Qatar MotoGP insight: bad tyres and bad behaviour in the desert


An epic 2023 championship duel was most likely decided on Sunday night when title contender Jorge Martin got a bad rear tyre. Plus: MotoGP should think about why riders are losing their tempers…

Start of the 2023 MotoGP Qatar GP

The sprint start: Martin gets away well and is on his way to a sixth win from the last seven sprints. Bagnaia had a bad rear tyre, but this was a better time to get one than on Sunday night


If you are seeking motorcycle-racing wisdom there are many worse people to talk to than twice MotoGP race-winner Danilo Petrucci.

“The tyres are the only part of the motorcycle where it’s difficult to calculate anything, because the tyres aren’t a mechanical part, they’re a chemical part,” says Petrucci.

And there you have it.

That’s why the 2023 MotoGP world championship was most likely decided in Qatar yesterday, even though the coup de grace still awaits at Valencia this coming weekend.

“I’m really disappointed the championship is being decided by a bad tyre”

Some people say that tyres are like cakes — they’re baked, not machined or forged — so dud tyres have always been a thing in racing, even three quarters of a century ago.

The 1950 MotoGP championship (500cc, if you prefer) was decided by dud tyres when factory Norton rider Geoff Duke had two Dunlops go awry, handing the title to Gilera’s Umberto Masetti, who ran Pirellis.

It’s just a crushing disappointment that both 2023 title contenders got bad tyres at the penultimate round, at the very moment the championship was bubbling towards boiling point.

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Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin could’ve got duds in any practice session, but no, the gods did not shine on MotoGP last weekend, so Bagnaia got a dud in Saturday’s sprint, while Martin struggled with both front and rear tyres in Sunday’s grand prix.

I was so looking forward to a final showdown in Valencia, with a few points between the pair: lights out, let the best man win.

I can’t remember having been so excited about a championship finale since that unforgettable day in October 2006 when Valentino Rossi went head-to-head with Nicky Hayden at Valencia.

Instead we go there pretty much sure of what’s going to happen, unless the weirdness continues. Even if Martin wins both races Bagnaia will retain the title with fifth places in both races.

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And yet… Valencia 2006 proved that nothing is certain in the top class of motorcycle racing, because everyone is riding on the edge of the precipice and it only takes the tiniest misstep to tip over the edge.

Rossi led Hayden by eight points going into their showdown and probably the only people on Earth who thought Hayden might win the title were the man himself, his family and his crew. But Rossi crashed, possibly due to a bad front tyre, and Hayden was champion.

In fact Bagnaia came within inches of his own disaster and losing 20 points on Sunday night, when he counter-attacked first-time winner Fabio Di Giannantonio with three laps to go. As they headed towards Turn 1, Bagnaia got sucked into the huge semi-vacuum created by the Gresini Ducati’s downforce-aero, losing him a critical amount of stopping power.

“I got scared, because at one moment I said, ‘OK, I’m going to hit him and it’ll be a disaster’, but finally I managed to make the bike slide, which helped me push more on the brakes,” explained Bagnaia. “The last three laps I was completely scared and very slow!”

And of course next weekend there’s the extra jeopardy of Bagnaia – or Martin – breaking the tyre-pressure rule and copping a three-second penalty, which could have a high cost at Valencia, where last year the top four were covered by 1.9 seconds.

No doubt, whichever rider wins this year’s crown, the championship’s historic 75th, will deserve it. So far Bagnaia has won six GP races to Martin’s four, while the more explosive Martin has won eight sprints to Bagnaia’s four.

Their duel has been fascinating, because they’re such different people, riding the same bikes, which has amplified the differences in their characters and riding techniques.

The former was in full effect in Qatar.

Pecco Bagnaia follows Fabio Di Giannantonio in 2023 MotoGP Qatar GP

Four laps to go and Di Giannantonio has taken the lead from Bagnaia, who’s about to have his biggest scare of the year


Bagnaia was all serenity, like he has Valium running through his veins. After the sprint he told us he’d had a dud tyre without telling us he’d had a dud tyre.

“As soon as I opened the throttle I was sliding a lot, spinning a lot – it was different to the rest of the weekend,” he said. “It can happen, we were unlucky it happened in a race.”

Martin was much less diplomatic after the grand prix. And understandably, because while Bagnaia lost a potential extra seven points in the sprint, Martin lost a potential extra 17 in the GP.

“You saw at the start I had a big spin, so you can understand what happened – the rear tyre wasn’t working OK,” said the former Moto3 world champion, who got so sideways when he dumped the clutch that he nearly lost control. “I’m really disappointed the championship is being decided by a bad tyre. I struggled a lot: I couldn’t stop the bike, I couldn’t turn, I couldn’t open the throttle, it was like riding in wet conditions.”

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And Martin didn’t only have rear-tyre problems. He struggled with his front as well. How could this be?

Possibly because his engineers assumed he would be at the front of the pack, in cooler air, so they set his front tyre pressure higher to avoid going under pressure and getting a penalty. Instead, his sideways getaway left him deep in the pack, surrounded by other bikes, which roasted his front tyre, raising its temperature and pressure until its profile changed, reducing its footprint and therefore grip.

Once again, this is why MotoGP’s tyre-pressure rule is so grim – it puts everything in the lap of the gods.

There were no such concerns for Di Giannantonio, who no one would’ve marked down as a potential MotoGP winner last year. During his rookie premier-class season he scored just one top-ten result – eighth in Germany – and mostly failed to get into the points.

