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MotoGP Indian GP

10 things we learned from the 2023 MotoGP Indian Grand Prix

MotoGP voyaged into the unknown last weekend with its first ever Indian Grand Prix, and it proved to be a dramatic one.

Jorge Martin, Pramac Racing

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Months of uncertainty marred the build-up to MotoGP’s inaugural Indian adventure at the Buddh International Circuit, as requested track works had only recently been completed.

Homologation was made official only on the Thursday of the grand prix, while the riders had already decided to unite if they felt the safety standards of the venue were not up to scratch.

Thankfully, everything went off without too many problems and MotoGP’s first Indian GP was a truly memorable affair.

VR46’s Marco Bezzecchi positioned himself as a genuine championship threat with a dominant grand prix victory, while Jorge Martin’s consistency continued.

A mistake for championship leader Francesco Bagnaia in Sunday’s race wiped out his championship advantage, bringing to just 13 points as Martin fought through dehydration to finish second.

Elsewhere, the Japanese manufacturers put on a strong showing as Fabio Quartararo scored his first grand prix podium since Austin, while Joan Mir ended his points drought for Honda.

Turn 1 pile-ups were the subject of much discussion again, while Ducati stirred the pot as it let the world know it would be open to having Marc Marquez on one of its bikes in 2024.

With so much to pick apart, here are the 10 things we learned from the 2023 MotoGP Indian Grand Prix.

Despite visa issues on the week of the race, all riders made it to India

Despite visa issues on the week of the race, all riders made it to India

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

1 Indian GP delivers but leaves organisers, MotoGP with work to do for 2024 - RT

The inaugural Indian GP wasn’t the kind of chaotic mess many had expected coming into the weekend. But equally, it didn’t capture the public imagination in the same way newer races in Indonesia and Thailand have done in recent years.

But on most counts, MotoGP can claim to have made a successful foray into India, as the Buddh International Circuit held a world championship-level event for the first time in a decade.

The actual layout of the track was a hit among the riders, with some comparing it to more classic venues in Europe and others praising the banked parabola section at Turn 8/9 that is unique to the MotoGP calendar.

Many were also left impressed by the facilities available to them in the paddock, despite the track having not been maintained properly since the last Formula 1 race was held in India in 2013.

Riders were mostly happy with the changes made to the track to make it suitable for bike racing, having previously questioned if it was safe enough to host a MotoGP event. The visa issues (which were an agency issue rather than a Dorna problem) that affected multiple teams were also sorted and, once everyone had landed in India, the focus quickly shifted to the business part of the weekend.

Although overtaking appeared to be an issue at times in some classes, the races were entertaining for the most part, with a last-lap battle between Jorge Martin and Fabio Quartararo for second serving as a thrilling showdown to India’s first MotoGP race.

However, both the organisers and MotoGP as a championship have a lot of work to do if they want to return to hosting another race next year. Firstly, more changes are required to run-off areas and barriers to ensure the track is completely safe for a top-tier bike racing championship.

While the riders gave their thumbs up to the circuit after inspecting it on Thursday, they pointed to several corners where the walls were a bit too close to the track – namely, Turn 8. The idea of racing in wet conditions at Buddh was also something they were not comfortable with, but that scenario was thankfully avoided despite a heavy Saturday downpour.

There remains room to improve the organisational aspects of the race as well, after there were some bizarre delays to the track action over the weekend, particularly for a water shortage in marshal posts on Friday afternoon. Marshals appeared to be well trained in general, but there were instances they took too long to recover bikes - particularly in Saturday’s sprint.

Then, more needs to be done to build a fanbase for MotoGP India, with only 58,000 people turning up to watch the grand prix on Sunday. True, the uncertainty regarding the race would have put off people from travelling from other parts of the country, but MotoGP and the local promoter need to join forces to find better ways to promote the series in the coming years.

MotoGP has been driven to India by its huge potential and its humongous market for two-
wheelers, but it will take some effort to actually get fans to flock to the circuit and fill the empty seats that were clearly visible from the aerial shots.

Another race crash in 2023 for Bagnaia has seen his championship lead cut to 13 points

Another race crash in 2023 for Bagnaia has seen his championship lead cut to 13 points

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

2 Old habits die hard as Bagnaia blunders again… RT

Francesco Bagnaia is often hailed for overturning what was a staggering 91-point deficit at one stage in 2022 to emerge triumphant at the end of the season. But while his comeback in the season half of the campaign was nothing short of heroic, Bagnaia had largely himself to blame for the kind of championship odds he faced after last year’s German Grand Prix in June.

The factory Ducati rider crashed out from strong positions in the Qatar, French and Catalan GPs, and started last in Portugal due to another fall in qualifying. Without those errors, Bagnaia would likely have had a much easier run en route to becoming Ducati’s first MotoGP champion in 15 years.

