MotoGP Silly Season Grinds To A Halt: What Next For Ducati?

It had promised to be a spectacular Silly Season in MotoGP this year. With all 22 rider contracts up for renewal at the end of this season, several long months of hard bargaining was expected, resulting in a major shakeup of the grid. Few seats were expected to be left untouched.

Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati Desmosedici GP20 at the Sepang MotoGP test

Yamaha dealt the first body blow to any major grid shakeup, moving quickly to extend Maverick Viñales' contract through 2022, then moving rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo to race alongside him in the Monster Energy Yamaha team. Valentino Rossi was promised full factory support from Yamaha in a satellite team if he decided to continue racing after 2020 instead of retiring.

Yamaha's hand had been forced by Ducati. The Italian factory had made an aggressive play for both Viñales and Quartararo, and Yamaha had brought the decision on their future plans forward to early January. Yamaha decided to go with youth over experience, and Ducati was left empty-handed.

Next stop Hamamatsu

The Suzuki riders were the next target, paddock rumor suggested. Alex Rins looked firmly tied up with the Japanese factory, but approaches were being made to Joan Mir, it is said. It seemed like there could be movement at the factories after all.

At the launch of the Suzuki Ecstar team's MotoGP project in Sepang, team manager Davide Brivio told reporters that talks were already ongoing about extending the contracts of Rins and Mir, and that he expected to have both riders back for the next contract period. "We've been talking for a long time with them," Brivio said. "We are quite relaxed from this point of view, for the moment! I mean we didn’t yet sign an agreement but it’s quite clear Alex wants to continue with Suzuki, Joan is happy to continue with Suzuki."

Brivio acknowledged the interest in Rins and Mir from other factories. "Sometimes I'm quite pleased that our riders are becoming so attractive on the market! It means we did a good job and made good choices," Brivio joked. "It's clear we are happy to keep them and they are happy to stay. It's quite normal that everybody talks to everybody, also there are rider managers asking us about the situation in Suzuki, there are probably manufacturers contacting riders. It's quite normal in this environment."

Signed, sealed?

Yesterday, it emerged that Suzuki has managed to win the tug of war with other manufacturers. Oriol Puigdemont, respected MotoGP reporter for the Motorsport.com network, reported that Suzuki is near to announcing it has signed two-year deals with both of its riders. Alex Rins and Joan Mir are set to race for the Suzuki Ecstar team for the 2021 and 2022 MotoGP seasons.

That makes sense for both Suzuki and its riders. The objective of the team was to sign young talent from Moto2 and challenge for championships by developing them into top level riders themselves. That was why Suzuki never really got enthusiastic about the prospect of either Jorge Lorenzo or Dani Pedrosa riding for them.

"We are very happy to keep them, because also we started quite a clear project with them two years ago when we decided to develop a rider like Alex as a rookie," Brivio explained at Sepang. "Then once Alex became strong, in our opinion, we did the same with Joan. Our idea is to have two riders potentially between the top riders, maybe a group of the top five or six or whatever. But two of them should be our riders, and then see what happens. It looks like it's working and that's why we want to keep both of them and continue this project and see what we can achieve together."

Put on hold

Once the announcement comes that Suzuki has signed Rins and Mir, then Silly Season in MotoGP is likely to come to a grinding halt for quite some time. The obvious talent will have been signed, and the most desirable seats will have been filled, or at least be close to being sewn up.

Once Mir and Rins sign, then both factory Yamaha and both factory Suzuki seats will be off the market. The spare Petronas Yamaha seat will have Valentino Rossi's name penciled in for it, at least until Rossi makes a decision on his future during the summer break, at which point either a pen or an eraser will appear. Barring disaster (or subtle pressure from the other side of the garage), Franco Morbidelli will likely stay on in Petronas as well.

Marc Márquez hasn't signed a contract yet, but his demands mean he is not going anywhere other than HRC. Those demands are not about money (or rather, the money isn't the important part), the demands are about who controls and directs the MotoGP project at HRC. Márquez and the people around him want as much control as possible. That is only realistically possible at Honda: developing the trust which is required for engineers to delegate responsibility for the direction of the project takes time.

Ducati may be keen to sign Marc Márquez, but Gigi Dall'Igna would not be at all keen having the development direction dictated to him by Márquez, Emilio Alzamora, and Santi Hernandez. (Although as both Dall'Igna and Márquez are obsessed with ever-increasing horsepower, they might be able to find at least some common ground.)

No room at the inn

So Marc Márquez is almost certain to stay at Repsol Honda. Technically, the second seat at Repsol Honda will be open in 2021, but Alex Márquez is likely to keep that seat. And on the strength of a very solid performance at the Sepang test, he will deserve it too.

