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MotoGP

Has Ducati jilted Martin again by forgoing 2024 swap?

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

After a season in which it had at least one representative on the podium in every sprint and every grand prix, had seven riders win at least one sprint or at least one grand prix, and scored over 96% of the points available in the manufacturers' championship, any 'problems' Ducati may have would be scoffed at derisively by its rival brands.

But those numbers being put up not just by riders who are already in Ducati's factory team but those who would clearly really like to be sooner rather than later is a problem.

Pramac Ducati rider Jorge Martin ultimately finished 39 points behind now two-time champion Pecco Bagnaia in the title race, but it's a gap hugely inflated by his final-round desperation.

At the same time, Martin finished 344 points clear of Enea Bastianini - a gap that is more obviously and undeniably inflated, but one that Martin will see (as many do, and not without reason) as evidence of not just the races Bastianini missed through injury but the fact that in the weekends that both were present for Martin generally had the performance edge over Bastianini by a considerable margin.

Despite Bastianini's course-correcting win at Sepang, and despite Bagnaia's stated preference for keeping Bastianini where he is, talk of a swap that would put Martin in factory red of 2024 persisted into the Valencia finale, and a report by the Spanish edition of Motorsport.com even suggested that there was a contractual mechanism to make the switch particularly if Martin became champion.

Whether there was a clause is academic now, given Martin didn't overhaul Bagnaia, but it feels at least logical that Ducati would've been more incentivised to make a switch happen had Martin taken the title and the #1 plate.

Speaking after his championship defeat, Martin seemed to dispute the suggestion of a contractual clause. Yet he also had some pretty firm words to say about his viability for a factory Ducati ride.

"I am happy where I am. I think even if I won today, it's no sense, because if you win, it's [showing] that you are in the best team and [that] we are the best team," Martin said. 

"Sincerely speaking... if I didn't show yet my potential for them, to be in red, I won't show it ever. I will never be in red. Because making more than this is quite complicated.

"And arriving to the last race, finishing second, I think if they don't put me there, they won't put me anyway."

That final line will have been coloured by the emotion of the championship defeat, but that doesn't render it meaningless - because it has to be seen in the context of what happened in the year before.

Martin's rookie 2021 campaign had been very credible, and he was clearly convinced - he would effectively acknowledge as much afterwards - that a spot in the factory Ducati team would be his when the next contractual cycle rolled around.

But while he felt constrained in his sophomore season by a Ducati GP22 that wasn't a particularly refined package out of the gate, Bastianini made hay on a GP21. Ducati effectively made it a straight shootout - something Martin really didn't appreciate - to slot in alongside Bagnaia, and Bastianini ultimately got the nod.

So, jilted once. And now that Martin, for whatever mistakes he had made, finished the season as effectively the form man of the grid for basically the entire flyaway spell, the door is refusing to open.

Martin, thus, has to trust that he will be done right by for 2025 - except the last time he put his faith in an outcome a year in advance, his promotion was gone.

When Martin's words were put to Ducati MotoGP tech chief Gigi Dall'Igna on the morning of the post-season test, Dall'Igna said, bluntly and somewhat surprisingly: "Absolutely, I agree with him. He did a fantastic job this year. And he deserves the factory team, for sure. 

"But you know, there are some contracts in place, there are many things that are not possible to change."

This may almost come across as Dall'Igna breaking rank with the wider Ducati decision. A consultation with the Italian media members who had a session of their own suggests this is not the case - but rather, just a diplomatic acknowledgment that, yes, Martin has done enough. But that Ducati treats him as every bit a factory rider at Pramac and, contractually, the works seat is Bastianini's for 2024. And that Ducati respects contracts.

"When we decided to sign Jorge, it was back in 2020 - when the [Moto2] championship hadn't started yet because of COVID," Ducati sporting director Paolo Ciabatti told MotoGP.com during the Valencia test.

"And we knew that Jorge is an incredibly talented rider.

"Last year, we had two configurations of bike. And the factory riders, Pecco and Jack [Miller], they decided to go with this hybrid version, with the latest 2021 engine. So, the 2022 bike with the new engine [used by Martin, Johann Zarco and Luca Marini at VR46] was a bit more complicated to set up and to adjust. So we must also say that the results of Jorge last year were a little bit probably influenced by this situation.

"First of all, he's contracted to Ducati, he's a factory rider for Ducati, all the riders from the Ducati [factory] team and Pramac are contracted directly to Ducati. And especially this season Pecco and Jorge got the exact same specs on the bike, but on top of that, exactly the same kind of updates when they came available. So you could see those wings on the front forks, when we brought them, it was for Pecco and Jorge because they were the best-placed. 

"In this respect, I think Ducati is doing a remarkable job - different maybe to what people would expect. But everybody in the paddock knows that Pecco and Jorge were treated equally on the technical side, and can count on exactly the same kind of material."

But even if the material is ensured to be exactly the same, molecule by molecule, factory rider status confers prestige and respect. It makes a rider feel valued and wanted. It establishes a ranking within the stable, even if that's not the intention.

Martin's stock is at an all-time high right now. It would wholly unsurprising if he started shopping himself around this off-season already.

And, as good as the Desmosedici is, if he is seeing someone else (hello, previous suitor Yamaha, and hello, Moto2/Moto3 employer KTM) willing to commit for 2025 at this early stage in a way Ducati hasn't in the past and may not yet be ready to right now, would you really expect him to say no?

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