2023 World Championship Francesco Bagnaia vs Jorge Martin, Malaysian GP preview, Sepang, title fight, season finale

There are three races, 13 points, two candidates, but only one winner.

MotoGP embarks on a non-stop triple-header this weekend to conclude this unpredictable 2023 campaign. Three consecutive rounds in Malaysia, Qatar and Spain will decide whether reigning champion Francesco Bagnaia retains his title or whether Jorge Martin dethrones the Italian and becomes the first to win the title.

Bagnaia leads Martin with 13 points. I’d rather lead than not, but he still has 111 points to his name, so the margin is never safe.

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The pressure on Bagnaiya is immense. As Ducati’s factory rider, the Italian company’s hopes are placed more on him than on satellite rider Martin, whom Bologna rejected in favor of Enea Bastianini in a deal for this season.

Losing this battle would not only be a loss of courage, but Bagnaia could be directly challenged by Ducati’s authority next season, and if Martin wins the title, he will take Bastianini’s factory seat in 2024. There are also rumors that a replacement may be appointed.

Bagnaia admits he is feeling the pressure, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I think it’s nice to have this kind of pressure,” he said. “We’re fighting for the title, but the lack of pressure means I don’t really care what I’m doing.

“I think pressure is normal. From my point of view, it’s great fuel. We have to use it to improve the team and fuel the greed to become champions again. ”

Martin is now setting the standard. Bagnaia may be faster over Grand Prix distances, but the Pramac rider’s incredible speed keeps him one step ahead most weekends.

He is in a winning mood and keen to maintain that good vibe.

“I think I had too much time off this week to think about everything,” he said.

“There are times when I think I might win or lose big. But when I’m at the racetrack, I’m just focused on the race.

“The feeling is there, so I would prefer to race right away. I’m looking forward to racing.”

He won’t have to wait too long to get back on his bike. And he is unlikely to recover from this until the title is decided in Valencia later this month.

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Will the title leaders be able to stave off an early defeat?

There is a 13 point difference between the two title protagonists and neither rider will be able to win the title this weekend.

It also means that even if both riders see the checkered flag in the sprint and race in Malaysia, neither driver is likely to aim for a decisive advantage in Qatar next weekend.

Delicately ready for the wire.

But just because you can’t win a championship in Malaysia doesn’t mean you can’t effectively lose a championship.

Bagnaia’s big mistake could be the catalyst for Martin’s near-unstoppable surge to his first title.

But there’s more in store for the Spaniard, and a big mistake could ruin his chances.

If he fails to complete the sprint, his Grand Prix points will drop away from the title lead, and he may be forced to leave the race on life support.

Failing to complete the race would effectively be fatal, giving Bagnaia a match point in Doha.

Bagnaia has been prone to crashes this season, but Martin will be battling history in Malaysia.

He is fast at Sepang. He took pole position and fastest lap here last year. However, his last two visits, back in his penultimate Moto2 campaign, ended without him finishing on deck.

Last year, he led by 1.2 seconds, but Bagnaia made an unforced error just seven laps into the race and was plagued by a battle with Francesco Bagnaia.

Has Martin surpassed his losing streak? He arrived in Malaysia having inherited his dominant position in Thailand, but his crash in Indonesia came just three races ago and his puzzling tire choice in Australia These are just the last two Grand Prix.

His performance in Malaysia may help us see whether the Pramac rider’s mind is sharpened for the challenges ahead, or whether he is still holding out for the title and his Achilles’ heel has healed.

Finally, there’s the curve ball. Under this year’s new monitoring regime, Martin was cited for low tire pressure in Thailand.

The first violation will result in a warning. If he: The second time he is worth 6 seconds and the fourth time he is penalized 12 seconds.

Setting the pressure is a bit of a guessing game. All riders start with low tire pressure, knowing that once the race begins, the pressure will increase and heat will be pumped into the rubber.

But the pressure increases even more when you’re stuck in traffic. When you get into a fight, the pressure increases again.

