10 things we learned from the 2023 MotoGP San Marino Grand Prix

The MotoGP title battle ignited at the San Marino Grand Prix as Jorge Martin’s brilliant double victory allowed him to close the gap on championship leader Francesco Bagnaia. Pramac’s Martin broke his pole duck in 2023 with a stunner in qualifying to smash the lap record, and duly converted this into dominant wins in the sprint and the grand prix.

It has allowed him to cut the championship lead down from 50 at the start of the weekend to 36 to Bagnaia, who battled through the pain of his injured leg to take a brace of thirds. It was nonetheless a valiant effort from Bagnaia and fellow injured Ducati rider Marco Bezzecchi (VR46 Academy) to grit their teeth, delighting a feverish home crowd in the baking sunshine.

Elsewhere, Dani Pedrosa returned to star as KTM’s wildcard, while getting tongues wagging about the marque’s new carbon fibre chassis.

Off track, Marc Marquez continued to dominate the headlines as rumours of him breaking contract with Honda gathered amid links to Gresini Ducati. But the weekend was overshadowed by the sad news of the passing of IRTA founder Mike Trimby, whose efforts over the last 40 years shaped MotoGP into the championship it is today.

Here is everything we learned from the 2023 MotoGP San Marino Grand Prix.

1. Marquez’s ultimatum to Honda as Gresini rumours persist 

Marquez has been continually linked with joining Gresini Ducati and breaking his Honda contract early

Marquez has been continually linked with joining Gresini Ducati and breaking his Honda contract early

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

The persistent rumour across the entire San Marino GP weekend was Marc Marquez quitting his Honda contract a year early and joining Gresini Ducati.

Marquez insisted “I have a contract” for next year, when pressed on whether he would or would not be staying with HRC. Honda insists it never held any conversations with the rider about him quitting, while the Gresini camp stayed quiet as it lapped up the massive attention it received.

As all of this swirled, it added to the narrative of the Monday test at Misano as being all-important for Marquez’s future. The bike he will ride on Monday, and which was raced by Stefan Bradl during the grand prix, isn’t a massive step forward from the current package. That could be seen as a massive mistake from Honda.

But Marquez has made it clear what he truly wants. He has given team boss Alberto Puig a list of technical names he wants poached by Honda for 2024 to boost the project. Puig has to deliver on that to keep Marquez sweet.

Indeed, when asked by Autosport about Pedrosa’s impressive turn as KTM’s tester-turned-wildcard, he said: “It’s true that always the test rider is important, and Dani of course is the best rider possible to test and ride the bike and give comments. But for me, the most important thing for a test rider is the engineers. As you see, Aprilia and Ducati have a normal test rider, not Dani Pedrosa.

“And they are improving a lot. So, in the end, the most important thing still is the engineers and the development side. As we see here, Bradl is testing new things and [there are] many new faces in the garage, new engineers. So, yeah, Japan is reacting and this is good.” LD

2. Bagnaia and Bezzecchi’s determination is to be admired 

Bezzecchi and Bagnaia both rode through the pain barrier to score podiums

Bezzecchi and Bagnaia both rode through the pain barrier to score podiums

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Francesco Bagnaia was astonishingly lucky to escape from his horror crash at the Catalan GP in Barcelona. Having highsided violently exiting Turn 2 as he stormed into the lead from pole position, the Ducati rider landed in the middle of the track as the rest of the pack raced towards him, before his leg was run over by KTM’s Brad Binder.

Marco Bezzecchi meanwhile was caught up in the Turn 1 pile-up prompted by Enea Bastianini. His crash trying to make up ground from 14th on the grid triggered a multi-rider collision that involved the VR46 rider, Johann Zarco, Alex Marquez and Fabio Di Giannantonio.

Bagnaia was left with severe bruising to his right leg, while Bezzecchi’s left hand was in pain throughout the Misano weekend. But despite their injuries, both riders powered through and put on valiant displays on home turf. The pair took double podiums, with Bezzecchi second for both races and Bagnaia third.

It was evident after Sunday’s race just how hard the reigning world champion had pushed, requiring help to even dismount his Desmosedici, while Bezzecchi said after Sunday’s race that though it was “nothing crazy”, the injury was causing him “a lot of pain” and made the race tough.

Pushing through injury to ride can be hard at the best of times, but doing so to score double podiums proves just how determined MotoGP riders can be. MW

3. Martin’s form bounce timely as title charge ignited

Martin is best-placed currently to take the fight to Bagnaia and riding high on confidence

Martin is best-placed currently to take the fight to Bagnaia and riding high on confidence

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Jorge Martin’s charge to victory in both races in Misano could prove crucial to his title hopes, with a huge points haul slashing the gap to leader Bagnaia as the championship enters the flyaway rounds.

Claiming second from Bezzecchi after another double victory at the German GP, Martin followed it up with three less successful rounds, with a best GP finish of fifth and just one sprint podium handing Bagnaia a 62-point advantage. But Martin got back on the podium with third at last weekend’s Catalan GP and reasserted his dominance at Misano to almost halve his deficit to 34 points.

