They shook hands on the slowing down lap like true warriors. Respectful and appreciative of their rival’s outstanding performances at Sepang. Pecco Bagnaia and Fabio Quartararo now face the waiting game. Fourteen long days until the outcome is finally decided in Valencia. Fly home from Malaysia and prepare for the final showdown to decide who will be crowned the 2022 MotoGP™ World Champion
Over the last 74 years many riders have faced that dreaded wait. In all, 18 premier class world titles have been decided at the final race. Only three times has the rider not leading on points going into the final round did not win the title. The biggest turnaround was in 2006 when Nicky Hayden turned over Valentino Rossi’s eight-point advantage to take the title. The first last race decider came in 1950 with Umberto Masetti’s second place at Monza bringing him the title by a single point from Geoff Duke who won the race. The last was in 2017 when Marc Marquez arrived at Valencia with a 21-point lead over Andrea Dovizioso.
So what do riders do while waiting for that final showdown. How long have some had to wait and a couple of true champions prepared for that final round even before it came along. In 1983 Freddie Spencer and Kenny Roberts had to wait a whole month after a fractious last lap encounter in the penultimate round at Anderstorp in Sweden. Freddie left the circuit, that doubled up as the local aerodrome with a five-point advantage after an overtaking manoeuvre, a couple of bends from the finish, that did not impress the three times World Champion. They both flew home to the States for the long wait before the final round in Imola. Freddie spent time with his family in Shreveport and Kenny at his Californian ranch playing golf. They returned to Italy and Freddie clinched his first 500 cc title after a canny ride to second place behind Kenny who tried every trick in the book to unsettle him.
Nine years later Mick Doohan could have done with those four weeks. Instead, the Australian had just two to try and find some extra strength and flexibility to his battered body. He had returned to the action in 1992 at the Interlagos circuit in Brazil for the penultimate round after missing four Grands Prix after severe complications to the leg he broke in an Assen crash. The Honda rider still held a 22-point lead in the Championship over Wayne Rainey. He could hardly walk yet alone ride a 500cc motorcycle. Somehow Mick finished 12th after 121 km of pure agony but scored no World Championship points. Rainey’s win and 20 World Championship points placed him just two points adrift going into the final round at Kyalami in South Africa. That 14 days gave Mick’s body hours of medical treatment, but his sixth place was not enough. Rainey grabbed the title by two points after finishing third.
Great World Champions look ahead and plan. You will not be surprised Roberts and Barry Sheene realised before the final showdown that the 1978 World 500cc Championship would be decided at the aging 22.835 kms Nürburgring road circuit. Kenny rode a Yamaha Road bike round the ‘Ring’ on public track days. Barry of course had to be different. Between the Dutch and Belgian Grands Prix somehow the double World Champion persuaded Rolls Royce to loan him one of their top of the range luxurious saloon cars for what Barry had described as a holiday trip to Europe. Instead with his great mate Steve Parrish in the passenger’s seat they blasted the Rolls to a standstill round the Nürburgring for two days to the amazement of the other sports car drivers. I do not think even Barry persuaded Rolls Royce to loan him a car again. Despite the two days of ‘practice’ Barry lost his World title to Kenny after finishing fourth two seconds behind the first American World Champion in third place.
I cannot imagine Pecco or Fabio persuading Rolls Royce for a test drive or playing golf before the final show down in Valencia. Those 14 days may help the Frenchman work on a broken finger. I’m sure both will just be relieved when the waiting game is finally over.