It is hard to think of a MotoGP race this season that has had quite as big an impact on the battle for the world title, as Sunday’s Grand Prix in Aragon.
With defending champion and title leader Fabio Quartararo taken out just two corners into the race in a terrifying, but thankfully not serious in terms of injury, crash via a collision with the back of the returning Marc Marquez, Ducati’s Pecco Bagnaia’s second-place finish in that race, means the in-form Italian is now just ten points behind the Yamaha man in the battle for the title, with five races of the season to go.
As a result, the title race now looks to be wide open, with that second-place finish for Bagnaia following up four consecutive wins. It is the Ducati man who now looks to have the momentum in the title race, given Quartararo himself now has just one podium in that same time frame, and will undoubtedly be feeling the effects of that crash as the series head to the far east for the quickfire flyaways, starting in Japan this weekend.
But despite that, it could still be argued that things could have been even better for Bagnaia on Sunday, were it not for the intervention of one man, who is looking increasingly likely to himself be right in the mix for the title this time next year, in the form of Enea Bastianini.
For so long in that race on Sunday, Bagnaia looked well set for a seventh win of the season, and fifth in as many races, it would instead be his fellow Ducati rider Bastianini who claimed top spot on the podium, for the fourth time this season, and the way he did so was rather telling.
Having been the only rider capable of matching the pace of Bagnaia through the race, Bastianini then produced a remarkable piece of riding to claim victory on the final lap.
In the two laps prior to that final revolution of the circuit, the 24-year-old had appeared to carry out a dress rehearsal of a pass into the final corner at the end of the Aragon’s long back straight.
However, when it came to that final lap, Bastianini instead produced a decisive move into turn seven of the lap, before immediately making a break that left Bagnaia with no chance to fight back and take victory.
Not only did that show the intelligence that Bastianini possesses to pick the perfect moment to make that move, but also the ability he has, in ensuring Bagnaia could not make a pass back of his own, going on to claim victory by just 0.042 seconds across the line.
At the same circuit just over 12 months ago, Bagnaia had been able to produce several excellent passes of his own, to see off the attentions of the – admittedly not 100% fit – six-time World Champion Marc Marquez to claim what was at the time, his first win in MotoGP, and the first of ten in 20 races ahead of Sunday’s outing.
The fact, therefore, that Bastianini did not even give Bagnaia – the form rider in the championship – the chance to produce a similar response this time around shows just how well Sunday’s race winner has been riding this season, even against the best MotoGP has to offer.
Indeed, that comes just two weeks after Bagnaia himself had beaten Bastianini by just 0.03 seconds in Misano, which does seem to be laying the foundations for a year-long battle between the pair next season.
That will be further added to by the fact that in 2023, Bastianini will be stepping up from his satellite Ducati to become Bagnaia’s teammate in the Italian constructor’s factory, which will ensure he is even better equipped to compete with the likes of his fellow countryman, and the aforementioned Quartararo, on a more consistent basis.
Furthermore, that approach of Bastianini in taking the fight to Bagnaia right to the end of those recent races, despite the fact the latter is well in the hunt for his first MotoGP title – and Ducati’s first at this level since 2007 – suggests there is little threat of team getting in the way of any potential battles between the future teammates going forward.
Such a situation of course further enhances Bastianini’s chances of competing for the biggest prize in Motorcycle racing next season, in what will be just his third season in the class.
Admittedly, given he himself trails Quartararo by just 48 points, he is not entirely out of the title battle this time around either, though the overall form of others, and number of races remaining, means he is still something of an outsider.
Judging by Bastianini’s recent performances, however, that is something that could be rather different, in 2023.