Francesco Bagnaia celebrates after the MotoGP Malaysian Grand Prix

Sepang (Malaysia) (AFP) - Francesco Bagnaia won a dramatic Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday, but the champagne for the Italian’s maiden MotoGP world championship remains on ice after rival Fabio Quartararo finished third.

Bagnaia would have clinched the title had Quartararo finished outside the podium places at Sepang, but the Ducati rider instead extended his lead to 23 points ahead of the season’s final race at Spain’s Valencia in two weeks.

Bagnaia took the chequered flag in 40min 14:332sec, 0.270sec ahead of fellow Ducati rider Enea Bastianini. Quartararo completed the podium 2.7sec adrift.

Bagnaia started ninth on the grid, but made a blistering start which saw him swoop through the field to second by the end of the first lap, on the back wheel of pole sitter Jorge Martin.

“I did the best start I ever did in my life,” said an ecstatic Bagnaia. “It was perfect.”

The dynamics of the race changed on the seventh lap when Martin crashed out, allowing the Ducati rider to charge into first with Bastianini hot on his tail.

“I took some risk at the front,” said Bagnaia. “Following Jorge was a bit too much for the rear tyre and I was starting to stress, then unfortunately he crashed.”

Bastianini managed to overtake his countryman on turn four of the 10th lap, but his lead was short-lived as Bagnaia regained the ascendancy.

Quartararo, who earlier in the season had been 91 points ahead of Bagnaia, was meanwhile being drawn in a battle against Marco Bezzecchi for third, but held his ground to stave off the Gresini Racing rider.

At the front, Bastianini continued to pressure Bagnaia, but the Italian kept his cool to cross the finish line for his seventh win of the season.

“Today we did a really, really good job in terms of the championship. It’s also my seventh win, so we can be very happy,” said Bagnaia.

With a maximum 25 points available in Valencia, Quartararo must win the final grand prix of 2022 and hope Bagnaia finishes 15th or lower to have any hope of retaining this world championship.

“It’s been a long time since I made the podium,” said Quartararo, who crashed in the previous race at Phillip Island.

“I gave my maximum today, couldn’t do any better, but I’m proud of myself because I felt this is one of my best rides of the season,” added the Frenchman who was riding with a fractured finger, sustained when he fell in FP4 on Saturday.

“I’m happy at least we’re bringing it to Valencia. Even if the chance is super small, we did everything to bring it to Valencia.”