Francesco Bagnaia says he probably would have “been last” in the French Grand Prix after struggling for form with his Ducati in dry conditions.
Bagnaia charged through in the latter stages of the mixed condition Le Mans encounter to finish fourth, just missing out on snatching the final podium spot away from chief title rival Fabio Quartararo despite also picking up a double long-lap punishment for speeding in pit-lane while in the process of swapping to his wet-prepared Desmosedici.
The Italian had qualified a lowly 16th after lacking speed as the track dried out in the closing moments of Q1 having failed to post a time fast enough in the fully-dry FP2 session on Friday, the times from this test ultimately deciding who achieved a direct passage to the pole shootout after FP3 ended up being held in wet conditions.
Bagnaia remarked that he “closed my eyes” as he recouped many spots on the treacherous in-lap as the rain started to fall, his late charge to fourth seeing him lap around two seconds per lap faster than Quartararo in the latter tours having been worried he would finish at the back had the precipitation failed to arrive.
“It was a long race, I started bad and the setting we used for the whole weekend for the dry conditions was not very good so I was struggling a lot and I thought if the rain hadn’t arrived I would’ve been last,” explained Bagnaia.
“We had problems so we’ll have to check what happened, then the rain came and I just closed my eyes and from 18th I ended up fourth because I overtook a lot of riders on the last lap running on dry tyres.
“I got the two long-lap penalties which were correct and then I had cold brakes so I went back to 12th or 13th, and then afterwards my pace was good and I could recover positions and was one of the fastest in the final part of the race.
“Yesterday I was hoping for wet (in the race) and this morning even more as I was towards the front (in wet warm-up) and my feeling with the bike was great in the wet and also in the cold temperatures so it was easier to manage the wet tyres than the dries.”
The 2018 Moto2 world champion lost the championship lead to Quartararo with the Yamaha pilot hanging on for third, though to the tune of just a single point heading to the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello.
Bagnaia says he “loves” the Tuscan venue having exceeded to finishing target at Le Mans, while the former track has always been a hotspot for success for Ducati, the marque having streaked to victory in the past three editions of the event with Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo and most recently Danilo Petrucci.
“I can be happy about today as I’m only one point behind Fabio (Quartararo), but for sure we need to find out why my bike was not working in the dry, but now I look forward to a track I love in Mugello,” added Bagnaia.
“I said yesterday my target was to finish fifth, so I’m happy to exceed that with fourth.”