Marco Bezzecchi may have been the driver of the day here at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) on Saturday, taking pole position in qualifying and completing 13 overtakes later in the 11-lap sprint race, but after being tagged at the start of the sprint by VR 46 teammate Luca Marini, he was forced to make up too many places from the back, paving the way for a peerless Jorge Martin to stamp his class and take the top step of the podium in India’s first-ever MotoGP race.
Series leader and reigning champion, Ducati’s Francesco Bagnaia, came in second, while six-time champion, Honda’s Marc Marquez, took his first podium since the opening weekend of the season to come in third.
Pramac rider Martin, who qualified second just 0.043s behind Bezzecchi, got the better start and took hold of the racing line going into the tricky first turn to overtake the VR46, before Bezzecchi was clipped by an overextended Marini, whose race, and weekend, ended at that first corner after the crash resulted in a broken collarbone for the Italian.
Early drama for the @VR46RacingTeam after lights out as Marini collided with Bez at Turn 1! 💥
— MotoGP™🏁 (@MotoGP) September 23, 2023
While Bagnaia remained steady in second place, and Marquez was engaged in a podium fight with KTM’s Brad Binder who made up nine places during the first turn chaos, none were a match for Martin who dominated the sprint – which was reduced by a lap due to the hot conditions but then delayed by two hours after heavy rainfall – from start to finish, having a race of his own as he won by a margin of in what was a faultless performance.
Braking the difference
The consensus among many of the riders in the paddock remained that with a tricky and new circuit, Martin and Bezzecchi were the top performers of the day thanks to their hard braking abilities.
“Following him (Martin) was too much. He has an advantage in terms of braking,” Bagnaia told the media after the sprint, adding that he is losing grip because his rear tyre has been bouncing. “Jorge has started to brake really hard over the last few weekends, but even more so here. If I brake at the same time as him, I go wide.”
“I was very strong in braking, compared to the riders I had in front,” Bezzecchi, despite disappointment, confirmed. After falling to the back of the pack on the first turn, the Italian stormed through the rest of the grid to finish the sprint fifth. “I was good at the Sector 3, the flowing part of the track, but in hard braking (points), I was making a bit more of a difference than the others, maybe that is where I gained the time,” he added.
Riders have pointed to the fact that throughout the entire track, there are challenging turns where the margin for error at braking points is very limited. Perhaps one of the reasons for the tricky cornering could be that despite heavy upgrade works, the track was built for Formula One racing, where, unlike MotoGP, four-wheeler cars boast of higher downforce that allows them to go through corners at speed.
Turn 1 pileup
Bezzecchi and Marini’s incident was not the only tussle at turn 1, as behind them, Honda tester Stefan Bradl slammed into Tehc3’s Pol Espargaro to end both of their races as they joined Marini back in the paddock.
Turn 1 at the BIC had been particularly challenging for the riders this weekend, with a slew of them going wide into the run-off area during the practice sessions on Friday. But many of the riders did not place the blame on the track, instead saying that frequent incidents at the opening turn of a race, on any circuit, is down to rider errors, and a tinge of greed with riders braking late in trying to find an advantage, knowing that the penalties for causing an incident are not too harsh.
No matter how difficult the road is, the hard work will pay off 💪
— MotoGP™🏁 (@MotoGP) September 23, 2023
When asked what can be done to avoid such incidents, Aprilia rider Aleix Espargaro, Pol’s brother, who is among the more vocal riders on safety issues, said: “The solution to this is simple. Strong penalties. Very strong. You’ll see them brake earlier and we’ll avoid these (crashes).”
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After his first lap incident, Marini has been ruled out of the race on Sunday, and so has Gresini rider Alex Marquez, after his crash during the first qualifying session left him with two broken ribs.
The qualifying results are maintained in both the sprint and full race, meaning Bezzecchi will once again start from pole, with Martin and Bagnaia completing the rest of the front row behind him respectively on Sunday. Martin is hot on Bagnaia’s heels to stop him from defending his title, closing the gap with the championship leader to 33 points on Saturday.
Sunday’s race has also been shortened to 22 laps, from the originally scheduled 24, due to the heat at the BIC.