Written by Andrew Lwanga, Edited by Elisabeth Brown and Sasha Macmillen
Grand Prix motorcycle racing continues its tour of Asia, this time heading to the southeastern side of the continent. The Kingdom of Thailand is hosting a MotoGP race for the first time since 2019 when Marc Marquez became an eight-time world champion. Though mathematically impossible to crown a new champion this weekend, the Thailand Grand Prix will be a decisive chapter in the story of the 2022 MotoGP World Championships.
The Buriram International Circuit will be the ring round which our riders will do battle for round 17, as elbows and knees will be thrown but in a manner slightly different to the traditional Muay Thai. The clockwise circuit runs for 4.554 kilometres, most of it uniquely straight. The cornered sections turn six times to the right and five times to the left with a slight left hand kink between turns one and three, totalling up to twelve corners.
The Tilke-designed circuit features numerous overtaking opportunities, mainly through the first and second sectors. The hard braking zones of turns one and three both preceded by long straights are textbook, whereas the fast left hand curve that is turn four opens the door for those who consider themselves brave and for the more calculated, a setup for a pass into turn five. Opportunities are open for the creative throughout sectors three and four with the final conventional chance being into turn 12.
Fabio Quartararo marches into Buriram with an 18-point lead over immediate contender Francesco Bagnaia. The Frenchman has managed to so far keep the charging Italian at arms length through consistency and a notable lack of mistakes in contrast to the error-prone Italian. Bagnaia has had five DNFs throughout his 2022 campaign, four of which could easily be characterised as personal mistakes. However, despite seeming to be down for the count earlier in the season, the Italian has closed right up on the defending champion. Though Bagnaia crashed out at the last round in Japan, an 18-point deficit can still be overturned.
Featuring in the championship fight as of late has been Enea Bastianini. The Italian in the middle of his sophomore year is presumably out of championship contention as he trails by 49 points. However, despite being on outdated machinery, the sheer brilliance of his riding of the Gresini Ducati rider has taken points off both Quartararo and Bagnaia.
Behind Bagnaia is Aleix Espargaró, the Aprilia rider who has had a breakthrough season with the Italian manufacturer. From a glorified backmarker Aprilia and Espargaró have risen into championship contenders and, whilst a string of finishes behind Quartararo and Bagnaia have largely ruled his form incapable of winning the championship, he is still only 25 points behind Quartararo. This is certainly a gap that can be closed considering the nature of two-wheeled racing.
With four rounds left, the importance of every session is magnified tenfold. With 25 points covering the top three, everything that goes into these final four races matters and in Thailand the tone will be set for this season’s twilight.