until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

MotoGP

Who we think should get MotoGP’s best satellite bike for 2024

by Josh Suttill
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

With both incumbent Johann Zarco and VR46’s Marco Bezzecchi shunning the chance to ride the latest factory-spec Pramac Ducati in the 2024 MotoGP season, just who is going to be lining up alongside Jorge Martin next year and who deserves the latest factory-spec Ducati machine that comes with the job?

All indications point to ousted Yamaha rider Franco Morbidelli receiving the nod but The Race thinks there are a few more exciting alternative possibilities – even if Morbidelli does deserve a second chance elsewhere after his Yamaha exit:

Alex Marquez

Simon Patterson

Alex Marquez

For me, there’s only one realistic option for Ducati to replace Zarco now that it won’t be Bezzecchi, and given that the prize is a factory spec 2024 Desmosedici. It’s not Morbidelli (as tempting as that may be) – it’s current Gresini Ducati rider and 2023 sprint race winner Alex Marquez.

Betting on Morbidelli right now is, as talented as he may be, a gamble. Sure, he’s been super unlucky because his recovery from a serious knee injury and promotion to factory colours seems to have coincided with a massive slump in Yamaha form, meaning that he’s looked far worse than he really is for a considerable amount of time.

But while that might not be his fault, it doesn’t change that betting on him at the minute is a risky strategy, given that we’ve not quite had a chance to see if the Frankie that rode to second in the 2020 championship is still inside or not.

Instead, it makes much more sense to keep him within the Ducati ranks in a slightly less high-pressured spot, giving him the seat at Gresini currently occupied by the younger Marquez brother and in turn moving Alex Marquez up the ranks into Pramac colours.

Marquez has experience with the Ducati already, unlike Morbidelli who regardless of talent will have to spend time learning it. He has already proven himself a race winner this year on the bike, while it’s been a long time since Morbidelli has been close to a podium. And on top of that, thanks to his time at Repsol Honda, Marquez (admittedly like Morbidelli from Yamaha) knows a thing or two about development work for a factory.

None of this is to say that Morbidelli isn’t deserving of a Ducati chance, of course: he absolutely is. But in terms of big picture strategy for Ducati, it surely makes more sense to use riders more experienced with its bikes on the machines that it’s actively developing, with nothing preventing it from flipping the duo in 2025 should Morbidelli find his feet.

Luca Marini

Valentin Khorounzhiy

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Even with the Bezzecchi move to Pramac off, there is still a logical way for Ducati to give its vacant works bike to a rider with prior Desmosedici experience while incorporating Morbidelli in its line-up in the perfect place – the friendly surroundings of VR46.

Bezzecchi’s team-mate Luca Marini has not been nearly as fast nearly as often as the breakout sophomore, but Marini has been fast. He is a credible sixth in the championship (which, yes, also means fifth of the eight Ducatis, but still), and he finally got his first top-three finishes in MotoGP out of the way in the Argentina sprint and then the main Austin race.

Marini is now a much better prospect than he had been when he was initially given a works bike – at VR46 back in 2022, which despite paying some dividends in the second half of that year seemingly just wasn’t worth the hassle for Ducati.

But this is a potential opportunity to reward Marini for his improvement, while also getting a safe (and Italian, which is rumoured as being important for Pramac title sponsor Prima) pair of hands into a valuable seat.

I asked Marini about his interest in filling a potential Pramac gap at the Red Bull Ring, and he replied: “I would like a factory bike, in this moment!”

Trying to prod him on this further only yielded a “we’ll see, it’s not the moment now” – so unfortunately you could both interpret this as Marini not being too fussed about a sideways move between satellite teams, or him being keen on a works-spec ride.

In my book though, now that ideal candidate Bezzecchi has definitively passed up the Pramac ride, it’s his team-mate who represents the tidiest solution.

Marc Marquez

Josh Suttill

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Oh come on wouldn’t this be so much fun? MotoGP’s fastest rider of the last decade (perhaps even fastest ever) on the fastest bike but with the ‘balance of performance’ of having to adapt to a different manufacturer’s bike for the first time in his MotoGP career and doing so in the satellite team rather than the factory squad.

It would be transformative for MotoGP, which needs its potential greatest-of-all-time rider to have a bike that can actually give him a fighting chance of a seventh premier class crown – and to have a proper title challenger for Pecco Bagnaia to truly test himself against, even if that should (hopefully) come from elsewhere too in 2024.

But primarily it’s the right call for Marquez. He’d have the right bike immediately. No unfulfilled promises. No missed development targets. No talk of concessions as his team’s only hope of success.

Yes it wouldn’t be within the factory squad and succeeding (in title terms) outside of one has proved impossible for the last couple of decades. But Marquez is exactly the kind of rider capable of breaking the mould once the inevitable transition pains are ironed out. It’s not as if he’d be trying to do so on one-year-old machinery either.

I don’t want to see Morbidelli’s career end with his Yamaha exit so I’d advocate for him landing at Gresini but if it’s him or Marquez it’s simply a no-brainer for any team.

It would be a financial and contractual headache for Marquez to get out of his Honda deal one year early. It would take Ducati putting its hand in its pocket and coming up with an enormous sum of money. It would be a risk for Ducati given it’s already dominating MotoGP so why upset the apple cart by putting in a rider whose talent demands results and performance like no other?

But this is Marc Marquez we’re talking about. Not only would Ducati be taking one of the biggest threats to its stronghold on MotoGP off the table (the threat of Marquez switching to a different rival and making that rival a Ducati-beater) but it would be ensuring it had another title contender to make the most of the bike it has worked so tirelessly to make MotoGP’s best.

Enea Bastianini

Matt Beer

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This suggestion is perhaps 80% playing devil’s advocate, but bear with me.

Enea Bastianini’s 2023 plight is almost certainly just because a long early-season injury absence was the last thing he needed when moving from user-friendly, well-refined 2021 Ducati at Gresini last year to a more aggressive 2023 Ducati at the factory team.

He lost crucial races when he might have cracked that package and returned still trying to complete his pre-season work when the rest of the field had three months of racing behind them to increase their comfort with their current bikes. Given Pramac runs the same spec as the factory, a team swap shouldn’t actually do anything to ease his specific problems.

And yet if his current form drags on much longer, it’s going to feel ever more like something needs to change. Because the least likely scenario here is that Bastianini isn’t as talented as he looked prior to 2023 or can’t handle the pressure of being in a title-chasing factory MotoGP team. He should still be one of the most exciting talents on the grid in theory.

So as Ducati has the luxury of so many competitive teams and two of them having the best bike on the grid, maybe it’s worth a reshuffle to see if that helps Bastianini find the best of himself again.

Downsides to this idea: once out of the factory team, it would be very hard to get back in it, and there’s no way this wouldn’t feel like a demotion even if the intention was ultimately to make Bastianini more competitive than he is now.

Plus this suggestion doesn’t really solve any problems for Pramac as the obvious replacement for Bastianini in the works team is Jorge Martin so Pramac would still have a gap to fill!

So, yes, this is more a thought experiment than a ‘do it now’ exhortation and I see all the reasons not to do it.

But when the team-mate of the runaway championship leader hasn’t finished a grand prix higher than eighth all season, maintaining the status quo indefinitely isn’t really viable either.

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