Enea Bastianini wins Aragon MotoGP Grand Prix, stops Francesco Bagnaia winning streak

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With a thrilling last lap pass on Francesco Bagnaia, Enea Bastianini won the Aragon MotoGP Grand Prix and ended Bagnaia’s winning streak at four consecutive races. It was Bastianini’s fourth win of the season.

“I gained on [Bagnaia] on the last lap and it was possible to attack this time,” Bastianini said on NBC Sports’ coverage. “I was able to win this race and now we go onto Japan.”

Bastianini stalked Bagnaia for the entire race, On the final lap, Bagnaia was forced to balance his need for the 20 championship points that came with a second-place finish and his desire to become the third rider in MotoGP history to win five in a row. The need for points was even more important because the championship leader, Fabio Quartararo, suffered a Lap 1 crash and failed to earn any at all.

Bagnaia entered the race having shaved 61 points off Quartararo’s lead in the last four rounds. He took another 20-point bite in the Aragon Grand Prix and now trails by 10 with five rounds remaining.

“It’s been great,” Bagnaia said. “I did my maximum and on the final lap it looked like there was more traction. Enea did an incredible job all weekend. It was already known that he and Fabio were the fastest – and Fabio had an unlucky crash on the first lap.

“In any case I did my best and on the final lap I didn’t feel like I was able to overtake Enea because I was already taking too many risks the lap before, so 20 points were important and it’s okay.”

The championship battle took a dramatic turn on Lap 1. Making his return to MotoGP competition after undergoing multiple surgeries on his arm, Marc Marquez was determined to be a factor.

In the first two turns of the race, Marquez blasted past seven riders into the lead pack. In Turn 3, his back tire slipped and Quartararo had nowhere to go. Quartararo clipped Marquez’s bike and he was pitched from his Yamaha, finishing last and earning no points.

“It was really unlucky,” Marquez said on NBC Sports’ coverage. “In Turn 3, I had a moment when I lost the rear and Fabio was really close like normal on the first lap and then I received the contact.”

Marquez sustained significant damage and was also forced to retire from the race.

At the front of the pack, Bagnaia was chasing the record book.

Leading early, he momentarily gave up the lead to Bastianini until that rider went too hard into a corner and pushed wide. Bagnaia pounced and retook the top spot, but was unable to shake the rider who will be his 2023 teammate at Ducati. Bastianini stalked Bagnaia for most of the race, but knew the pass had to be squeaky clean. Exiting a turn midway through the final lap, he completed the pass.

The two leaders crossed under the checkers 0.042 seconds apart as Bagnaia pulled up to the back tire of the winner.

With their 1-2 finish, Bastianini and Bagnaia clinched the manufacturers’ championship for Ducati.

The battle for the final podium position was also determined late in the race as Aleix Espargaro made an equally dramatic pass on Brad Binder with two to go. Jack Miller rounded out the top five as those three riders were separated by about eight-tenths of a second.

Riding with a broken finger, Espargaro closed his gap to 17 points and is also in title contention.

In Moto2, rookie Pedro Acosta scored his second win of the season over Aron Canet and points’ leader Augusto Fernandez.

Fernandez holds a slim seven-point advantage over Ai Ogura, who finished fourth.

Americans Joe Roberts and Cameron Beaubier finished ninth and 11th respectively.

Max Verstappen could clinch second F1 title with victory in Singapore Grand Prix

Max Verstappen F1 Singapore
LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP via Getty Images)
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While last year’s intense Formula One title battle went to the wire and captivated the world of sport, this year’s F1 championship long has seemed a procession for Max Verstappen that could end Sunday in the Singapore Grand Prix.

If the Red Bull driver wins, and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc crumbles, Verstappen will claim his second consecutive series title.

Verstappen leads Leclerc by 116 points with six races remaining in the 2022 season and will clinch the title if he scores 22 points more than Leclerc, his most realistic head-to-head challenger.

