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 he 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 1m59.140s 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.
This was short-lived, as Malaysian GP winner – and last year’s Qatar victor – Enea Bastianini 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.
Behind fourth-placed Fernandez came Yamaha’s Franco Morbidelli and VR46 Ducati’s Luca Marini, who told media on Thursday that there had been no movement on his potential switch to Honda next year.
Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro was seventh despite a crash at Turn 14 early on, with Di Giannantonio, Tech3’s Pol Espargaro and KTM’s Brad Binder rounding out the top 10.
There was an odd moment between Pol Espargaro and VR46’s Marco Bezzecchi at the end of the session during the practice starts.
The pair got close on track at the last and first corner after the chequered flag, before Bezzecchi repeatedly nudged Espargaro’s rear tyre in the practice start zone.
Bezzecchi ended the session 18th behind Bastianini and last week’s sprint winner Alex Marquez, who crashed at Turn 4.
Fabio Quartararo was 11th on his Yamaha ahead of Aprilia’s Maverick Vinales and KTM’s Jack Miller, who tested a new rear wing on his RC16.
Tech3’s Augusto Fernandez was the only other crasher in the session and was 14th, while top Honda honours went to Joan Mir in 19th as all RC213V riders slotted in behind him.
MotoGP Qatar GP – FP1 results: