With Johann Zarco having eliminated himself from the race to join the official Ducati team, assuring that his objective, right now, is to maintain his place in the Pramac satellite structure, and with Jack Miller admitting that for him the most important thing is to continue in MotoGP and that it doesn’t matter where, even accepting a return to Pramac, where he was before arriving at the factory team, the battle to become Pecco Bagnaia’s partner in the Borgo Panigale factory team in 2023 is basically centered between the two young 24-year-old pilots Jorge Martín and Enea Bastianini.
Before starting the season, the Spanish shares were trading on the rise and everything pointed to the fact that he was going to be chosen. However, Bastianini’s resounding start to the season with the Gresini team, with which he has already achieved two victories (Qatar and Austin) in the first four races, has not only balanced the balance, but at this moment the boy from Rimini seems to have better cards in that game.
In a season with 21 races, the logic would point to Ducati waiting well into the course to make a decision that seems important, but some contractual clauses and the traditional rush in the MotoGP market to close agreements suggest that there is a time limit to make the decision and that date could be at the end of May, coinciding with the Italian Grand Prix that will be held at the Mugello Circuit between the 27th and 29th of that month.
Bastianini leads the MotoGP World Championship with 61 points, having scored points in all the races and confirming in Austin, with a superb performance, that the victory on the night of Qatar was not the flower of a day.
Martín, for his part, has achieved two pole positions so far this year and another two front rows on the grid, in addition to second place at Termas de Río Hondo . The Spaniard weighs down the two falls in Qatar, where Bagnaia threw him, and Indonesia, where the rain played a trick on him.
Enea Bastianini, Gresini Racing
Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images
Before the Italian Grand Prix, supposed deadline, three more races must be played, in Portimao this week, in Jerez the following and Le Mans in mid-May, marking the beginning of a second important phase of the championship, that of the arrival at European races. What happens in these three grand prix that will take place in less than a month depends largely on the future of both drivers.
Pros and cons
Right now, at Ducati, they are assessing the pros and cons of making the decision one way or the other, leaving aside the media pressure that will grow in the coming days, and the movements of the representatives of each of the riders, They will try to play their cards.
Bastianini has won two races and leads the World Championship, but the Italian rider has achieved it with a motorcycle made in 2020 and that after two years with the engines frozen by the pandemic ended 2021 being perfect, the best on the grid according to general opinion.
The boy from Rimini, who in 2020 raced with 2019 machinery at Avintia, only had to adjust small details to continue winning with a motorcycle that last year achieved seven victories, two Miller (Jerez and Le Mans), one Martín (Styria) and four Bagnaia (Aragon, San Marino, Algarve and Valencia), with the Torino team winning four of the last six tests. Therefore, the Desmosedici GP21 has only followed the inertia of last year, chaining six victories in the last ten appointments. Which has all the merit in the world.
“Enea has a bike this year that is technically better than the one it had last year,” Ducati sporting director Paolo Ciabatti told Motorsport.com in Austin. “In addition, it is the perfect bike, which is at its highest level of performance and development, and which works everywhere,” he added.
At Ducati they consider that “Enea is doing a great job, just like the Gresini team, which has become a bubble in which she can develop with ease”.
Bastianini, with a 2021 motorcycle already developed, does not have to test parts or evolutions, he simply has to adjust the set-up based on the data of the Ducati riders from last year, and for this he has all the training sessions in each of the Grand Prix . In addition, the boy from Torino has the track engineer that Andrea Dovizioso had at Ducati, Alberto Giribuola , a technician with great experience in Italian motorcycles and who has already won in the past with the one from Forli.
Martín, ‘tester’ of the 2022 motorcycle
For Martin, things are completely different. The Spaniard must deal with the Desmosedici GP22, a prototype that was born badly and that the official team, basically Bagnaia, has been gutting since the pre-season tests. It first gave up the 2022 engine and opted for a 21-22 hybrid version; then Pecco asked that the front device that regulates the height of the motorcycle be removed.
At Ducati they now have two development paths with the 2022 bike, that of the official team and that of Pramac, where Zarco and Martín must test parts during the grand prix and continue riding the front holeshot in some training sessions to try to hit the key of that device.
“We have many parts in the box that we must test, it is extra work but for Pramac this development role is not a problem, we see it as a positive thing, it means that they take us into account and we are important for Ducati”, explained Fonsi Nieto , sports director of Pramac, on television during a training session in Austin, where Martín had two totally different bikes testing parts.
For the rider, however, the role of ‘tester’ does not convince him and, in fact, he already said in Argentina that “we have returned to the setting of last year, the bike did not work well, we were a bit lost with all the changes in this year’s bike, and we have returned a bit to what was good for us last year. I missed out on preseason but I think we have returned”, he said then.
In Austin, after achieving a stratospheric pole position, he suffered again in the race, losing any chance of a podium in the final part.
“I thought I had the potential to fight for the podium, but on the straight I suffered a lot, it’s impossible to get close to any bike. I don’t have the potential that the Ducati had now, with Enea I lost between 8 and 10 km/h, we don’t know what it is but we lose a lot with the new engine, we don’t know the reason. I don’t think last year’s engine is better, but something is wrong, maybe the aerodynamics or I don’t know what”, lamented the man from Madrid who sees how this situation It reduces the chances of getting good results and, therefore, of earning a place in the official team.
The contractual situation
Both Martín and Bastianini have a direct contract with the factory, an agreement that ends at the end of this season, with the brand’s option to continue in 2023. But there are differences, while Enea does not have any clause that obliges Ducati to take him to the team official, Martin will be free of any commitment if he does not become Bagnaia’s partner next year.
On paper, if the executives of Borgo Panigale do not promote the Spaniard, he could go free at the end of the year, while with Enea there is no such obligation.
Regarding the future of Enea, his representative assures that “now he is the most valuable piece because he is the leader of the championship. We want him to continue at Ducati, but perhaps in the official team. To those who say that this position belongs to Martín, I would say that this is not entirely true. Gigi Dall’Igna is not someone who makes such a decision after only four races,” says Carlo Pernat .
“At the moment there are only contacts and conversations, I think the rider market will start to move after Jerez”, added the veteran Genoese manager.
Regarding the options for the future, Pernat himself was in charge of recalling that “it is no secret that in the past Aprilia has already talked about Enea”, ruling out a rumor that brought Honda into the equation: “I don’t think that Honda and the Repsol team are the best for Enea, there are many other opportunities”.
A possibility, however, that would come into Martin’s plans, a rider who has always been to the liking of Alberto Puig and Honda, with whom he won the Moto3 World Championship in 2018. A Martin who also came to Pramac -Ducati from KTM accepting pandemic economic conditions and that, with difficulty, would agree to remain in the official team from 2023.