Jorge Martin bites medal after winning 2023 MotoGP Qatar GP sprint race

Martin’s storming sprint victory put him just seven points behind Bagnaia – but 24 hours later his joy turned to anger


What a different a year makes – and a change of crew chief. At the end of last year Di Giannantonio shed tears after his first test session with former Suzuki staffer Frankie Carchedie, because he could finally see a way forward.

During this season the former Moto2 race winner has steadily built speed until he’s now a regular front-runner. In Japan he scored his first second-row start, in Indonesia he finished one place off the podium and in Australia he finally scored his first top-three, so his Qatar victory was no fluke.

“Once Frankie joined our team we started to work really, really close together, so race by race we built this performance,” said the 25-year-old Italian. “Today we planned every single lap and everything went to plan. It’s an amazing moment and I’m super-grateful.”

“I was screaming inside my helmet, missing all the corners and doing stupid things!”

Bagnaia’s huge Turn 1 scare gave Di Giannantonio a 3.6-second lead at the start of the last lap, so the youngster knew the race was won, which was nearly his undoing.

“My last lap was a completely shit lap!” laughed Di Giannantonio. “I saw I had a big gap, so I was screaming inside my helmet, missing all the corners and doing stupid things. It was an explosion of emotion. Then I crossed the line and I was screaming and crying. I would pay all my money to relive this moment forever!”

Di Giannantonio was the eighth different winner of 2023 and yet he’s still unemployed for 2024. His only hope is that Valentino Rossi’s VR46 team takes him to fill the space left by Luca Marini, who scored his second MotoGP podium on Sunday and looks certain to sign with Repsol Honda. But VR46 is very interested in Moto2 firebrand Fermin Aldeguer, who completed a hat-trick of Moto2 victories in Qatar.

Marc Marquez behind Jorge Martin in 2023 MotoGP Qatar GP

Martin went backwards with his dud rear tyre – tenth was his worst GP finish since Austria last year, when he crashed and remounted.


Di Giannantonio wasn’t the only one who let his emotions boil over in the desert. The previous day Aleix Espargaró was involved in an ugly incident with Franco Morbidelli. The pair clashed during FP2, when Espargaró saw red and whacked Morbidelli’s helmet.

You couldn’t imagine two more different characters in MotoGP: Morbidelli is so laid back he’s almost Buddhist, while Espargaró is always on the rev-limiter – whether he’s full of joy or anger – and this time he definitely put a rod through the ’cases. Although what he did wasn’t dangerous, it was just dumb.

The Spaniard was given a six-place grid penalty and a €10,000 (£8760) fine for unsportsmanlike behaviour. Fair enough.

And yet 45 minutes later there was another ugly incident between two riders. Iker Lecuona was cruising on the racing line in the final moments of Q1, when Enea Bastianini arrived at full speed, on a lap that would probably have promoted him to Q2, which would’ve transformed the Sepang winner’s weekend and given him a chance of another victory.

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Bastianini nearly rammed Lecuona. And the speed differential was such that it would’ve been a huge accident. Lecuona was given a three-place grid penalty, a much lesser penalty than Espargaró’s.

What’s more important in motorcycle racing: safety or sportsmanship? Surely that’s not even a question that needs asking.

MotoGP is desperate to give itself a squeaky-clean image. But is that what it really needs?

MotoGP isn’t Formula 1, it isn’t tennis, it isn’t golf and it certainly isn’t cricket. It’s rock and roll, it’s heavyweight boxing, it’s gladiatorial combat. Or as someone put it on social media over the weekend, “Mad mofos, them MotoGP peeps”.

Motorcycle racing is a mean, nasty, vicious, deadly sport and we really shouldn’t expect its heavyweight boxers to behave like ballerinas.

Aleix Espargaro on grid at 2023 MotoGP Qatar GP

Aleix Espargaró was a very naughty boy in Qatar and was punished accordingly


There’s been plenty of boxing over the years in GP racing: Alan Carter throwing a punch at a marshal after crashing in the 1986 British 250cc GP, Hans Spaan whacking Fausto Gresini during the 1990 Australian GP and Casey Stoner bopping Randy de Puniet during practice for the 2011 French GP.

There have even been times I’ve wanted a rider to punch another rider. Never more so than during 2004 Czech MotoGP practice, when Max Biaggi put one of his infamous carve-up moves on Neil Hodgson. After the session the Brit stormed into the Italian’s garage and I have to admit that I was shouting at the TV: “Go on, thump him – he’s always doing this shit!” Sadly, Hodgson didn’t oblige.

I’m not making excuses for Espargaró, I’m merely explaining why these things can happen.

These guys are out of their minds on adrenaline. I’ve been there myself — when the red mist enters your brain anything can happen. I did some bad things to other riders and to marshals in my racing career because your brain is in fight-to-the-death mode.

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Like Marco Simoncelli said, “During the race you want to kill the other riders”. He wasn’t joking – that is literally what it’s like for many riders.

And today’s MotoGP riders are under more pressure than ever before. There are more rounds, including the last six over seven weekends across four continents, and now twice as many races.

The bikes are faster than ever and more complicated than ever and the racing is closer than ever, so the riders have to take more risks than ever. This is why more riders are getting injured than ever.

So far this season the number of riders missing GP races through injury has almost TRIPLED over last year, with close to half of those injuries sustained in sprint races.

Ironically, Espargaró received further punishment during the Qatar sprint, when he was taken out by Miguel Oliveira. The crash gave him a small fracture at the top of his left fibula, which forced him to withdraw from the GP, because the leg was so painful and the foot had gone numb.

No wonder Bagnaia told me a couple of races ago that today’s MotoGP riders will have shorter careers than the previous generation.

So, this is all I’m saying: the people in charge who have created all these situations shouldn’t be surprised when bad stuff happens. If you squeeze the riders enough, they’re going to pop.