until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

MotoGP

Ducati’s 2024 MotoGP line-up puzzle has got more complicated

by Simon Patterson
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Two apparent certainties of the 2024 MotoGP rider market look less certain going into this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix, though it’s not yet clear whose stance has changed.

At the British GP a fortnight ago Ducati was adamant that it wanted current VR46 rider Marco Bezzecchi on 2024-spec machinery next year, and that this meant a move to Pramac as Ducati wasn’t willing to run a fifth full-factory-spec entry – despite VR46 and Bezzecchi’s hopes that it would change its mind, allowing him to stay with his current team and step up in bike spec.

Ducati’s desire to shift Bezzecchi to Pramac meant Johann Zarco would have to move to make way for him, and while Ducati ideally would’ve placed him in its World Superbike Championship line-up instead, it was open to letting him accept a big offer to join LCR Honda.

But at the Red Bull Ring today Bezzecchi hinted that there might be a chance for him to have his cake and eat it in 2024 – intimating that maybe he could both have a factory bike for next season and remain with his current crew at his mentor Valentino Rossi’s team.

Ducati felt it learned too hard a lesson from 2022, when it ran five factory bikes across its works team, Pramac and VR46 – which had one up-to-date spec for Luca Marini.

956156

Deciding only at the last minute in testing to revert to an earlier specification of engine under the direction of eventual world champion Pecco Bagnaia and unable to build enough to go around, Ducati spent the entire season running two different types of 2022 engine across its five 2022 bikes.

The resultant rough start to the season was the biggest reason why Bagnaia’s title bid began badly, which is why Ducati has been so adamant up to now that it’s not going above four works-spec bikes again.

“We said clearly that, for what he has shown this year, Marco would deserve to be on a factory bike next year,” its sporting director Paolo Ciabatti told The Race at Silverstone.

“The fact is that Pramac has a bike contract, if they confirm they want two factory bikes they have the right. And we tend to respect contracts.

“At the moment – we cannot make a fifth bike, this is out of the question. So it’s going to be four ’24s and four ’23s next year.

“And as it looks at the moment it’s a little bit of a situation where we need to sit with them and see because it doesn’t look like we can give a full factory bike to VR46 because of a contractual commitment we have with Pramac.

1062868

“So I understand on one side the team works perfectly well, and it’s really a family[-style] professional group, which is also very important, on the one hand, for the performances of the rider.

“On the other side, if we are stuck to what is a contractual commitment, we have to see whether Marco and maybe his crew chief [Matteo Flamigni] would move to Pramac next year, and maybe then VR46 will take [Franco] Morbidelli, which would be a natural move.

“Or if they [Bezzecchi and Flamigni] say they want to stay, then the best we can do probably is to give the latest updates of a [GP]23 for next year.”

Within that statement lies another part of the problem facing Ducati and Bezzecchi: the position that his current crew chief Flamigni would occupy in 2024.

A long term stalwart of the VR46 project thanks to his previous job as Rossi’s data engineer, he and Marini’s crew chief on the other side of the garage (former Rossi crew chief David Munoz) are the only two of Ducati’s eight chief engineers not to be employed directly by the factory. They’re direct VR46 employees, a situation that makes any potential move across Ducati’s ranks more difficult.

It sounds both on and off the record like there’s been a shift in the puzzle in the two weeks since Silverstone, thanks both to Bezzecchi’s comments in the pre-event press conference on Thursday and some of the paddock whispers that The Race’s sources have picked up upon.

“Well, as you already know,” Bezzecchi explained, “my plan A would be to stay in Mooney VR46.

1062306

“So the [VR46] Academy, my management, is trying to work to find a better solution for me.

“I think in Barcelona [the next round in a fortnight] I can give you the precise decision that I will take.”

That statement comes at the same time as The Race has heard that Zarco’s LCR Honda switch seems less certain than it appeared a fortnight ago.

Management of other riders who had initially focused on what looked to be a free Gresini Ducati seat are now instead focusing on LCR, suggesting Zarco’s anticipated move there may be in some doubt.

Whether that means that people have picked up on a chance that Bezzecchi will stay put becoming a more realistic option isn’t yet certain – but it absolutely shows that what was a rather clear picture at the last round now looks much less solid.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks