until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


MotoGP's fairytale breakthrough was cut far too short

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

To kick things off, a couple of disclaimers - firstly, none of the words below are meant to, in any way, shape or form, argue that Gresini has somehow made a mistake in capitalising on Marc Marquez's Honda disillusion and snapping him up for 2024.

Even if you ignore his stellar Valencia test, Marquez brings with him an unprecedented commercial pull for the privateer team and the kind of interest literally no other viable signing could generate. He also is the consensus best rider to suit up for Gresini ever at any point in the team's extremely credible 26-year history.

Secondly, this is also not an argument that the 2023 season should somehow have been longer, that 20 races (and 19 sprints) wasn't more than enough for all the storylines to get their time in the spotlight, for all the races to start to blend together in memory, for all the travelling being done by the paddock to clearly become interminable.

But if there's one championship participant who has every reason to go into the winter with a lingering feeling of 'if only there was a couple more rounds tacked on', that rider - even more so than the title race runner-up Jorge Martin or the out-of-a-ride Pol Espargaro - is Fabio Di Giannantonio.

And through him missing out on just a few extra outings with Gresini and championship-winning crew chief Frankie Carchedi, we the audience have missed out, too.


"Let's say, performance side, I would love to do already the first race of next year, or continue to race in the next weeks," Di Giannantonio said after the post-season test at Valencia. "But honestly, guys, I am quite tired. I need to rest the body, the mind also."

His big mission has been completed, anyway. Di Giannantonio, who at one point looked absolutely toast as far as a 2024 ride is concerned, is now contracted to suit up in VR46 colours next year, on a bike that will be the envy of many on the grid, with a team that has proven its mettle.

In terms of securing his MotoGP future and giving him a pathway to extending his premier-class career much, much further than what had looked possible just a few months prior, the 25-year-old has succeeded. In terms of setting himself up for future podiums and potentially even further wins? Yep, job done, too.

But Di Giannantonio's late-season form went beyond 'is he doing enough to stick around?' to 'wait, how far can he actually take this?' in those closing stages of 2023 - and the feeling of unfinished business is hard to shake.

Di Giannantonio now has 40 MotoGP (Sunday) starts to his name, split evenly across the two seasons. In the first season, he worked with crew chief Donatello Giovanotti, who had himself just stepped up from Moto2.

That whole year with Giovanotti seems like one big regret for Di Giannantonio, although Giovanotti is clearly no scrub - having coaxed a pretty decent season out of Alex Marquez this year once moved over to the Spaniard's side, with Di Giannantonio pairing up with the title-winning (alongside Joan Mir at Suzuki) Carchedi.

But tracking those 40 races in five-race periods lays bare what is already intuitively obvious - Di Giannantonio's progression from what they would in American sports describe as 'below replacement level' to 'decent but it's too late' to 'wait, are you kidding me?'.

Di Giannantonio's points hauls (as share of the available points)

2022, first quarter - 0%
2022, second quarter - 12.8%
2022, third quarter - 5.6%
2022, fourth quarter - 0.8%
2023, first quarter - 13.5%
2023, second quarter - 6.5%
2023, third quarter - 17.8%
2023, fourth quarter - 46.8%

The improvement in points, if anything, actually undersells Di Giannantonio's progress a little. He maybe should've won at Phillip Island, he did win in Qatar, and he maybe should've won at Valencia - where that win would've been taken away, of course, but only due to what he described as a 0.01 bar tyre pressure infringement that he believes can't have had a tangible impact on performance.

Crucially, it was never a huge Sunday surprise - Di Giannantonio certainly had some better sessions and some worse sessions in that stretch, but the presence of frontrunning pace seemed genuine throughout.

And more tantalisingly, it seemed like in that particular moment he could have been even stronger if he just got a bit more time in his sudden new role as a leading premier-class rider.


In theory, Di Giannantonio's 2024 move is offering as much stability as you can without actually staying in the same team.

Even had he somehow stayed at Gresini - which, without the Marquez factor, will have maybe been possible assuming the team hadn't moved swiftly in signing someone from Moto2 in mid-2023 - there would've still been a change of machinery from a Ducati GP22 to a Ducati GP23.

"It's different overall, let's say," said Di Giannantonio after his first day on the GP23, having sampled it in the Valencia test with his new VR46 team.

"The character is the Ducati character, but the bike is different, how you have to brake, how you have to put your body when you go into the corner, you have to be in a different position.

"And, let's say, the connection between the throttle and the grip is a bit different.

"So, we had to adapt a little bit the bike to make me have a nice feeling from the beginning but also be fast. Yeah, it's different but I think for sure we can work on it."

But it's the team transition, and from the rapport with Carchedi that had finally started to pay massive dividends to a third different crew chief in three years, that is cause for some doubt.

Not so much for Di Giannantonio himself - he is a generally bullish character - but even he admitted there is likely to be a grace period.

"They treated me like a pro rider but also like a little baby, let's say," was how he described his first day with VR46.

And when asked by The Race whether this was indicative of a pretty significant transition needing to be made, he said: "For sure it will take...not a while but it will take some time, because we have to know really well each other, you know?

"Because at the end we've just done one day.

"I don't like to do, like, comparisons between the teams because they are two different stories. I think Gresini has been my... 'growth' chapter and now I think it can be a really 'the year to be' chapter, with this team.

"I think we have all the knowledge. Now I have a good experience on the bike, and on the class, to try to achieve good results. And I think just that I'm in the right place to make it happen."

Di Giannantonio said the adaptation was a matter of getting to know "both" the people and the specific procedures.

His third MotoGP crew chief is one David Munoz - a VR46 long-timer who won the Moto2 title with Pecco Bagnaia, was brought into the premier class as Rossi's crew chief, then slotted in alongside Luca Marini.

Marini/Munoz did outscore Di Giannantonio/Carchedi last year so rather than it being a clear-cut downgrade or something like that, it's simply a question of fit and adaptation.

"The method is different. With David and with Frankie, the method is quite different," Di Giannantonio admitted. "But I was feeling good with David's method.

"For sure I can learn a lot of things and have already started to learn new things from today, this is a nice thing for me because I'm passionate about technical stuff, let's say, so I think will be a step up."


If Ducati tech guru Gigi Dall'Igna's prediction that the gap between the GP24 and the GP23 will ultimately be bigger than the one between the GP23 and the GP22 - which, let's be honest, looked virtually non-existent even at the end of 2023 - then those on the year-old Desmosedicis may want to strike early in 2024.

A Di Giannantonio who is paired up with Carchedi would have been fantastically positioned to do so.

Maybe he can do it with Munoz and VR46, too. "Why not?" he said when asked about this by The Race, referencing the fact that "the team is super" and there is "a lot of time to prepare next season".

But there's every chance we won't quite see an immediate continuation of Di Giannantonio's end-of-2023 fairytale.

And however good his VR46 acclimatisation is - seventh in the Valencia test is a decent sign - the Gresini chapter, as he himself called it, is closed.

Certainly, unlike so much else in a 20-round, 39-race 2023 calendar, that chapter's storytelling reserves were far from exhausted.

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