The 2023 MotoGP title fight: Bagnaia versus Martin; who’s your money on?


Here comes the final countdown of the 2023 MotoGP title fight – the hunter versus the hunted in Qatar this weekend and at Valencia next weekend – so let’s analyse Bagnaia and Martin from every angle

Jorge Martin 2023 MotoGP Malaysia

Martin leads Bagnaia at Sachsenring – it was the first time the Spaniard beat the Italian in a straight fight this year and really started his title campaign

Red Bull

Four races to go – two sprints and two grands prix – both riders riding the same bikes on the same tyres, each of them facing time penalties if they get their tyre pressures wrong again and only 14 points in it, with 74 points to play for. Full gas required and zero mistakes allowed.

Thus the stage is set for an epic Pecco Bagnaia versus Jorge Martin title fight under the floodlights in Qatar and in Valencia’s cold winter chill.

So far the reigning champion and the first-time MotoGP title contender have each won ten races this year: Bagnaia six GPs and four sprints, Martin six sprints and four GPs. The sprints suit Martin’s more ‘explosive’ nature, but obviously they only offer half the points available in GP races.

No predictions, because I’m neither clever enough, nor stupid enough, and neither am I a betting man. But here is a form guide just to help you decide. Cut me in for 20% of anything you make. But forget me if you lose your shirt.


Riding technique

Francesco Bagnaia 2023 MotoGP Italy Mugello

Bagnaia celebrates his victory over Martin at Mugello, where he scored his first sprint/GP double


This is what motorcycle racing is all about, right? Watching the world’s most talented riders do things with their machines that would put you and me in hospital if we had a go at trying the same tricks.

The simplest way to contrast Bagnaia and Martin’s riding techniques is to say that the world champion makes his time in corner entry, while the man trying to take his title off him makes his time on corner exit.

Bagnaia has always been known for his super-late braking and high corner-entry speed. He’s able to brake later than most because he can scrub off speed in a shorter distance, which is what it’s all about. He does this partly by using the Michelin rear’s huge grip – he kicks the rear out and skids towards the corner sideways, then uses that action to help turn the bike. And he likes to brake and turn with his forks fully bottomed out!

“Martin is very sensitive to what the rear tyre is doing”

Martin has always been known for his super-smooth exit technique. It’s very important to put maximum drive through the rear Michelin without allowing it to spin, because once it starts spinning it’s difficult to stop, so you lose time. Even more so if the traction control kicks in.

Martin is very sensitive to what the rear tyre is doing – he knows when the tyre is ready to stop pushing and start spinning. So he keeps it in that area mostly by moving his body to adjust lean angle which adjusts contact-patch side and therefore grip. Loading the outside footpeg also gives you more grip. Modulating the throttle is also important, but you’re going to be faster if you keep the throttle open and find grip in other ways – that seems to be his secret.

All this is true but becoming less so, because all Ducati riders have access to each other’s data, so they are constantly learning each other’s tricks: how much rear brake pressure at what lean angle Bagnaia is using into Turn 4, how much lean angle versus how much throttle Martin is using out of Turn 6 and so on.

All this data is downloaded to Ducati’s central server as soon as each rider returns to his garage. So it’s immediately available to everyone else. Imagine how helpful that is: you’re losing a hundredth of a second at Turn 12, so you come into your garage, sit with your crew chief and data technician, put the data on screen, see which Ducati rider is fastest through 12 and copy what he’s doing. MUCH easier said than done, of course.



2 Francesco Bagnaia 2023 MotoGP Italy Mugello

Bagnaia leads Martin and the rest of the pack at Mugello


Bagnaia and Martin ride identical Ducati Desmosedicis, different only in personal set-up preferences. This is a very different situation to last year.

The big change for Martin this season has been the GP23 engine. Last year Pramac was given the engines rejected by the factory team during pre-season testing, which made the Pramac GP22s much more difficult to control than the factory-team GP22s. As soon as Martin tried the GP23 engine in February he knew he was in with a chance of the title.

From the archive

This year Martin has the same contract as Bagnaia, so he has the same number of electronics technicians tapping away behind his garage wall. This is arguably the most important weapon of a modern MotoGP armoury, because data is everything. Ducati had to give Martin the same treatment as its factory riders to keep him, after turning him down for a place in the 2023 factory team.

Valentino Rossi’s crew chief Jeremy Burgess used to say that top speed isn’t so important because you only use it once a lap, but times change. MotoGP is so close now and it’s so difficult to overtake in the corners. Therefore you have a major advantage if you can pass someone on the straight, because it’s easy and it takes no risk for the rider and puts no stress on the bike, the brakes or the tyres.

Top speeds taken from the last ten GP races (averages of each rider’s five best speeds during the GP race) reveal tiny but potentially significant differences between the two title fighters. Martin had a big advantage for a while but that’s gone now. We don’t know why, but top speeds aren’t all about horsepower, they’re also about rider position, corner-exit speed, electronics strategies, aero packages etc.

Circuit Fastest rider Speed
Sepang Martin 0.8mph (1.3km/h) faster
Buriram Bagnaia 1.4mph (2.3km/h) faster
Phillip Island Bagnaia 0.3mph (0.5km/h) faster
Mandalika Bagnaia 0.7mph (1.2km/h) faster
Buddh Bagnaia 0.9mph (1.5km/h) faster
Misano Bagnaia 0.8mph (1.3km/h) faster
Red Bull Ring Martin 1.79mph (2.8km/h) faster
Silverstone Martin 1.8mph (3km/h) faster
Assen Martin 2mph (3.3km/h) faster
Sachsenring Bagnaia 0.6mph (1km/h) faster


2 Jorge Martin 2023 MotoGP Malaysia

Unlike Bagnaia, Martin runs Ducati’s fork wings all the time, because he’s happier muscling the bike around than his title rival

Red Bull

Rider strategy

Bagnaia leads the championship, so he’s defending while Martin is attacking. That’s a big difference. However, Bagnaia knows the best way to defend is to attack, which is why he’s been more aggressive than ever at recent races.