Seats at KTM are pretty much spoken for, the Austrian factory currently awash with talent young and... not so young. Pol Espargaro has led the development of the RC16, but if Brad Binder and, say, Miguel Oliveira outshine the Spanish veteran, then KTM have the option of moving the Portuguese rider up. That team is sewn up, the only possibility being some kind of internal reshuffle.

That leaves just four factory seats available for 2021. Aleix Espargaro is odds on to keep one Aprilia seat, and deservedly so after grinding out the hardest of yards on the pre-2020 RS-GP. Which means realistically that in 2021, there will be only three factory seats up for grabs: one Aprilia, and the two factory Ducati seats.

When the music stops

Which leaves Ducati out in the cold. Their grand strategy over the winter appeared to be to try to poach a top rider from another team. But their approaches have all been rebuffed: First, Viñales and Quartararo turned them down. Then Joan Mir chose Suzuki. And Marc Márquez isn't going anywhere (and would be expensive even for the seemingly bottomless pockets of Philip Morris).

What next? "At this moment, the most reasonable thing to do for us is to wait for a little bit," Gigi Dall'Igna told Italian website GPOne.com. With the biggest hitters taken off the market, there is no reason to rush into a decision.

As a consequence, MotoGP's Silly Season has come to a grinding, if temporary halt. The hottest riders have been signed, and the biggest factory player has stepped away from the market. We await the developments over the first few races of the season, to see who has the pace to attract the attention of Ducati, both for the factory team and for Pramac, and for satellite teams such as LCR Honda, where Cal Crutchlow is due to retire at the end of the year.

Unwelcome companions

Silly Season may have stalled, but you get the feeling that what has happened so far will have a lasting legacy. The relationship between Gigi Dall'Igna and Andrea Dovizioso – that's the Andrea Dovizioso who finished runner up to Marc Márquez for the last three seasons, and took the 2017 championship down to the last race – has been at Antarctic levels of frostiness for nearly two years now. Ducati making a not-so-subtle play for a top rider sends a very clear message to Dovizioso indeed: "Sorry Andrea, we don't think you're good enough to win us a title."

Now, though, the shoe is on the other foot. Sure, Dovizioso may not have many options outside of Ducati, but if the Aprilia is as competitive as the Sepang test suggests (and it doesn't fall apart every other race), then having a bike that turns – something Dovizioso has urged Dall'Igna to give him ever since the former Aprilia engineer arrived at Ducati – might be a tempting prospect. Or enough of a tempting prospect to force a big payday out of Ducati to retain his services.

Ducati have other options, of course. Jack Miller looks on course to take over one of the factory seats at Ducati, if he continues his impressive development. Pecco Bagnaia has made progress, though he will have to make a big step to earn a factory seat. There's Johann Zarco, of course, who came to the Avintia team with the express intention of getting a factory ride. And there is Danilo Petrucci, who will have to have an astonishing season if he is to keep a spot in the factory team.

Perhaps Ducati can tempt someone like Miguel Oliveira away from KTM, if the Portuguese rider is denied a spot in the factory Red Bull team. Maybe Augusto Fernandez, or Jorge Navarro, or Jorge Martin, or Fabio Di Giannantonio will catch the eye of Ducati (though the Moto2 riders are more likely to find a place in Pramac, rather than the factory team).

Thanks, but no thanks

The question is, of course, how attractive is Ducati as an option right now. Sure, the bike is fast, and capable of winning races. But when Ducati senior management keep managing to upset their riders, what is the value of a factory seat? How do you focus on learning to ride a tricky Desmosedici with the constant swirl of rumors that Ducati are considering replacing you?

There is much to admire about Ducati Corse. Gigi Dall'Igna is an outstanding engineer and manager, who has turned the Ducati from clearly the worst factory bike on the grid to one of the best. Sporting Director Paolo Ciabatti has managed the logistical and people side of the team to create a close-knit team capable of competing. Team director Davide Tardozzi has helped pull his riders and the teams around them to a higher level.

But the level above Ducati Corse is where it all seems to go wrong. Jorge Lorenzo won his first MotoGP race on a Ducati just after hearing his services were no longer required. Had Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali had just a fraction more patience, the Spaniard would have stayed at Ducati and arguably challenged for the championship in 2019 and 2020.

It is history repeating itself. The one rider who was capable of winning a championship for Ducati was chased away, after senior management refused to believe that Casey Stoner was genuinely ill. However attractive the prospect of a seat inside the factory Ducati team may appear, the dark shadow of what happened to Stoner, Lorenzo, and now Andrea Dovizioso hangs over it. That, arguably, is the first thing that needs fixing.


If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, supporting us on Patreon, by making a donation, or contributing via our GoFundMe page. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.

