There were many, many tributes to Andrea Dovizioso on the day that he retired as a full-time MotoGP racer, but there was perhaps none so fitting as the winner of Sunday's MotoGP race at Misano. Pecco Bagnaia, riding the bike Dovizioso had a massive, massive part in developing in the eight years he was at Ducati, took two and a half laps to get to the front of the race and then controlled it right to the end.
It was the way Bagnaia managed the race that was so reminiscent of Andrea Dovizioso. The way you usually win a race from the front is by taking off at the front and trying to lay down a pace that no one else is able to follow. Once you've opened a gap, you can then manage the pace to keep the gap consistent right to the end. The benefit is that you don't have to worry about fending off attacks, and can just concentrate on your own riding.
Doing it the Dovi way, the way Pecco Bagnaia did at Misano, is doing it the hard way. Riding at a conservative pace and daring anyone to try to pass you takes a particular mixture of courage and hubris. Slowly ratcheting up the pace until there is almost no one left to challenge is the equivalent of rubbing salt into the wounds. It is proudly declaring "catch me if you can", certain that nobody can.
Three riders followed Bagnaia at the start: Maverick Viñales, Luca Marini, and Enea Bastianini. Bagnaia started out posting 1'32.9s, and all three were able to follow easily, though none could get close enough to pass. By mid race, Bagnaia had dropped his pace to 1'32.5s, and the two Ducatis and lone Aprilia were still right on his tail, again without ever really attempting a pass. At two-thirds distance, Luca Marini dropped off the back of the leading group. A couple of laps later, Enea Bastianini got past Maverick Viñales, and the Aprilia man had to let the two Ducatis go.
As the laps ticked off, Bagnaia clicked up the pace, stretching but not breaking Bastianini. The Gresini Ducati rider was with him to the end, the pair breaking into the 1'31s in the last couple of laps. Bastianini had one shot at a pass on the final lap in Turn 4, but nearly ran into the back of Bagnaia and gave up a couple of tenths. He made up that ground as they approached the final laps, but he didn't have enough to get past Bagnaia before the line. The Ducati Lenovo rider racked up his fourth victory in a row, the first time ever for a rider on a Ducati.
That ability to calmly lead a race and manage the gap, not concern himself with the riders Bagnaia knew he was holding up was a carbon copy of so many of Andrea Dovizioso's races. The oddity is that Bagnaia had done it in a race where tire management was never really an issue, where Dovizioso usually performed his trick in races where managing tires was critical. But it was still an impressive and remarkable achievement.
Bagnaia had known he had riders behind him, but had ignored them and just focused on his own riding. "Sincerely, for all the race, I feel that someone was here. I was not thinking about anything. I was just trying to be smart, to be very constant with the pace."
He didn't change his line to try to prevent overtakes. If anyone wanted to pass, they would have to do the work. But trying to ride defensively would open himself up to attack, Bagnaia believed. "I also didn’t try to close the line because I felt that closing the lines was more of a possibility for the rider behind me to overtake me. So, I just tried to do be competitive, just do the best line possible to be fast. This maybe has helped me to be more constant and fast all the race." When you are fast, the only way past is if someone else is demonstrably faster.
Maverick Viñales commented on just how inch-perfect Bagnaia had been, harking back to the race here in 2020, when Bagnaia had crashed out of the lead, handing Viñales the victory. "I tried in the beginning because I always had in mind the race from 2020 that I put a lot of pressure on Pecco and he made a slight mistake, and today I was trying this but he improved. He made not even one slight mistake to put the bike in."
The chance to control the race only came about because of two things: a fantastic start – Bagnaia rocketed from fifth to third into the first corner – and the way the track changed over the first few laps. Misano is a track with a lot of grip, so it is affected more than most by the Dunlop rubber laid down by Moto2. That made the first few laps, until the track absorbed some of the fresh Michelin rubber, a tricky affair.
"At the start of the race already in the first lap in corner four, I already felt a lot of front locking starting," Bagnaia said. Leading the race was a little more treacherous than usual, as Jack Miller found out to his cost. "I pushed from the beginning, tried to get away from those guys, or at least break the group up a little bit," the Australian said. "And I was going OK, started my second lap then went into Turn 4, I was a little bit wide coming out of 3, didn't really think too much of it. I was coming in a little bit hot at Turn 4, just like it is sometimes with the first couple laps, just not decelerating maybe the way you like it."
That looseness proved expensive for Miller. "I came in wide off the kerb. Normally there, even if I was running wide I was able to slide the bike to the apex. You lose a little bit at the apex because you've completely basically stopped the bike." With Moto2 rubber on the track, that leeway was no longer there. "But, I came off the kerb and the thing started pushing a little bit and I knew I was on the limit, but yeah, she went away from me and that was all, you know. I picked the bike up, continued, but had no rear brake."
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