One of the final pieces of the 2024 MotoGP grid jigsaw puzzle is about to fall into place with the expected news that Marco Bezzecchi will remain with the VR46 Ducati team for next season.
But with the Italian having faced a tough decision to remain with his current team and eschew the opportunity for the latest factory spec Ducati elsewhere, why has he made what is perhaps to many a somewhat surprising decision?
It’s been something of an open secret for the past few weeks that the 2023 title contender has had a tough choice to make between two excellent choices for his future. One, remain with his current squad, the team that he’s grown up in and taken to two grand prix wins with already so far this year – or ditch it in favour of the latest bike from Ducati next year in furtherance of his title aspirations.
There’s merit in both options, something that’s been clear since it first became apparent that the 24-year-old had a choice to make.
Ducati has been abundantly clear on multiple occasions: if Bezzecchi wants a factory bike, then it only comes at second tier team Pramac, and nowhere else. Experimenting with delivering five 2022 bikes last season, it was an experiment that didn’t work out for Ducati and not one it wants to repeat, hence the ultimatum to the rider currently sitting third in the championship.
With VR46 (currently sponsored by Italian finance brand Mooney but set to be renamed next season, potentially with Indonesian oil giant Pertamina taking over), he gets a very stable team environment, and a crew chief that he’s very familiar with in the form of ex-Valentino Rossi data engineer Matteo Flamigni.
One of only two Ducati chief engineers in the paddock not employed by the Italian factory but rather by the team directly (with the other being team-mate Luca Marini’s engineer David Munoz), Flamigni wasn’t necessarily a part of any promotion deal for Bezzecchi.
Bezzecchi was open in the beginning about his hopes, wanting to leverage Ducati into providing both his cake and letting him eat it – going against their plans and giving him a factory bike in his current team, an option also favoured by the VR46 squad despite the extra cost of leasing machinery that it was likely to bring their way (a figure around the €1.5 million mark annually).
So what has changed Bezzecchi’s mind and convinced him that the best option for his future is to settle for the option he was least in favour of initially?
— Mooney VR46 Racing Team (@VR46RacingTeam) August 30, 2023
Well, one thing is likely more than certain: while Ducati can’t give him a factory spec bike, it’s promised him a world of upgrades for next season that will help keep his current machine as competitive as possible throughout the year.
Sure he might not have the latest model but alongside additional technical support from the factory in terms of engineers and data processing, there are definitely options for mid-season upgrades in terms of components like aerodynamics, something likely to have been hashed out at the last round of the championship in Austria where Rossi himself was present for the talks with Ducati management.
But there’s another factor at play that might be far more important for Bezzecchi’s future than any upgrades he’s going to receive: the benefits that come from starting the season on a known package.
We’ve seen time and time again the benefits that a strong rider can make at the minute on a year-old bike. As well as being a key part of his own great start to the season, it’s also the exact same platform that 12 months before launched Enea Bastianini into a factory seat for this season.
And with the injury-struck Bastianini so far failing to perform in 2023 as he struggles to find a comfortable base setting on the factory bike after missing the opening five rounds of the year, Bezzecchi might have his eyes on a bigger prize for next year than just a factory spec bike in a satellite team.
The VR46 Academy’s management has made it abundantly clear that its mission is not to produce racers for satellite teams: it has, after all, got its own squad for that. Instead, it wants to place riders into the top tier squads, something so far accomplished by both Franco Morbidelli and reigning world champion Pecco Bagnaia.
A strong start to 2024 on the fully developed bike that Bagnaia ends his 2023 campaign on could well be everything that Bezzecchi needs to leverage himself into a full-factory seat alongside his close friend for 2025 – a chance that’s perhaps worth playing the waiting game for next year and remaining where he is at VR46.