MotoGP 2022 Round 20 – Valencia

[Note: The half-baked opinions, reckless allegations, mis-statements of fact and otherwise actionable slurs below do not represent the views of Motorcycle.com. In fact, we are surprised if they represent the views of anyone at all.]

So much for 2022. It was a year that restored some normalcy to the MotoGP calendar after two years of Covid-related disruption. It was the year of The Comeback, Pecco Bagnaia’s resurrection from the ashes of spring. It was the year Aprilia stepped up to credibility and Suzuki retreated to incredibility. It was the year Marc Marquez convinced a lot of people his winning ways with Honda were behind him. It was the year Andrea Dovizioso left the fray and David Muñoz entered.

Izan Guevara photo by Rob Gray (Polarity Photo)

Valencia in a Nutshell

Today’s Moto3 championship was over before it started. Meet Izan Guevara, 2022 Moto3 champion and Alien-in-Waiting, on his way to Moto2 on Wednesday. Guevara, teammate Sergio Garcia and the rugged Dennis Foggia have been promoted to Moto2 beginning this week, making it even more daunting, joining names like Acosta, Oncu, Ogura and Lopez in the fast lane starting next year.

The Moto2 title was decided on Lap 8 today when Ai Ogura completed a late season gagfest by crashing out after having crashed at Sepang two weeks earlier. Meet Augusto Fernandez, 2022 Moto2 champion and premier class arriviste, alongside Pol Espargaro. He had the easiest day of any of the champions on Sunday.

Augusto Fernandez photo by Rob Gray (Polarity Photo)

The MotoGP championship was not formally decided until today, when Pecco Bagnaia did enough to sustain his grip on the 2022 championship in a race which was won, incidentally, by Alex Rins, adding an ironic footnote to Suzuki’s tenure in the premier class. Marco Bezzecchi won Rookie of the Year. Ducati won everything else.

Looking back over the season’s results, Bagnaia turned the corner on Quartararo beginning at Round 11 in Assen, when he reeled off four straight wins, cutting the Frenchman’s lead from 91 to 30. He finished the job during the Pacific flyaway rounds, when he left Europe with a 10-point deficit and returned with a 23-point lead.

Before proceeding, a word to those who recall my pre-season preview and the big hairy deal I made about one statistic in particular. My keen insight this past winter was that, with so many competitive riders, the one who managed to stay onboard the most would likely win the championship. I’m pretty sure no one has noticed that the top three finishers for the year—Pecco, Fabio and EBas—had, respectively, 5, 3 and 4 offs. Aleix, with only one DNF all year (a mechanical today) finished in P4. Awesome.

Rins emphasizes the foolishness of Suzuki’s departure from MotoGP by winning the final round the factory entered. Photo courtesy of Suzuki.

Premier class changes for 2023

  • Suzuki gone. Mir to Repsol, Rins to LCR
  • Aprilia satellite team with Raul Fernandez and M Oliveira
  • Bastiannini replaces Miller on factory Ducati
  • Alex Marquez teams with FDG at Gresini Ducati
  • Brad Binder and Jack Miller on factory KTM
  • Augusto Fernandez (the only rider up from Moto2 for 2023) and Pol Espargaro on satellite Tech3 GASGAS team
  • Frankie Morbidelli, somehow, remains on the factory Yamaha team. There will no longer be a satellite Yamaha team.

Darryn Binder gone. Remy Gardner gone. Purging Anglos. Eleven teams, 22 riders, and the competition is, and will continue to be, fierce. Our crack research staff is checking to see how many all-time track records were set this year, both by Jorge Martin and everyone else. This despite the control ECU and the crappy Michelins and so on and so forth. The new wings on Marquez’ bike look like they are in the retracted position. On long straights, they what? Extend to their full length, relieving #93 of having to make contact with that pesky asphalt that keeps jumping up and hitting him in the head? I sound like I have made it to Codger level in my Old & In the Way video game.

Jorge Martin, with his third consecutive pole and fifth of the year, is on his way to becoming another Fast on Saturday rider. In golf, the expression is that you drive for show and putt for dough. In MotoGP, take pole then DNF. I did keep track of Randy de Puniet one entire season in which he never did finish higher than he qualified.

Wait! There’s More!

Martin on pole was joined by a jubilant Marquez and Jack Miller on the front row, Fabio in P4, Pecco in P8. Good to see Miller pushing right through to the end; I imagine he’s anxious to get his shiny new KTM RC16 up to speed as soon as possible in 2023. Matt Birt alluded to how stiff the engineers at KTM are to get input from Miller, who is likely to help them Ducatify the KTM. Likewise, the budding collaboration between Raul Fernandez, Miguel Oliveira, and the Aprilia engineers appears promising for next year, perhaps 2024. And Augusto Fernandez, up from Moto2 to team up with Pol Espargaro at the Tech3 GASGAS team, can look forward to Pol’s instructions on how to talk about winning. Not actually winning, but talking about it.

