Ducati filled eight of the top nine places in MotoGP’s German Grand Prix last weekend, three of its squads are 1-2-3 in the teams’ championship and the only time it’s lost a full-length race in 2023 is Honda’s now rather surreal Austin win with Alex Rins and LCR.
Is this scenario bad for MotoGP? Should Dorna take steps to change it?
Or is Ducati’s willingness to let its riders and teams race hard preventing it from becoming a problem?
Here are our writers’ thoughts:
DUCATI’S ‘FREE TO RACE’ POLICY MAKES IT WORK
There’s obviously an argument to be made that having one manufacturer absolutely dominate the championship is a bad thing, and it’s an argument that I absolutely sympathise with. This isn’t a one-make series, and no one wants to see names like Fabio Quartararo and Marc Marquez uncompetitive or, worse, injured because the bikes they’re riding aren’t good enough to keep up with the riders at the front.
But a part of me keeps thinking ‘this could be so much worse’.
Ducati outfits in the MotoGP teams’ championship
1. Pramac Ducati 253
2. VR46 Ducati 215
3. Ducati 186
7. Gresini Ducati 86
Sure, Ducati is dominating, but at least it’s got the decency to dominate with seven bikes capable of consistently fighting for wins (and Fabio Di Giannantonio).
If factory riders Pecco Bagnaia and an injured Enea Bastianini were the only two with machines this good and everyone else on Ducatis was as far behind as the rest currently are, then 2023 would be a whole lot more boring.
It’s not an ideal situation, and it’s one that MotoGP undoubtedly needs to work to rectify – but right now the short-term alternative could be so much worse.
IMAGINE MOTOGP WITHOUT THE DUCATI SATELLITES
Let’s do a silly thought experiment. Say, MotoGP is tired of the satellite bikes ‘interfering’ in the title battle and introduces a rule to where they are relegated to their separate classification, with only true works entries scoring in the main championship. And let’s say every race of the season so far is rescored to that principle.
Under the normal MotoGP points-scoring system, that result looks something like this:
1. Bagnaia 146
2. Binder 145
3. Quartararo 107
4. Morbidelli 105
5. Miller 95
But because we’re now only down to 10 points-scoring entries, we’d probably introduce a different points system – say, the 15-12-10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 of old, with 8-6-4-3-2-1 for sprints. Now it’s as follows:
1. Bagnaia 90
2. Binder 84
3. Quartararo 57
4. Miller 56
5. Morbidelli 54
Sure, that’s a slightly better title race, and other manufacturers get an obvious leg up. But it’s also an obvious lie – without the challenge of the other Ducatis, Bagnaia probably does not drop points at Termas, maybe not at Le Mans either. He settles for two easy wins at the Sachsenring after two easy wins at Mugello. And after 20 rounds he surely wins the championship.
Effectively, that’s the MotoGP of early 2010s, except with one reliably competitive manufacturer instead of two. So, as good as the KTM and Aprilia have been on occasion, and as much as Yamaha would appreciate having all that Ducati-shaped traffic taken away, it’s still an intuitively obvious Bagnaia walkover.
Reducing the number of Ducatis, therefore, is of little entertainment value. So instead it’s a question of pegging them back.
Ideally, that would happen naturally – but are there really grounds for an artificial tweak, a thumb on the scale? Longer-term, maybe – try to play with the aero rules, the fuel consumption, a concession system that no longer fits current MotoGP.
But that latter point also highlights why any immediate tweak wouldn’t feel right. Other manufacturers aren’t eligible for concessions because, on any given weekend, they can beat the Ducatis. Even this year, where they’ve largely been failing at that, they can still do it.
If the 1-2-3-4-5s become routine after Assen and the summer break, then a totally different discussion starts. For now, though, Ducati deserves to reap the rewards of its strategy without the fear that it’s doing much damage to the show, because a weekend outcome still does not feel preordained.
DUCATI DESERVES THIS
It’s easy to roll one’s eyes thinking it’s going to be a Ducati clean sweep on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. But you have to look at it from Ducati’s point of view in that it went without a win between October 2010 and August 2016. That’s 101 grands prix and nearly six clear years of drought that were too much to bear for Bologna. Look further back to the last dry race Ducati win before 2016 that was not delivered by Casey Stoner, and you have to go back to September 2006 – as good as 10 seasons.
Ducati isn’t going to go back to those bad old days anytime soon. The current situation is far from Ducati’s fault for winning, it’s the other teams’ fault for not being quite there.
Ducati has supported MotoGP when the championship needed satellite bikes to fill out the grids, something that it does to ultimately underwrite the cost of the factory team. Don’t forget that a commercial department selling bikes, engines and parts is covering the hugely expensive bit of the R&D back in Bologna. The actual cost of the bike as it stands is not tens of millions but the mark-up over cost-of-build will be very healthy. And don’t forget that owner Audi Sport knows a thing or two about customer racing.
However, with more bikes comes more competition as we are brilliantly seeing with Pramac and VR46 winning races this year to beat the factory.
Bagnaia won’t like it if that continues into the autumn but what is Ducati’s aim in this as a business? Does it want to make news as the manufacturer that gave a level playing field for all its riders to play on and see Jorge Martin or Marco Bezzecchi win the title and then a huge fanbase say ‘fair play’ to Ducati Corse for letting the best man win? Because if that happens, we would all remember the title fight far more as a classic year than just another Bagnaia win.
DUCATI IS SAVING MOTOGP FROM CRISIS
Yes, Ducati is worryingly rampant right now, but all I can say is thank goodness it is supplying decent equipment to a bunch of other teams so we have some competition at the front. If there were only the two factory bikes on the grid, or perhaps they were flanked only by a couple of neglected, out-of-date satellite machines, MotoGP would be in crisis right now.
Aside from the weekends when KTM is on song, think how disastrous the racing spectacle would be. Bagnaia would have chalked up some monstrous winning margins by now.
Is eight bikes from any manufacturer too many? Probably. But right now it’s keeping MotoGP out of a hole while Honda and Yamaha are an absolute shambles.
THE PROBLEM IS THE LONG-TERM
I’m loving this season and have no objection to the Ducati domination. It’s done everything right when fighting back from the shambles it had become: pushed technology forward, supported satellite teams in a way that means customers have flocked to it, and backed impressive young drivers. It deserves to dominate and it’s making domination quite fun too with the lack of hierarchy or orders.
The worry is the longer-term repercussions. Given who the other brands in MotoGP are, it’s hard to imagine rivals pulling out. But we’ve thought that kind of thing often enough in other forms of motorsport and had bad surprises.
MotoGP constructors’ championship
1. Ducati 248
2. KTM 135 (-113)
3. Aprilia 99 (-149)
4. Honda 81 (-167)
5. Yamaha 68 (-180)
It also feels a little too reliant on Ducati and its parent company’s policies staying generous. If either did decide that actually all this racing each other hard is getting a little too nerve-wracking and called a halt to it, suddenly MotoGP becomes very, very predictable.
So while there’s nothing wrong with a Ducati-blitzed 2023, I’d be unnerved for MotoGP if it was turning into a Ducati-blitzed mid-2020s.
Whether it’s a fresh approach to concessions to fix a scenario that’s changed so much since that (brilliant) rule was first implemented, or a bit of Dorna influence sleight-of-hand to move a few teams or riders around, something does need to be done to ease MotoGP back towards the glorious days of ‘any marque can get a podium on any weekend’, which were not that long ago.