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MotoGP

How MotoGP’s best satellite ride could suddenly open up for 2024

by Valentin Khorounzhiy, Simon Patterson
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Valentino Rossi’s VR46 MotoGP team seems to have grown in confidence about keeping hold of star rider Marco Bezzecchi for 2024 – but that doesn’t automatically mean Johann Zarco is likely to stay at the championship-leading Pramac.

Bezzecchi, a two-time grand prix winner in the premier class this year, has been weighing up whether to re-commit to VR46 for another year with a mere upgrade to a Ducati GP23 next year – or to join Pramac to ride a factory-spec Ducati GP24.

Bezzecchi’s preference has been to get a GP24 while staying at VR46, but senior figures from both Ducati and Pramac have continued to emphasise at the Red Bull Ring this week that this is not possible.

However, VR46 continues to hold out hope – and team manager Pablo Nieto told The Race on Friday that “our idea” is still to field a works-spec Ducati for Bezzecchi.

Marco Bezzecchi VR46 Ducati MotoGP Red Bull Ring

“But you know in MotoGP there can be one idea – and then everything changes. But at the moment we are working on that [a factory bike],” he said.

Given Ducati’s prior on-record dismissal of the prospect of expanding to five factory-spec bikes in 2024, and the guarantee that two will definitely again go to Pramac next year, a GP24 for VR46 still seems like a massive long shot.

However, there are other things that can be offered to Bezzecchi as sweeteners to maximise his stay at VR46 – namely expanded engineering support, and perhaps a contract directly with the factory.

Nieto said he could not go into detail of the talks with Ducati but acknowledged they were searching for a compromise.

“I think the priority of Marco is still the same – in the end it’s to try to get the best technical support from Ducati.

Marco Bezzecchi VR46 Ducati MotoGP Red Bull Ring

“It’s been always that the rider wanted a factory bike, this is true. But I think the priority from Marco is exactly the same [also, that is] to continue with VR46.

“This is clear because he’s always said that. It’s true that he always wanted the best bike. We are working for that.

“At the moment we haven’t confirmed we’re keeping Marco but it looks like it’s going to be that way. We want it. We hope so.”

Nieto indicated that VR46’s “very involved” team owner Rossi, present in the paddock at the Red Bull Ring, has been a big help in the current process.

Zarco feels wanted by Honda – and that really matters

Johann Zarco Pramac Ducati MotoGP

While the Bezzecchi situation is unfolding, however, Zarco is keen to have his future in his own hands.

He affirmed as much when asked by The Race during his media session on Friday practice.

The day prior, he had told French broadcaster Canal+ that “Honda seems to want me more than Ducati”, but that Ducati currently offers the bike that will maximise his chances of grabbing that elusive maiden win.

He acknowledged on Friday that this, feeling in demand and wanted, could be every bit as important as the quality of the actual package on offer.

“And also if the balance is between two years and one year, you have to think twice,” he also said, indicating a Ducati stay would be on a one-year deal and a Honda move would come with a two-year deal.

“I’ve been working well this season, even physically, and I feel quite fresh. So I’m not scared to think about two [more] years, and now I have energy to do it. And to have a big constructor like this [Honda] asking for this… help, almost, this could be an interesting challenge.

Johann Zarco Pramac Ducati MotoGP

“It’s not the same challenge as if I stay with Pramac, with Ducati. Because the good things with Ducati, now for three years, is I’m developing well and the comments are always very interesting, what I can give.

“I love this work and it’s even better when everything is working well, plus maybe if I try something [new] this can help me to win. But maybe I will not have this immediately with Honda, because it seems they have some delay.”

Zarco acknowledged when it was put to him by The Race that feeling in demand was good for the “ego”.

“In Ducati I have this feeling, but maybe not with everybody.”

Asked whether he wanted Ducati to show it more, he said: “I don’t want them to show it more – I have things to win, so I need to win. But they also have many riders interesting for them.

“I could almost understand when they say that I’m not winning and I’m a bit old. But feeling the energy I have, I know that I can still fight for the victory.”

Zarco, 33, hinted that while LCR team boss Lucio Cecchinello, who will have it as his number one priority to find the best possible replacement to Alex Rins, is obviously involved in negotiations, the contract would seemingly be directly with Honda, like in Rins’ case.

He said he has made no decision yet and that there was no formally set deadline, but that he wanted the matter sorted before MotoGP begins its Asian leg in late September.

And when asked whether he could foresee a situation where Bezzecchi chose to stay at VR46 yet he himself still left the Ducati fold, Zarco said: “Ah… yeah. Yes, this could be an option. I think yes.”

This scenario would equate to a sudden vacancy at Pramac with no clear-cut candidate to fill it.

And this would be a remarkable situation, given the Italian team is currently 21 points clear at the head of MotoGP’s overall points standings, outscoring both nearest rival VR46 and all five of the factory teams.

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