until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Zarco explains swapping MotoGP’s best bike for its worst

by Simon Patterson
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Pramac Ducati rider Johann Zarco says his main motivation for ditching the best bike on the MotoGP grid and trading it for an LCR Honda next season is the security of a two-year deal.

Zarco, who is 33, said that two-year deal – with the option for a third term – was a better long-term option for him than the uncertainty that would have come with another one-year deal at Ducati.

Though LCR has released no official statement, Zarco confirmed on Sunday after the Austrian Grand Prix that he will join the satellite Honda squad for 2024 and replace Alex Rins, returning to LCR having spent a brief stint with the squad in 2019 when he substituted for the injured Taka Nakagami.

Since it was first rumoured at the Red Bull Ring that Zarco was close to signing for the satellite Honda squad, though, many have questioned his decision to give up a Ducati seat for what is arguably the worst machine on the current MotoGP grid, especially after a punishing start to 2023 in which three of Honda’s four riders have been injured on the RC213V.

MotoGP points in 2023

Johann Zarco – 125
Every Honda rider combined – 110

But Zarco, aware of the challenge he faces in jumping onto a radically different machine, was adamant that it was the right move for his career thanks to the extra security it brings after four and a half seasons of chasing one-year deals since joining Ducati with little in the form of long-term stability.

He was originally believed to have been offered a chance to remain at Pramac on a factory-spec bike next year, but Zarco revealed that Ducati’s offer was even less certain than that.

Johann Zarco, Austrian Motogp, 18 August 2023

It is waiting to see where Marco Bezzecchi decides to go in 2024 and Zarco said that the offer of a single year, potentially on a year-old machine at Gresini, didn’t compare to what Honda proposed to him.

“We had this opportunity from Ducati to do one more year, but I’m not sure if I could be with Pramac,” he explained after the race at the Red Bull Ring. “I had good interest from Honda, offering two years with a project for the future.

“This year, I have a different way, a different approach to my training and the race weekend, and this gave me the energy to see myself for a longer time in MotoGP.

“The past few years, even having good results, fighting for podiums and always constant and top five in the championship, it’s always been difficult to sign again with Ducati, and this year was even more difficult. If I was not sure to stay with Pramac, I didn’t want to sign for another team even if the bike was the same one. If I’m changing teams, I want to make another project.

“As a sportsman who is 33 years old, a safe two years is something I had to think about a little bit. I realised that the last two years, I was always pushing, having one year contracts, and after five or six races you’re already stressing yourself by thinking about the future because you are not sure if you can stay.

“As long as you are competitive you want to stay, and that’s why I’m pretty happy to have the interest from Honda.”

Johann Zarco

While the challenge for Honda’s riders of making the manufacturer a regular threat for victories is a substantial one, the idea seems to in part play to something in Zarco’s psyche following his previous failure as a development rider on a difficult bike at KTM, a project that only lasted half a season back in 2019.

“I’m sure that they have the power to try and find solutions and I will be proud if I can find a way with them,” he stressed of Honda.

“I still believe the one who can win on the bike as soon as the bike works better will be Marc [Marquez], because he remains an incredible rider when he is feeling good.

“I’m much more ready than in the past. I got the bad experience with KTM, and it seems almost the same at the moment, things are going well with Ducati [like with Yamaha in 2018 before his KTM switch] and I’m going to Honda. But I’m much more mature so I believe that I can handle difficult situations but then also be ready for good situations when they come.

“To control my nerves, I could not do it in the KTM times but I only had the experience with the Yamaha. My riding style has been changing a lot in the last years with Ducati.

“I’m changing things and I’m much more conscious of what is happening. I like to have this control.

“I would prefer to be winning, but I also like to see many things, how the riders are doing or how we could do on the bike. I repeat, I am still very competitive so that’s why it’s a good moment to try it and save these two years while taking off a bit of stress and weight from my shoulders to say, OK, look a bit further and build something different.”

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