Martin knows he has nothing to lose. Winning the championship means everything: your place in history and many millions in the bank. Therefore his only option is to go full-attack, full-risk, which suits the way he goes racing. He’s a bit like Kevin Schwantz or Marc Márquez. Full gas and to hell with the consequences – he would prefer to go down fighting than counting the percentages.



Psychology has always been a massive part of motorcycle racing, because the risks are huge and the sport is basically two hundred miles an hour cage-fighting. Five-time MotoGP king Mick Doohan once said that racing is 90% psychology.

Both title contenders are rock hard mentally. Bagnaia is super-cool and plays the long game. He’s never in a hurry in practice and he’s not always in a hurry in races. He knows when to push and when to hold back.

From the archive

Martin is all don’t-give-a-f**k and aways all-in. Recently he’s been trying to rattle Bagnaia, who’s the hunted, while Martin is the hunter. “I hope he’s scared!” he said a couple of races ago. But I’m not sure it’s that easy to get into Bagnaia’s head. Or vice-versa.

By the way, Martin loves beating the factory-team – he knows it doesn’t please the people who decided to overlook him in favour of Bastianini.



Who’s made the most mistakes this year? Bagnaia has crashed in four races, Martin has crashed out of three. These are quite high numbers for title challengers, but this is how it is in modern-day MotoGP – the margins are so tiny that riders must walk the line more than ever if they want to fight for the biggest prize in motorcycling.

Martin crashed out of the opening GP at Portimao, fighting back from 16th after nearly going down in the Marc Márquez pile-up. Then he crashed out on the first lap at COTA, all his fault. His next GP fall came 12 races later when he ran slightly off-line in Indonesia and crashed out of a comfortable lead. That lost him the title advantage, which he’d held for 24 hours, since winning the previous day’s sprint.

3 Jorge Martin 2023 MotoGP Malaysia

MotoGP’s former title king Marc Marquez with the championship’s new kings – Martin has a lot of Marquez in him

Red Bull

And then of course there was his wrong tyre choice at Phillip Island, which so nearly paid off. This was typical Martin: risk it and go for it.

Bagnaia crashed in the second race, in the rain at Termas de Rio Honda (where he remounted to finish outside the points), then he slid off at COTA’s off-camber Turn 2 as he gave vain chase to winner Alex Rins. He crashed again at Le Mans in a collision with Maverick Viñales. Three falls from the first five races, a bit of a rehash of 2022.

Next he had that horror fall at the start of the Catalan GP and then he fell in India, while duelling with Martin, due to an over-pressure front tyre.


Physical strength 

Martin’s other big thing is his super-hang-off style, which is why he’s built like a cage-fighter. He uses his massive upper-body strength to lean so far off the bike that his inside hand barely touches the inside handlebar. Leaning far into the inside also turns the bike better – simple physics.

Bagnaia doesn’t look strong, but he is. He trains with his VR46 trainers to create a physique that isn’t that dissimilar to mentor Valentino Rossi’s. He’s got enough muscle and crucially enough endurance.

But he doesn’t muscle the bike around like Martin, which is why he prefers a set-up that prioritises manoeuvrability. All downforce aero makes the bike harder to handle, so he only uses Ducati’s fork wings at tracks where wheelies are a problem. Martin has them fitted all the time.


Team orders

Johann Zarco 2023 MotoGP Malaysia

The Martin versus Bagnaia duel in dangerous conditions at Motegi was astonishing – both walked the line, or rather swam the line

Red Bull

So far no team orders, but most riders know when they should help a team-mate. These things don’t only depend on what team bosses say, they also depend on the rider’s state of mind, the state of his contract and which riders he likes and doesn’t like.

From the archive

Bagnaia definitely has a team-mate who may be able to help him, in Sepang winner Enea Bastianini. And Ducati has further improved Bastianini’s dedication to Bagnaia’s cause by suggesting Martin may get promoted to the factory team if he wins the title, while Bastianini could get demoted to Pramac in 2024.

Can Johann Zarco help Martin? Maybe, maybe not. But the Frenchman is off to LCR Honda for 2014, so he will probably do what he wants to do.


Tyre Penalties

Bagnaia and Martin have received warnings for running their front-tyre pressure below the legal minimum at the last two races. Next time they both face a three-second penalty, which could cost a significant number of points at Losail and Valencia, where the lead groups are often tightly packed.

Of course, there could be no possible worse outcome for both riders – and even more importantly for MotoGP itself – than if the title were to be decided by points lost due to a tyre penalty. So let me take this opportunity to give a big, fat ‘up yours’ to MotoGP’s 1.88 bar minimum pressure rule, which is ruining the world’s greatest motor sport.


Losail and Valencia results

Finally, let’s compare their results from the last two seasons at Losail and Valencia, which may (or may not) give us a hint of what’s to come.

Bagnaia finished third and sixth at Losail in 2021, when the venue hosted two GPs. He took pole at the first race, while Martin, starting his first season in the premier class, took pole at the second race and finished on the podium, ahead of Bagnaia.

At Valencia last year Martin finished third, a second behind winner Rins. Bagnaia cruised home in ninth, just enough to secure the title, which is all that mattered that day.

Bagnaia won the 2021 Valencia GP. It was his fourth win from the last six races in his first season in the factory Ducati team. Martin, completing his rookie season with Pramac, finished second, less than half a second down.

In other words, they’re both super-fast at the last two venues – too close to call. Let’s just hope it doesn’t snow at Valencia on November 26.