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MotoGP Austrian GP

10 things we learned from the 2023 MotoGP Austrian Grand Prix

MotoGP’s annual climb up the Styrian mountains once again provided a weekend of drama and intrigue both on the off the track. From the latest rider market rumblings to the familiar fury over stewards' decisions and penalties, here’s what we discovered at this year’s Austrian Grand Prix.

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

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Francesco Bagnaia’s total dominance of the Austrian Grand Prix was just one storyline in an eventful weekend for MotoGP.

The Ducati rider now leads the championship by 62 points after registering his third sprint/grand prix double of the 2023 season.

A decent challenge from KTM and Brad Binder wasn’t enough to throw Bagnaia off his perch, but it at least showed why the Austrian brand was keen to sign the South African to a contract through to the end of 2026.

Elsewhere, chaos in the sprint race led to more criticism of the FIM’s stewarding in MotoGP – a topic we all hoped banished after the early-season fallouts.

Off-track, the rider market kicked into another gear as the future of Johann Zarco was decided, while Marco Bezzecchi’s destination for 2024 is soon to be known.

There was also a candid declaration from 2020 world champion Joan Mir that reminded us of the human toll Honda’s woes can take, while MotoGP’s tyre pressure rules took the blame for a dull grand prix.

With that, here are the 10 things we learned from the 2023 MotoGP Austrian Grand Prix.

1. Verstappen comparisons apt after perfect Austria weekend for Bagnaia

Bagnaia's third sprint and grand prix double has given him a 62-point in the standings

Bagnaia's third sprint and grand prix double has given him a 62-point in the standings

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Weekends really don’t get much better for a rider than Francesco Bagnaia’s Austrian GP. At this stage of the season in 2022 the world champion was 91 points down on standings leader Fabio Quartararo.

Fast forward 12 months, he’s 62 points ahead of Pramac’s Jorge Martin and showing no signs of being halted. Carrying out his typically understated Friday programme, in which he focuses fully on setting his bike up for racing and ensuring he does enough to gain automatic Q2 entry, Bagnaia stepped things up on Saturday.

Scoring pole position, Bagnaia went on to lead every lap of the sprint, while setting the fastest lap in the process, to win. He did the exact same thing in Sunday’s grand prix, tallying up his third spring/GP double of the season.

A key element in this was Ducati’s improved starts, a development in this area first tested out by Michele Pirro in a wildcard at Mugello, returning the Italian marque an advantage KTM has so far held in 2023.

Absorbing early pressure in both races from KTM’s Brad Binder, Bagnaia proved too strong to battle, getting to the chequered flag 2.056s clear on Saturday and 5.191s ahead on Sunday.

His current form led Quartararo to liken him to Formula 1 dominator Max Verstappen, who has won all but two grands prix in 2023 for Red Bull.

“I think he’s a little bit [like] Verstappen now, because I think also like in the previous years he had the best bike,” Quartararo said when asked if anyone could beat Bagnaia now.

“But you can have the best bike and not do the best results. It’s a combination and looks like right now the combination he has with the bike, the confidence he has with the bike, when you are winning, winning, winning you feel you are unstoppable. This is the feeling he has now, he knows how to use the bike, so right now I don’t think anyone can be faster than him.”

2. Binder clearly explains KTM’s keenness to sign him long-term

Binder demonstrated why KTM has locked him down, as its only rider to finish the grand prix in the top 10

Binder demonstrated why KTM has locked him down, as its only rider to finish the grand prix in the top 10

Photo by: KTM Images

It felt like KTM’s announcement at 7:55am BST on Saturday that it had re-signed Brad Binder through to the end of 2026 was very much a means of offering something to an expectant media waiting patiently for news of Pedro Acosta’s 2024 appointment (more on that later).

As it happened, that was to be the only KTM rider announcement at its home round. And it came as little surprise either. Binder is one of the Austrian marque’s prized assets, a rider it has enjoyed much success with since 2015 – including its pivotal maiden MotoGP victory at Brno in 2020.

With consistency eluding the RC16 over the last few seasons, Binder has always been able to get the best out of the bike, finishing top six in the standings in 2021 and 2022.

And in Austria, he proved just why KTM was keen to secure his long-term future. Running Bagnaia hard early in the sprint and grand prix and coming up with a brace of seconds was no mean feat.

