Francesco ‘Pecco’ Bagnaia fired his Ducati to an historic MotoGP title on Sunday, in front of 170,380 fans at the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Valencia, Spain.
He becomes the first Italian to win the premier class since the great Valentino Rossi in 2009, the first Ducati rider to take the crown since Casey Stoner in 2007, and the first Italian to clinch the title on an Italian bike since the legendary Giacomo Agostini, five decades ago in 1972.
Just a few short months ago, such a victory looked more fantasy than possibility.
Going into the summer break the Italian trailed Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo by 91 points, but a series of disastrous showings by the 2021 champion and masterful wins by Bagnaia – seven in total across the season – saw the gap evaporate.
Quartararo needed to win in Valencia and hope Bagnaia scored fewer than two points. The Yamaha rider launched into the race determined to fulfill his side of the bargain.
A breathless first few laps saw he and Bagnaia locked together, exchanging places with close passes. At one point the two bikes clashed, sending one of the Ducati’s aerodynamic wings spinning into the gravel.
Bagnaia then settled into the pack behind his rival, who was struggling to follow the leaders. Around him riders skittled out of the race, with Marc Marquez, Jack Miller and Johan Zarco among those sent sprawling.
Suzuki’s Alex Rins eventually took the win. The Japanese factory announced a surprise withdrawal from MotoGP racing earlier this year, and as a last waltz this was as flawlessly executed as they could have wished.
Rins, with pictures of his Suzuki teammates on his helmet and good luck messages from Suzuki fans adorning his team’s garage, crossed the line ahead of KTM’s Brad Binder and Ducati’s Jorge Martin.
Quartararo slumped onto the tank of his Yamaha as he crossed the line in fourth. Bagnaia’s ninth place was more than enough to make him champion.
“It’s the best day of my life,” Bagnaia told MotoGP.com in Parc Fermé.
“I was struggling a lot. My mission was to be in the top five, but I didn’t know why, after the first three or four laps I started to struggle very much with the front of the bike, it was impossible to control. But then the most important thing is that we won, and we are the world champion and it’s a really great day, I’m very happy.”