So, it’s come to the last round showdown as expected but not quite as we hoped. 21 points is a massive advantage for Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team). Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) would have to make history to be crowned MotoGP™ World Champion at Valencia on Sunday. Never in the 74-year-old history of Grand Prix racing has a rider pulled back such a big deficit at the final round of the premier class to take the title. Of course, the introduction of the Tissot Sprint race this season has changed the situation. Now, there are 37 priceless World Championship points up for grabs instead of 25, but it’s still a massive ask for the Pramac rider.
19 times in that 74-year-old history the premier class world title has been decided at the final round. Only three times has the rider not leading the Championship going into that final round won the title. The biggest deficit pulled back was in 2006 at that never-to-be-forgotten final MotoGP™ race in Valencia. Valentino Rossi, riding the factory Yamaha, had an eight-point advantage over his old Repsol Honda team-mate Nick Hayden. The American had been brought down by his team-mate Dani Pedrosa at the penultimate round in Estoril and we all thought his big chance had gone. We were wrong. Rossi crashed, Hayden finished third behind the Ducatis of Troy Bayliss and Loris Capirossi to become the last American to win the title.
It was a lot more controversial in 2015, when Rossi arrived for the final Valencia showdown with a seven-point advantage over Yamaha team-mate, and not best friend, Jorge Lorenzo. Just two weeks earlier Rossi had been involved in a couple of unforgettable clashes with Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) at Sepang in Malaysia. As a result, together with an earlier penalty, the Italian had to start the 30 lap race from the back of the grid and Lorenzo knew exactly what to do. He won the race with Rossi fighting his way through the field to fourth, but it was not enough. Lorenzo grabbed his third and last world title by five points. Rossi’s big chance to win his tenth world title had gone for good.
The first time a rider not leading the Championship won the title at the final round in 1992 was in very different circumstances. Mick Doohan arrived for the final round at Kyalami in South Africa with a two-point advantage over World Champion Wayne Rainey, but that does not tell the true story. Australian Doohan, riding the Rothmans Honda, held a 65-point advantage when he broke his leg in a qualifying crash in the eighth round at Assen. Severe complications prevented him from returning until the penultimate round at Interlagos in Brazil
Doohan could hardly walk, let alone race, but somehow fought through the pain to finish 12th in the race which was won by Rainey. He held that precious but fragile two-point lead going into 28 laps of the Kyalami circuit two weeks later. Doohan gave it all and more to finish sixth. Rainey’s third place retained the title for the World Champion by four points. I remember as media manager for the Honda team I had to organise the instant destruction of 200 World Championship-winning tee-shirts, press kits and photographs before Mick saw them.
Doohan was devastated, but two years later won his first world title for Honda. He captured four more consecutive titles for Honda, and so take heart for the loser this weekend. Look to the future after disappointment and don’t dwell on the past. So, Jorge, history is against you but never say never. Win that Tissot Sprint on Saturday and the pressure is on.