Ducati’s Francesco Bagnaia completed the greatest comeback in MotoGP history to win his maiden MotoGP world championship at the Valencia Grand Prix.
Fabio Quartararo was 23 points behind Bagnaia going into the final race and needed a victory to stand a chance of leapfrogging the Italian. But the defending champion finished fourth in a race won by Suzuki’s Álex Rins – his fifth MotoGP career victory – in his farewell final race for Suzuki.
Despite an early collision, Bagnaia finished ninth, enough to retain his lead in the championship and give Ducati their first title since Casey Stoner won it in 2007, ending 15 years of dominance from Japanese manufacturers. It capped a remarkable comeback from 91 points down midway through the season and ended a 50-year wait for an Italian rider to win the championship on an Italian bike.
“[It was] the hardest race of my life,” he said. “My mission was to be in the top five but I started to struggle after three, four laps – the front of my bike was impossible to control. But the most important thing is we won. We are world champions. It’s a really great day.”
Bagnaia, who also became the first Italian MotoGP champion since Valentino Rossi in 2009, celebrated by waving the national flag as Ducati presented him with a golden helmet, taking a moment to compose himself before raising it in the air in celebration.
Rins made the perfect start to take the lead from pole sitter Jorge Martín into turn one while Quartararo’s title hopes slipped through his grasp as Bagnaia moved up the grid from eighth to battle the Yamaha rider for fifth.
The two title contenders were involved in an intense, no-holds-barred battle early on and even collided while jostling for position, which resulted in damage to the front of Bagnaia’s bike.
Bagnaia looked to be struggling after the collision and decided to hang back and avoid any risk, knowing he would be crowned champion as long as he finished in the top 14 even if Quartararo won the race.
Honda’s Marc Márquez started second on the grid and looked set for a podium spot but crashed on turn eight with 18 laps to go, ending Honda’s season after his teammate Pol Espargaró had crashed earlier.
Bagnaia’s teammate Jack Miller battled for third place in his final race for Ducati, though the Australian lost his grip to crash out soon after conceding his position to KTM’s Brad Binder, who also overtook Martín to move up to second. But there was no stopping Rins who took the chequered flag as the Japanese team signed off from MotoGP with a victory.