This year, Bagnaia has gone from the chaser to being chased, pulling out a mammoth 62-point lead in the championship after August’s Austrian GP. However, in less than a month, the gap has dwindled to just 13 points, and the pressure is now on the Italian to stay at the front in the 2023 title fight.

Given he has matured more as a rider following his title success, one would think that he would make fewer mistakes that blighted the first half of his 2022 campaign, but that hasn’t proved to be the case this year.

It all started when he highsided at the start of the Catalan GP after scoring pole position, losing as many as 25 points to his rivals and compromising his physical condition for the next race in Misano as an unsighted Brad Binder ran over his leg.

India should have offered Bagnaia a chance for redemption, but the Italian rider crashed out again having just passed Jorge Martin for second. Struggling all weekend under braking – typically his strongest point, as noted by all Ducati riders who look at his data – Bagnaia was a distant second in the sprint. And in the grand prix, unhappiness with his feeling on the medium front prompted him to risk running the hard. While he didn’t think necessarily that was the reason for his crash, it highlighted how on the back foot he was in terms of braking performance.

Given his Pramac rival was going to suffer dehydration issues later in the race, Bagnaia would have been able to take it easy on the throttle and bag a strong haul of points for second. Instead, he now must try hard in Japan to hold on to his slim championship lead.

Bezzecchi and Martin are hounding Bagnaia now in the title chase

Bezzecchi and Martin are hounding Bagnaia now in the title chase

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

3 …And his title rivals are in top form – RT

Bagnaia was the first to admit that he couldn’t afford to make mistakes like the one in India, as MotoGP heads to the crucial final part of the season that will see seven rounds take place over a span of just nine weeks.

And that’s because Bagnaia's errors have coincided with an upturn in form for his two closest rivals Martin and Marco Bezzecchi, and he faces a genuine challenge from the two in the title run-in.

At Misano, Martin was in dominant form, taking pole position by nearly four-tenths before crushing the competition in the sprint and the grand prix itself. In India, too, Martin was fighting at the front of the field, winning the sprint race with ease before holding on to second in the main race against Fabio Quartararo despite battling severe dehydration.

Bezzecchi shouldn’t be discounted from the title fight either despite trailing Bagnaia by 44 points, not after the kind of performances he pulled off in India. The way the VR46 rider was able to make one overtake after another at Buddh after dropping to the back in a lap one tangle in the sprint was nothing short of impressive, especially when there were still some wet patches off the racing line following a rain shower earlier in the afternoon. And if that wasn’t remarkable enough, he won the grand prix itself by only nine seconds, the kind of winning margin that is rarely seen in MotoGP these days.

With the momentum on their side, Martin and Bezzecchi are likely to be fighting for victories again in the final part of the season as they try to chase down Bagnaia in the championship fight.

Honda enjoyed its best weekend of the 2023 season in India, which came as some surprise

Honda enjoyed its best weekend of the 2023 season in India, which came as some surprise

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

4 “Mystery” Honda pace shows how potent its line-up really is – LD

A new track always offers up an opportunity for the field to mix itself up. But few gave Honda much hope of a strong result. On top of the usual issues the Honda faces, the fact it would have to run the stiffer rear tyre carcass Michelin brings to all heat-critical tracks surely should have made the weekend a nightmare.

But that couldn’t have been further from the truth. Both Marc Marquez and Joan Mir made it directly into Q2, though the former said this was just the result of two world champion riders being better at quickly adapting to a new layout.

The strong form continued on Saturday, though. Mir headed Marquez on the grid in fifth, while the latter scored his first podium since the Portugal sprint back in March in the half-distance race.

And in the grand prix, Mir scored his first points since Portugal with fifth while Marquez was on course for a potential podium before a Turn 1 crash left him recovering to ninth.

Mir said Honda’s upturn in form was “a bit of a mystery”, given its usual troubles on the stiffer rear tyre. He felt buoyed by the findings of the Misano test, which allowed him to explore how to better ride the RC213V in the way it needs to be ridden.

For Marquez, the explanation was a bit simpler: “Because it’s a very similar race track compared to Austin. I mean there are a lot of stop-and-go corners. The acceleration you need to do a big pick-up, and it’s not necessary to use the lean angle.

“This is our weak point, corners like at the Catalunya circuit, it’s there where we struggle more and we suffer a lot during the weekend. But in this race track that is stop-and-go, and [you need to] pick-up [the bike early] and first gear corners, normally our bike works good – very similar to the best bikes.”

That style of track is up next at Motegi, while Thailand’s Buriram track is also similar – and will feature the same tyre as India. If Honda’s form does continue in this vein, Marquez and Mir have already proven what they will be able to do.

