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MotoGP

‘Desperation’ is showing for Ducati’s crushed MotoGP rivals

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

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The fact Ducati filled eight of the top nine places in MotoGP’s 2023 German Grand Prix was always going to be demoralising for the rest of the field.

How the two riders who came closest to preventing a Ducati title last season approached the race showed just how desperate everyone else is getting.

Pecco Bagnaia’s two MotoGP title rivals from 2022 were alone in the field in taking a long-shot rear tyre bet in the 2023 German Grand Prix – and watched powerlessly as all eight Ducatis finished ahead of them.

Ninth and 11th on the grid respectively, both Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro and Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo attempted to complete the 30-lap Sunday race on the soft Michelin rear tyre rather than the medium rear, in contrast to all 17 of their rivals.

Both regretted it. Quartararo climbed no higher than 10th before slumping to 13th, while Espargaro – after running fifth following the start – completely ran out of usable rubber and ran seconds off the pace in the closing stages to bring the bike home in 16th.

For Quartararo, who had won the race back in 2022, the call was inspired by the grid position and – he admitted with a chuckle – it was “totally wrong”.

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“From lap one, basically, I thought after Moto2 [laying down Dunlop rubber] I needed a little bit more grip for the first laps – but actually I didn’t have more grip, and just the tyre was dropping so much.

“So, yeah, wrong decision with the tyres. But, you know, to finish P10 or P13 for me was not a big difference.”

It was not going to be better than 10th “for sure”, he added.

Espargaro, for his part, described the soft-tyre call as a “big mistake” and “a desperate thing to do”.

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“We didn’t have a lot of info due to the weather conditions of the weekend, and in the very last moment – we checked last year the winning tyre, it was the medium one, we checked our [sprint] race [soft] tyre yesterday, I did 1m21.9s in the last lap and the estimated consumption was not that high, so we took the gamble.

“You have to invent something when you start 10th and when you don’t have a Ducati. So this is what we did. And yeah, was not a good choice.

“On lap 10 already the tyre started to drop and in the last six laps it was super dangerous, I couldn’t really manage the tyre.”


A dose of sarcasm

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Ducati was in surreal form at the Sachsenring – a track it hadn’t previously won at since 2008 – as it fitted eight bikes into the top 12 in the sprint and then eight into the top nine in the main race.

Only KTM had any answer for the Desmosedicis – which had already dominated so thoroughly the week before at Mugello – at the German venue, and even then neither Brad Binder nor Jack Miller could really dream of taking on Jorge Martin and Bagnaia out front.

It means there was precious left for other riders, like Quartararo’s team-mate Franco Morbidelli, who on Saturday took sardonic joy in battling Quartararo for ‘the Yamaha cup’ – which he then ‘won’ on Sunday.

“We are far from the potential of the Ducatis and the KTMs,” he said. “And it seems also that they are improving.”

“They are improving,” he repeated, laughing. “Ha!

“Good on them.”


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Coming out of the Sachsenring last year, Quartararo had scored 68.8% of the points available. This year, in eighth place in the standings, that same metric stands at 22.0%.

For Espargaro, who is two points behind Quartararo in ninth, it has been a 55.2% to 21.2% reduction. And the explanation is not “bad luck”.

“There is no bad luck in [a sample size of] eight races. We don’t have the level, that’s it.

“The Ducatis are on another planet. I said from the pre-season that I like my bike. But the bike is 3%-4% different than 2022 spec, from Miguel [Oliveira, who currently rides a year-old RS-GP for the RNF team].

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“And you see the RNF results, you see the factory results are not good. This is why we didn’t improve enough.

“Sincerely I didn’t expect that Ducati improved that much from last year, but they did. Check the laptimes of this year and check last year’s race. I think [the race time] was 20 seconds faster. We don’t have the level.”

Espargaro – who was absolutely right that the 2023 German GP winning time was 20s quicker – rode not just with the already-known fractured heel from his distracted-riding cycling crash at Mugello, but also with “two small fractures – well, not that small – on the ninth and 10th rib”. But this, he said, was “not an excuse, I rode well”.

Despite this, he suspects even a normal tyre choice would’ve simply converted into a ninth-place finish.

“But I’m aiming for more,” he added. “And that’s why we tried a gamble with the soft tyre, but it didn’t pay off.”

The year-old Ducati GP22s clearly had the measure of the Aprilia – not to mention the Yamaha – at the Sachsenring. The GP23s, in the hands of everybody but the still-not-fully-fit Enea Bastianini, were completely out of reach.

For Espargaro, Ducati has improved “everywhere”.

“On stopping performance, they are bike number one in this paddock.

“They are able to put a lot of traction, a lot of power on the ground without [wheel]spinning.

“And the bike doesn’t look like it [given all the aero] but it’s super agile, it’s turning more than ever. And they have super-strong riders at the same time.”

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