10 things we learned from the 2023 MotoGP French GP

Motorcycle grand prix racing’s 1000th event did not disappoint, as the 2023 MotoGP French Grand Prix at Le Mans delivered plenty of drama. 

Ducati enjoyed a stellar weekend in France, picking up victories in the sprint race and the grand prix courtesy of Jorge Martin and Marco Bezzecchi, while it locked out the podium in the grand prix.

Martin’s sprint win seemingly unlocked something as he backed it up with a podium in the grand prix to cap off his best weekend results since his maiden GP win at the Styrian round in 2021. And Bezzecchi proved his title credentials with a dominant grand prix victory on his year-old VR46-run Ducati, closing to within a point of championship leader Francesco Bagnaia after he was taken out in an early collision.

Elsewhere, Marc Marquez returned as Honda put its new Kalex chassis through its paces. The frame seemingly brought a step forward in performance as Marquez qualified second and was on course to finish there in the grand prix before a late crash.

He was much happier than Fabio Quartararo, who complained again about Yamaha’s lack of horsepower and has now decided to revert to his 2021 settings, while stewarding remained a topic of discussion as a meeting between Freddie Spencer and the riders ultimately came to nothing.

Here are the 10 things we learned from the 2023 MotoGP French GP.

1. Bezzecchi’s modesty defies his genuine title credentials

It is another happy Monday for Bezzecchi

It is another happy Monday for Bezzecchi

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Marco Bezzecchi marked himself out as a star in the making during his 2022 rookie year, and has carried that into this season. His Argentina Grand Prix win in the wet was the next step of his evolution, but what he displayed at Le Mans was a serious message.

Starting from seventh on the grid, Bezzecchi couldn’t improve on that position in the sprint, but in the grand prix was unstoppable. As the chaos of the early laps unfolded, Bezzecchi quickly found himself in podium contention.

Not even having to drop one place for an aggressive overtake on Marc Marquez on lap eight of 27 threw him from his stride. Taking the lead on lap 11, he fired in the fastest lap of the race next time around with a 1m31.975s. But it was his 1m31.855s on lap 15 that proved decisive. Now 1.8s clear, he rocketed away to a 4.2s lead to the chequered flag. With Bagnaia out, Bezzecchi is just one point behind the championship leader now and screams serious title credentials, even if he doesn’t want to admit it.

“Honestly, I’m still not thinking about the championship,” he said. “First of all, we saw having the sprint and the main GP in the same weekend, it’s very easy to lose everything very quickly. So, I just want to continue like this, thinking weekend by weekend, race by race, enjoying my bike with the guys [in the team] who are fantastic.”

2. Sprint races have become a blessing for Bagnaia after third GP non-score

Bagnaia still leads the championship despite not scoring in three of the five main races

Bagnaia still leads the championship despite not scoring in three of the five main races

Photo by: Ducati Corse

One of the big questions coming into the 2023 season was who the sprint races would benefit the most. That question was posed in the context of pure performance. But the answer comes as a result of circumstance.

Currently, the biggest benefactor of sprints is world champion Francesco Bagnaia, because it has allowed him to hold onto his points lead despite registering a third grand prix non-score in five rounds.

At Le Mans, Bagnaia was the unlucky victim of a clear racing incident as he and Maverick Vinales collided at Turn 12 battling for third on lap five of 27.

But even with Bezzecchi winning, Bagnaia still had a championship lead of one point. That is largely down to the 43 points he has scored across the five sprints thus far, just seven shy of the total accumulated from his grand prix victories in Portugal and Spain.

This, coupled with the inconsistencies of the rest of the grid and absence of key title rivals in Marc Marquez and Enea Bastianini in the first part of the season, are keeping luck on Bagnaia’s side.

While Le Mans was not of his making, he cannot afford to keep surrendering points on Sundays, as at a certain point someone will find consistency and punish him for it.

