until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Why Ducati’s rushed graduate is now its MotoGP spearhead

by Glenn Freeman
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

So far, it’s hard to argue that Francesco Bagnaia hasn’t had an almost perfect MotoGP season.

The new factory Ducati rider has so far taken three podiums from four races to kick off his year, and through sheer consistency inherited an unlikely championship lead last time out at the Spanish Grand Prix after coming home in second behind team-mate Jack Miller.

In fact, so far in 2021, Bagnaia has executed the 2020 game plan that took Joan Mir to the title – except, he’s done it in even more conclusive style than the reigning champion has. Outscoring the Suzuki rider by four podiums to one, Bagnaia leads Mir by a not-insubstantial 17 points after the opening four races.

He’s got a good chance of maintaining that form at least for the next few rounds, too, as MotoGP heads to a series of tracks that suit the Ducati. This week’s French Grand Prix is the first of those opportunities, with the Le Mans venue traditionally somewhere Ducati doesn’t struggle.

Add to that the weather forecast, with rain expected for most of the three days, and Danilo Petrucci’s impressive win in wet conditions last year on the bike that Bagnaia now rides, and there’s every chance that the Italian can maintain his consistent streak at the sharp end.

After Le Mans come Mugello and Barcelona, tracks where Ducati has dominated of late and where its two previous stars – Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo – both produced off double victories that turbo-charged their respective seasons in 2017 and 2018.

Even further into the schedule, there’s Assen, a venue where anyone can win thanks to the close nature of the racing but which holds a dear place in Bagnaia’s heart as the scene of his first grand prix win – in fact, the 24-year-old has the latitude and longitude coordinates of the Dutch circuit tattooed on his arm.

It’s not that long ago that you’d look at that list and doubt whether Bagnaia would have the consistency to be considered a threat at all four circuits, but therein lies the real secret to his strength in 2021.

May 03 : Ducati's MotoGP title hopes come alive

Bagnaia has always been fast, since his early Moto3 days on an under-powered Mahindra machine, but 2020’s 14 races produced only four finishes, thanks to crashes, mechanical problems and a spate of late-season incidents where he finished only one of the final five rounds.

But he also managed to record a maiden podium in one race at Misano, should have won the other, and was denied his very first trip to the top three by a mechanical problem at Jerez, hinting multiple times that he had cracked the secret to riding a MotoGP bike.

There’s still a long way to go to prove that he can convert his title lead into the main prize, with a long season remaining and plenty of opportunities where consistency alone won’t be enough. 2020 ran in very unusual circumstances but it’s unlikely that there’s going to be a mirror image repeat of that in 2021, meaning that to win a title you’re going to need to win more than Mir’s one race.

Francesco Bagnaia Ducati MotoGP 2021

But so far, Bagnaia has made plenty of steps in the right direction, and it bodes well for the Ducati star’s future even if this year isn’t the one where he manages to put it all together at the same time.

That’s even more exciting given the rather convoluted path that saw him promoted to the factory team perhaps a little earlier than Ducati had initially planned. Only a MotoGP rookie in 2019, it was clear Bagnaia was set to follow in the footsteps of Andrea Iannone, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller in finding a path from Pramac Racing to the red bike – but other factors turbocharged the move.

When Andrea Dovizioso spectacularly walked away from the deal extended to him by the Bologna manufacturer, instead opting to take a sabbatical rather than sign on for a lower wage, Ducati promoted Bagnaia, reportedly securing him for a mere fraction of what Dovi was after.

But it’s a move that’s paid off, not only for the factory team but for Ducati’s entire structure by allowing it to create a talent pathway that will future proof its rider line-up.

With rookie sensation Jorge Martin, a podium finisher in the only race this year where Bagnaia wasn’t, at Pramac and with Moto2 front-runners Luca Marini and Enea Bastianini in the third-tier Esponsorama team, it looks more than ever like the decision to promote Bagnaia was inspired, even if Ducati’s hands were a little forced.

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