincidence? Of course, but if the racing stays like this, MotoGP is back to the good old days of a few years back.

What happened at Jerez on Sunday was an all-time epic fight between two greats prepared to win by any means necessary. It was like MotoGP a few years ago – the pair biting chunks out of each other, racing for gold, glory and ego.

And you know why? Because Márquez is back in the battle. The Spaniard who won six out of seven MotoGP crowns between 2013 and 2019 is like a bomb. Drop him in the lead pack and everything changes. He won’t back down. And so his rivals won’t back down. By doing that he can transform them into heroes.

Marc Marquez dances in front of fans on the podium at 2024 MotoGP Spanish GP

Márquez knows he’s back and still getting faster on the Ducati – hence dancing to the DJ on the podium


Bagnaia rode like never before on Sunday. He used all his usual weapons of intelligence, precision and blinding speed – and this time added bare-knuckle brawling to his armoury.

His first lap was out of this world, a work of art, a miracle. From the third row of the grid to fourth at the first corner, then out-braking Marco Bezzecchi and Jorge Martin around the outside into the Turn 6 hairpin to take second, then out-braking Márquez into the final corner to lead the race. To use your front tyre like that on the first lap is brave and risky in the extreme.

These days, MotoGP’s top riders don’t only battle for first place because that’s the place to be, they want to be cooling their front tyres with fresh air.

The fastest guys all set their tyre pressures to lead the race, which means they run higher pressures than the riders who are likely to be deep in the pack, surrounded by boiling-hot motorcycles, which raise the temperature and pressure of their tyres.

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So Bagnaia was immediately where he wanted to be, but on lap two he made a mistake and ran wide. Martin didn’t need a written invitation. He swept into the lead and started grinding out metronomic laps.

The race settled into a bit of a procession up front: Martin ahead, Bagnaia right behind him, never giving his Spanish rival a moment to relax, but unable to mount an attack, because his front tyre was starting to fry.

Then, just before half-distance, Martin lost it on the brakes at Turn 6 – the championship leader’s first big mistake of the year.

Bagnaia didn’t only retake the lead, he was also back in the cooler air, so his front tyre cooled down, his grip improved and his lap times dropped.

“As soon as Jorge crashed, I felt better,” he said.

Ducati pitcrew of Pecco Bagnaia celebrate winning the 2024 MotoGP Spanish GP

Bagnaia’s first win since Qatar came after a tricky period – for once, Ducati didn’t have any chatter problems


Meanwhile Márquez had his hands full with arch-enemy (he has a few) Bezzecchi, who for the first time this year looked back to his 2023 best. Bez had skidded past Márquez into Turn 13 a few laps earlier and Márquez was soon having the same problems that had haunted Bagnaia – his front tyre getting cooked, going over pressure and reducing grip.

On lap 14 of 25 Bezzecchi had his rear tyre spinning and the bike pumping as he exited Turn 5 and plunged down the hill to the hairpin. That loss of drive was Márquez’s chance. He just about got alongside Bezzecchi on the straight and block-passed him at Turn 6.

The Jerez crowd – 140,000 of them – erupted like Spain had scored the winning goal in the World Cup final.

They were side by side going into 10, then crunch!

Now Márquez was free and his front tyre cooler, so he was on a mission – ten laps to catch Bagnaia who was a full second in front. In two laps he almost halved the gap, then Bagnaia got the message and fought back. Over the next few laps the gap stayed steady at six-tenths. Then Márquez found another tenth and with five laps to go he was zeroing in for the kill.

The crowd knew what was coming, their roar drowning out the roar of the leading two bikes, especially in Jerez’s famous stadium section, which overlooks Turns 9 and 10, before the high-speed rush towards the Turn 13 hairpin.

And this was where Márquez planned his move. Not to please the vast wall of fans on the hills overlooking 9 and 10, but because the two right-handers are preceded by the high-speed Turn 7 and 8 left-handers. No one in the world is faster through left-handers than Márquez (he has been Ducati’s fastest rider through lefts since pre-season testing), so he used his superior speed exiting 8 to slingshot past Bagnaia into Turn 9.