Source: 
year: 
2020

Back to top

Comments

I like Miller, but I think Bagnaia is Ducati's best future title prospect. Once he learns how to extract the best performance from the GP20 he's going to be very quick. But Ducati really need to just do what it takes to hire Marquez. It might be their last opportunity to buy themselves a title. 

Ducati remind me very much of Ferrari over in Formula 1, the team wins races, but only the drivers lose races. The Rossi disaster was a big enough kick in the bum to snap them out of it for a few years but now they are settling back into the pattern.

.

They have a rider who's 5-1 up against Marc Marquez in last lap, last turn battles. The same rider who won ten races in the time it took the great Jorge Lorenzo to win 3. But the issue is clearly that they need a 'top' rider, obviously Vinales, Fabio, Rins or Mir would have won the title at a canter, such is the superiority of the big red dragster.

.

Whilst Gigi is an engineering genius I disagree that he's much good as a manager. Making departments communicate, rotating engineers, that's all systems and process stuff, it's not really about the people. He didn't fight hard enough for Lorenzo and he seems to be letting Dovioso get thrown under the bus the same way Crutchlow, Hayden, Rossi and Stoner were. Sometime he's the one doing the throwing, I don't remember hearing a peep from Yamaha about Maverick and Valentino the last two years. Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki seem to be very focused on gaining and keeping the confidence of 'their' riders, you think Ducati would at least pretend to learn.

Honda is like the group project in school where 1 smart student does all the work and everyone gets an A+. Outside of Marquez, and their money + history, what's the draw to Honda for new talent? Puig publicly eviscerated Pedrosa and Lorenzo while they were there. Jack Miller is the only Honda rider to escape serious injury- and that's only because he narrowly escaped death when the RC213V veered towards a wall at the 2015 Le Mans FP4 session:

https://motorcyclelife.com.au/motogp-jack-miller-survives-horror-crash-at-french-gp/

Cal's feedback has been ignored basically the whole time he was there. Pedrosa was cast aside when Puig arrived, and Puig as a team boss sounds like a complete nightmare for anyone besides Marc Marquez. He is to the "team" what HR is to many companies- a self serving entity that exists to protect those in power. Lorenzo's injuries went from bad to retirement. Etc. In a way signing Marc's brother was a god send as I almost wonder if they'd have a recruitment problem in 2021 for that Repsol seat. At this point riding a Honda basically means hoping for top 10 finishes and being a distant planet orbiting the star of Marc Marquez.

I don't know if Honda is just very lucky or phenomenal at recruitment but somehow they always seem to grab the kind of talent that can get their bad bikes to finish races first. But with the rapid improvement of the rest of the grid and all the viable race winners I think Honda's veneer is wearing thin. Marc is shoulder pressing that RC213V across the finish line at every race.

Exactly my thoughts as well. 

I'm surprised Ducati does not 100% get behind Dovi and Miller. Dovi ma not have won the championship but he has been as close as a rider can get. Why look for riders further down the line?  Miller is looking really strong, get him on full factory support.

It's easier to say the rider isn't quite good enough than to make the last step improving the bike.

Aleix made no bones about his respect for #4 above all the others in the paddock in a recent interview. My guess is that the sour situation between Dovi and Ducati upper echelons (Tardozzi exemption) will intensify this year. Less wins, fewer podiums on the cards for team red this season is my guess. Dovi will be watching that L-4 Aprilia with a keen eye in the opening rounds. If it is quick enough in a straight line doesn't blow up and turns out to be a sweet handler, one could reasonably expect Dovi to want a change of scenery and Aprilia to want him. Another great Italian rider on an Italian bike. Dovi beating factory Ducati on factory Aprilia regularly next year is a distinct possibility in my view and why not? I don't think money is a Dovi issue. He could well leave one hell of a legacy as the man for all seasons, more so than even Vale. Winning/podiums on 2 strokes, 800 4 strokes, transverse 4's, 1000 L-4 4 strokes, HRC, Yamaha, Ducati. Monotonous regular top 4 end of year every championship year. Aprilia and Dovi, why not he alongside Aleix for 2021 and 2022? Him and Aleix could well propel the Aprilia project. Aprilia would be wise to poach him while they still can.

Having had Gigi poached from them by Ducati, then having been made to watch him bring Ducati to the front while their own MotoGP project stalled, one can only imagine how sweet it would be for Aprilia if they were to poach Dovi, then use him to beat Ducati and Dall'Ignia [sic?] both. Now that would be Karma!