When you look at the rest of the KTM stable, team-mate Jack Miller faded to 15th in the grand prix after running in the podium battle early. The Australian struggled with a lack of drive grip, not helped by the stiffer tyre casing Michelin brings to Red Bull Ring to cope with the acceleration demands. But he also noted that a set-up change to go more towards what the rest of the KTMs used just doesn’t work for him.

But with Augusto Fernandez a distant 14th in the GP and Tech3 team-mate Pol Espargaro still building his way back from injury, Binder spared KTM from some big blushes on home soil.

3. New aero no magic solution for Marquez

Marc Marquez last saw the chequered flag on a Sunday at the 2022 Malaysian GP

Marc Marquez last saw the chequered flag on a Sunday at the 2022 Malaysian GP

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

After its debut on Takaaki Nakagami’s LCR bike at Silverstone, Honda homologated the new aerodynamic package for its factory riders in Austria.

Following a design philosophy akin to the aero KTM and Ducati uses, the new package is clearly showing Honda is trying to fix its issues with some big changes.

And while Marc Marquez ultimately ended up with his first Sunday finish in 301 days with 12th in the Austrian GP – something he admitted “looked like a joke” – the new aero was no magic bullet for HRC.

Marquez noted that it completely changed the way he has to ride the Honda. It offered better braking performance, but the main Honda issue of rear traction on acceleration remained due to the increase in drag.

A bold decision to run the soft rear tyre in the grand prix paid off for Marquez and actually seeing a chequered flag on Sunday is a key step forward in HRC gaining vital data.

4. Stewarding frustrations remain as consistency still absent

Inconsistent penalties from the stewards was under the spotlight once again

Inconsistent penalties from the stewards was under the spotlight once again

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

It was a problem that marred the early part of the season amidst the fallout from the Marquez Portugal penalty incident. And, unfortunately, we’re once again talking about a lack of consistency from the FIM MotoGP stewards.

All of this centred the sprint race. While battling for third, Pramac’s Jorge Martin made contact with VR46 rider Luca Marini at the Turn 2 chicane while overtaking.

Marini crashed out while Martin went on to finish the sprint third, avoiding a penalty after a brief in-race investigation. Earlier in the sprint, Fabio Quartararo was involved in a similar incident with Aprilia wildcard Lorenzo Savadori at Turn 4.

Quartararo wasn’t as far alongside Savadori as he entered the corner, with the pair making the slightest bit of contact that sent the Aprilia rider down.

Marini was unhappy that Martin went unpunished but Quartararo did. Under current rules, riders are meant to be punished for incidents with riders that either cause them to crash or disrupt their race in a major way.

“The problem is the consistency of the penalties, because every time they change their opinion, they change how they apply the rules,” he added.

“So, it’s not clear. It would be great if we could try to find a solution. I think at the beginning of the season we were in a situation that the regulations were very strict, there were a lot of penalties, even if there is no crashes, while in some moments they changed and they started to be more free. Pushing another rider off the track is not a penalty, like happened in Silverstone with some riders.

“But until now there is contact and some crashes, every time there was a penalty. But today, no. It’s not clear. They gave Fabio a long lap penalty, so why Fabio yes and not in the other occasion?”

However, Martin was handed a long lap penalty for the grand prix for triggering a multi-rider pile-up at Turn 1 in the sprint, which he continues to feel was unjustified. The incident involved Marco Bezzecchi, who later said it was “wrong” for the stewards to not issue a penalty during that race when it was 14 laps long and the crash occurred on the opening tour.

While the various moving parts of that incident perhaps warranted a longer investigation, the fact a rider involved in hampering seven riders’ races made it to the podium was a bad look for MotoGP.

A worse look is the fact that the stewards offer no transparency in any of its decisions, preferring instead to hide away behind its rulings.

5. Mir’s confession highlights human toll of Honda’s season

Mir made a shock revelation that he considered quitting MotoGP earlier this year

Mir made a shock revelation that he considered quitting MotoGP earlier this year

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

All of the talk about Honda’s dire 2023 season has largely revolved around Marc Marquez and how it may affect his future with the Japanese marque.

And while it has been clear to see the anguish all of this has placed Marquez under, it’s often overlooked the human toll a situation like this can bring.