The crowd went ballistic. But their delight was short-lived. Márquez ran slightly wide, Bagnaia cut back inside. Then they were side by side going into 10, then crunch!

Marc Marquez follows Pecco Bagnaia in 2024 MotoGP Spanish GP

Márquez closed the gap and twice passed Bagnaia but he never kept the lead for more than a second or two


Bagnaia knows how Márquez races so he has no alternative but to fight fire with fire. The pair thumped into each other, Márquez picking up to avoid a repeat of their Portimao disaster, while Bagnaia got the better drive and was back in front.

This was like Mick Doohan and Alex Crivillé at Jerez in 1996. Without the mid-race track invasion.

Next time around the same thing – Márquez swept through 7 and 8, took the lead at 9 and Bagnaia retook it on the cutback.

Lap 23 was Bagnaia’s masterpiece. From somewhere deep down inside he found another two-tenths of a second. His tyres were shot to pieces but that didn’t stop him breaking his own lap record by almost two-tenths.

Two laps to go and he had four-tenths on Márquez. Surely he had broken him now?

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Nope. Márquez was all in, like always. He was on the ragged edge, nearly losing the front at 8 on the penultimate lap. Surely now he would accept second for his first GP podium with Ducati?

Nope. As they started the final lap he was half a second behind, but he was still going for the win: win it or bin it, his GP23 shaking ominously as he rattled through the scary-fast Turns 11 and 12. At the finish line the gap was just under four-tenths.

Bagnaia looked happier than ever, because he had passed the greatest test of his career – defeating the greatest rider of his generation in a straight one-on-one duel.

“The fight with Marc was intense,” he grinned. “You know perfectly when you fight with Marc you must put your elbows out. It was a nice battle.

“Sixty percent of my race was the start and the first lap. After that it was very important to not force too much on the brakes because the feeling with the front wasn’t ideal – it was moving a lot. I’m very happy because we managed the race perfectly, without taking too many risks and keeping a bit of margin for the last laps. When I saw Martin crash I was braking very hard and this lap he was making a bit of time on me in braking.”

Packed hill of MotoGP fans at Jerez in 2024

Jerez broke last year’s Le Mans crowd record – 296,000 flocked to the Andalusian venue over the weekend


Márquez also looked happier than ever, disco-dancing on the podium, because finally he had emerged from the deep, dark tunnel into which he had fallen at Jerez four years earlier.

At the opening race of 2020 he went directly from the greatest premier-class season of all time (19 GPs in 2019, first in 12, second in six and one DNF, when he crashed out of the lead due to a tech glitch) into years of pain, injury, operations and staring at hospital ceilings. His career looked done, more than once.

Second place behind Bagnaia told him he is fully back, with more to come as he finds the way forward with his Ducati GP23.

“I am smooth, the lap times are coming – this brings me confidence and more confidence,” said Márquez. “Still I’m not having crashes from overriding, so I still have some margin to understand where’s the limit.”

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Jerez was also Ducati’s first one-two-three of 2024, from a factory that became entirely used to monopolising the podium last year.

Why? Because the chatter and vibrations that had plagued the GP24 and GP23 at various stages of the first three rounds – in Qatar, Portugal and the USA – had disappeared.

Perhaps Ducati has fixed the problem, but it seems more likely that the Jerez surface, which is less grippy than the previous three tracks, made the difference. Usually, the more grip you have the more likely you are to have chatter, a resonance that works its way through the motorcycle and can have the tyres jumping off the ground by up to six millimetres through the corners, which isn’t good for grip!

Chatter is such a nebulous problem that engineers never agree on its causes or fixes. The only thing they’ll agree is that it’s a mystery, which can bite you when least expected and disappear when least expected.

Ducati engineers were delighted they didn’t have the problem at Jerez but they know that the next track, Le Mans, is one of the grippiest of the year…

Marc Marquez climbs the fence between him and fans at 2024 MotoGP Spanish GP

Márquez has never looked so happy after failing to win a race

Red Bull

At Jerez the disease left the Ducati garages and moved down pit lane, infecting KTM’s RC16. Brad Binder, Jack Miller and Pedro Acosta all complained of chatter after Sunday’s race.