3. Honda’s Kalex chassis is no magic bullet, but it’s clearly helping

The new Kalex frame made its race debut for Honda at Le Mans

The new Kalex frame made its race debut for Honda at Le Mans

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Honda’s long-awaited Kalex chassis made its debut at the post-Spanish GP test at Jerez a fortnight ago, while HRC brought three of the new frames to Le Mans for Marc Marquez and Joan Mir to evaluate.

Despite the fact he had been absent for three rounds recovering from injury, Marquez qualified second, finished the sprint fifth and was on course for second in the grand prix before crashing out on the penultimate tour.

Clearly, the new frame is a step forward in cornering and Marquez feels like the bike is starting to feel a bit more like his own. However, he noted his old chassis was better on the front-end – with hard braking what Honda riders need to do to make up for the bike’s lack of acceleration.

As such, Marquez urged caution: “Of course the chassis is a small difference, but it’s not the solution. Mir was using the chassis and Mir is a world champion, and you saw he was struggling, he was in the back and he crashed again.

“We need to change something for the future to be more competitive, to be more safe because every year all the Honda riders we are in the top ranking of crashing. It’s not only me; Mir crashed three, four times in Jerez, here three times. So, we need to keep working with the team to improve.”

All Honda riders apart from LCR’s Takaaki Nakagami crashed out of the French GP, all of them front-end tucks. Nakagami was ninth in the main race, but admittedly only because he didn’t have the confidence in the front-end to push hard into the corners.

The fact Marquez was able to do what he did on a bike that is still not up to the task of being a competitive machine speaks volumes about the rider. If Honda can make further gains in the coming rounds, Marquez will start to become a much bigger threat.

4. Quartararo taking two steps back to go forward on the Yamaha

It is back to the future for Quartararo using a 2021 bike set-up

It is back to the future for Quartararo using a 2021 bike set-up

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Fabio Quartararo’s homecoming was unspectacular. He qualified 13th and crashed out of the sprint, before salvaging seventh from the grand prix after battling arm pump issues he blamed on a bad physio treatment prior to the race.

Once again Quartararo spoke about his lack of confidence on the M1 and the fact the bike has lost its strong points. Yamaha has found power, but not enough to get the aero to work properly, which has seemingly led to the lack of front-end feel he has been experiencing.

Quartararo admitted during the Le Mans weekend that he was ‘not confident’ Yamaha understands how to fix its problems this year, but has decided not to get angry about it. He has instead gone back to settings he used en-route to the title in 2021. Quartararo says this has made the bike feel better than anything else Yamaha has tried this year and he will now stick to this ploy moving forward.

“From the beginning of the year we have been trying thousands of things, of settings, and we just decided to go with the 2021 setting and go,” he said. “Whatever problem we have, that’s it. I need to adapt to the problem and see. I think we tried a lot of things on the bike and the best we had is always to bring back the base from two years ago. We have decided to keep it like this.”

Reverting to an older setting helped Quartararo feel better at the end of pre-season testing. But it’s unlikely this alone will help him mount a title challenge, given how much of a step Yamaha’s rivals have made in 2023.

5. Rider meeting with stewards had to mark a new beginning, but it hasn’t

A crunch meeting between MotoGP riders and the stewards didn't entirely clear the air

A crunch meeting between MotoGP riders and the stewards didn’t entirely clear the air

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

The issue of stewarding in MotoGP got to the point where the riders called for a meeting with chief FIM steward Freddie Spencer in the safety commission at the French GP. Spencer wanted to put across the stewards’ rationale behind its decisions and the riders hoped it would lead to an open discussion to help shape stewarding going forward.

However, it seems nothing has changed. In his post-sprint debrief on Saturday, Luca Marini sat down and expressed how “angry” he was at the stewards for once again being inconsistent with their penalty application. The VR46 rider, who felt the meeting was positive when he left it, was unhappy that Brad Binder nudging him wide while overtaking him in the sprint did not lead to a penalty for the KTM man.

This was after Spencer clarified in the meeting that any overtake that resulted in contact would lead to the offending rider being forced to drop a position, as Francesco Bagnaia had to do at Jerez after passing Jack Miller.

