until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


VR46 should rethink its approach to its new MotoGP dark horse

by Simon Patterson
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Halfway through the 2024 MotoGP pre-season, a surprise dark horse has emerged for the early part of the campaign: new VR46 Ducati signing Fabio Di Giannantonio.

But if Valentino Rossi’s whole development structure isn’t careful, there’s a very real chance it could squander a golden opportunity without more consideration of how it handles the 2023 race winner.

While he might not have been an instant headline-grabber at the three-day Sepang test, Di Giannantonio nonetheless drew some attention to himself upon a little bit of a closer analysis of the timing screens.

Ending the Malaysia outing eighth fastest (and sixth of the eight Ducatis in the field) perhaps wasn’t exactly a standout result, especially while many of his rivals dipped well under the circuit's existing lap record in near-perfect conditions.

However, the real value wasn’t in his fastest lap but in his consistency. Di Giannantonio was among a majority of riders who tried a 10-lap sprint race simulation towards the end of the test and was, quite impressively, faster than any of his rivals - and substantially faster than the race-winning time former team-mate Alex Marquez recorded in the Sepang sprint only a few months ago.

And while obviously it’s hard to extrapolate too much of his season’s performances from that one time attack, it’s nonetheless a signal that we can expect Di Giannantonio to start the season strongly.

Di Giannantonio has jumped from Gresini to VR46 but has only moved from a 2022 Ducati to a quite similar 2023 machine for the coming season, so it's been a relatively seamless transition process.

And it's one that has been aided by Di Giannantonio not having to concentrate on any of the development duties that Ducati’s four factory-spec riders (and many of the others on the grid) have to concern themselves with.

Combine that with the fact that this season starts at its traditional jumping off point of Lusail, where Di Giannantonio was a first-time race winner only a few months ago, and the foundations are there for a strong start to the season at least, even if the advances of his factory rivals soon close the door and diminish his hopes of further success as the year progresses.

“It has been a good test for us,” he enthused after Sepang. “We have been quite fast in more or less everything that we’ve done, and I’m happy with the time attack because I enjoyed pushing. I did it with a bike I didn’t like so much, and that’s good because the time wasn’t so bad and I think I was under the lap record.

“With all the work we’ve done, I’m super happy and proud, because with the team we’ve found a great feeling with the bike and improved quite a lot compared to the last time we came here for the race.

“In the sprint simulation I was quite strong, quite fast, as well, so I think there are a lot of positives from this test.”

However, while it looks like he could even start the season on a stronger note than his team-mate Marco Bezzecchi, who was third overall in 2023, it’ll come as Di Giannantonio still finds himself as something of an outsider within the VR46 Academy project - a situation that Rossi and his crew should be working rapidly to amend.

Rossi described the addition of a non-VR46 protege to the line-up as a "new experience" during the launch to MotoGP.com.

"I am not an Academy rider. I'm a team rider," echoed Di Giannantonio.

And he hadn't yet trained with Rossi's VR46 mentees at the Ranch in Tavullia at that point, prioritising a full off-season recharge and a house move.

"It's not a mandatory thing [for me to train at the Ranch]. It's more like, 'I can, if we want', let's say. But I'm not part of the Academy project."

But even if Di Giannantonio does not sound slighted in any way by this situation, that clear division between his 'hired gun' status and, say, Bezzecchi's homegrown status feels like something of an own goal.

It also hints at a lack of planning. Right now, it’s not clear if Di Giannantonio has a future at the team beyond 2024, especially if it needs to make room for an Academy member like, for example, Franco Morbidelli in the near future.

But it might be that Rossi’s project is right now following heart over head - and casting aside the opportunity to turn the still-untapped Di Giannantonio into one of MotoGP’s next big Italian names.

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