The MotoGP riders are just two weeks into their shiny new contracts, but already, there is talk of what happens next. In Italy, there is a discussion of who gets the factory Ducati seat alongside Andrea Dovizioso in 2020. In Spain, they are looking ahead to 2021, and the option of KTM offering Marc Márquez a contract.
To start with Márquez first. The Repsol Honda rider is still in the midst of rehabilitation after his shoulder surgery in December. That is proceeding reasonably well, as Márquez' post on Instagram, showing him participating in the Fita973, a 13km cross country run organized by the Márquez brothers in Catalonia, demonstrates.
With the attention of the world turned to the Dakar rally, Spanish sports daily Marca, which also runs a radio program, called Marc Coma, former five-time Dakar winner and now head of KTM Spain, to talk about the rally currently going on in Peru. During the interview, Coma said that he wouldn't rule out an approach to Marc Márquez. "Marc was part of the KTM family in the past," Coma said. "KTM's MotoGP project is evolving in the right direction. When the bike is ready to win, why not have Márquez with us?"
Coma also admitted that this was not the first time KTM had approached Márquez. "KTM already made an attempt last time right. They made him an offer of a contract," Coma said. "Personally, I would love for Marc to sign with KTM."
Silly Season starts two years early
Despite the fact that the next round of contract negotiations is at least a year away – and the KTM RC16 currently looks to be more than a year away from being capable of winning a MotoGP race – the battle for Marc Márquez' signature is already hotting up. This should hardly come as a surprise: since entering the class, Márquez has won five out of six championships, several times on bikes that were clearly inferior to the competition. Only a truly difficult Honda RC213V, and a lack of experience in handling adverse results, kept him from making it six out of six.
MotoGP manufacturers hoping to win a championship understand this, and are angling to sign the Spaniard. In the previous round of contract negotiations, as Marc Coma confirms, KTM made an approach to Marc Márquez. And Ducati also offered Márquez a large amount of money last winter to ride for them. When the next round of negotiations start, at the end of this season, Ducati will once again be targeting Márquez for the 2021 season and beyond.
Whether Márquez will move remains an open question. First of all, Márquez will not switch without taking his entire crew with him. Factories are not keen on this, and Ducati doubly so, after their failed experiment with Valentino Rossi. When a complete crew arrives, it means there is no one with experience with the bike to help guide the way. That, some in Ducati feel, is one way the Rossi experiment failed.
It will also be interesting to see if Honda would be willing to let Márquez leave. So far, they have understood that their future is tied inextricably to that of the young Spaniard. But the arrival of Jorge Lorenzo may embolden them to feel they can still win titles without Márquez, if Lorenzo is up to speed quickly enough. The approaches from KTM and Ducati will certainly strengthen Márquez' hand in the bargaining. Lorenzo's results in his first year could play a role in determining how far Honda will go to hang on to Marc Márquez.
Before 2021, there is the question of the second seat in the Factory Ducati squad. Before the 2019 season has even started, and before the launch of the Ducati team in Switzerland on Friday night, there is already speculation over who will race alongside Andrea Dovizioso in 2020. Danilo Petrucci has been promoted from the Pramac Ducati team after Jorge Lorenzo left to go to Honda, and Ducati signed Pecco Bagnaia before the start of the 2018 Moto2 season to move up to the Pramac squad for 2019. Bagnaia joins Jack Miller, the Australian who made a solid debut on the Ducati GP17 as Petrucci's teammate at Pramac in 2018.
"The results of Petrucci, Jack, and Pecco will help us decide which rider will be in the factory team in 2020," Ducati boss Paolo Ciabatti told Motorsport.com's Oriol Puigdemont last week. Petrucci has worked his way from Superstock to make it all the way to a factory team in MotoGP, a living testament to hard work and determination. Jack Miller learned from a tough couple of years in MotoGP that talent is worthless if you're not prepared to back it up with work. And Bagnaia is widely regarded as one of the greatest talents to enter the class in several years. Ducati think so highly of Bagnaia that they signed him before he had even won a race in Moto2.
Logically, it would seem that Bagnaia is the future of Ducati, especially given that they have paired him with Cristian Gabarrini, arguably one of the very best crew chiefs in the paddock. But Ducati have also shown themselves to be ruthless when it comes to riders, as the first half of 2018 with Jorge Lorenzo demonstrated: what counts are results, and the rider who books the results will get the ride.
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