until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Ducati’s shock new winner creates 2023 MotoGP line-up dilemma

by Simon Patterson
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Up until this point, the race for the second factory Ducati MotoGP seat in 2023 alongside the already-signed Pecco Bagnaia has very much been seen as a two-horse battle: incumbent Jack Miller up against 2021 rookie sensation Jorge Martin.

But does the incredible performance of Enea Bastianini at the opening race of 2022 throw a cat among the pigeons for Ducati’s future strategy?


Martin has been seen as something of a preordained successor to Miller for some time now, with the hotly-tipped newcomer laying out his credentials almost from his very first MotoGP race. Qualifying on pole position for the second round of last season in Qatar before going on to finish on the podium was the start of an incredible season with Ducati’s leading satellite team Pramac.

His charge was halted by the serious injuries he suffered in a practice crash at the Portuguese Grand Prix only one race later, forcing him out of the next four rounds.

But he bounced back strongly in the latter half of the year, becoming one of MotoGP’s race rookie race winners at the Red Bull Ring.

Once the injury was fully behind him, Martin was consistently fast through to the end of the year, rounding it out in style as part of Ducati’s first ever podium lock-out at the final race at Valencia.

While all that was happening, fellow rookie Bastianini was building an impressive reputation in a slightly different way.

Starting the year at Avintia Racing on a then-two-year-old Ducati, the expectations for the reigning Moto2 world champion were lower – but that perhaps made two podiums at the end of the season, both at Misano, even more spectacular.


And while Martin and Ducati’s somewhat-troubled 2022 machine started this season on rocky ground, with Martin wiped out of the first race of the year by factory rider Bagnaia, Bastianini has carried his 2021 momentum forward to stun the paddock with his first victory.

That Qatar win was something of a fairytale: coming in Gresini’s first race back to fully independent status as it swapped running Aprilia’s factory team for being a Ducati satellite, and a year after the death of team principal Fausto Gresini. And it was achieved on upgraded but still year-old Ducati.

Mar 08 : A fairytale start to 2022 - Qatar MotoGP review

So does that mean there are now tough decisions to be made by Ducati’s factory management in the coming months, and is golden child Martin really at any serious risk of losing his expected spot in the factory team?

Well, long story short – no, because while Bastianini’s win might have been a tad unexpected, a strong start to the season has been long-prophesied for the 24-year-old thanks specifically to that year-old bike.

Starting the year on the highly-refined machine that Bagnaia took to four wins from the final five races of 2021, there is no doubting that Bastianini is currently mounted on the best of the three specs of Ducati.

Martin, riding the complete 2022 bike, and Bagnaia and Miller, onboard a slightly retrograde specification with the engine first brought to pre-season testing last November as a halfway house, are very much still hard at work sorting out the package they’re racing. As Bagnaia decried at Lusail: “we’ve had a different bike every day while all Enea has done is put fuel in it and ride.”

With that in mind, there’s not going to be any huge rush from a factory burned in the past by snap decisions to upset the applecart too much.

Ducati knows the risk that comes from impulsive moves, like when it sacked Jorge Lorenzo on the very eve of him finding a way to win on its bike – a decision Lorenzo believes cost him (and by extension, Ducati) two titles.

Similarly with Martin, any rushed decision now risks him becoming a free agent on the riders’ market – and with an unsigned seat at Repsol Honda that would pose a serious threat to Ducati’s future title aspirations, giving rivals an opportunity to snatch Martin would be unwise.

However, that isn’t to say that there haven’t been some promises made behind the scenes to both Martin and Bastianini. Even if neither ends up getting a factory seat – should, say, Miller find some of the consistency he’s been badly missing – there will most likely be two rides awaiting at Pramac Racing on machinery that Martin has already proven is good enough to win on.

And, should Martin get the factory seat nod for 2023, it’s very difficult not to see Bastianini as his natural replacement at Pramac, taking over a coveted route-to-red seat that’s been held by Andrea Iannone, Danilo Petrucci and Miller in the past.

Who lines up alongside him is a tricker question. It’s hard to tell just yet what sort of a season Johann Zarco is going to have after a somewhat anonymous start to his 2022 campaign in both testing and the opening race.


Now he’s 31 years old, though, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Ducati was keen to move him at least sideways to make room for younger talent, with a switch to its World Superbike set-up regularly speculated at as a natural fit.

That could potentially leave a door open for Miller to retain a place within the Ducati MotoGP ranks, too, should the firm think it’s sensible to retain some experience within the squad.

Bagnaia in particular has been bemoaning the time he’s spent on development work rather than preparing to race, and a return for Miller to the racing tester role he previously held at Pramac could be an elegant solution to that particular conundrum.

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