Francesco Bagnaia declared he could relax at last after winning a dramatic Malaysian motorcycle Grand Prix on Sunday to put him on the brink of a first MotoGP world championship.
The Italian’s champagne remains on ice, however, after rival Fabio Quartararo finished third to take the battle to the season’s final race at Spain’s Valencia in two weeks.
Bagnaia would have clinched the title had Quartararo finished outside the podium places at Sepang, but the Ducati rider instead extended his lead to 23 points.
Bagnaia took the chequered flag in 40min 14:332sec, 0.270sec ahead of fellow Ducati rider Enea Bastianini. Quartararo completed the podium 2.7sec adrift.
“Now I can relax!” said a jubilant Bagnaia, who now just needs to finish higher than 15th in Spain to be crowned world champion for the first time.
“The weekend was quite tough after the mistakes I did yesterday. For Valencia, we have to understand that we can be strong without forcing like we did yesterday. Today our pace was good enough without doing crazy things.”
Bagnaia started ninth on the grid, but made a blistering start which saw him swoop through the field to be second by the end of the first lap, chasing the back wheel of pole sitter Jorge Martin.
“I did the best start I ever did in my life,” said Bagnaia. “It was perfect.”
The dynamics of the race changed on the seventh lap when Martin crashed out, allowing the Ducati rider to charge into first with Bastianini hot on his tail.
“I took some risk at the front,” said Bagnaia. “Following Jorge was a bit too much for the rear tyre and I was starting to stress, then unfortunately he crashed.”
Bastianini managed to overtake his countryman on turn four of the 10th lap, but his lead was short-lived as Bagnaia regained the ascendancy.
Quartararo, who earlier in the season had been 91 points ahead of Bagnaia, was meanwhile being drawn in a battle against Marco Bezzecchi for third, but held his ground to stave off the Gresini Racing rider.
At the front, Bastianini continued to pressure Bagnaia, but the Italian kept his cool to cross the finish line for his seventh win of the season.
“Today we did a really, really good job in terms of the championship. It’s also my seventh win, so we can be very happy,” said Bagnaia.
With a maximum 25 points available in Valencia, Quartararo must win the final grand prix of 2022 and hope Bagnaia finishes 15th or lower to have any hope of retaining this world championship.
“It’s been a long time since I made the podium,” said Quartararo, who crashed in the previous race at Phillip Island, but also had a great start from down at 12th on the grid.
“I gave my maximum today, couldn’t do any better, but I’m proud of myself because I felt this is one of my best rides of the season,” added the Frenchman who was riding with a fractured finger, sustained when he fell in FP4 on Saturday.
“Riding the bike was not the problem with the medicine and adrenalin I had today,” said Quartararo of the injury.
“I’m happy at least we’re bringing it to Valencia. Even if the chance is super small, we did everything to bring it to Valencia.”
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