Fabio Quartararo was the first to leave the meeting feeling nothing was achieved, while Aleix Espargaro says he will not talk about the stewards again this year as “there is no point”. To him, “they don’t exist” anymore.

Bagnaia was happy an aggressive overtake by Marc Marquez in the Le Mans sprint, where the Honda rider made contact on the way by, did not result in a penalty as he wants racing to be hard. However, Bagnaia admitted he was “scared” to overtake Marquez for fear of getting a penalty.

Marquez (who had his Portugal penalty case resolved prior to Le Mans when it was annulled after the FIM Court of Appeal ruled in Honda’s favour) later said this discourse over what is and isn’t a racing incident is “stupid” and over-policing will prove detrimental to the spectacle.

He’s right, and Bagnaia’s comments should be raising alarm bells. In a series whose popularity was built on the hard racing of Valentino Rossi’s many rivalries, riders lacking in confidence to actually race each other fundamentally defeats the purpose of them being here in the first place.

Sadly, this won’t be the last time there is fallout over stewarding in MotoGP. But one has to wonder how long this can go on for before the damage becomes irreparable.

6. An “unblocked” Martin could finally deliver on his potential

Injuries and missed chances have blighted Martin since his maiden MotoGP win back in 2021

Injuries and missed chances have blighted Martin since his maiden MotoGP win back in 2021

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Jorge Martin’s MotoGP career has yet to truly deliver on the promise he showed throughout his junior career. Having taken a maiden win in his rookie year in 2021 with Pramac still recovering from the multiple fractures he suffered in a practice crash in Portugal that ruled him out for several rounds, Martin failed to scale those heights again in 2022.

A semi-regular podium contender, Martin showed flashes of the great-in-the-making he is at Le Mans. Taking victory in the sprint, Martin noted that it “unblocked” something within himself.

“I feel I had this thing in my head that didn’t allow me to put all my potential on track and it seems like I’m getting it back,” Martin said on Saturday at Le Mans.

In the grand prix he fought hard with Marc Marquez over second and ultimately took the position when the Honda rider crashed out. Martin notes he “studied” Marquez’s battle with Bagnaia in the sprint race for some pointers, not that he felt that made a difference.

But his boost in form is well-timed with Ducati’s Mugello stronghold coming up next in three weeks. There we will see if the Spaniard has truly turned a page.

7. Petrucci’s return reminder of why he is much-loved in the paddock

The ever popular Petrucci made a one-off return at Le Mans

The ever popular Petrucci made a one-off return at Le Mans

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

It was an unfortunate event in Enea’s Bastianini’s ongoing shoulder injury problems that led Danilo Petrucci back to the factory Ducati squad last weekend. But with test rider Michele Pirro wanting to focus on his Italian Superbike Championship commitments, Petrucci – now in World Superbikes with Ducati-backed Barni Racing – was all too happy to take up the opportunity.

Petrucci was a stand-in at Suzuki last season in Thailand, but has been effectively retired from MotoGP since his final year with Tech3 KTM in 2021. His Dakar, MotoAmerica and WSBK exploits have continued to win him fans, while his return to the paddock was welcomed by all – the Italian admitting he lost much of his Thursday at Le Mans to shaking hands.

His last visit to Le Mans as a factory Ducati rider saw him take victory, in the wet 2020 race. There was no repeat on this occasion however, Petrucci finishing 11th through the chaos in the GP on “the best bike I ever rode”.

It was a result that warmed hearts, as did his unfailingly down to earth comments about the experience, which he called “a gift” and one he “will never forget”.

8. Fernandez is showing promise, but it likely won’t be enough to save his seat

Can Fernandez's breakthrough at Le Mans save his premier class career?

Can Fernandez’s breakthrough at Le Mans save his premier class career?

