The motorcycle racing world never stops, and in between the MotoGP test in Jerez and the start of the fourth round of WorldSBK in Barcelona, there have been a couple of interesting items of news to pop up.
On the road to recovery
Let's start with a bit of good news, though in this case, it is still quite relative. On Wednesday, Pol Espargaro posted an update on his recovery on his Instagram page, in English and Spanish. The Tech3 GasGas suffered a number of injuries when he tumbled through the gravel during practice for the opening MotoGP round of 2023, breaking his jaw, and suffering eight fractured bones, including a couple of ribs and vertebrae in his neck and back.
Espargaro had his jaw wired closed for nearly a month to allow it heal, losing somewhere between 8-9kg as a result. The Spaniard only started eating solids again last week, as I reported in my Friday round up from the Jerez round of MotoGP.
While Espargaro's jaw is healing well, it is the fractured vertebrae which are a concern. One of the vertebrae in his back suffered a compression fracture, losing half of its height. Espargaro said though he was more than eager to return, such injuries need to be treated with respect given the risk of spinal damage in case of another crash.
A return date has not been set for Espargaro. He will certainly not be fit for Le Mans, but the long break after the French GP – there are three weekends off between Le Mans and Mugello – could allow him to consider a return for the Italian Grand Prix. Even that would be very early, however.
Another missing rider
Miguel Oliveira has not had a great deal of luck in the 2023 MotoGP season. He was taken out by Marc Marquez at the opening round, his home race in Portimão. That injury caused him to miss the second round of the season in Argentina.
After a relatively uneventful round in Austin, Texas, Oliveira was once again a victim of another rider. This time, it was Fabio Quartararo, who was pushed into Oliveira by Marco Bezzecchi at the start of the Spanish GP at Jerez. Oliveira dislocated his shoulder in that crash, and was forced to miss the test on Monday.
Oliveira's injuries are a little more serious than at first thought. Today, the CryptoDATA RNF announced that the Portuguese rider will sit out the upcoming French Grand Prix at Le Mans, to be held on May 14th. Oliveira suffered a fractured humerus and an injured labrum when he dislocated his shoulder. The labrum is the cartilage which holds the upper arm in the shoulder, giving it stability and allowing the remarkable range of motion we see in the joint.
Oliveira will likely have to immobilize his shoulder for a week or so, ruling him out of the Le Mans round. But the RNF press release states that he is expected to return for the Italian round at Mugello in early June. Aprilia test rider Lorenzo Savadori will replace the Portuguese rider in France.
Acosta to MotoGP?
Jaime Martín, Spanish sports daily Marca's MotoGP correspondent, is reporting that KTM have decided to elevate former Moto3 champion and current Moto2 title contender Pedro Acosta to MotoGP for the 2024 season. The young Spaniard has made a devastating impact since entering the class, winning the Moto3 crown a the first attempt and finishing fifth in Moto2 the following season, despite a serious injury sustained at the start of the year.
According to the report in Marca, KTM have an option on Acosta for the 2024 season which they have to exercise before July. The Spaniard is currently under contract with the Austrian manufacturer in Moto2, where he is riding in the KTM Ajo team alongside Albert Arenas.
A decision to promote Acosta poses a dilemma for KTM. Their two riders in the factory Red Bull KTM squad, Jack Miller and Brad Binder, have a contract for the 2024 season, as does Pol Espargaro at GasGas. That would leave only the spot of Augusto Fernandez in the GasGas Tech3 squad.
Miller and Binder's seats have to be safe, the two KTM riders coming off podiums at Jerez, and Binder having won two sprint races so far this season. Pol Espargaro's seat is subject to the condition of the Spaniard when he returns from injury, and how much such a serious injury will affect his riding.
In other circumstances, the obvious choice would be to replace Fernandez with Acosta, but this might be an unfortunate choice from a PR perspective. Rookie Fernandez is the reigning Moto2 champion, and KTM already disposed of the two rookies they signed in 2022 after just one year. Raul Fernandez had never really wanted to ride a KTM anyway, and neither he nor Remy Gardner could make an impact on what was a difficult bike to ride. Dumping three rookies in two years would not inspire confidence in the brand.
The other alternative would be for KTM to add another two bikes to the grid, and rebadge them as Husqvarnas. That would have the added benefit of making space for British rider Jake Dixon, who Dorna are very keen to get into the premier class because of the highly lucrative TV deal with BT Sports (which is about to become TNT, as the owners Warner Bros Discovery effectively bought BT Sport earlier this year). That would require an additional team to move up from Moto2.