But if you find yourself at the front of a battle group or across a field where the air is suddenly clear, the pressure drops.

With two hot races ahead and the potential for sweltering conditions at any time in Valencia, the pressure will be as important as ever. Will Pramac continue to suffer from inflation, or will Martin take it easy and give up on increasing speed?

Also, and perhaps importantly, this will be a joker for Bagnaia in the final race of the season as he races under more last-minute pressure for any chance of a slight performance boost.

Which rider will disrupt the battle for the lead?

Of course, Bagnaia and Martin are not the only riders still in contention for the championship.

Marco Bezzecchi still has a mathematical chance.

The Italian trails Bagnaia by 79 points. To continue catching up, we need to get within 74 points by the end of the weekend.

His chances are the least likely, but enough to give him something to fight for. And he will fight as he enjoyed a weekend off to allow his collarbone to continue healing.

“I’ve rested as much as possible, recovered and recharged my batteries, so I’m ready for the final stage of the season in the best possible condition,” he said.

“Sepang is one of my favorite tracks, as well as many other tracks in the final stage of the season. It is very fast and has long straights, which could be advantageous to our technical package.”

“It will not be easy, but I will do my best to be one of the main players from here to Valencia.”

Of course, these same aspects apply to all Ducati riders, but if Martin and Bagnaia are expected to be the frontrunners, why not Johann Zarco and Enea Bastianini?

With his first victory on his back, Zarco cannot be taken lightly. He is a two-time Moto2 winner in Malaysia and has two MotoGP podiums at Sepang.

Bastianini, on the other hand, dueled with Bagnaia for the win here last season, shaving several years off Ducati management’s life expectancy. He hasn’t quite hit that mark so far this year, but he has slowly picked up his game in the second half of the season.

But perhaps the biggest risk does not come from the Ducati stable.

Brad Binder has been on a roll since KTM introduced the carbon fiber chassis. He was a major protagonist in multi-rider winning battles in Australia. He placed second in the Thai sprint and briefly appeared to have won the Grand Prix, but a track limit violation on the final lap relegated him from second to third.

“The plan is to pick up where we left off last weekend, stay in the front group and hopefully fight until the last lap again, but hopefully things go well!

“I feel like we were fast on most of the last courses, especially the last five or six courses, so I hope more than anything that the team wins in the end because I feel like they really deserved it.”

“I have won two sprint races, but my goal is to win the main race.”

What’s the weather like?

It wouldn’t be Sepang without rain on the radar, and storms are expected on all three days this year, especially in the afternoon when MotoGP is on track.

The rains have been heavy this year, with flooding reported in the region this week. When you get to the circuit, it’s heavy.

Of course, rain poses additional challenges for riders and changes the risk/reward ratio. Will he push and crash, or will the rider be conservative and watch the flag?

It will be a burden, especially for title contenders, but it could be a way forward for struggling riders.

Marc Marquez comes to mind.

The Spaniard competed in the final three Grands Prix of his Honda career before switching to Gresini for post-season testing in Valencia.

He also faces the possibility of leaving the team after two winless seasons. This year’s drought was even more disappointing than last season, considering he missed an extended period of time due to injury in 2022.

Marquez has only achieved one podium finish this year, but it’s worth noting that it took place in Japan in heavy rain conditions.

Marquez hasn’t had a particularly great feel for the Honda this year, but in weather that gives riders more of a chance to ride according to feel and instinct, Malaysia has given six-time MotoGP champion Marquez a chance to ride the Japanese giant. may offer an opportunity to enter into a partnership with. somewhere high.

How can I watch it?

The 2023 Malaysian Grand Prix will be streamed live on Kayo and Fox Sports and will be ad-free during the race.

The first free practice will begin at 1:45pm (AEDT), ahead of timed practice from 6pm.

Final practice begins at 1:10 p.m., qualifying begins at 1:50 p.m., and sprints begin at 6 p.m.

Pre-race warm-up will take place from 1.40pm on Sunday, with lights out at 6pm for the Malaysian Grand Prix.

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