Aleix Espargaro remains Fabio Quartararo’s nearest MotoGP title rival, but Francesco Bagnaia is fast closing in after victories in the last three races.
Quartararo rebuilt his world championship lead to 32 points over Aprilia’s Espargaro with a brilliant second place, amidst the Ducatis, in Austria.
But while Bagnaia is still 44 points adrift of Quartararo, he has cut 47 points from the Yamaha star’s lead over the last three events.
Quartararo also hasn’t beaten the Italian in races they have both finished, since the Portuguese round in April.
With seven rounds and 175 points still to go, Quartararo needs to halt Bagnaia’s advance sooner rather than later if he is to keep the Italian at arm’s length.
On paper, both head into this weekend’s Misano round with two podiums from their last five races at the track.
But the freshest memories favour Quartararo, who won his first MotoGP title when Bagnaia fell from the lead in last October’s Emilia Romagna round.
“The race in Austria was really tough but rewarding. That second place was great for the championship because we left one of our more challenging circuits with an extended lead [over Espargaro],” Quartararo said.
“I’m happy we are riding in Misano this weekend. Of course, I have still strong memories of winning the title here last year, but we have to focus on this year‘s championship.
“We are starting the final third of the season now, which is always tough, so we need to focus and work hard.
“I’ve been training pretty much non-stop to assure that I‘m in peak condition. I know that my team are also working as hard as they can, so I think we can get a good result again.”
Team director Massimo Meregalli added that there will be less pressure on their shoulders compared to last year.
“This time we arrive here with a lot less pressure on our shoulders than during the 2021 Emilia-Romagna GP when the title was in reach,” he said. “The battle at the top of the leader board is very close, like last year, but we can have a more regular GP weekend this time, so that‘s what we are looking forward to.
“Fabio enjoys riding here, and so does Franky. This track has been significant to both of their careers in the past, and we all feel highly motivated to do a good job again this weekend. We just hope that the riding conditions remain dry or at least consistent throughout these three days.”
Morbidelli: Keep tweaking, keep improving
Team-mate Franco Morbidelli is the next best Yamaha rider after Quartararo, but just 19th in the world championship.
The Italian returns to the scene of his grand prix debut (2013) and first MotoGP victory (2020) still without a dry top-ten finish this season, but is confident he is getting gradually closer.
“After the improved speed on the bike in Spielberg, I’m really looking forward to keeping on working in that direction, keep tweaking, and keep improving this week and throughout next week [at the test],” he said.
“The San Marino GP is my home race, and also that of the team in a way, so that adds an extra nice feeling to the event. I like Misano a lot, it‘s a nice track, and I look forward to completing a lot of laps here this race weekend and also during the Misano Test.”