MotoGP’s return to Qatar for 2023 has come later in the year than normal, after the event was shifted from its traditional season-opener slot due to major track works.
As such, lap times at the end of a largely unrepresentative FP1 were some four seconds off the outright record of 1m52.772s set in 2021 by Bagnaia.
With just 14 points splitting Bagnaia and Martin in the standings, this weekend offers the latter a chance to wrap up the world championship if can score 23 more points than his rival.
Martin drew first blood at Losail, topping FP1 by 0.172 seconds from Pramac team-mate Johann Zarco, as Bagnaia completed the top three – 0.229s off the pace.
RNF Aprilia’s Raul Fernandez was fourth and set the early pace at the start of the 45-minute session, posting a gentle 1m59.14ps as the riders got to work cleaning up the new asphalt.
Martin took his first trip to the top of the order with just over seven minutes into the session, the Pramac rider going fastest with a 1m58.626s.
He would improve to a 1m58.235s on his next tour, before Gresini’s Fabio Di Giannantonio – who faces an uncertain future as the factory Honda seat for 2024 now looks unlikely to go his way – went slightly quicker with a 1m58.019s.
Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images
Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team
This was short-lived, as Malaysian GP winner – and last year’s Qatar victor – Enea Bastianini went took over top spot with a 1m57.982s, before factory Ducati team-mate Bagnaia edged ahead with a 1m57.936s with half an hour to go.
This stood as the benchmark for the next 15 minutes until Di Giannantonio went on a run that culminated in a 1m56.830s.
With just under six minutes to go, Martin fired in a 1m56.393s on a fresh medium rear tyre, which would see him to the chequered flag as the pacesetter of FP1.
Zarco put in a 1m56.565s to complete a Pramac 1-2, while Bagnaia set his 1m56.622s on the harder rear tyre.
There was an odd moment between Pol Espargaro and VR46’s Marco Bezzecchi at the end of the session during the practice starts.
Photo by: Gold and…