Quartararo has scored all of Yamaha's slender podium tally in 2023

Quartararo has scored all of Yamaha's slender podium tally in 2023

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

5 Quartararo continues to make himself invaluable to Yamaha… LD

Fabio Quartararo has long been putting the Yamaha in places it shouldn’t be while his stablemates struggle.

That was no different in India. The 2021 world champion looked much more like his former self on the M1, qualifying in eighth and finishing just 4.3s off the win in the sprint.

In the grand prix, he capitalised on the absence of the injured Luca Marini (who broke his collarbone triggering a Turn 1 smash with his team-mate in the sprint) and Bagnaia’s fall in the grand prix to claim just his second Sunday podium of the season.

Second was almost his after a late, dehydration-induced error from Jorge Martin. But he couldn’t hold the Pramac rider at bay as he scrabbled for grip in left corners. Hailing it as the best he’s ridden all season, Quartararo was still battling against the Yamaha’s usual power-related deficiencies.

But, as he so often does when the opportunity arises, he was able to make the difference for Yamaha. By comparison, team-mate Franco Morbidelli qualified 17th and got as far as seventh in the grand prix, but was just over eight seconds behind Quartararo.

Yamaha doesn't seem united right now as opposing views on 2024 developments continue

Yamaha doesn't seem united right now as opposing views on 2024 developments continue

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

6 …But Yamaha opinion differences highlight lack of unity – LD

Quartararo’s result is a timely reminder to Yamaha as to the type of rider it has within its ranks, not least after a lukewarm reception to the Japanese marque’s 2024 bike at the Misano test.

While Quartararo said he “expected much more” from Yamaha’s new engine, team director Massimo Meregalli said the motor had matched expectations.

Over the India weekend, he claimed there was a miscommunication between what Yamaha had targeted and what Quartararo had, hence the difference of opinion. Quartararo still felt his feedback was the most important, however, and raised the pertinent point that things will not improve if rider and team can’t align their expectations.

“At the Misano test we saw the team manager's comments and mine, which were black and white, totally different,” he began. “I can clearly say that the test was a disappointment and that it was not up to the standard I expected. We didn't take a step forward, not at all. But if the team manager says it's better, you have to listen to him.”

“In the end, one says white and one says black. The rider's comments I think are a bit more important, it's the rider who tests the bikes and who has the feeling if they are easier to ride or not. If we start [like this] and we are not aligned of course 2024 will be the same or worse.”

Three race starts over the last four rounds have been blighted by Turn 1 pile-ups

Three race starts over the last four rounds have been blighted by Turn 1 pile-ups

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

7 Riders call for tougher Turn 1 pile-up penalties – LD

For the third time in four rounds, the start of a race featured a multi-rider pile-up at the first corner.

In the sprint race in India, Luca Marini ploughed into the back of VR46 team-mate and poleman Marco Bezzecchi. Marini crashed hard and broke his collarbone, ruling him out of this week’s Japanese GP. Behind, LCR’s Stefan Bradl got into the back of Tech3 rider Augusto Fernandez, which sent Bradl crashing into the path of Pol Espargaro.

Bradl escaped punishment while Marini was handed a long lap penalty for whenever he returns. That penalty is in line with what Enea Bastianini received for triggering the Barcelona Turn 1 smash that left him with multiple fractures, and what Jorge Martin was hit with for causing several runners to fall at the first corner of the Austria sprint.

In the Moto2 race in India, Gresini’s Jeremy Alcoba got the same for taking out several riders, causing a red flag and fracturing Celestino Vietti’s pubis bone.

Turn 1 at Buddh caught a number of riders out all weekend as they struggled to get their bikes stopped for the corner. Jack Miller felt a pile-up was inevitable because of how unforgiving the turn was, while Pol Espargaro feels these incidents are entirely “evitable”.

This topic has come up in rider safety commission meetings and the time, some believe, has come to start imposing harsher penalties.

“The solution – there is a very easy, easy solution,” Aleix Espargaro said. “Strong penalties on corner one. I say it in every single safety commission. Stronger [penalty]. “Very strong. We will see everyone brake earlier, you will see. You just brake earlier, it’s easy.”

The FIM stewards in India applied the punishments as set out by precedent, but it’s clear that isn’t fit for purpose. Double the starts equal double the risk, but it has been well-documented that the new front tyre pressure rules and the overall difficulty in overtaking is creating much more aggressive opening laps.

In most instances, a long lap penalty costs a rider around three seconds (that is the penalty given to riders as long lap equivalent if a transgression occurs when the penalty loop can’t be served).

Not only is that lenient for wrecking several riders’ races, but it’s also counterintuitive: giving someone who was too aggressive a penalty which forces them to ride even harder to make up ground is only likely to lead to more problems.