Verstappen, who turned 25 on Friday, must win to clinch a second world title, along with two other scenarios involving Leclerc. If Verstappen wins, Leclerc can finish no higher than ninth; if Verstappen wins and earns a bonus point for fastest lap, Leclerc can finish no higher than eighth.

“It’s quite a long shot,” Verstappen said. “I need a lot of luck for it to happen here, so I don’t really count on it.”

It is more realistic that Verstappen secures the title Oct. 9 at the Japanese GP.

“I think Suzuka will be my first proper opportunity to win the title,” the Dutchman said. “So I’m looking forward to Singapore right now, but I’m also very excited for next week.”

Still, there’ll be no tension in the air Sunday night at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, as in Abu Dhabi last year when Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton lost the title on the last lap to Verstappen. Hamilton missed out on a record eighth F1 title in a controversial finish following a chaotic late restart.

That fans won’t get to see any such drama this season is much to Hamilton’s regret.

“I feel for the fans . . . Last year, going right down to the wire, that was intense for everybody and so it’s never great when the season finishes early,” Hamilton said. “For you, as the one individual (winner) it’s great, but for the actual sport, (it) is not spectacular. Let’s hope for the future that it’s a bit better.”

Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez (125 points back), Mercedes driver George Russell (132 behind) and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. (152) are mathematical title challengers only.

Red Bull is unlikely to allow Perez an opportunity to beat Verstappen, though, and would deploy him to defend its star driver. Verstappen has won 11 of 16 races, including the past five, taking his career tally to 31.

“It’s been a really special season, and I’m enjoying it a lot,” he said. “But I (will) probably enjoy it more after the season, looking back at it.”

He’s also won from seven different grid positions – a single-season F1 record – including starting from 14th at the Belgian GP last month.

“It’s even good to watch when you’re in the car,” McLaren driver Lando Norris said. “Especially when he starts (far back) and still wins quite easily.”

Hamilton hasn’t been close enough to challenge Verstappen this year after so long in the spotlight.

Two of Hamilton’s came on the last day: in 2008 with an overtake on the last corner of the final race, and in 2014 when he beat then-Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in Abu Dhabi. Two years later, he lost the title in the last race to Rosberg.

Hamilton won the championship with three races left in 2015, and he won the 2020 title at the Turkish GP in a shortened season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With seven titles, that put him even with fellow great Michael Schumacher, who won the 2002 championship with six races remaining. An outstanding campaign saw Schumacher place first or second in 16 of 17 races and third in Malaysia – a race won by his younger brother, Ralf.

Hamilton has a record 103 victories but none this season.

Mercedes has struggled with ground effects, where the floor generates aerodynamic grip – an issue known as porpoising or bouncing – that has been particularly difficult on street circuits like Monaco or Azerbaijan.

Singapore’s tight and sinewy 3.1-mile street course again could be challenging.

“We hope that the car works better here,” Hamilton said. “It really depends how bumpy it is, and the bumps often set the car off. Maybe the car will be fine. Maybe it won’t.”

He does think Mercedes has figured out how to maximize opportunities when they do come.

“We know where those limitations are; we just have to try and work around them,” he said. “I think we were very fortunate, we’re in a much better place I think. So I hope that we’re not far away (from a victory).”

Russell seems to have coped better, however, and leads sixth-place Hamilton by 35 points in the standings. He has seven podium finishes compared to six for Hamilton, who was fifth in the second practice after leading the opening session. The Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc topped the second practice.

Williams driver Alex Albon returns to racing just three weeks after being hospitalized with appendicitis and then suffering subsequent respiratory failure.

Albon jumped back into the Williams FW44 for the first practice session on Friday in hot and humid evening conditions.

“It’s definitely audacious to come back for the toughest race of the season having only just recovered,” Russell said. “But it just goes to show the sort of grit and determination he has.”

Drivers lose around 5 kilos (11 pounds) in weight through dehydration during Sunday’s race.