Written by Andrew Lwanga. Edited by Sameena Khan
A wet and treacherous Thailand Grand Prix came to a close in Buriram on Sunday, with KTM’s Miguel Oliveira victorious. The Portuguese’s triumphant return to the top step was one side of the duality of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. Whilst Oliveira found the rainbow in the rain; others seemed to drown.
24 hours before lights out, Ducati made a statement in qualifying as seven Bologna-made machines qualified in the top 10 whilst also locking out the front row. Marco Bezzechi took his first-ever pole position ahead of Jorge Martin and fellow VR46 Academy graduate Francesco Bagnaia. The Italian was, in turn, only one place ahead of championship leader Fabio Quartararo whom he trailed by 18 points before the race. The Frenchman was surrounded by a horde of Ducatis quite literally, except for Marquez and Rins, both of who were further back.
It is worth noting that qualifying took place on a dry track. With the race commencing on a wet way, the form book and any pre-existing intuition of a rider’s pace, whether well founded or not, quickly went down the drain.
Bezzechi and Martin got off to a good start, with the former taking the holeshot. The Italian, however, carried too much exit speed, which saw him go off track alongside Martin. Bagnaia took advantage, passing the Spaniard as he rejoined but could not get past Bezzechi as the Mooney VR46 rider used the runoff to pull away. Unfortunately for Bezzechi, the stewards had determined that he had gained an advantage by going off track and ordered him to cede a position. The pole sitter's problem was that behind him, Jack Miller had gotten past his teammate, but “Pecco” was still very close behind miller. Bezzechi seemingly couldn’t cede the lead without falling to third.
Further behind, Fabio Quartararo was falling even further behind. After a poor start and a bit of knee and elbow scraping akin to a Muay Thai fight, Quartararo had dropped to the fringes of the top ten. Meanwhile, Miguel Oliveira was trending in the opposite direction, the number 88 bike moving up through the order.
Ahead Bezzechi could cede his position to Miller without losing a lot of places, but it proved immaterial as Bagnaia quickly caught and passed him, as did Marquez behind him. The Spaniard, who started the race from the third row, seemingly had enough pace in hand to challenge for the win. With nothing to lose and an affinity to risk, Marquez was cause for concern for Bagnaia, who stood a chance to gain points on the championship leader as Quartararo figuratively slipped back through the order.
Aleix Espargaro, who started down the order after being eliminated in the first qualifying session the day prior, added a degree of difficulty to his already difficult task when he got a long lap penalty. The punishment resulted from an overzealous attempt at a pass on Brad Binder which resulted in pushing the south African off the circuit; the stewards were far from amused. Binder’s teammate Oliveira had made it to the back of Marquez and quickly disposed of the Catalan before doing the same with Bagnaia ahead, placing himself second behind Miller.
Further behind, Johann Zarco lit up the timing screens setting the fastest times. Going from the fringes of the top ten on the same spread-out field, Zarco scythed his way like he’d found the seventh gear. Closing gaps that stretched multiple seconds, the Frenchman looked like a man possessed, and when it seemed that he would run out of laps before he could challenge for a podium, he went even faster.
Whilst Zarco put up a champion’s ride; the defending world champion was having a mare. Fabio Quartararo had fallen to outside the points scoring positions, his pace one of the slowest on the grid by a margin.
At the front, Oliveira, after trying on many laps, was finally able to get past Miller, the Portuguese's wet weather prowess superior to all in the field. All in the field bar Johann Zarco, bike number 5, was on a charge.
In a final couple of laps, Zarco caught Marquez, passing the eight times world champion with ease, despite Marquez himself seeming to be held up by Bagnaia. The latter lacked the speed of those around him, the Italian relying on his bike placement and race craft to remain on the podium.
Zarco passed Marquez, but with Bagnaia things were different. Being on the same version of the Desmosedici GP 22, Bagnaia negated Zarco’s acceleration. Leaving his braking to the absolute latest like his mentor, Bagnaia stopped the Frenchman from diving up the inside. In the dying embers of the race, Zarco weighed risk against reward and decided against the former settling for fourth.
Miguel Oliveira led the field across the line in a wet weather masterclass; behind him, Miller took second, making it two successive podiums. Bagnaia somehow clung onto the podium in third with Zarco right on his rear wheel whilst Marquez completed the top five. Further down the order, it was a rare sight as Fabio Quartararo finished the race outside the points. With Bagnaia scoring 16 world championship points, only two points separate Quartararo from Bagnaia, with 75 points available in the world championship. Up next, Phillip Island.