Perfecco Bagnaia: 'Unfortunately for him, or for the people, he’s not a crazy guy, he’s a normal guy'


Ducati’s wolf in sheep’s clothing on his way to the MotoGP pantheon, the Italian manufacturer becomes the first to monopolise five consecutive GP podiums and Marc Márquez dogged by controversy once again

Pecco Bagnaia Ducati

Bagnaia is “a normal guy” according to Ducati team manager Davide Tardozzi. But not that normal…


Only nine riders have won a hat-trick of premier-class crowns in three quarters of a century of world championship racing: Marc Márquez, Valentino Rossi, Mick Doohan, Wayne Rainey, Kenny Roberts, Giacomo Agostini, Mike Hailwood, John Surtees and Geoff Duke. Now Pecco Bagnaia is on his way to entering that pantheon of pantheons and making it a nice, round ten.

The factory Ducati rider isn’t leading the championship — he’s still chasing down fellow GP24 rider Jorge Martin — but his current progress seems remorseless. At Assen he won his third-successive GP race and his second-consecutive sprint, making him the first rider to win both races at back-to-back GPs.

Second-placed Martin told us Bagnaia was “on another planet” around Assen and he wasn’t wrong. The Italian topped every session – he had never topped FP1 before! – won both races and set new lap and race records.

Friday morning was bad news for his rivals, because in the past it’s always taken Bagnaia a while to get up to speed. His trademark over the last two seasons was fiddling about with settings on Friday, finding confidence on Saturday, then working to win the race on Sunday.

At Assen a Bagnaia victory seemed certain from Friday morning, at least to his rivals.

“Last season I was more competitive — I felt I was able to win,” said Martin, who gave vain chase in both the sprint and the main race. “This time I didn’t think I was able to win at any moment of the weekend.”

Martin is a better rider this year — faster and more experienced — so it was reasonable to expect him to give Bagnaia a harder time. And he has done on occasion, but the more pressure you heap on the reigning world champion’s shoulders the better he seems to become. When the going gets tough, the tough get going…

Bagnaia adores Assen. He won his first GP there — the 2016 Moto3 race — and has a tattoo of the layout on his right arm, where many have the names of their lovers. The snaking, sinuous circuit suits him, because he is all about precision.

Dutch Motogp podium

History is made: Ducati becomes the first manufacture to monopolise five consecutive grand prix podiums

Assen isn’t like normal tracks; it’s like a mega-fast slalom, with each corner leading into the next, mostly in four or fifth gear. Drift a few inches off-line in one corner and you’ve messed up the next few, at best. At worst you’re cartwheeling through the gravel at over 100mph.

Assen certainly doesn’t take prisoners. Aleix Espargaró, Raul Fernandez, Pedro Acosta and Marco Bezzecchi all suffered vicious 100mph-plus crashes over the weekend, while Aprilia wildcard Lorenzo Savadori fell at a slightly slower speed, suffering injuries that will leave him on the sidelines for a month.

Related article

Mick Doohan and MotoGP’s greatest comeback

Mick Doohan and MotoGP’s greatest comeback

This is the harrowing tale of how Mick Doohan fought back from what should have been a career-ending injury to rule the toughest class in bike racing. The Australian’s recovery…

By Mat Oxley

Fernandez even questioned the track’s safety, simply because of the high speeds, which have been increased by improvements in downforce aero and tyres. This year’s Dutch GP was thirty seconds faster than last year’s – an improvement of 1.3sec per lap.

This is the reality of motorcycle racing – the scary tracks also give riders the biggest buzz, which is why Bagnaia loves Assen so much.

“I love the smoothness of these fast corners,” he explained. “I love to enter very fast, lean and control the gas to exit well. That’s always fantastic for me.”

Sunday’s victory was his third consecutive Assen GP success. Once again that puts his name in headlines, alongside the greats. The last rider to achieve an Assen hat-trick was 1990s legend Doohan, who nearly ended his career there in 1992.

Doohan crashed badly in practice, broke a leg and local surgeons were close to amputating the limb after botching an operation to fix the damage. After his comeback the teak-tough Aussie was more determined to win at Assen than anywhere else, because he wanted to show the surgeons that despite the mess they’d created – wilfully in his opinion – they hadn’t broken him.

Ducati Mogogp dutch

Bagnaia led every lap of both races, just as he’d done at Mugello. The championship will be his if he can keep this up

Doohan’s name is still spoken in awe and the same goes for many other hat-trick champions, so why doesn’t Bagnaia seem to get the same kind of respect?

It’s a character thing mostly, both on and off the bike. The 27-year-old Italian is a mostly meek and mild young man, who rides so smoothly that he barely looks like he’s trying. A bit like Steady Eddie Lawson.

There are no lurid slides and headshakes when he’s on the bike and no big talk or swagger when he’s off the bike. He is nothing like his mentor Valentino Rossi, so he’s a rider for the cognoscenti, not for everyday fans, who want a bit more braggadocio and rockstar in their heroes.

His team manager Davide Tardozzi sees that.

“Mental attitude is Pecco’s strength – he’s incredible in mental attitude,” says Tardozzi, who got his first Ducati team manager job in the 1990s. “Unfortunately for him, or for the people, he’s not a crazy guy, he’s a normal guy.

