Bagnaia wins Portuguese MotoGP sprint


Italian rider claims his maiden sprint race, while Yamaha’s Quartararo predicts major crashes
World champion Francesco Bagnaia said winning MotoGP’s first ever sprint race at a bruising Portuguese Grand Prix on Saturday was “quite fun” but 2021 title winner Fabio Quartararo blasted the new format as “dangerous” and a “jungle”.
Bagnaia came home ahead of fellow Ducati rider Jorge Martin with Honda’s pole-sitter Marc Marquez in third.
This was the inaugural sprint in an innovation that will see the riders contest a fast and furious 12-lap race for half the points awarded for Sunday’s showpiece event.
A sprint will precede every race of the 21-event calendar in 2023.
“It was quite fun,” said 26-year-old Bagnaia. “It was more intense as it was shorter than a race. We had new tyres, fewer laps so you can push more.”
“I am happy for today as it was a target to finish in the top three so it’s a good feeling.”
However, Yamaha rider Quartararo, who became France’s first ever MotoGP world champion in 2021, predicted more crashes over the forthcoming season.
“I don’t like it at all, it’s dangerous but if we’re not aggressive, we lose places,” said Quartararo.
“It’s a jungle, we’re not in cars where it’s much safer and where contact is less of a problem. Physically it’s going to be tough, in (a full race distance) 25 laps you have a little bit more time.”
This first sprint race in MotoGP history was marked by a shuddering collision between Italian riders Enea Bastianini of Ducati and Luca Marini of the satellite Ducati-VR46 team.
Bastianini, 25 and nicknamed ‘The Beast’, suffered a broken collarbone and will sit out Sunday’s season-opener and next weekend’s Argentina race.
Honda’s Joan Mir, the 2020 world champion, was also a non-finisher on Saturday after clashing with Quartararo who ended the day in 10th spot.
The crashes came a day after Spanish veteran Pol Espargaro was hospitalised with “severe spinal trauma” following a crash in practice.
The high-speed crash suffered by 31-year-old Espargaro on his KTM Tech3 GASGAS bike caused a long interruption to the session which eventually finished around two hours late.
Marquez, a six-time MotoGP world champion, had surprisingly started from his 64th career pole position ahead of Bagnaia and Martin having struggled in Friday practice where he also crashed out.
“I spent a lot of energy. It was only 12 laps, but we did an extraordinary job today,” said Marquez, whose career has stalled after undergoing four surgeries in recent seasons.
“Tomorrow is the most important race of the weekend, it will be more difficult.”
Despite his reservations, Marquez will still start Sunday’s race from pole position where he will seek his 60th premier class victory but first since October 2021.