That was highlighted by Joan Mir’s confession prior to the Austrian GP that at points this year he has considered walking away from MotoGP. And while he knows he would regret this for the rest of his life, it’s not difficult to see why this consideration emerged in the first place.

After 10 rounds, Mir has scored just five points. He has been injured twice, hurting his ankle in a crash in Argentina and then missing several rounds with a wrist injury. This is a world champion in MotoGP, as recently as 2020, and it’s somewhat forgotten that he has – in some ways – been forced into this situation.

At the time Suzuki elected to quit MotoGP at the end of 2022, Mir – according to his manager Paco Sanchez at the time – was close to inking a new deal with the Japanese marque.

He’s not the only one burned by Honda in recent times, though. Pol Espargaro told Motorsport.com last year that the difficulties of his stint at HRC caused problems in his personal life; Jorge Lorenzo, a three-time MotoGP champion, effectively had his career ended by the RC213V as the big crashes he suffered led him down the same thought path as Mir.

It’s never worth making much of a habit of feeling sorry for motorcycle racers. But you can never forget that these riders are still just human beings.

6. Bezzecchi’s 2024 decision could leave Morbidelli in pound seat

Could Bezzecchi's lack of movement in the rider market create opportunities for others?

Could Bezzecchi's lack of movement in the rider market create opportunities for others?

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

The Austrian GP weekend was a hive of rider market activity, with Marco Bezzecchi now at the centre of the next big moves.

The double grand prix winner – who was third in the Austrian GP having been taken out in the Jorge Martin-triggered sprint pile-up – has been told by Ducati that his only hope of having a factory-spec bike next season is to join Pramac.

A place has been vacated by Johann Zarco, but Bezzecchi’s first choice is to stay with VR46. Valentino Rossi has been “pushing” for this also, with Bezzecchi admitting after Sunday’s race that he has already made his decision.

Despite the fact he won’t have a factory bike, it’s likely he is staying where he is. VR46 brought him to MotoGP and it’s a set-up that is clearly allowing him to flourish. And the struggles Enea Bastianini is having at the factory team now, having been so strong on year-old machinery at Gresini in 2022, is a good example of why breaking up a winning team isn’t always correct.

The knock-on effect of this means Franco Morbidelli, ousted by Yamaha for 2024 to bring in Alex Rins, could now find himself with a factory-spec Ducati.

Morbidelli had been linked to Bezzecchi’s VR46 seat if he stepped to Pramac. With that looking less and less likely, and with Pramac’s sponsorship requirements for an Italian rider, Morbidelli is the obvious candidate.

Yamaha management said parting ways with Morbidelli would be good for him to find a fresh start and rediscover his winning form. He may well be making the best fresh start possible.

7. Austria highlights negative impact of tyre pressure rules

MotoGP riders are feeling the pressure of a different kind of inflation rate

MotoGP riders are feeling the pressure of a different kind of inflation rate

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

The 2023 Austrian GP won’t go down as one of MotoGP’s most exciting affairs. Looking at the lap chart for the 28-lap grand prix, there were just under 30 changes of position (not including riders running off track, serving penalties or crashing out).

While it’s true that you don’t need hundreds of overtakes to make a race exciting, there also wasn’t anything adding tension last Sunday. Bagnaia led from start to finish and was over five seconds ahead at the chequered flag.

Last year, the winning gap was 0.492s. In 2020, 1.4s. In 2019, 0.213s. In 2018, 0.130s. In 2017, 0.176s.

The advent of extreme aerodynamics in MotoGP hasn’t helped make the racing better, but in Austria a number of riders were quick to point the finger at the new tyre pressure rules as cause of the procession. The 1.88 bar front minimum riders must run to for 50% of the GP leaves about 0.1 bar tolerance before the tyre starts to cause problems.

The massive wake from bikes ahead due to the wings plus the heat bikes pump out leads to the front pressure going up, something that is magnified if you are not out front.

Jorge Martin noted that the pressure window usually comes at around lap nine of a GP. But on Sunday, after the first tour, his front pressure was already high.

