The Moto2 contract renewals of MotoGP hopefuls Tony Arbolino and Jake Dixon have added to the intrigue surrounding Ducati’s rider line-up in 2024.
With it long thought unlikely that incumbent Gresini Ducati rider Fabio Di Giannantonio would get an offer to stay beyond the end of this year, Arbolino had become the presumed favourite to replace him following a red-hot start to his Moto2 season (which has since cooled off).
Dixon then entered the frame, his appeal as a British premier-class option to boost UK broadcaster TNT combined with his best season in Moto2 yet and a maiden win at Assen.
But just as the seat looked there for the taking for at least one of the two, both Arbolino and Dixon officially re-committed to their current Moto2 squads – the announcements coming on Wednesday and Thursday respectively.
Arbolino is to continue with Marc VDS for a third straight season, partnered by World Superbike-bound Sam Lowes’ replacement Filip Salac, while Dixon will likewise go into a third campaign with the Gas Gas-badged Aspar team – with Izan Guevara sticking around as his team-mate.
— Aspar Team (@AsparTeam) August 24, 2023
A Moto2 deal isn’t necessarily a guarantee that a rider will not be on the MotoGP grid that year, as evidenced by the relatively recent example of Alex Marquez being called up into the works Honda team back in 2020 while in possession of a Marc VDS contract – with Marc VDS filling the gap with now-fellow MotoGP rider Augusto Fernandez.
However the timing of the announcements strongly suggests they have seen their options to get to MotoGP run out for the time being – even though Johann Zarco’s recently-announced decision to swap from Ducati to Honda for 2024 means there are now likely two Ducati rides going.
One of them looks nailed on to be taken up by Yamaha outcast Franco Morbidelli, who Ducati has long been open about wanting to fit in.
Morbidelli had been a consideration for Gresini, but him ending up there now would mean a bombshell scenario in which Ducati and Pramac have the Zarco-vacated ride earmarked for someone else.
Marc Marquez, having by far his least competitive year with Honda in MotoGP yet, has been linked but seems fanciful as an option, both because of Ducati’s fairly consistent public denials and because it would be a situation that Honda will have directly caused by vacating the Pramac ride through its pursuit of Zarco – something it surely won’t have done if it thought its six-time champion Marquez could fill the created gap.
Presuming Morbidelli does go to Pramac, Gresini could theoretically opt for line-up continuity, extending Di Giannantonio alongside the already-contracted Alex Marquez, but the chances of that seem to be widely regarded as being slim to none, and won’t have been helped by Di Giannantonio having a poor weekend at the Red Bull Ring – in which a promising start was seemingly derailed by a Saturday practice crash.
Given Gresini already looked likely to move on from him in favour of a Moto2 rider, it suggests there is now a higher-profile option lined up.
One possibility that had been mooted beyond Morbidelli is KTM using Gresini to help allay its rider logjam, by slotting in one of its five MotoGP-contracted riders (the current line-ups at KTM and Tech3 Gas Gas, plus Moto2 leader Pedro Acosta) at Gresini on loan.
Those rumours had quieted before the Red Bull Ring, but KTM’s admission it had failed in its pursuit of a third team of its own for 2024 seems to have revived the idea, with Augusto Fernandez the obvious candidate for a loan.
At the same time, German-language publication Speedweek has continued to float Marc Marquez’s Honda team-mate Joan Mir – who hasn’t finished a grand prix since the Portimao opener – as a Gresini candidate.
In any case, Arbolino and Dixon’s renewals suggest MotoGP is likely to head into another season with just one full-time rookie, with Acosta potentially succeeding Fernandez in the status of ‘automatic rookie of the year’.
LCR Honda could still replace Takaaki Nakagami with one of Honda Team Asia’s Moto2 riders, Ai Ogura or Somkiat Chantra, but that has sounded increasingly unlikely as of late.