Marquez's 2024 future remains unclear as rumours persist

Marquez's 2024 future remains unclear as rumours persist

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

8 Ducati open to Marquez, but decision still not made – RT

On a weekend where Honda enjoyed its strongest showing since the season opener in Portugal, there was fresh speculation linking Marc Marquez to a move to Gresini in 2024.

Ducati sporting boss Paolo Ciabatti reignited rumours when he stated in a TV interview that the path is open for Marquez to join the Ducati fold next season on a year-old bike, if he and Honda decide it’s best to end a partnership that has been left on shaky grounds by the uncompetitive the RC213V.

Marquez is nearing a point where he must firm up his future and this week’s trip to Japan for the Motegi race will offer him another opportunity to speak to the top brass at Honda and see if they are on the same page regarding 2024.

The Spaniard has been trying to persuade Honda to beef up its technical department and it’s understood that some recruitments will be essential to convince him to see out his contract.

It was interesting, however, of Marquez to say that he will take Honda’s interests into account before making a call on his MotoGP future. Riders are incredibly competitive and it’s not uncommon for them to end long-standing ties with a manufacturer in order to ensure they have the most competitive machinery to race on. Just look at Jonathan Rea ending his Kawasaki deal early to move to Yamaha in the World Superbike Championship next year, for instance,

While Marquez’s comment didn’t necessarily mean he will stay loyal to Honda through this storm, it did suggest that whatever decision he makes, he will ensure the Japanese manufacturer is in a good position for the 2024 MotoGP season. Whether that involves him staying aboard or ensuring someone of high calibre can lead the development of the bike in his place, that remains to be seen…

Aprilia bike becomes fragile when it gets hot, exposing long-running reliability woes

Aprilia bike becomes fragile when it gets hot, exposing long-running reliability woes

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

9 Terminal heat issues arise for Aprilia once more – LD

The flyaway portion of a MotoGP season seems to be Aprilia’s undoing. Between Silverstone and Valencia last year, he scored just one top-five finish and had two races – Japan and Valencia – compromised by mechanical issues.

Having won two grands prix in in the last five rounds, the second half of the championship started well for Aleix Espargaro.

But the overseas curse seems to be striking again. A luckless crash ended Espargaro’s sprint having already gotten caught up in the VR46 Turn 1 tangle.

Running in seventh and not far from the battle for fourth in the grand prix, Espargaro’s engine expired on lap 11 and forced an early bath for the Spaniard. He later explained that the RS-GP proves mechanically fragile in extremely hot conditions, like those experienced in Delhi.

This has been an issue for a while for Aprilia and one it seemingly doesn’t have an answer for at the moment.

“The last two, three seasons has been always the same; I would say it’s been [like this] even for four seasons,” he said. “It’s very tricky for us on the hot conditions and with this amount of fairing, aero, it’s even worse. We have to improve because it’s not just the riders who suffer, but also all the bikes suffer when it’s hot like this.”

The heat took its toll in India, with Martin suffering dehydration during the grand prix

The heat took its toll in India, with Martin suffering dehydration during the grand prix

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

10 India taken over as MotoGP’s toughest event - RT

The Sepang Circuit in Malaysia has long been considered the toughest physical test for MotoGP riders, and the addition of the Indonesian GP in Mandalika last year meant there was another venue where riders had to deal with extreme temperatures and humidity.

But the conditions MotoGP riders faced at the Buddh International Circuit last weekend were on another level, even as unexpected rain showers on Saturday brought some respite and helped bring the mercury down.

Even though the race took place in September, long after the peak summer season had ended in northern India, riders were still having to deal with temperatures in excess of 35C, with high humidity adding to their woes.

After putting their first laps on Friday, riders requested Dorna and FIM to reduce the length of the races to help combat the heat, and MotoGP duly obliged on safety grounds. The premier class race was cut short by three laps and for some, it made the difference between finishing the race and not making it to the chequered flag.

Jorge Martin suffered from severe dehydration and had to be attended by MotoGP’s medical team, while Brad Binder strongly suggested that his tyres would have fallen off the cliff in the extreme heat had the race gone to full distance. Many others felt like their throats were burning due to the conditions, with the hot air blowing from their bikes only making them more miserable, while Pol Espargaro said he registered a heart rate of a staggering 198bpm. 

It’s perhaps no surprise that MotoGP is rumoured to move the race to early October next year, when the weather won’t be so harsh. But the race will give MotoGP something to think about and a hot-weather protocol could be one way to ensure riders are not forced to go beyond their physical limits in order to complete some races on the calendar.

Marco Bezzecchi is now properly in the championship mix, with seven race weekends remaining

Marco Bezzecchi is now properly in the championship mix, with seven race weekends remaining

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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