Restamping the #1: Bagnaia’s dramatic start to 2024 MotoGP cranks the thrills

Published On: 3/24/2024

360kmph. 225mph. Scraping knees, elbows, shoulders.

Angled, moody, fierce motorcycles, dripping in aerodynamic edges. Position-swapping separated by inches: MotoGP is on the pipe once more and the Grand Prix of Portugal accelerated the series into round two of twenty-one last weekend.

The narrative of 2024 is one of continuity and comebacks. Ducati Corse rider, double world champion and the coolest cat on the grid – Francesco Bagnaia – is aiming to stretch that crimson shadow over Grand Prix for a third consecutive year. The 27-year-old aced the opening date of the calendar at the Lusail International Circuit after smashing lap records in Malaysia and Qatar for the pre-season tests to make his rivals see red in more ways than one. He’s chased foremost by teammate Enea Bastianini on the rasping GP24: the best motorcycle in the field. More Italians roam in the exhaust haze. The VR46 duo of Marco Bezzecchi and Fabio Di Giannantonio form Valentino Rossi’s potent entry to the MotoGP contest for 2024 and with Ducati GP23’s; Bagnaia’s title-winning equipment from last year.

Comebacks? Look no further than the Monster Energy Yamaha crew of Fabio Quartararo (the 2021 champ) and fresh recruit Alex Rins: the ‘owner’ of the Circuit of the Americas thanks to his wins with both Suzuki and Honda in the last three years. Yamaha’s recent competitive ‘funk’ is being hosed away with renewed vigor for 2024: more technicians, more ideas, more pace of development. The M1 is fast but raw and the Frenchman and Catalan are pushing the edge to make it sing against European pace. 


“We are still in a process, and we have to test more things,” FQ20 said in Portugal. “We have new engineers, like everybody knows this winter, and we are adjusting the electronics a lot, which is something that is a problem-point and where we have to make a massive step. We are changing a lot. From Valencia last year to now, the way we are doing the lap-time is totally different but I expect that in three months we will not have changed from 0-100. But I know we are taking some really good information and I think that is step-by-step, even if the result is not improving, we are taking good data.”


11th in Qatar, followed by a Q2 performance and 7th around the swirling 4.5km layout of the Algarve International Circuit (a 13th position for Rins, who is still limping around the paddock almost a year after his bad right leg break) emphasized the patient approach Yamaha need to take but the culture has shifted and the Japanese are on the march.

The Ducati elite can be slightly more comfortable with their lot, although a frightening error by Bagnaia during the sun-kissed Saturday Sprint lost #1 a gold medal. Braking furiously into Turn 1 and from 300kmph, Pecco almost lost control and was forced to run wide, dropping from P1 to P4. “I f**ked up,” he grimaced to the press on Saturday afternoon.

Sunday’s Grand Prix brought 25 laps rather than 12 but it was more chaos for Bagnaia. A clash with Marc Marquez into the dipping Turn 5 saw both riders on the floor. “I was expecting to be faster and the guys at the front were too fast for me so I just tried to avoid everything,” he said. “And when Marc arrived he tried to overtake, he went wide. I tried to cross the line, he crossed his line and we collided, something that makes me angry but…it’s normal, it’s a racing incident and we have to carry on.”

“It makes me angry because I finished with zero points. We know perfectly with 38 races still [that] the championship is very long…but I was expecting to be more constant in results and not start having zero points.”

While Pecco simmered and now has a leap to jump ‘Bastia’ was the man who profited from Maverick Viñales’ late technical issue in Portugal for his first podium prize of the year as runner-up. “It was difficult for me to think about the victory today but it was a really great race and important for me to make a great result,” the Italian Polesitter said, fittingly burying the frustration of Portimao 2023 when a first lap Sprint accident saw the former Moto2 world champ dealing with a broken shoulder.



Comebacks and comebacks?

Time for ‘merica. The sprawl and speed of the Circuit of the Americas is the next port of call in three weeks’ time for MotoGP. The series will make the annual stop in Austin, Texas before lunging into a sustained tour of Europe throughout the rest of the spring.