Inside the Wild World of MotoGP—Your New Favorite Sport


Many riders have their protective leathers adorned with—along with the myriad logos of their myriad sponsors—a nickname or slogan, for recognition or inspiration: Enea Bastianini’s says Bestia, after his nickname, The Beast; Bagnaia’s reads #GoFree—“it’s like ‘Hakuna Mutata’ from The Lion King,” Bagnaia says. “You have to enjoy your life and discover the limit—but you have to go free to do it.” Rossi’s leathers were notable for the letters WLF placed high on his chest, which stood for Viva La Figa—roughly translated as “Long Live Pussy.”

In only its second season in MotoGP, Rossi’s (Ducati-riding) VR46 team—managed by his childhood best friend and longtime majordomo, Uccio Salucci—is the hottest thing going: Bezzecchi, 24, has won two of the first five races, while Marini, 25—Rossi’s maternal half-brother—has been scoring consistent points and currently holding down sixth place.

Bagnaia, like Marini and Bezzecchi an alumnus of Rossi’s VR46 Riders Academy in Tavullia, remains extremely close to his mentor. “Vale and I train together,” Bagnaia tells me. “We talk every day, about everything—about racing, about cars, about girls, marriage, children, about food, cooking, restaurants—I’m a great fan of Massimo Bottura.” (A few weeks after the Austin race I happened to spend an evening with Bottura at his Ducati- and Damien Hirst-filled clubhouse outside Modena, in Emilia-Romagna. When I asked him if Bagnaia knew anything about food or cooking, Bottura shook his head quickly but violently. “No—nothing,” he said, with a smile. “But he’s a great guy.”)

If Bagnaia is a man of many interests, he’s monomaniacal about his day job: defending his world championship. “It’s the best moment of my career right now,” he says, “but it brings more pressure, because Ducati means winning; it means victory.”

Back on the COTA track, Bagnaia is three laps from taking the checkered flag when he rounds Turn 1 twenty feet in front of me dragging his left knee, his weight thrown almost over the inside kerbs. Moments after he disappears down the hill, the crowd collectively gasps, and a minute or so later Bagnaia is driven past me on the back of a steward’s scooter, his leathers scuffed and torn, his victory hopes dashed.

A few weeks and three races later at that German GP at the Sachsenring, the state of play of the 2023 season seems to crystallize: After the dust settles, Bagnaia still leads the field, but by an ever-narrowing margin after a thrilling Ducati-on-Ducati dogfight with Martín—the two actually collide on the final lap—ends with the latter taking the checkered flag by .064 seconds.

That race isn’t without its harrowing moments, either: After crashing five times—including a brutal, high-speed collision in an early practice that saw his Honda sever Johann Zarco’s Ducati (after lying almost motionless on the side of the track for a worrisome time, Zarco was on a bike and pushing track limits again in mere minutes), Marc Marquez withdrew from the race with yet another broken bone while making his dissatisfaction with his motorcycle ever more apparent.

Rival pilot Jack Miller, never one to mince words, simply wasn’t having it. He didn’t name names, but he didn’t have to. “They throw their toys out of the cot and say that My bike is shit,” he said after the race. “Shut the fuck up and get on with the job.”

So: The dog barks, as the saying goes, but the caravan moves on. This weekend, the circus moves to the Dutch TT at Assen, the legendary track where GP motorcycle racing first kicked off in 1949. Half the field seems to have something massive to prove and a surfeit of horsepower and adrenaline with which to prove it; most of the rest of them, just as ruthlessly competitive, will be fighting for their livelihood and for next year’s team contract. And by the time everybody else is finally catching on to MotoGP this time next year, you’ll likely still be talking about the drama on the final chicane at the Cathedral of Speed.

Inside the Wild World of MotoGP—Your New Favorite Sport

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