Weeks of speculation have finally been ended by Pramac Ducati with the official confirmation that it will replace the departing Johann Zarco with current Yamaha rider Franco Morbidelli for the 2024 MotoGP season.
The move completes a loop that also involves Alex Rins replacing Morbidelli while the currently injured Rins’s LCR Honda seat is in turn taken by Zarco.
The news comes as no surprise after weeks of paddock rumour suggesting that Morbidelli was in line for the spot even before the news of Zarco’s Honda switch was first confirmed.
But was delayed in large part by the wait on Ducati’s first choice for Pramac Marco Bezzecchi to decide his own future.
He elected to remain with his current VR46 team on a year-old Ducati next season rather than taking the new factory-spec 2024 machine he would have got at Pramac, believing the relationships he has at mentor Valentino Rossi’s team made this the better choice.
It means that Morbidelli has now arguably failed upwards into one of the most coveted seats on the grid – a top-spec Ducati – after a poor two-and-a-bit seasons as a works Yamaha rider.
After making his Yamaha debut in its then-satellite team Petronas SRT in his second premier class season in 2019, Morbidelli impressively fought Joan Mir for the title in 2020, missing out on the crown but winning three of the COVID-struck season’s 14 races as he thrived on a well-sorted, year-old M1.
However he badly damaged his knee in a training crash early in 2021 and was forced into a long break from racing. When he returned it wasn’t to the Petronas Yamaha satellite squad but rather alongside former team-mate Fabio Quartararo in factory colours thanks to the unexpected mid-season departure of Maverick Vinales.
He’s struggled since then to be competitive on the M1 for the past two seasons even as his team-mate challenged for the 2022 crown. And with the declining form of the bike in recent months, it’s now hard to determine just how quick Morbidelli remains – something we’ll expect to find out rather quickly once he transitions to a Ducati for 2024.
However Ducati’s immediate desire to get Morbidelli onboard the bike might be less motivated by instant performance and have more to do with what he can bring to its development programme in the medium term.
He’s inheriting the role previously occupied not only by Zarco but other names like Jack Miller, Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Iannone. It’s commonplace for Ducati to use this Pramac seat to trial new parts, something that Morbidelli’s R&D experience at Yamaha will absolutely aid.