A double win from a satellite rider proves just how strong Martin’s performance can be on a good weekend and, although he shies away from discussing the title, the Spaniard is surely in with a shot given the huge points hauls available with the addition of sprint races in 2023.

Speaking after Sunday’s race, Martin said: “I just want to enjoy the moment. For sure, my target is to just win races. I’m not even a factory rider, so it’s not on me to win the championship.

“I don’t feel like I have that responsibility. For sure, if I have the chance – as I am having now – I will try to get it. But my day will come when I am a factory rider and for the moment I am not. I will try to enjoy the moment, but it’s not on me.” MW

4. KTM’s radical direction change shows power of European marques

Running a carbon fibre chassis, wildcard Pedrosa came close to podiums in both races

Running a carbon fibre chassis, wildcard Pedrosa came close to podiums in both races

Photo by: KTM Images

KTM stirred up the paddock on Friday at the San Marino GP when it unveiled its carbon fibre chassis on Pedrosa’s wildcard entry.

The Austrian manufacturer has always used a steel chassis in its grand prix racing exploits, including its step up to the MotoGP class in 2017. And during its years of struggle, it steadfastly refused to abandon its philosophy for a more conventional aluminium frame as used by its rivals. It was rewarded for its patience, but the fact KTM is looking beyond its traditions to take a step towards title glory in MotoGP says a lot about the mindset of the European marques.

It’s not a new concept. Ducati raced a carbon fibre frame from 2009 to 2011, having previously used a steel chassis, before abandoning that concept for the conventional aluminium route. Aprilia has tested a carbon fibre frame recently, while various manufacturers have used carbon inserts in frames in recent years. KTM’s hope, as with any chassis, will be to improve grip and turning – the former a key thing for the RC16.

As the Japanese manufacturers toil at the back of the grid, stuck in the rut of their own traditions, KTM’s latest evolution highlights exactly why it, Aprilia and Ducati rule the roost in MotoGP now. LD

5. Pedrosa’s lack of MotoGP titles speaks nothing of his true class

Pedrosa was widely lauded for his efforts on his return

Pedrosa was widely lauded for his efforts on his return

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Pedrosa put in a superb performance on his wildcard KTM in Misano, putting in two very respectable fourth-place finishes in just his third grand prix outing since he retired at the end of 2018.

The 37-year-old Spaniard even looked close to snatching a podium from a struggling Bagnaia in the closing stages of Sunday’s race, stating after finishing just 0.669s shy of the reigning world champion that “fourth place had never felt so good to me before”.

The KTM test rider added: «I wouldn’t know how to give myself a grade, but I’m quite happy with the performance. I do give the team a very high grade, they’ve worked well and without errors.”

His strong performances also garnered praise from fellow riders, with Aleix Espargaro saying Pedrosa’s strength “makes you doubt about everything,” and claiming it was “really unfair” that he hadn’t won any of the three titles in which he finished as runner-up (in 2007, 2010 and 2012).

Espargaro added: “Pedrosa has always been special, he has never been a normal rider. He has always been one of my favorites and, if he continues to be fit without everything that he didn’t like about this championship that he doesn’t have to endure, he shows what he is.” 

Sadly for Pedrosa’s fans though, a full-time return isn’t in his thoughts.

«I’m not considering returning at any time,” he said. “Besides, you see the problem we have, there are more riders than bikes, we’re not going to mess it up any more. I’ve had a lot of fun, but everything has its time and I’ve already had mine. More and more, now I enjoy motorcycles from the outside.» MW

6. Miller shoots down wild KTM rumours

Rumours suggesting Miller would move aside for Acosta were wide of the mark

Rumours suggesting Miller would move aside for Acosta were wide of the mark

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

There is seemingly no end in sight for KTM’s rider logjam, as it looks to find a place for Pedro Acosta in 2024. While neither Tech3 rider wants to be drawn into it, Pol Espargaro and Augusto Fernandez are thought to be pitted against each other to decide who (both have 2024 contracts) will remain in their race seat.

One wild rumour that emerged prior to the San Marino GP came out of Italian media, who suggested KTM had offered Jack Miller double his salary and 10 wildcard outings for 2024 to move aside for Acosta. Wildcards are limited to three per manufacturer under the current rules, so instantly this rumour gets blown out of the water. But that didn’t stop the Australian from also stepping in front of it to shoot it down.

“Was it Spanish? I don’t even know who it was,” he began when asked about the rumours of his future. “It doesn’t bother me. It’s nice to have your name in the headline even though you’re not.

“I mean, it’s just the way it goes. I’m quite content, I’ve got a pretty busy couple of weeks coming up, so I don’t have to focus my attention on that shit.

“I was waiting for something to come in my mailbox for me to sign! But nah, there’s no truth to that. I know what job I’ve got to do at KTM, what they’re keeping me on for, and what we’re here to do. And what we are here to do is to bring them onto the next level. It’s a good problem for KTM to have now, because 12 months ago now I was fighting to get on this thing. Not my problem.” LD

7. Aprilia’s Misano struggles the exception rather than the rule 

Aprilia couldn't emulate the highs of Barcelona with a somewhat muted display

Aprilia couldn’t emulate the highs of Barcelona with a somewhat muted display

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

After a barnstorming weekend last time out at Barcelona, Aprilia had an unwelcome bump to earth at Misano as it failed to trouble the podium placings.

