until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


KTM’s latest MotoGP rider mess does its reputation no favours

by Simon Patterson
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The way KTM has handled rider contracts over the past two years in MotoGP has, in my opinion, made it look at best mercenary and at worst borderline uncaring about the riders it hires if they’re not capable of instantly delivering results.

Halfway through the 2023 season however it looks like it’s on the verge of what I’d regard as its worst contract disaster yet – one made almost entirely out of its own hubris.

In 2021 the first of KTM’s contractual missteps came as it fought a battle (the full details of which still haven’t been made public) against Yamaha in a desperate attempt to keep Moto2 rookie sensation Raul Fernandez on its books.

Up against a deadline and with negotiations tense, it made the rather exceptional call not just to rapidly announce the signing of Fernandez and his then-Moto2 team-mate and championship rival Remy Gardner to its satellite MotoGP team Tech3 for 2022 – but to seemingly call Yamaha’s bluff by doing it during a MotoGP practice session at the Red Bull Ring.

That didn’t just promote Gardner and Fernandez though: it also sacked existing Tech3 riders Danilo Petrucci and Iker Lecuona while they were on track riding KTM’s machines, with the pair getting little prior warning of what was coming their way.

One year later it was a different pair of names similarly on the chopping block, as this time both Fernandez and Gardner were given the unceremonious exit – with Gardner in particular vocal about the way in which his departure from the team had been handled.

He accused multiple people within the team of lying about deadlines and embarked on a rather bitter battle with KTM’s management in the press, and it culminated in the director of motorsport Pit Beirer telling Speedweek that rider managers were the biggest plague in the paddock since COVID.

With that background in mind you might’ve wondered if KTM would tread quite lightly on the rider line-up front in 2023, especially as, coming into the season, it looked like there would be no contracts to negotiate given all four of its riders were relatively secure on long-term deals.

Instead KTM’s in a situation where it has more riders signed for 2024 than it has bikes for them to ride.

Right now, not only do its factory pairing of Brad Binder (recently extended for another three years that’ll keep him there until at least 2027) and 2023 signing Jack Miller have KTM group MotoGP deals for next year, but so do Tech3 Gas Gas racers Pol Espargaro and Augusto Fernandez – and current Moto2 championship leader Pedro Acosta…

Pol Espargaro

The origins of this dilemma are easy to understand: KTM very clearly expected to have at least five bikes on the 2024 grid. It made clear that was its aim and it attempted to achieve it both by encouraging LCR to switch from Honda and by asking MotoGP for two more grid spots.

But both plans that have so far failed – something that doesn’t look to be changing.

So how has KTM dealt with this? By preparing one of its riders for disappointment next season by gently backtracking its situation? Nope, KTM instead committed to an ‘everything will be OK’ approach, seemingly confirming to all three of its prospective satellite riders last weekend that it would have a space for them next year, even as senior management told the media that Espargaro and Fernandez should prepare for a shoot-out in the final half of the season to decide who kept their seat.

It’s been hinted for a while that as a token gesture, whoever lost out in such a battle would get a full MotoGP salary, a role as test rider and (in a small concession from series promoter Dorna after it rejected KTM’s advances for more grid spots) an expanded allowance of six wildcard races.

That would still not be a good look for KTM given that someone is inevitably getting demoted – that is, unless a shock solution emerges for one of its riders to unexpectedly gain a new ride with another manufacturer, one that might even be a performance upgrade.

There’s one seat right now in the premier class without a clear favourite to take it over: Fabio Di Giannantonio’s spot at Gresini Ducati.


Originally looking like it was between Moto2 riders Jake Dixon and Tony Arbolino, that dramatically shifted last weekend at the Red Bull Ring when both were told that it was no longer an option, something that subsequently triggered both announcing deals to stay in the middleweight class.

And while the rumour that KTM might look to place one of its riders (most likely Fernandez) at another manufacturer for next season is an old one, the fact Dixon and Arbolino are suddenly off the table for MotoGP rides hints that there might be a home for whoever is squeezed out of KTM after all.

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