Ducati and its embarrassment of MotoGP rider wealth

There was a moment in 2020 when Ducati looked like it had been given the okay in contract negotiations for the 2021 MotoGP World Championship season.

He had missed the opportunity to sign Fabio Quartararo, Joan Mir and Alex Rins, Andrea Dovizioso walked away from the negotiating table and many felt he had failed to score the open goal that was the title worldwide in the absence of Marc Marquez. .

Indeed, while Miller was already signed to the factory team well before the start of the delayed 2020 MotoGP season, Ducati gave the impression that he was not entirely convinced that Pramac Racing’s Bagnaia promotion was the right decision.

What a difference a year makes…

Having a forced hand may have seemed alien to a Ducati team accustomed to getting what they want the moment they open their blank checkbook, but sticking to two proteges eager to impress, adding sophistication. The experience at Johann Zarco and taking a kick out of youngsters Jorge Martin and Enea Bastianini proved inspiring.

Consequently, this allowed the team to focus on perfecting the clearly capable Ducati GP20/GP21 package around riders well-versed in the more divisive intricacies of its setup, rather than getting a rider more “his way”. to fit in, and the results speak for themselves.

With eight bikes – four GP22s and four GP21s – in its Armada for next year, that means Ducati heads into the 2022 MotoGP World Championship as logical favorites to continue what it started in the second half of this season.

But with most of the scorching stretches often comes a storm to break the heat wave and Ducati faces a headache when it comes to organizing its riders for 2023.

The hangover of a fantastic MotoGP season

I use the term “headache” in a broad sense. Ducati would rather be in a situation where it is playing chess with too many pieces than not enough. But that doesn’t mean he can’t afford to rest on his laurels.

To some extent, Bagnaia’s success in 2021 presents a problem for Ducati in 2022. There is no doubt that the Italian’s talent even though his first two seasons in MotoGP have been dotted with enough dips in form and mistakes to justify what should have been a third season on Vélo Pramac.

Then Dovizioso called him, and yet there was talk of promoting Zarco above Bagnaia. That never happened and Bagnaia rewarded Ducati’s confidence with a tremendous year, one that really picked up momentum in the closing stages.

Look at it from a more cynical perspective though and Ducati should have won the 2021 MotoGP World Championship against Fabio Quartararo and Yamaha. Bagnaia wasted two crucial wins at Mugello and Misano, while his qualifying performances at the start of the year left much to be desired.

Again, it’s the measure of the rider who not only bounced back from those potentially season-defining errors, but did so with interest, his wins at Aragon and Misano (Pt.1) under pressure intense some of the best performances of recent years.

However, as I hinted earlier, it was this continuation of Miller and Bagnaia—albeit in different colors—that helped Ducati turn the GP21 into the bike it has been trying to build for years.

There’s no doubt that the Ducati is a straight-line rocket, but its shortcomings in braking and cornering negated that strength. Miller and Bagnaia, plus Zarco and of course Michele Pirro, crashed out in 2021, taking advantage of the technical freeze to give themselves the chance to just tweak and test those weaknesses without harming strengths.

It probably wouldn’t have happened had Mir, Rins or Quartararo come on board…just ask Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi and Cal Crutchlow.

Dive into the Ducati MotoGP talent pool

The 2022 MotoGP season is a long way off, but now is the time for managers to earn their 15% with negotiations for 2023 beginning in earnest.

This poses a problem for Ducati. While Bagnaia is confident to stay with Ducati for 2023 and beyond, things are a bit more uncertain in a Ducati talent pool that will face two other riders in 2022.

As it stands, Ducati faces a dilemma whether to wait until the 2022 MotoGP season has started to decide its roster for 2023. For now, only two seats beyond 2022 are insured – Franco Morbidelli at Yamaha and Marc Marquez at Honda, although the latter may depend on his increasingly worrying fitness levels.

It’s fair to say that Miller’s long-awaited first season as a works rider fell short of expectations. He started the year well with back-to-back wins, although they came with some fortune after Fabio Quartararo pushed him at arm’s length at Jerez and Le Mans was wet weather free for all.

Thereafter, Miller didn’t appear to be fighting for wins elsewhere, allowing Bagnaia to steal a march on what should have been the Australian’s team leader status at the end of the year.

Miller is an investment Ducati won’t want to throw away, but right now he’s neck and neck in betting on whether it’ll be him or Martin he wants on the scarlet Ducati GP23.

In Miller’s defense, 2021 should have been a trial in Dovizioso’s shadow in which he proved a better foil than incumbent Danilo Petrucci – which he comfortably did – before going for the title in 2022. , but those plans were turned upside down. What wasn’t expected and what didn’t help Miller was that Bagnaia emerged as the company’s top candidate.

It also doesn’t help that Martin has become one of the breakthrough riders of 2021. The Spaniard had no reason to claim pole position and a podium in only his second MotoGP race, before doing what Miller , Bagnaia and countless others had failed to do so. previous years by taking Pramac Racing to the top step of the podium in Austria.

Four pole positions, four podiums and a win were a great return to an injury-hampered rookie campaign.

That said, dig under the stats and there are doubts that Martin is ready for the Ducati red in 2023. Mistakes were frequent – perhaps understandable for a rookie – while his less eye-catching results weren’t all that stellar either. more.

The same can be said for the undisputed standout rider of 2021, Moto2 champion Enea Bastianini, who put in an outstanding performance on the two-year-old Avintia Ducati GP19. His podium finishes at Misano – achieved with extraordinary race pace – were the rides of the season, period.

Although we reserve some judgment on some of his poor qualifying results due to his much older machines, Bastianini has performed miracles in 2021 that in many ways eclipsed Martin.

And therein lies Ducati’s problem. It has three riders with enormous potential who will not be better understood until the first rounds of 2022. But can it afford to wait that long…?

Ducati and a bad case of FOMO

Of course, Ducati’s plans for the future don’t just depend on its own quarters…and its riders won’t depend on Ducati for their future either.

Indeed, Ducati could find itself in a tricky negotiating position if it waits for the start of the 2022 season to decide how to revamp its assets for 2023. attention from Miller, Martin and Bastianini if ​​it can secure them factory machines and/or a more defined roadmap for the future if Ducati hesitates.

Plus, Ducati won’t just look inside. The new champion Quartararo left the door ever so slightly ajar on alternative offers beyond Yamaha for 2023 and made it pretty clear that the emails wouldn’t necessarily bounce…

It’s a temptation Ducati will find hard to resist although observers might point out that it shouldn’t afford a case of FOMO (fear of missing out) if it focuses on what it already has.

And to think we haven’t even started with Johann Zarco, who despite another winless season has been Ducati’s top contender for much of the year, while Marco Bezzecchi has all the qualities – and the backing – to “make a Bastianini” in 2022. .

In conclusion, there’s nothing ‘stupid’ about Ducati’s impending ‘dumb season’…returning to that chess analogy, Ducati has to think very carefully about its next moves if it wants to checkmate the opponent. .

Earnest L. Veasey