until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Ducati's third option is still too good to be an afterthought

by Valentin Khorounzhiy, Simon Patterson
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Considering Enea Bastianini is just two points behind his reigning champion Ducati team-mate Pecco Bagnaia, it would be entirely appropriate to feel sympathy at the fact that he seems to have at best a 33% chance of hanging on to his MotoGP ride in 2025.

And 'at best' is doing a lot of the heavy lifting there. Bastianini's two rivals for the seat are the exact two rivals you would not want to go up against in any silly season tussle.

MotoGP standings

He'd seen off Jorge Martin once, when Ducati was making its factory choice for 2023, but since then Martin mounted a credible title challenge last year and has broken away by nearly 40 points a quarter into this season - not only proving his obvious mettle and raw pace, but also making him the favourite to have in his possession the marketing gold dust of the number one plate next year.

And speaking of marketing gold dust, Ducati also has the option of bringing in six-time MotoGP champion Marc Marquez. The prospect of him in Ducati red carries obvious sponsorship hurdles (Marquez is a long-time Red Bull athlete, Ducati is Monster backed) - yet might anyway be irresistible.

Jorge Martin and Marc Marquez, MotoGP

If it were 2023-spec Bastianini going up against those two, it would be a two-way fight by default. It might still be - but Bastianini is doing just about as much as he could reasonably be asked to stay in the conversation.

Injuries wrecked the Italian's first season in Ducati red last year, and as a result there's a chicken-or-egg situation there that's hard to get a good read on. For Bastianini also just never really got along with the 2023-spec Ducati - but was that because he was hurt for so long and left in too deep a hole in terms of adaptation, or did the injuries actually keep him from having a better-but-worse campaign of relative mediocrity with no excuses?

That we won't know. What we do know is that he's clearly found the 2024 Ducati more agreeable. It's felt more natural from the get-go, especially in terms of getting the bike stopped, though there have been ups and downs.

Across the first four rounds of this season, though the points were being racked up consistently, the prevailing impression was still that he was lacking that something extra compared to Martin and Bagnaia.

Bastianini was qualifying well enough - not one of his strengths usually, so it's been crucial - to put himself in a position to score consistently, and there were flashes of that familiar late-race strength, but while Martin had led 61 laps and Bagnaia 44, Bastianini led none. He just wasn't really fighting for wins.

He led no laps at Le Mans, too, but it was the first weekend where you could say 'Enea Bastianini should've won this grand prix' and have enough of a case backing it up.

Enea Bastianini, Ducati, MotoGP

Work in the Jerez test - after which he had declared he can now brake like his Ducati peers - seemed to pay off for Bastianini throughout the three days of track action in France.

He made life difficult for himself on Friday with a crash that sent him to Q1, but he recovered neatly to top that session.

Had he then simply replicated that laptime in Q2, he would've been on the front row. Had he simply got to complete his final lap - his sole good lap on a fresh soft rear - he would've probably been third or fourth.

Yellow flags meant he didn't, which meant that 10th place on the grid was the outcome and victory hopes were out of the window.

Now, given Marquez started both of that weekend's races in 13th and ended up second both times, you may question the validity of grid position as an excuse - and that's understandable. But Bastianini isn't Marquez - and any attempt for him to be Marquez would probably be a hideous failure.

Instead, over and over again he has proven himself as someone tentative over the first few laps but more and more potent with each '+1' on the lap counter.

"I'm frustrated," he admitted after the French GP. "It was important for me today to try to win the race. And the pace was to try to win. I don't know if it was possible - but the speed was really good."

He's right. There are no two ways about it.

Enea Bastianini, Ducati, MotoGP

Even despite a so-so run through those first laps, Bastianini was an obvious threat. But he botched the most important move of his race - losing the rear after he sent it down the inside of Aleix Espargaro, cutting the track and receiving a long-lap penalty.

Bastianini was as far six seconds back from the lead after serving it. Just over 10 laps later, at the chequered flag, he was two seconds back.

It helped that Martin and Bagnaia were roughing each other up and making minor errors, but the peak pace doesn't lie. Bastianini's fastest lap of the race, a 1m31.107s, was three tenths of a second better than anything anyone else managed despite coming on lap 23 of 27.

Best laps in French GP

1 Bastianini - 1m31.107s (lap 23)
2 Bastianini - 1m31.331s (lap 24)
3 Bastianini - 1m31.397s (lap 19)
4 Di Giannantonio - 1m31.403s (lap 6)
5 Bastianini - 1m31.408s (lap 20)

Ducati general manager Gigi Dall'Igna told MotoGP.com that Le Mans made his 2024 decision "more difficult". He probably meant that because Martin and Marquez were both excellent - but he will have spotted that Bastianini pace, too.

The other two are more explosive riders, more obvious as championship contenders. It is difficult to craft a case for Bastianini getting the nod over either right now, especially in a MotoGP that has the sprint races that just do not play to his strengths.

Equally, though, there is no rider in MotoGP who does this, who can attack this well in the closing stages of a race through a riding style that punishes the front but protects the rear.

"You know, the feeling is strange," said Bastianini when asked about the talk of him being replaced.

Enea Bastianini, Ducati, MotoGP

"Because I have the speed, no? But... sometimes you have to be lucky. And you have to mix in some things. And at the moment it's not happened for me.

"I'm angry also for this - but I think Ducati sees my potential, it sees what I can do.

"But also Ducati sees what Jorge is doing at the moment. He won the race also today, he's a really fast rider.

"I know the Ducati decision is too difficult."

Perhaps that answer is good news for Ducati, because it suggests a level of self-awareness that would permit Bastianini to accept a demotion within the ranks.

Ducati is dealing with an abundance of riches on the rider front - but this is not an asset you can blithely discard.

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