until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Six MotoGP rider market questions as a big vacancy opens

by Valentin Khorounzhiy, Simon Patterson
10 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

From a purely mathematical standpoint, Aleix Espargaro's decision to retire from full-time MotoGP competition at the end of 2024 can be seen as a source of relief for some of his peers, especially those who feel on the fringes of the premier class.

After all, it now means that MotoGP could in theory keep what is otherwise the same rider roster into 2025 - Espargaro out, his good friend Fermin Aldeguer in, and just some between-team movements in the meantime.

That is unlikely - not with Sergio Garcia's brilliant start to his sophomore Moto2 season, not with Joe Roberts' now-or-never push for a premier-class ride and not with some riders on the current grid not living up to pre-season expectations.

But, to Espargaro's credit, his decision first and foremost has an impact at the very top - and that's because of the quality of bike he has helped the Aprilia RS-GP become. In vacating it, he's giving up a ride no free agent can afford to ignore - and, even as deals trickle down, there is still no shortage of extremely credible free agents.


One thing that would seem a no-brainer is that, with Espargaro walking away, Aprilia will pull the trigger to committing for a further two years to his team-mate Maverick Vinales.

This would both be for some measure of line-up continuity but also because Vinales has had a really lively start of 2024, offering glimpses of that 'Suzuki sophomore' form that made MotoGP fall in love with him.

But at Barcelona today, Vinales made a point in accentuating his free agent status.

When asked about what Aprilia would be like without Espargaro - who Vinales described as "one of the toughest team-mates I've had - and I've had really big names on my side" - he said: "I don't know, when he's going to leave, how it will look like - because still I don't have a contract, so I don't know if I will be there or not."

Chances are he will be - Vinales would be mad to leave Aprilia now, and Aprilia shouldn't let him go. But their contract talks will be a moving target right now. It would be prudent for Vinales to lean on his recent form and his built-in experience with the bike, and Aprilia will be aware of both of those things - but its budget won't be unlimited, and it is widely expected to pursue a big outside signing.


For a while now, the assumption has been that this big outside signing will be whoever loses out in the three-rider tussle for the still-to-be-decided works Ducati ride for 2025.

Champion Pecco Bagnaia has the one seat locked down, but championship leader Jorge Martin, incumbent Enea Bastianini and six-time champion Marc Marquez are in the mix for the other.

And Ducati's decision on which of them gets the nod will naturally determine how the rest of the MotoGP grid trickles down.

You would certainly back Ducati to keep two of the three in some capacity - although it is not yet known how many bikes it will have on the grid in 2026 - but the odd one out is a prime Aprilia target.

That odd one out surely won't be Marquez. He reiterated in Montmelo that he knows "which is my first idea".

"I'm very clear - I am clear, I was clear in the past, I was clear last year [to join Gresini Ducati] and I am clear for next year, what I want to do - or what I need, to be fast."

But that remains open to interpretation - Marquez has not shied away from the fact he expects some form of works-spec machinery next year, but has not necessarily insisted on that being in a works team.

One way or another, you would back him to be on a 2025-spec Desmosedici next year.

Martin is not in the same position - he wants the prestige and recognition of factory rider status.

He is waiting for Ducati, but he has reiterated several times now that he feels he's already made his case - "the results of Le Mans or Jerez or what happens here won't change what is going to happen" - and has been firm in suggesting that he would accept a rival offer if Ducati doesn't put him in factory red.

"For sure I am pleased and happy that a lot of factories have knocked on my door - that means we are doing a great job," he said, while emphasising "really competitive options" - of which Aprilia will be one, and KTM could perhaps be another.

Martin, Marquez and Bastianini were all asked about the attractiveness of the Aprilia ride specifically in light of Espargaro's retirement, and while the two Spaniards gave general platitudes, Bastianini went a step forward in acknowledging it "can be an option for the future".

It might be his best option -  he has been good in 2024 but looks third in line for his own seat - except his manager Carlo Pernat recently told Italy's GPOne that Bastianini would be open to a works-spec bike at a team like Pramac (while also having had discussions, he claims, with Aprilia, KTM and now even Yamaha).


As it stands, none of the Aprilia rides are filled for 2025 - which includes the two seats at its new satellite team Trackhouse.

Logically, one of the Trackhouse riders - whichever one is fastest - would be a prime candidate to succeed Espargaro, except it's not very clear which one is fastest and neither has done enough to stop Aprilia from bidding on a theoretical Ducati outcast.

Raul Fernandez, who remains on a 2023-spec RS-GP but will be upgraded on to a works-spec bike soon (upon which it will become clearer how he actually compares to the rest of the group), made it clear at Barcelona: he wants to stay at Trackhouse.

"Of course, I think it's not the moment to speak about that," he added. "I think we have to wait two or three races more. But I can say that everything is in a good way."

Team-mate Miguel Oliveira was a bit more equivocal about it - but stressed he sees "a good future" at Aprilia.

"It's true that they have prioritised their factory riders first, and that seems very logical from, let's say, a management point of view," he said.

"Let's see what happens after this - but as I told you, I'm very relaxed about my future.

"It's always nicer to continue with the bike that you know than to change, but at this point everyone is winking to everyone until someone gets the girl first out of the discotheque, you know?