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Augusto Fernandez has largely flown under the radar in his rookie MotoGP season so far with Tech3 GASGAS. That was largely down to his underwhelming haul of 17 points after the first four rounds. But Fernandez turned a corner at Le Mans.

Qualifying a season-best 12th, Fernandez dodged all of the chaos ahead of him to finish a fine fourth. He explained later that this was largely down to him trusting in his own feelings on the bike, risking taking the soft front tyre in the grand prix to feel better on his RC16, rather than opt for a harder option to ensure endurance.

It was a well-timed result, too, as KTM’s hotshot youngster Pedro Acosta crashed out of the Moto2 grand prix while running in a podium place.

Fernandez is only on a one-year deal with KTM and Acosta’s current contract stipulates a step to the premier class in 2024. With Pol Espargaro, Jack Miller and Brad Binder all on two-year deals, it doesn’t take much to work out where the dominoes have to fall.

Acosta is shaping up to be a generational talent in the same way Marquez was in his pre-MotoGP days, and there’s likely not a lot Fernandez will be able to do to hold that seat. For now, this isn’t on his mind though.

“You have to ask another person, not me,” Fernandez beamed when Motorsport.com asked if his result felt important in light of Acosta’s crash. “I’m happy because it’s a fourth in MotoGP, fifth race of the season. I’m focused on my job, and also I want more. I don’t want to be fourth. I’m here to win, so I’m focused on my own job. That’s it.”

9. 1000th GP celebrations fall flat

The 1000th GP celebrations didn't quite make it a memorable weekend

The 1000th GP celebrations didn’t quite make it a memorable weekend

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

While there was some contention around MotoGP celebrating its 1000th grand prix event that wasn’t actually the 1000th grand prix race, nor the 1000th premier class race, it was still a milestone worth noting.

Except, save for a 1000 GP banner on the world feed coverage, the same banner on the rider parade truck and a display of bikes from Giacomo Agostini’s career, there wasn’t really much of a celebration.

The racing was good, but there were no special ceremonies and a very noticeable absence of legends. Agostini was the only one of note, as the other guests of honour were Jean Alesi, Jacky Ickx and Jacques Laffite – three men famous, among other things, for not racing in any of the 1000th motorcycle grand prix events since 1949.

OPINION: How MotoGP stands at its milestone 1000th grand prix event

Surely it couldn’t have been that hard to assemble MotoGP heroes from years gone by and get them to do a parade on historic machinery? At the very least a picture of them together on the pit straight would have sufficed. Let’s hope for something a bit more substantial when the 1000th premier class race comes around in a few years’ time.

10. French GP should be template for all race organisers

The 1000th GP set a new attendance record for MotoGP

The 1000th GP set a new attendance record for MotoGP

Photo by: Marc Fleury

Say what you will about Le Mans, the place is always bouncing when MotoGP comes to town. In a sadly rare example right now, MotoGP has no problem whatsoever with popularity in France.

It helps that two of the riders on the grid are partisan favourites, and one of whom is a recent world champion. But all credit for Le Mans’ packed circuit perimeter, which set a new MotoGP weekend attendance record of 278,805 (with 116,692 on Sunday alone) flocked to this year’s event, goes to promoter Claude Michy.

Motorcycle culture is entrenched within the French, but what keeps them coming back each year to Le Mans for MotoGP is a love for the series – and the fact it is dirt cheap. For €98, you can get a three-day general admission ticket which includes access to select grandstands, free campaign and motorcycle parking, as well as a free event programme and free entry for under 16s accompanied by a ticket holder.

Le Mans effectively becomes a working-class Glastonbury for the race weekend, thousands of fans pack the campsites and let loose, revving engines to within an inch of their life, starting fires and enjoying the post-racing activities put on for them.

Like the Field of Dreams, it’s a simple strategy: build it (an affordable, fun weekend) and they will come. And they do, every single year. Dorna could do a lot worse than employ Michy to oversee event promotion for the entire calendar.

MotoGP race promoters could learn a thing or two from the French GP

MotoGP race promoters could learn a thing or two from the French GP

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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