In addition to capturing Ducati’s first rider’s trophy since 2007, Bagnaia overcame perhaps the biggest lead (-91 points after Sachsenring) of any rider since the TV announcers started screaming into their microphones. He became the fourth different MotoGP champion in the last four years. He is the first Italian since Rossi to hoist the trophy. And he did it on an Italian bike. [After a 50-year drought from the time that Giacomo Agostini won in 1972. – Ed.] At age 20-something. He brings his girlfriend with him every weekend as part of a deal he has with her. He is welcome to leave her home, however he must also hang his testicles in the hall closet before leaving.

Photo courtesy Ducati

Pre-Tranching 2023

Interesting to consider who the contenders are likely to be in 2023. These are in my own rough order.

No Suzuki. No KTM. One Aprilia, one Honda, one Yamaha. Four Ducatis. The rich get richer. Frankie Morbidelli better hope his ship comes back in, as his factory Yamaha contract expires at the end of next year, and he is starting to stink. Presumably, the new and improved 2023 iteration (?) of the M1 will help not only #20 but #21 as well. His ankle is probably as good as it’s going to get.

Will Viñales prove Bruce’s pre-tranching wrong by showing up consistently in 2023? Photo courtesy of Aprilia

Zarco, Marquez, and Martin are the non-Italians in the 2023 Ducati rider stable. As such, all other things being equal, they would be most vulnerable in the event of a downturn in the fortunes of the Bologna bunch. Nationalism is alive and well in MotoGP. I know it is a dream held in the heart of the executives at Ducati Corse that all eight of their MotoGP riders speak Italian as their first language, that the dominant, ascendant language of MotoGP be Italian. The Aprilia suits in Noale second that emotion and fancy themselves deserving of a top three manufacturer trophy. The pendulum has swung away from the Japanese factories in favor of the Europeans; in the case of Suzuki, it has come entirely unattached. What a shame. And KTM appears ready to exert some influence on the title chase.

Too Many Teenagers

The decision by the Formidable Fromages of Dorna, FIM et al to raise the minimum age in Moto3 to 18 means more than just the obvious. For the riders who have it going on, who are capable of winning grand prix races at age 16, it will have the effect of truncating their careers by up to two years. Since riders generally peak in their twenties, it’s kind of a bummer. The riders who graduate into MotoGP typically spend 3-5 years in the lightweight classes; most of them start around age 16. The new reg means the wannabe Aliens will get their first MotoGP ride at, say, age 23 rather than age 21. Plus, it is easy to argue that the grid, top to bottom, is truly faster and younger than it was a decade ago, that premier class opportunities are hard to come by and harder to capture. Perhaps the entire pre-premier class stage will get compressed, from 3-5 years down to 2-3.

Can the two remaining Japanese manufacturers deliver the goods in what’s looking to be the European Era of MotoGP? The 2023 season starts with testing Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Honda

One Last Word

It has been said we are in the golden age of MotoGP, that the sport has never been healthier, the equipment more sophisticated, the riders more athletic, better trained, better fed, better everything’d. I have no reason to argue with this observation. Look at the way all-time track records have fallen in the past two years, and you can see it’s true. Plus, the difference in speed between the top ten or fifteen riders has never been smaller. We’ve gone from measuring in hundredths to measuring in thousandths. It’s a hard knock life.

In the recent past, we have spoken about various eras in MotoGP and have always discussed them in terms of riders. The Rossi Era. The Lorenzo Era. The Marquez Era. That seems to have changed. What we were actually observing were different iterations of the Era of Japanese Manufacturers, which now appears to have given way to the Era of European Manufacturers, with names like Ducati, Aprilia and KTM waxing, and names like Suzuki, Honda and Yamaha on the wane. Lenovo Ducati appears to be the first of a wave of European teams in line to capture the title, with several other Ducati teams already in the hunt and the Aprilia and KTM programs getting noticeably better every year. Yeah, OK, KTM lost a step this year, but they’ll get it back with Jack Miller. Meanwhile, Suzuki can’t make it work with just two bikes, while Yamaha and Honda face major engineering projects to get their bikes competitive again.

Once again it has been a pleasure slandering the contestants in my favorite sport. I do this work just for the applause, so please keep those cards and letters coming. Best wishes for 2023. And congratulations to Messrs. Guevara, Fernandez, and Bagnaia for showing championship form in 2022.