"Until the first one makes the first move and takes the girl home, everyone else is still dancing and buying drinks for everyone else."

When asked whether he would prefer to stick or twist, Oliveira deftly returned to his metaphor: "I have to buy drinks for everyone at this moment. I didn't get the girl yet."

But he made it clear that he didn't see maximising financial remuneration - which, logically, you would do with one of the still-rebuilding Japanese factories, though Oliveira never referenced any specific rides - as the way to go.

"I don't think it's a good investment when you come to a point where you probably are well off in the bank but not in the track, because our life is basically this one, we don't do anything else.

"But every move is based on hope, a little bit, that in the future - after you invested your energy into one project - it pays off, you know?

"Everyone is doing two-year deals right now, two years might be enough, maybe not, we don't know. We're signing off the last two seasons of this current era in MotoGP [before the 2027 regulations], so I don't think everything will change so much in two years."


Most of the Ducati riders we haven’t yet mentioned are in a particularly unenviable position - in that they not only don't have 2025 contracts and are understandably second-level priorities behind the aforementioned names, but also don't really know what rides will actually be Ducati rides next year given the chance of Pramac moving to Yamaha.

"Everybody is waiting what will be the decision of Ducati, of Marc or Jorge or even Enea. And later on everything will, like, go down [in a chain reaction]," said Marquez's Gresini team-mate and brother Alex.

The younger Marquez's preference is to stay at Gresini and he's "quite calm" - but he's "obviously working on some more options".

For Pramac's Franco Morbidelli, playing catch-up after his destroyed pre-season, none of that talk is welcome yet.

But when it was put to him that he isn't featuring in many 2025 chats yet, he said: "I will make them talk about me."

And what of Marco Bezzecchi at VR46, who last year looked like a credible contender for that vaunted factory Ducati ride?

Bezzecchi isn't one this year - and admits that's fair enough because "at the moment they [Martin, Marquez and Bastianini] deserve this more", with Martin his personal pick to take the ride.

For him personally the goal is a factory ride - "but I want also to be competitive, to have good races".

"So if I have to leave my team right now to go in maybe a less competitive package, I don't know. Because Ducati fortunately is very competitive anyway, even if it's not a factory bike.

"So... I want to see what possibilities I will have! I have to think about it. But at the moment I don't have many."


The suggestions of KTM interest in Martin and/or Bastianini have come alongside something much more concrete - an on-the-record acknowledgment from Pit Beirer to Motorsport-Magazin that two riders on KTM RC16s right now, Jack Miller and Augusto Fernandez, were not currently performing at the desired level.

Miller, when asked about those comments by MotoGP.com, produced a guttural sound and an "it is what it is", before emphasising: "I know what I brought to the project, I know what I will continue to bring to the project till the end of it."

He later indicated to the written media that he was well-aware his current form wasn't helping him on the contract front.

"Obviously if I can put those contract negotiations on hold, I'd love to, and put some decent results on the board, it'd be really, really nice, to help my chances,” he said.

“But we can't. Obviously there's chatter going on, it is what it is. All I'm focused on is trying to do the best I can, like I said, trying to get some more decent results on the board, possible points on the board, and let the powers that be do their negotiating - that's why I have Aki [Ajo] and some other great people in my corner. Leave it to them."

And Fernandez, whose start to 2024 has been particularly rough, faced up to it, telling MotoGP.com: "I can never lie to myself. We know [Barcelona and Mugello] are very important for our careers right now."


But there is also another player in the mix, who given both his achievements in MotoGP and his lack of recent achievements in MotoGP feels like he could realistically lob his CV anywhere but also perhaps wouldn't expect to be many teams' first choice.

Joan Mir's time at Honda has not paid much in the way of dividends so far, almost convincing him to walk away from the sport last year - and while that feeling seems to have abated, there's no sign of a strong willingness to commit to Honda further.

Despite a private test at Mugello earlier this week that left Mir convinced Honda was back on the right track development-wise, he indicated it "doesn't change at all" what he's thinking for 2025 - which isn't necessarily a great vote of confidence.

"In terms of what I want to do in the future - honestly, I don't know, because it's very difficult to say if I want to stay or not when you don't see the performance. I've been here for a year and we're in the same situation as last year, if not a bit worse. In terms of bike performance.

"But for me now the most important thing is to understand when we will be competitive, when we will get back some good performance, and we will get closer to the top guys. Once I understand that, I will be able to decide, and to understand more. Because now... I don't know if I can do another year like this or two years more, it will be very hard."

Mir is handily outpacing new team-mate Luca Marini right now (and Marini told MotoGP.com he was "very angry" at media suggestions he could seek an early exit from Honda, and denied those suggestions categorically). But Mir is also crashing over and over again.

The 2020 MotoGP world champion but also a rider who was only in a position to win said title in the first place because of how strong he was in lighter grand prix classes, Mir could represent a tempting high-upside option for many a team boss.

Certainly, there have been rumblings of a reunion with ex-Suzuki boss Davide Brivio at Trackhouse Aprilia - though whether there's something genuine there or just a case of putting two and two together remains to be seen.

Mir, for his part, seems amenable to biding his time.

"It's true that the market moves very fast, but also the situation that we are in I'm sure that not many riders want to do!" he joked, perhaps suggesting that he wasn't too worried about an outsider swooping in for his Honda ride.

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