With Aleix Espargaro winning both races, while Maverick Vinales finished third in the sprint and second in the grand prix, the Catalan GP marked the Italian team’s strongest performance so far this year – and its first ever double podium in a grand prix.

This weekend was a more sedate affair, with Vinales leading the way in the sprint in sixth, with his team-mate in eighth. Vinales was fifth in Sunday’s race while Espargaro fell outside the top 10 in 12th.

Despite struggling with rear chatter throughout the weekend, Vinales was happy with his fifth-place finish, and also said he had struggled with the rear on corner entry – something which was not an issue in the previous two rounds.

Asked whether Barcelona or Misano was a truer reflection of Aprilia’s current form, Vinales said: “They are two different tracks. Here, everyone is fast because there is a lot of grip. I think we need to take as a reference Assen, Silverstone, the grip level is medium, it’s not very high or low. On those tracks we were quite fast.

“In Misano it’s always tricky, Ducatis doing 2000 laps here, KTM were testing previously. It’s true that Sava [Aprilia test rider Lorenzo Savadori] was testing here but he was testing very new things that we cannot even try. In this track, everyone is going fast, I include myself in this, I am going fast too. But for me, tomorrow is very important to improve the braking and we will take profit in the next tracks of course.”

Espargaro believes the top five is a realistic goal in the championship, noting that he is just 12 points behind Binder.

“With the shit beginning of the season that I did, I’m proud where we are,” he said. “It’s difficult, this is MotoGP. The Aprilia is not good here, but I have to say that also I’m not good here, I’m not very competitive here.” MW

8. Lack of overtaking once again lamented 

Overtaking ultimately was in fairly short supply

Overtaking ultimately was in fairly short supply

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

It wasn’t long ago that a tight track like Misano still produced excellent racing in MotoGP. The pass-and-repass battle between Marc Marquez and Fabio Quartararo in 2019 for victory on the last lap is testament to this.

But as MotoGP bikes have advanced and the aero war broke out, overtaking everywhere has gotten harder. This has been compounded by the new tyre pressure rules too.

Neither of the races at Misano this year were particularly exciting, with just one overtake occurring between the leading trio across the sprint and the grand prix. When asked about this, Marquez noted that in tracks like Misano, you either have to just send it on the limit and hope for the best – praising Binder for doing this – or it’s impossible to move ahead of anyone.

Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro added that: “We have to race everywhere, but I don’t like these types of circuits because there is no show. It’s very boring, very small. But we have to race everywhere. It’s true with these types of bikes, you need bigger layouts. These bikes have a lot of downforce, really fast at turning, so in small tracks like this it’s impossible.”

Not everyone shared this viewpoint. Martin agreed that it is much harder to overtake at Misano than it used to be, but says it’s down to the riders on tighter tracks to do better in qualifying to be able to start further ahead. LD

9. MotoGP does one-off liveries better than anyone

Ducati's throwback livery for Bagnaia earned plenty of admirers

Ducati’s throwback livery for Bagnaia earned plenty of admirers

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

With both Ferrari and Alfa Romeo running special liveries at their home Formula 1 races last weekend at Monza – Ferrari paid tribute to its Le Mans winning team, while Alfa Romeo sported a stunning Italian flag paint job — it was only fair that MotoGP teams got their chance this weekend.

Both Gresini and Ducati took full advantage of being at home, with Gresini sporting a throwback paint job in tribute to late founder Fausto, while Ducati reverted to the yellow of old.

Both were stunning – and blew their F1 counterparts out of the water. This is partly down to F1’s weight limits, which has seen paint jobs stripped back. This means that despite teams’ best efforts, they are often underwhelming, with fans unexcited by McLaren’s British GP livery, for one – expecting something more akin to the chrome of a decade ago.

With the increased freedom allowed in MotoGP, the series often features the most impressive one-offs – just this year alone there’s been Pramac’s spectacular split Divine Comedy liveries at Mugello and RNF’s fun Barbie-inspired pink and blue in Austria.

Look back further, and they get even better – think of all the spectacular colour schemes Valentino Rossi has sported over the years. MW

10. MotoGP loses a true giant 

Tributes were paid to Trimby (right) following his death at 74

Tributes were paid to Trimby (right) following his death at 74

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

On Saturday at Misano, the MotoGP paddock woke up to the sad news that stalwart member Mike Trimby had passed away at the age of 74. A former racer, Trimby headed the first riders union in 1982 before founding the International Road Race Teams Association (IRTA) in 1986, where he also served as CEO.

Trimby gave the riders a voice in a dangerous time for grand prix racing when they were treated poorly and track safety was abysmal. That work carried on with IRTA, giving the race teams a voice in the decision-making process, and has done more for grand prix motorcycle racing than most.

Tributes flooded in for the Briton over the Misano weekend, with a minute of silence held on Saturday evening on the main straight. Trimby will also be inducted into the MotoGP hall of fame, marking the first non-rider to receive the honour. LD

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