Dorna is not keen on KTM adding an additional team, as such a team would automatically become an independent team, which would require extra funding. However, Dorna's attempts to lure another manufacturer into MotoGP have so far failed: the Spanish organization tried to persuade BMW into MotoGP by offering the German manufacturer all of the equipment used by the Suzuki MotoGP team after their withdrawal.
BMW declined, however. The Munich-based manufacturer already gets massive marketing benefits from their role as official sponsor and safety car supplier to the series. Running around at the back of MotoGP while trying to develop a competitive machine has a lot less marketing value than they already receive, and would probably have cost a lot more.
Bautista is back
There was some speculation after the Assen round of WorldSBK that Alvaro Bautista could be on the verge of retirement. That speculation intensified after Ducati announced that Bautista would be holding an exceptional press conference on Thursday before the Barcelona round of WorldSBK.
But it was not retirement Bautista announced at his home round of World Superbikes. Instead, the Spaniard announced that he will be staying with the Aruba.it Ducati WorldSBK team for the 2024 season. The statements by both Bautista and the team only mention 2024, and not beyond. The Spaniard will take another decision on retirement next year.
The press releases on Miguel Oliveira's absence and Alvaro Bautista's new contract appear below:
Oliveira withdraws from French GP; Savadori to step in for CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP Team
CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP Team’s Miguel Oliveira has unfortunately been forced to withdraw from the upcoming French Grand Prix due to a shoulder injury sustained during the Spanish Grand Prix. While immediate medical attention successfully repositioned his dislocated left shoulder, further assessments revealed a more severe injury, including a fracture in the humerus and an anterior ligamentous labrum injury.
Although Oliveira and his doctors have decided against surgery, he will need to focus on the healing process and will not be able to participate in the French round. The team wishes him a speedy recovery and looks forward to welcoming him back for the Italian GP.
In Oliveira's absence, he will be replaced by Lorenzo Savadori. As the official Aprilia test rider, Savadori has already had the opportunity to get accustomed to the team and conditions during the official MotoGP test at the Circuito de Jerez – Angel Nieto on Monday.
The entire CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP Team remains focused and committed to achieving success on the track, even with this setback.
Alvaro Bautista to continue aboard the factory Panigale V4R of the Aruba.it Racing - Ducati team in the 2024 WorldSBK season
The Aruba.it Racing - Ducati team is pleased to announce the contract extension of Alvaro Bautista who will be riding the official Ducati Panigale V4R also in the 2024 WorldSBK season.
Returning to wear the colors of Aruba.it and Ducati in the 2022 season after his WorldSBK debut in 2019, Alvaro Bautista was crowned World Champion last year at the end of an exciting ride made up of 16 wins and 31 total podiums.
After the first three rounds of the 2023 season, Bautista is firmly leading the standings with 174 points (56 ahead of his closest rival), and a few days ago, at the Assen circuit (Holland), he was the absolute protagonist with the hat-trick that gave Ducati its historic 400th WorldSBK victory.
Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing - Ducati #1)
"After 21 years spent in the elite of world motorcycling, in the paddocks of MotoGP and Superbike, I now feel in excellent shape, both physically and mentally. I can say that I am in the best moment of my career: I have a lot of fun riding the bike and I have the pleasure of working with a team that I consider a second family. By the way, on a personal level, my family is getting bigger, and the babies are growing up and that is why the decision to race in 2024 was a choice I wanted to make together with them. We decided to continue and I'm very happy to stay with the Aruba.it Racing - Ducati team with whom I've always had a wonderful relationship. I am happy that they still want me, even though I am a little old. One more year together, with the hope of keeping the fantastic feeling with the bike, the certainty of an extraordinary working relationship, and, of course, the goal of aiming at great results”
Stefano Cecconi (Team Principal Aruba.it Racing - Ducati)
"We are extremely happy to have extended our relationship with Alvaro and it will be a pleasure to continue a collaboration that has always been excellent both on a professional and human level. Alvaro has brought our team the first great success, the one we have been chasing since 2015, when we decided to embark on this fascinating adventure with Ducati; but instead of giving us only satisfaction, this success is spurring us to do even more. The determination and commitment that have allowed us to achieve this target have also ensured excellent results in the first 3 rounds of the current season: our common goal is, therefore, to continue in this direction in order to achieve other important successes together in the future".
Luigi Dall'Igna (General Manager Ducati Corse)
"The world title win, but also the sensational start to the season that we have witnessed this year, are yet another demonstration of the magical moment that Bautista is going through. Alvaro is a very talented and experienced rider and with our Panigale V4 R, he has found a fantastic balance that currently allows him to make a real difference. We are therefore very happy to be able to continue with him in 2024. Now the goal is to stay focused on the current season and try to maintain this positive trend in the future as well."