Francesco Bagnaia‘s hopes of a strong MotoGP debut effectively ended at turn one of the Qatar Grand Prix.
Contact with Pramac predecessor Danilo Petrucci broke the upper section of Bagnaia’s right wing, altering the behaviour of the reigning Moto2 world champion’s Ducati.
The Italian did his best to continue but the high-speed handling was badly compromised and he withdrew, after repeatedly running wide and dropping to the back of the field, on lap 10.
“I started very well and was in a good position but then someone made a crazy overtaking on Petrucci and [then Petrucci] caught me,” explained Bagnaia, who had qualified in 13th place.
“I lost my right wing and it was very difficult. I pushed in the first laps but it was very dangerous because the bike was pushing me to the left every time. I tried but it was impossible.
“I went straight three times and this is why I stopped. After the second time I kept going, but it was getting very dangerous on the straight because it was moving.”
The significance of the wings is often played down, but Bagnaia’s difficulties prove just how much influence they now have on performance.
“The bike was 5mm higher without the wings and it was very difficult because you have been working on a setting and without a little part of the bike it is completely changed,” he said.
“It was moving too much on the straight and when I started braking it was pushing me to the left.”
Without the damage, Bagnaia – a stunning second fastest in the opening pre-season test of 2019 at Sepang – felt he had the pace for a top ten and might have battled with Joan Mir (Suzuki) for top rookie honours.
“I think I could have fought for a top ten with Nakagami because my pace was very strong. Without the wings I was making a ‘56.2 and with it then a ’55 was possible.
“My pace might have been good to also fight with Mir [eighth]. When I had a slipstream I was OK but by myself then it was impossible. The problem was more in braking.
“The only positive thing is that we worked very well this weekend and we made a good step from the test, which was our objective. It would have been nice to finish the race without any problems but it was not possible. Everyone has one bad day.”
Team-mate Jack Miller, who rides a GP19 rather while Bagnaia has the GP18, also retired due to a part missing from his bike; the Australian losing his seat foam early in the race.