Why Bagnaia and Marquez couldn’t really afford their clash

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With most of the headlines from Sunday’s Portuguese Grand Prix might have been focused on the collision between reigning champion Pecco Bagnaia and six-time champion Marc Marquez – or, failing that, on Pedro Acosta’s eye-catching ride – they allowed something else to go relatively under the radar. Namely, the dominant fashion in which 2023 championship runner-up Jorge Martin took victory.

And, with both Marquez and Bagnaia aiming for title glory again in 2024, the race should come as a stark warning to them both that if the Pramac Ducati racer continues on the upwards trajectory he showed at Portimao on Sunday, then the battling duo should perhaps not be focusing their attention on each other but rather on the biggest threat to their hopes right now.

That’s because, after the pair’s zero score to Martin’s full tally of 25 on Sunday, it means that he now has a rather comfortable 18-point buffer over second-placed Brad Binder after only two rounds – and that Bagnaia and Marquez are already noticeably behind on 23 and 33 points back respectively.

MotoGP 2024 standings

And while in normal circumstances that wouldn’t necessarily be that big an issue after only two race weekends, it should be significantly more of a warning Bagnaia and Marquez (and Martin’s other championship rivals) than it would have been in the past, thanks not only to the fact that he’s racking up race wins but the way in which he’s doing so.

Martin has always been incredibly fast since first making his MotoGP debut in 2021 – but he’s also been somewhat inconsistent, especially when presented with the challenge of leading from the front.

In the past, he looked not quite on par with the skills of Bagnaia when it comes to tyre management and prone to the odd mistake when it comes to controlling races from the front, like he demonstrated when he damaged – arguably irreparably – his title hopes in Indonesia last year with a completely unforced error while leading.

Instead, the Martin we saw at Portimao looked like a totally different character as he delivered what he says was the most mature win of his life at a track where serious injuries only a few races into his premier class career almost brought it to an end.

“I think it was the most mature,” he admitted afterwards when asked by The Race. “This was a track where I almost lost everything, in 2021. I broke nine bones in corner seven. And today I’m here in first place, and I’m grateful to the track. I think this gave me a lot of maturity for the future also.

“Today, taking the lead in the beginning was a little more easy because I could manage it. As soon as they were catching me, I had this small margin of one tenth, and every lap was faster than the one before.

“I think when I had those seven tenths [of gap] I was a bit more relaxed. I knew it was a nice gap to keep until the end.

“I thought about Indonesia: it’s the same to win the race by nine tenths or by three seconds. I knew that it was enough.”

Jorge Martin, Pramac Ducati, MotoGP

Beyond that, Martin also acknowledged an understanding of maybe the most fundamental rule in MotoGP right now, given the proliferation of aerodynamics and ride height devices – to get to the front early on is to win.

“I was really committed to taking the lead,” he explained. “I knew it was the key, to be in the front. That the first lap was the key to the win.

“I was able to manage the rear tyre a bit in the first laps, having that small gap. When I started to push, I saw that the gap was always the same, always constant, and I knew I had some margin to make that gap bigger and bigger.

“I was feeling comfortable, and maybe with five more laps we could have gone into the 1m38.5s laps because I still had something else to give, to push to the limit. It was a really comfortable race because when you take the lead from the beginning it’s much easier.”

There are still question marks for Martin to find answers to – he again struggled with rear chatter, an issue that has persistently hounded him on the 2024 Ducati, in the sprint on the softer rear tyre, and Portimao won’t have exactly tested his tyre management skills in the same way other upcoming tracks might.

Jorge Martin and Marc Marquez, MotoGP

But as last year already showed and the Portuguese GP has reinforced, this is not a rider that you want to forfeit – effectively for free – a significant amount of points to.

Marquez and Bagnaia did just that at Portimao.

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