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Bagnaia plays smart with MotoGP title on knife edge in Australia

Italy’s Francesco Bagnaia plans to ride “smart” as a tense MotoGP title race shifts to Australia’s Phillip Island this week with world champion Fabio Quartararo struggling after a string of poor results.

Yamaha’s Quartararo looked destined for another crown early in the season, before Bagnaia on a Ducati reeled off four wins to power into contention.

To make matters worse, the Frenchman has taken just eight points in the last three races while Bagnaia secured 36.

It left the riders’ championship on a knife edge with three rounds left after Bagnaia made the podium in Thailand a fortnight ago and Quartararo did not.

After 17 races, five riders are within 40 points, with 75 still up for grabs.

Quartararo remains the championship leader, but Bagnaia is now only two points behind.

Spain’s Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) is within 20, Italian Enea Bastianini (Ducati) 39 and in-form Australian Jack Miller (Ducati) 40. 

It ensures that whatever happens in the first race at Phillip Island since 2019, there will be a guaranteed live title fight when the field leaves for Malaysia before wrapping up the season in Valencia, Spain.

Bagnaia has been reticent about becoming world champion, but it is starting to come into focus.

“For sure now it will be more intense,” he told reporters ahead of the race, with rain forecast for Friday practice, which is expected to clear for the weekend.

“The last three races I will have to be very, very intelligent and smart in all of the situations because I think our potential is very high but I can’t make mistakes like I did in Japan or before the summer break.

“So, be smart, try to understand every situation.”

‘Come back stronger’

Yamaha admitted after a wet Thailand race to be puzzled as to why Quartararo could only finish 17th with team boss Massimo Meregalli saying “it’s very unclear”.

RNF Yamaha rider Cal Crutchlow battled front tyre pressure issues in Thailand and told reporters that Quartararo, who has not won since June in Germany, seemed to have the same problem.

“Fabio was turning exactly how I was turning, couldn’t go round a corner. Then you are slow around the corner, so you pick up the throttle and you’ve got no rear grip either,” he said.

Quartararo quickly left the Yamaha garage after his Thailand disappointment but later said he had “an idea why we struggled that much, but we will investigate more to improve for the future”. 

“We’ll try to come back stronger in Australia.”

Miller is the in-form rider, scoring more points than anyone else in the just-completed triple header with a fifth in Aragon, victory at Japan, and a hard-earned second place in Thailand.

Despite his title hopes being re-ignited, he conceded that winning the championship was likely out of reach before he departs for KTM in 2023. 

“It’s a long shot but we’ll just keep plugging away at it,” he said. “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”


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