“He’s really educated because he comes from a fantastic family and he’s a clever guy. I think he has shown what true champions show – when you are in trouble your mental attitude can save you from that trouble.”

Bagnaia won his first MotoGP title in 2022 after coming back from 91 points down on Fabio Quartararo. No one had bridged such a gap before. And last year the championship once again looked in doubt when he crashed and got run over at the Catalan GP, then the next Sunday he finished on the podium at Misano.

“Trust me,” adds Tardozzi. “The Barcelona accident was much worse than people think. His body was black [bruised] for two weeks. People think that because he got third at Misano he had no real injury, but that wasn’t true.”

Martin Assen 2024

Martin was 29 seconds faster than he’d been at Assen 2023, but it wasn’t enough


Bagnaia may have won the opening GP of 2024 but his season didn’t really start until round four at Jerez. Ducati had struggled with chatter at the first three rounds, then between COTA and Jerez, engineers crunched the numbers and fixed the problem. Since then Ducati has monopolised every GP podium, an historical achievement.

“I always struggled to reach the limit because I wasn’t able to feel well with the bike,” he added. “What we did in Jerez was a big change — from that moment we started to be competitive from Friday. Last year we started from behind every time with big things to do to the bike.”

Related article

At Assen I asked Bagnaia if the problem they fixed at Jerez was chatter but he wouldn’t mention the C word.

“I can’t say, I really can’t say,” he replied. “We worked on the settings and we understood something that had made us lose some races.”

Perhaps his devastating Assen weekend was his answer to the post-Mugello news that Márquez will be joining him in the factory team in 2025?

“No, honestly not and I’m not just saying it,” he said. “Our work since Jerez is giving us a really great feeling in every session and every race. We are building, building, building the feeling. And after Mugello I worked a lot at home on the physical side and also with the bike [his Ducati Panigale V4 training bike] at Misano and at Silverstone. This made me start this weekend in really great shape, this made the difference.”

And what about the Márquez signing hullabaloo hogging the headlines?

“I don’t care,” he grinned. “It’s better sometimes if people aren’t talking about you. I was enjoying it all at home!”

Headlines and controversy rarely leave Márquez alone for long. The six-time MotoGP king was running third in Sunday’s race when his dash told him he was heading for a penalty for low tyre pressure, so he asked fourth-placed Fabio Di Giannantonio to come past to warm his front tyre and increase its pressure.

Marc Márquez Assen 2024

Márquez’s heat haze warms Di Giannantonio’s front slick to give him more grip, but it was Márquez who suffered major tyre woes


This is the reality of modern MotoGP. Not only are you trying to stay on top of a 300-horsepower, 220mph motorcycle, riding kerb to kerb around MotoGP’s narrowest track and going elbow to elbow with your rivals, you also need keep one eye on the dash.

The heat from Di Giannantonio’s GP23 raised Márquez’s pressure by 0.1 bar, enough for his dash to give him the okay. But five laps from the finish he had Bagnaia’s team-mate Enea Bastianini barge past, which had him off track. Once again his front tyre dropped under pressure. After the race he was handed a 16-second penalty for being 0.01 bar under for one lap.

Márquez and his team argued their case with the stewards — data clearly showed his tyre had cooled when he ran off track — but there was no mercy. The sanction dropped him from fourth to tenth, completing his worst weekend of the year so far, after he crashed out of the sprint. He will be hoping for much, much better at his happiest hunting ground – Sachsenring – this coming weekend.

Fourth-placed Di Giannantonio also had front-tyre issues. When the VR46 rider was fighting for third with Márquez and Maverick Viñales in the closing stages he too wanted to follow other riders, not because he was under pressure but because he was struggling to get enough heat into his hard compound front tyre, so he nearly crashed several times. Everyone in the top ten chose the hard, except Martin.

Last season Aprilia and KTM were so close to Ducati, but this year Ducati is stronger than ever this year. The GP24 is significantly better than the GP23 and, since the chatter fix, can generate maximum traction from Michelin’s super-grippy, super-long-lasting 2024 compounds. There are four GP24s on the grid and these four bikes have taken 11 of the 15 podium positions in the last five GPs. The other four were filled by GP23s.

Binder 2024 Assen

Binder had a mostly lonely ride to seventh, his best finish since Jerez. Times are hard at KTM


So where — apart from Ducati’s usual horsepower advantage — are Aprilia and KTM falling behind?

“The Ducatis can turn really tight,” said Viñales. “They can close the corner and pick up the bike, while I have to take the long way around. And they change direction so quick. We need to keep working, keep trying to make the next step but it seems very complicated.”

In other words, the Ducati has gone from MotoGP’s worst turning bike to its best.

KTM was never in the hunt at Assen. Rookie KTM star Acosta was running seventh on Sunday, 12 seconds behind Bagnaia, until he fell heavily on the last lap, promoting fellow RC16 rider Brad Binder to seventh, the South African’s best result since Jerez in April.

“We’re not exploiting the tyres 100%,” said Binder. “It’s clear we need to make a step.”

And what of Honda and Yamaha? Once again, they weren’t in the same race.