until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

MotoGP

KTM must keep its best MotoGP talent – even if it’s unpopular

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

For much of the season, there have been optimistic noises coming out of the KTM camp that it was somehow going to navigate its MotoGP rider line-up predicament in the absolutely perfect way.

Four RC16s – well, eight bikes but four rides – and five riders to distribute them between. Three of those riders on two-year contracts, another a rookie who you can’t drop without looking bad, and another a rising star who you can’t lose without looking insane.

But KTM seemed to have it figured out. Keep the line-up unchanged across both the factory KTM MotoGP team and the Tech3-run team of sister brand Gas Gas, and keep Pedro Acosta for another year in Moto2 irrespective of the outcome of this year’s title battle.

Pedro Acosta

Very neat, very tidy, best move contract-wise, best move PR-wise. Perfect. And, perhaps, too good to be true.

“I am thinking about all the options. It’s true that the one to be in Moto2 is not my preferred one.”

Uh-oh.

OK, so, truthfully, KTM’s Pit Beirer had already hinted earlier – as did Acosta’s manager Albert Valera – that the 19-year-old wasn’t entirely convinced by the prospect of a third Moto2 season. But it was still striking to hear Acosta declare it himself, in an interview with MotoGP.com.

Equally striking was him confirming that there was a MotoGP option on his services that is a couple of weeks away from expiring.

“At the end of the month is like the limit date [deadline]. But like I said all this month, my preference is KTM, I have to wait for its decision,” he said.

He also said he was “crossing fingers” that he would be representing KTM in the premier class, although acknowledged it wasn’t quite the bike to beat yet: “Maybe at the moment it’s not the strongest because you saw in the [Mugello] sprint race five Ducatis in the top five, and then was the KTM of Jack [Miller].

Jack Miller

“We have to give them one or two years more, but they are going to be so hard to beat.”

Major Spanish publication Marca, which has been very much on top of the Acosta/KTM story this year, claims that KTM has a plan to offer Acosta a big financial package to extend his intermediate-class stay. But Marca also has KTM boss Beirer – insisting so often on just how much he likes the current four-rider balance – on record as promising that, whatever Acosta’s contract actually says, he will not be forced to stay if he doesn’t want to.

But Acosta does want to stay, or at least is on record as saying so. And he’s acknowledged in the past that both the orange of factory KTM and the red of factory Gas Gas would satisfy him.

KTM, contractually, can make the latter happen.

And it cannot let Acosta hit ‘free agency’, because every manufacturer would have a contract with a pen and paper and a tick where to sign waiting for Acosta the second he’s officially available.

A lot has been made of how KTM’s ruthlessness has been a bad look. It dropped Iker Lecuona, failed to make much use of a Raul Fernandez MotoGP promotion he reportedly didn’t want, and had an acrimonious split with its Moto2 champion Remy Gardner.

Following that up by removing Gardner’s successor, KTM’s reigning Moto2 champion Augusto Fernandez, from his Gas Gas seat after one season would be a painful look.

If the reported gamble of spending extra to placate Acosta and keep him in Moto2 for a bit longer protects the ride of Augusto Fernandez, who seems to be universally-liked within the set-up and has done well enough already to at least warrant a second season, it is worth it.

Pedro Acosta

But if it can’t be done, if Acosta cannot be convinced, then sentiment and PR considerations have to take a step back. You get your guy into your MotoGP team and then you worry about the rest.

Acosta has done enough to command this kind of attitude. He won KTM’s Red Bull Rookies Cup series, gave it a Moto3 title at a remarkable first attempt and, though he may or may not win this year’s Moto2 title, is already clearly a top-level rider in the intermediate class.

Perhaps it’s the kind of thinking that doomed the Raul Fernandez relationship, but Acosta is an asset that cannot be given up on. You commit to him, and then you make whatever moves you have to make to make it better for the others.

If there’s no line-up movement among the existing two-year contracts, Augusto Fernandez is the odd one out and is the one who has to give up the ride for Acosta. That would be terrible – but c’est la vie.

Offer him a Moto2 Ajo ride again and a big financial package, and tell him he’s next in line again. Or – as has now been floated by Speedweek as a “worst-case” scenario – try to loan him into a Gresini Ducati ride for 2024, even though that feels a distinct long shot logically.

“We are totally satisfied with Augusto Fernandez, he does a super job and does it very intelligently,” KTM director Hubert Trunkenpolz told Speedweek.

“On top of that, he’s absolutely a nice guy and that goes for his whole family. He’s capable of learning and has an excellent entourage.

Augusto Fernandez

“Augusto is on a good path and has already shown strong performances as a rookie. We certainly don’t want to lose him.”

But, it goes without saying, KTM certainly wouldn’t want to lose the other guy either.

It had already failed in bringing through Jorge Martin from its junior ranks. Acosta is a longer-term prospect and arguably a stronger prospect, or at the very least an on-par prospect.

Pedro Acosta

No MotoGP prospect is a sure thing, not since Marc Marquez anyway. It’s entirely possible that KTM flips the switch in Acosta’s contract, and then he doesn’t live up to the hype.

But whatever his MotoGP potential is, KTM can’t afford not to be the manufacturer finding it out first-hand. Letting him walk and watching him thrive elsewhere would be more of an ignominy than anything it may have to do to keep him now.

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