This week's Sepang running might only be the first test of the 2024 MotoGP season, but Ducati's development direction casts further doubt on its longer-term fit with 2023 runner-up Jorge Martin - instead pointing towards a potential consolidation around reigning world champion Pecco Bagnaia and his current works team-mate Enea Bastianini.
Of course, it’s bold to presume so early that Ducati is content to send Martin looking elsewhere for next season (and that's something which is all but certain to happen if it doesn't give him a 2025 seat in its factory team) - but the MotoGP rider market moves well in advance, and it wouldn't be surprising if both Ducati and Martin favoured a quick route to 2025 clarity.
In fact, part of that clarity might come even before the season-opener - with Ducati team boss Davide Tardozzi admitting on Tuesday to MotoGP.com that he’s hoping to have Bagnaia’s contract extension signed, sealed and delivered before the Qatar Grand Prix next month.
Bagnaia, it is worth recalling, was on record as favouring Bastianini as his 2024 team-mate last year when there was talk about a potential works team swap between the struggling, injury-riddled Bastianini and the thriving Martin.
The initial feedback from Sepang is hinting that Martin could find this year’s Desmosedici evolution a very different machine to the one he achieved so much on last year - and one that, it seems, is now much more tailored for Bagnaia and Bastiniani's preferences than his.
It's centred around a new aerodynamics package that - with the introduction a striking cascading lower-fairing design - has visually taken the best of multiple rivals’ concepts, and the first feedback is that it very much plays to the strengths of the harder-braking factory duo over Pramac racer Martin's style of carrying more cornerentry speed.
“We worked with the new fairing. I didn’t feel so good," Martin explained after the second day of running.
"It was a complicated day, because we should have decided the new fairing and we didn’t, so tomorrow I have to work on it and understand if it’s better or if we’ll keep the new one for the first races.
“I feel the bike a bit heavy. On the braking it’s a bit better, but in the rest of the circuit I struggle. I hope that tomorrow we can understand the way to go.”
Martin feels in a rush to make his mind up on the new aero configuration, as MotoGP's aero homologation rules mean that what he races in Qatar will be 'frozen' as effectively one of his two packages for the season.
There is, it seems, every chance that he will continue with 2023 aero instead.
But both Bastianini and Bagnaia sound largely committed already to the 2024 design.
“This morning we’ve been working a little bit with the new aero,” Bastianini, who ended the day fastest ahead of Martin, said. “It’s not bad.
"I think that it’s a good step for us. For me and Pecco, it’s OK, but for Jorge with his different style he doesn’t like it so much.
“But I think for me in 80% of the tracks, it’s better than the old one.”
Martin remains exceptionally fast - he dominated the opening day of the test and broke the lap record early on day two before being usurped by Bastianini in the final hour.
But it is telling that the Bastianini lap, by a rider who isn't exactly renowned for his one-lap prowess unlike Martin, came with the new aero configuration.
The Portimao 'misunderstanding'
There is another point of context from this MotoGP pre-season that could be tangential but feels difficult to ignore.
For seven of the eight Ducati full-timers, the Sepang test was preceded by an outing on road bikes at Portimao during the World Superbike test. It was the very runout where Martin's Pramac team-mate Franco Morbidelli had his nasty crash that ruled him out of the pre-season.
Valentino Rossi was there, too, as were Bagnaia, Bezzecchi and Morbidelli's fellow VR46 Academy riders Luca Marini and Celestino Vietti.
But who was the sole Ducati MotoGP rider not in attendance? You guessed it: Martin.
“They didn’t tell me,” Martin said when asked about his absence. “I think it was a misunderstanding.
"I went to Montmelo for training, I realised that they were going there [to Portimao] two days before but I couldn’t organise myself to get there with the bike and all the things.
"It was a misunderstanding, and hopefully next season I will be there.”
"Hopefully next season I will be there" also likely applies to Martin's stance on the factory Ducati team, as it remains the place to be and he remains blisteringly fast on the Desmosedici.
Right now, though, there is more reason to doubt Martin's long-term future with Ducati than to buy into it.