Numerous aformentioned comments resonate within. Let's not forget Melandri. What he showed was that signing a factory contract meant that the rider would be required to work on the psychological aspect of their ego, identity, beliefs and such. And this challenge is still continuing today. Stoner's 2007 world championship season seems to have instilled a belief of deservability and entitlement in Ducati management's championship aspirations. The bike, which requires a "system" of techniques to be ridden competetively, does not sound like an easy-going, natural Yamaha M1. Melandri's words were that it was "completely unnatural" and apparently some of that DNA still exists. To sit in that red-hot seat, Dovi has obviously been working on his persona. And it is this mental fortitude that has helped him beat Marquez in those last lap, last corner battles. It seems unlikely that he would just chuck everything away by making an impulsive move (which would go against all the psychological work he has done) but rather to continue what he is doing and let life play itself out. 

Maybe Ducati's technological advantage did peak in 2017 and Dovi's results indicate this. That does not necessarily mean that his skill as a motogp rider has plateaued. Dovi was not a phenom that burst onto the scene ala Rossi, Stoner, Marquez or Quartararo (still to be confirmed). Dovizioso showed up as a solid rider who, in his first year, threatened and took Nicky Hayden's seat at the factory HRC squad. Since then The Professor has been methodically working at his craft bit by bit. And it is specifically the extra work he has done with his self that has allowed his results to improve in recent years. 

Dovizioso has always shown humility by paying out-of-pocket for Brembo brake upgrades at Tech 3. He also invited the whole Tech 3 squad over to his home, where he lives with his mom and daughter, for a BBQ dinner. He did all the purchasing, preparing and cooking himself. He is a regular kind of guy. That's why I like him as a rider. I read this last bit in an article @superbikeplanet.com many years ago during Dovi's HRC days. I have not been able to find the article recently. The title was something like "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Fast." Funny guy.

Ducati might have had its first championship since Casey Stoner if the so-called CEO would have tended to his job rather than butt into the paddock. The guy is a hired hand, not an owner. Its not his company and not his team. He works for Audi and is merely an employee at will. That means he can be dismissed for any reason by the people he reports to. Given that he's run the two best racers they've ever had off the team, he probably should be at least removed from the paddock if not the company. Regarding Dovi, he was impressive enough when he first came up aboard a satellite Honda. And he's one of the few who have beaten Marquez in strait up battles. Hopefully Miller can step his game up but right now they look the weakest in the rider department when compared to HRC, Yam and Suzi.    

It seems all the big Italian race teams seem to have the rare ability to shoot themselves repeatedly in the foot.

Ferrari have come so close to winning but managed, all by themselves, to avoid standing on the top step, year after year. Despite the money that both Ferrari and Ducati spend they are unable to score where it matters most. And every time someone from outside these teams analyses the situation, the finger gets pointed at the very upper management.

Maybe that's where the recruitment drive should start, or the restructuring! This idea of all Italian teams to show case Italian brilliance does not seem to work. Even though I have to admit that I do not rate Miller as a future champion, nor Dovi as a top three rider. ☺️

Doesn't need your rating. He's a top two rider three years running. 

Why so defensive SP_one? I am sure, absolutely sure on fact  that he does not need my rating. He came second three years running is a fact. If that was down to him or other circumstances is up for debate and that's what this forum facilitates or not? 

I have waited for 12 years for a Silly Season to develop the way we thought/hoped it would. But, alas, i jave a better chance of getting a Big Foot sighting. While i cannot stand Jarvis, he played it right this year. And Ducati.... what else can be said that hasn't been said. I truly believe they have ruined the hearts and minds of some of the best riders to throw a leg over the bike. 

I know SBK racers are not that appreciated in MotoGP-paddock but if I checked it correctly, Jonathan Rea is available for 2021. We'll see how this season turns out for him against Redding and co, but after his comeback against Bautista last year, he earned a shot in MotoGP I guess. Right now Ducati has nothing to lose, top guys in GP all tied up for 2021. I would keep Dovi (or Miller) and would go for Rea with full factory support in GP. Two birds with one stone: keeping him out of SBK (so probably Ducati would win the title with Redding in 2021) and get a mentally strong, experienced racer in MotoGP. He's not 25 but what the heck, give him a 1-year contract and we'll see what happens. Pretty sure that he would be on the level of Petrucci or Miller in 6 races. He tried the V4 Honda and was not bad at all back then. Zarco would be my other choice, but only prio-2. If Ducati do not change, they get the same results again and again. However they can get lucky once in a while. :)

 

"Cal's feedback has been ignored basically the whole time he was there..."

Why would Honda listen to Cal?  Marc won most the races over the season, Cal crashes out of most the races over the season

Dovi is a great rider, but I can't see him ever winning the championship for ducati. It needs an alien on it, they already let one or two slip over the years. You need the likes of Marquez's talents in another rider if they want win a championship.

I'd love to see them do it but I can't see it coming unless Miller ups his game, he might be the one who could possibly do it out of there current rider line up.