Binder, who fought Bagnaia for victory at Jerez last year, finished seventh, behind six Ducatis: Bagnaia, Marc Márquez, Bezzecchi, Alex Márquez and Enea Bastianini. Acosta finished tenth, coming through from 18th on lap one, following his first big mistake of the year – a purling, high-speed crash in the chilly morning warm-up session. Miller got taken out by Franky Morbidelli.

“Lots of vibration,” said Miller later. “It seems to be with this new rear tyre, we’re suffering a bit more twitching. I can’t really create a nice slide – it’s either pumping, hooked up or nothing. The vibration was on entry, where I wanted to let the bike roll. It’d start vibrating from the rear, like a lateral slide, and you’d have to wait for the vibration to settle before you could start wind it on coming out.

When someone like Márquez is thrown into the fray everyone finds new skills

“We need to rethink the way we ride. It’s a fantastic tyre when it’s performing and it’s really changed the style of MotoGP in the last four GPs – instead of vee-ing off corners, we’re more running Moto2 lines, running out to the kerb on the exit.”

And what about Bezzecchi? Last year’s surprise hero – three GP wins before he got hurt later in the season – never even made the top five at the first three rounds of 2024. Like Bastianini last year, he struggled to adapt to the GP23’s negative-torque character, so he couldn’t use his winning skill: braking deep into the apex, balancing the rear brake and engine-braking to scrub off speed at the last moment and turn the bike at the same time. A bit like a handbrake turn in a car.

“This track has less grip, so this helps me to have the rear looser and be able to turn the bike with the rear,” he explained. “At the last races I was quite strong but was always missing the part where you make the bike turn. With lower grip it feels better. Also, I have tried to make a step with my riding – adapting more and more to the bike without touching the settings and this helps.”

Brad Binder in the MotoGP midfield pack during the 2024 Spanish GP

Ducati’s chatter/vibration disease was caught by KTM at Jerez – Brad Binder finished seventh behind six Desmosedicis

Red Bull

What about Aprilia? Maverick Viñales went from his double COTA win to ninth on Sunday. He and team-mate Aleix Espargaró chose the wrong tyres in the damp qualifying session and paid the price – both ended up on the fourth row of the grid, with no performance advantage to turn that around in the race.

Two great GP races in a row. Wow! For a moment we have forgotten all the talk about downforce aero, ride-height devices and tyre pressures. Because the best riders in the world can adapt and when someone like Márquez is thrown into the fray everyone pushes harder and discovers new skills and new ways to ride around new problems.

And yet… what about Saturday’s sprint? Fifteen crashes in fifteen minutes thanks to rainwater seeping up through asphalt and catching some riders unawares.

Even worse, five riders were given eight-second penalties for under-pressure front tyres. (The punishment is now eight seconds in sprints, 16 in GPs and no warnings.)

Why were so many riders under pressure? Several of them crashed, so their bike were in the gravel for a while, then the riders rejoined the race, slowly getting up to speed. That’s why they were under.

The saddest victim of all was Fabio Quartararo, struggling like hell on Yamaha’s YZR-M1. He qualified 23rd, so his engineers inevitably set his front pressure quite low, because it was obvious he would be in a big, hot pack, so his front tyre would get hot. And if they hadn’t started with a low pressure, the tyre’s pressure would’ve gone sky-high in the group and he would’ve lost grip.

But Quartararo rode an astonishing first lap, overtaking no less than eleven riders! Unable to keep up with the V4s in front of him he found himself in cool, clean air for much of the rest of the race. That’s why his front tyre was slightly under pressure.

How mad is that?! Quartararo rides like a genius in the first laps, spends the rest of the race heroically fending off KTM’s Dani Pedrosa and gets punished for it. What he should’ve done, of course, is slowed down to let Pedrosa past and warm his front tyre, then attack again. But of course his tyre might’ve got too hot, preventing him from attacking the KTM wild card.

This isn’t racing and it isn’t right.

Of course, due to the damp patches the sprint wasn’t as fast as the GP, so most riders weren’t pushing their front tyres as hard as usual. Trackhouse Aprilia’s Miguel Oliviera made a good point – he suggested that the tyre pressure rule should not have applied in the sprint due to the conditions.