VALENCIA: Francesco Bagnaia goes into the final weekend of a thrilling MotoGP season in Valencia with the defence of his crown still in the balance though sole rival Jorge Martin appears to have given up hope, claiming "they stole it (title) from me."
The 'they' Martin is referring to is tyre supplier Michelin who he claims cost him valuable points in last Sunday's Qatar MotoGP – the Ducati-Primac rider finished 10th with Bagnaia second.
It left him 21 points adrift of Bagnaia heading into the Sprint on Saturday – the Valencia MotoGP is on Sunday where wins in both earn the rider 37 points.
Bagnaia could ease the pressure completely by securing the title in Saturday's sprint. If the Ducati rider can boost his lead to 25 points he will be assured of the championship due to having six grand prix wins to Martin's four.
Sprint wins do not count towards a tiebreak for riders being equal on points.
However, 26-year-old Bagnaia was bested in the sprint by Martin in Qatar which resulted in his overall lead being reduced to seven points.
That, though, was before the catatastrophic ride for Martin in the race itself and for which the Spaniard attached all the blame to being given a dodgy rear tyre.
"It's a pity that in a championship like this, after such a great season, working hard, I feel like they stole it from me," said Martin.
"Because I think I could've done it before this race - now it's really difficult."
The 25-year-old has indeed been the coming man in the second-half of the season, eating into Bagnaia's 62 point lead.
His sense of grievance, though, knows no bounds and his team will hope he can channel that this weekend into righting what he palpably perceives as a wrong.
"I was the only rider in all the grid, in all categories, that this happened to," he said.
"So for sure there was something wrong with the tyre.
"It's a pity that this happened to us. For sure I think they need to improve.
"It's unacceptable that a MotoGP championship is decided by a tyre."
The scenario is not foreign to Bagnaia, who held a 23-point lead prior to Valencia last year and ended up securing the title by 17 points from France's defending champion Fabio Quartararo.
That, though, was without a sprint race being part of the equation – making Bagnaia happier about the extra points advantage he gained over Martin in the Qatar race.
"It definitely gives us a bit more breathing space but is still not enough to relax completely," said Bagnaia.
"Valencia is a track where we have been fast in the past and where we have the potential to do well."
If Martin wins both the sprint and the grand prix, Bagnaia will need to score 16 points or more across the two races to win the title. A podium finish on Sunday would be enough.
"Our approach to the weekend will not change compared to the other races," said Bagnaia.
"The goal will be the same: to work well from the first session on Friday and try to fight for the win in the race.
"I am calm and looking forward to getting on track for this season's last act." - AFP