until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Morbidelli's most important MotoGP season already looks impossible

by Simon Patterson
3 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Franco Morbidelli's MotoGP career desperately needed a change of scenery after his factory Yamaha stint went so badly, and a move to the teams' champion Pramac Ducati should've been a golden chance.

But his winter could hardly have gone worse.

Injuries sustained in training mean new Pramac Racing rider Morbidelli goes into the opening round of the season with only a single day of testing on his new Ducati - far from ideal preparation heading into what is set to be a make or break campaign.

The reason why 2024 is so significant isn't a great secret. It's a long time since Morbidelli's title-fighting 2020 season, in which he was beaten to the crown by Joan Mir during a bizarre COVID-affected season.

That campaign - and the end to it in particular - was highly impressive. Morbidelli ended the year with three victories, two of which came in the final four races, was only 13 points adrift of Suzuki rider Mir, and didn't just take a satellite Yamaha into title contention but also significantly outclassed Petronas SRT team-mate Fabio Quartararo, despite the Frenchman starting the year with a promotion to factory colours already confirmed for 2021.

Since then, though, things have taken a wrong turn for Morbidelli.

First, there was the catastrophic knee injury while training at mentor and new 2021 team-mate Valentino Rossi's ranch. Then came two tough seasons on the factory bike (following a handful of races at the end of 2021 when Maverick Vinales departed suddenly), though part of that has of course been due to the Yamaha M1 taking a noticeable dip in form of its own.

That made it hard to isolate which issue was the rider's and which was the bike's. But Morbidelli hasn't been on the podium since early 2021, and his form unquestionably hasn’t yet returned to where it was before he went under the knife to repair the joint.

Those two barren seasons were enough for Morbidelli to be replaced at Yamaha (by Alex Rins), although he has very much landed on his feet at Pramac - replacing 2023 race winner Johann Zarco and teaming up with last year’s championship runner-up Jorge Martin on what is inarguably the best satellite bike on the MotoGP grid.

That very much means that the pressure is on for him in 2024, though. Morbidelli now has no excuses when it comes to the bike and is very much expected to return to podium contention again this season, so if he’s unable to do that it’s hard to see him remaining at Pramac for more than one season.

Even worse, there’s potentially even a replacement already signed up, with rumours that Ducati has already secured the future services of Moto2 sensation Fermin Aldeguer, who's set to be put on the same fast track as his close friend Martin and reigning champion Pecco Bagnaia at the Italian factory’s satellite team.

Morbidelli’s whole MotoGP future is on the line this year. He may be protected by the fact there’s likely to be a space in mentor Valentino Rossi’s own VR46 satellite Ducati team (albeit on lesser-spec machinery), but with a whole host of young talent set to move up to MotoGP next year as most riders go out of contract it might mean good results and good results only will be enough to save him.

And so we come to 2024 and a truly terrible start to it. Morbidelli was able to ride the Ducati for the first time at Valencia last November, but his training crash - on a production bike at Portimao - resulted in a significant concussion that took him out of both pre-season tests at Sepang and Lusail.

The net result? Morbidelli will essentially start the most crucial season of his career blind, with limited time on his new bike against a grid of racers who’ve had considerable time on their machines already. That's only likely to add even more pressure to an already problematic situation for him.

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