“For sure,” Gresini’s Fabio Di Giannantonio said when asked if the new tyre pressure rule had an effect on the grand prix. “After the fifth lap, it was just survival mode because the front tyre pressure goes up and you feel a lot of locking and you cannot stop the bike, you cannot make overtakes, you cannot make mistakes or else you will lose the front. So, it’s starting to be dangerous and you have to be super careful. And then the race is almost over, basically.”

8. “Mandatory” start issue critical for Aprilia to fix

Start problems have resurfaced for Vinales, but is it a rider issue or part of a bigger Aprilia headache?

Start problems have resurfaced for Vinales, but is it a rider issue or part of a bigger Aprilia headache?

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Maverick Vinales had quick pace all weekend in Austria, but his return was a sixth in the grand prix and eighth in the sprint race, having been forced to recover from the Martin Turn 1 tangle in the sprint.

But the Aprilia rider would never have been in that position had his RS-GP gotten off the line well from second on the grid. The same was true on Sunday, Vinales plummeting to 11th after the first few corners.

Starts have been an issue for Aprilia this year and it has worked to find a solution to this, through updated clutches and launch control settings. For Vinales, this is a “mandatory” fix Aprilia must make because he felt the pace he had in the grand prix was good enough to fight for the podium.

Austria generally is a tough track for the Aprilia, and the fact he had the pace he did across the weekend suggests there is some truth to what Vinales says.

However, poor starts were an issue that plagued him during his Yamaha days. While the malaise he used to suffer in the first half of races is gone, one has to wonder just how much the bike is the issue and what role the rider is playing in it.

9. KTM’s rider logjam deepens as solutions running out

Acosta still appears MotoGP bound for 2024, but how KTM fits him in remains unclear

Acosta still appears MotoGP bound for 2024, but how KTM fits him in remains unclear

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

While it was largely expected that KTM’s 2024 line-up would be announced during its home Austrian GP, nothing on this front surrounding the future of Pedro Acosta came forth.

KTM had no choice but to activate the clause in Acosta’s contract to bring him to MotoGP, because another manufacturer would have snapped him up in a heartbeat.

KTM motorsport boss Pit Beirer told MotoGP’s world feed that it was looking at a solution to suit all as it doesn’t want to lose any of its riders. That has led it to try expanding its presence on the grid but to no avail.

With Binder under contract long-term and Jack Miller signed up through to the end of 2024, both Tech3 riders insist they are staying put with their contracts in place for next season.

Of course, in modern motorsport contracts don’t mean an awful lot (where’s a riders’ union when you need one?) but it seems KTM is going to have to part ways with one of its runners.

KTM CEO Stefan Pierer told Speedweek during the Austrian GP that Espargaro and Fernandez will likely be going head-to-head at races later this season to determine who will be Acosta’s team-mate.

That’s not uncommon. A few years ago, Pramac and Ducati pitted Scott Redding and Danilo Petrucci head-to-head to decide who got the factory-spec bike for the following season. KTM’s plan, however, is somewhat more ruthless.

10. Zarco’s Honda switch understandable given Ducati’s terms

Zarco is set to join LCR Honda from 2024 - a partnership that should suit both sides

Zarco is set to join LCR Honda from 2024 - a partnership that should suit both sides

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

While it is yet to be made official by Honda, Johann Zarco will be an LCR rider in 2024 after confirming he has signed a two-year deal.

LCR’s first choice to replace Rins, Zarco – who raced for the team three times at the end of 2019, and says found “a good feeling” with the Honda back then – was selected as the only choice that made sense for both parties.

Now, the Honda may not be a competitive bike right now. But the problems it has faced thus far and the threat of its continued fumbling potentially losing the greatest asset for any MotoGP team – Marc Marquez – then the timing could be right for Zarco’s long-awaited Honda berth.

Linked to the Japanese marque before signing his fateful KTM deal, Zarco believes he has matured massively since that failed venture, and helping Honda out of its hole is a task he feels ready to tackle.

Perpetually on one-year deals, job security was a key factor in Zarco’s decision. But Ducati’s terms for him for 2024 also fell short. Its offer was for a one-year deal, with a view to moving him to its World Superbike project after that. At 33, Zarco – who is fifth in the MotoGP standings – feels he still has a lot to give.

For Honda, it will gain crucial information of the grid’s best bike… if it’s willing to listen, that is.

MotoGP returns to action in two weeks in Catalunya

MotoGP returns to action in two weeks in Catalunya

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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