Right now, the momentum in the 2022 MotoGP world championship is very much in favour of one person: factory Ducati rider Pecco Bagnaia. The 2021 runner-up has won four races in a row, a first for the Italian factory, and looks set to once again be in contention at the Aragon Grand Prix on Sunday – a race he’ll start from pole.
But, with the biggest challenge to his charge undoubtedly coming from his fellow Ducatis, it’s time for the team’s higher-ups to step in and deliver some orders if they want to finally achieve what they’ve been trying to do since 2007 and win a riders’ world championship for only the second time in history.
There are a number of riders with the pace to win on Sunday, and arguably the two fastest men aren’t even Ducati-mounted. Instead, reigning world champion Fabio Quartararo and Suzuki rider Alex Rins are the two who’ve demonstrated better race pace and tyre degradation control – something that will be a key factor in a long and slippery race on a track that increasingly needs a resurfacing.
But speed alone isn’t going to be enough to win at the Motorland Aragon circuit, with it’s long back straight that hands a decisive advantage to the V4-engined Ducatis and their extra top speed. It’s expected to be too much to overcome for the inline four Yamaha and Suzuki of Quartararo and Rins early on in the race – and if one of them can challenge for the win, it’ll only come should Ducati hit a wall with tyre life late on.
The Desmosedicis are going to break out hard from the opening lap and try to establish not just a gap but a buffer, with Jack Miller in particular well-situated in second on the grid behind Bagnaia to take on what is becoming a traditional tailgunner role for his team-mate.
There’s one Ducati who has an advantage over all the others in two key areas, though, and it’s not Bagnaia: it’s Miller’s 2023 replacement Enea Bastianini, with the three-time race winner not just carrying his own natural skills at making tyres last better than anyone else, but with his light weight also contributing to a significant advantage over the factory bikes on his year-old Gresini Ducati.
In fact, he managed to finish Saturday’s qualifying session with a top speed figure a massive 4kph faster than anyone else, topping a queue of six Ducatis and two KTMs. His advantage over Quartararo’s Yamaha is even more significant, with the Italian going through the speed trap 12 kph quicker than the Frenchman.
But, after a season of ups and downs, Bastianini is a rider racing for personal glory in the latter half of the season. Rising to an impressive fourth in the standings of late, he’s nonetheless 73 points adrift of Quartararo with six races remaining: an all but impossible task against a rider who has failed to finish only two races in the past two seasons, especially as Bastianini’s four falls this season alone suggest he’s not quite the most consistent himself.
Bagnaia’s situation is quite different, though, thanks to the way in which he’s closed down the points gap from 91 to only 30 in the past four rounds. Suddenly right back into the title fight now, he is undoubtedly the number one rider for the Italian brand – and, as such, should be an asset that Ducati is doing everything they can to protect.
That’s not the case, though, at least according to Bastianini himself, with the former Moto2 world champion admitting exclusively to The Race following qualifying that despite some Ducati chats about the need for safe and fair riding, there haven’t yet been specific team orders laid out to him – and that he’s going out on Sunday to do nothing less than win.
“There’s been no conversation,” he said. “We haven’t got a strategy, and more or less it will be good to do a good job in the first part of the race and then to stay calm for the second half. I think we have a chance to win, but there’s a lot of riders with this possibility.
“I’m losing some time in sector one, and if we can resolve this problem during warm-up then we can do well. Ducati is really fast and with me, usually I have the top speed, and for tomorrow it can be very useful.”
Given the huge amount of resources being pumped into trying to win a riders’ championship, though, it’s hard to see a Ducati decision not to tell Bastianini to make sure he doesn’t take valuable points off Bagnaia as anything other than a mistake at this point in the year.
There are still, after all, six rounds left – and none of them present the same opportunity for Ducati success as Aragon. Instead, with a number of smaller, faster-turning circuits in the near future like Motegi and Phillip Island, there’s an argument to be made for the Spanish circuit being the last real Yamaha bogey track of the year.
And, with over a race win’s worth of points still in hand for Quartararo, he knows that he’s still got an advantage, at least for now. There’s a big chance of reducing that margin on Sunday, though – and any Ducati missed opportunity to fully exploit it would be a big mistake.