The Zarco Saga Nears Completion - An Avintia Seat Beckons

The Johann Zarco Saga appears to be drawing to a close. The long journey, which started when he announced he would be leaving KTM at the end of 2019, looks to have taken him to Ducati. In an interview for the French magazine Moto Revue, the Frenchman told journalist Michel Turco that he will be racing a Ducati Desmosedici GP19 with the Avintia Racing team in 2020.

Zarco's statements bring to a close a long and confusing chapter in MotoGP. Zarco was summarily dismissed from the Red Bull KTM team on full pay after the race in Misano, the Austrian manufacturer wanting rid of a disruptive factor in the factory team. After Thailand, it emerged that Zarco would be temporarily replacing Takaaki Nakagami in the LCR Honda team after Motegi, to allow the Japanese rider to recover from shoulder surgery in time for the 2020 MotoGP season.

That move led to speculation that Zarco could replace Jorge Lorenzo in the Repsol Honda team. But by the time Lorenzo announced his retirement ahead of the final round at Valencia, Emilio Alzamora, who manages the Marquez brothers, had persuaded HRC to sign Alex Marquez to ride alongside his brother Marc in the factory Repsol Honda squad.

With the door at Honda shut, the focus moved to Ducati. Over the Valencia weekend, rumors surfaced that Dorna was trying to get Zarco onto a Ducati  for 2020. Reports initially linked Zarco to Avintia, where he would replace Karel Abraham, but Zarco showed no interest in riding for Avintia, preferring to look at Moto2 rather than staying in MotoGP.  "I want a good team and a good bike and for me Avintia is not a top team," the Frenchman said at Valencia. Rumors then had Zarco moving to the Pramac Ducati team, to take the place of Jack Miller, who would be moving up to the factory squad to replace Danilo Petrucci.

At the Jerez test, it became clear that if Zarco was going to land anywhere, it would be at Avintia. Karel Abraham told top Israeli broadcaster and journalist Tammy Gorali that he had been fired by Avintia, freeing up a place in the Andorran team. 

Yet there was still no obvious way to reconcile the statements Zarco had made with him being offered a seat at Avintia. The interview with Moto Revue cleared some of that up. 

In the interview, Zarco tells Michel Turco that he has a contract directly with Ducati, rather than with Avintia. Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna had told Zarco that he could be confident of getting good support from Ducati, and that had given him the confidence to sign to ride for Avintia, Zarco said. The Frenchman had also spoken to his former crew chief Massimo Branchini, and Branchini had told him to have faith in Dall'Igna, and that Ducati would find him a competent crew chief.

Though Zarco's statements leave nothing open to interpretation, a few question marks remain. There is as yet still no official confirmation, neither from Ducati nor from Avintia, that Zarco will be riding for them for 2020. As 2019 has made abundantly clear, even signed contracts can be broken if circumstances demand it.

There is also the question of how Zarco will fit in with the Avintia squad once he arrives. The team will not have forgotten his words, and he is unlikely to receive a particularly warm welcome. Trust is the rock on which the relationship between rider and team is built, and without trust, things can quickly sink into the mire.

Zarco's personality does not help in that respect: the Frenchman speaks his mind, whether that is a good idea or not, as he found to his cost in KTM. Even if Zarco goes well on the Ducati, any public criticism of the team is unlikely to be well received. A close and happy team is the difference between success and failure - see the change in Maverick Viñales' fortunes since switching crew chiefs this year - and that is hard to build where both sides are suspicious of one another. 

Why would Ducati and Avintia want to sign Zarco? There has been a great deal of pressure from Claude Michy, the promoter of the French MotoGP round at Le Mans. Michy is a longtime supporter of Zarco, and wants Zarco on the grid to help sell tickets to French fans, as Zarco is seen as more authentically French than Fabio Quartararo, who left France to go and live in Spain at a very young age. 

Zarco also had the support of Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, who had also been acting as his confidant in the latter part of the season. With the weight of Michy and Ezpeleta behind him, Ducati were inclined to take a chance on Zarco. 

It is in the interests of all parties that the gamble pays off. Zarco's stated objective is to finish consistently in the top ten, then inside the top seven as the season goes on. The aim is to earn a seat in the factory Ducati squad in 2021, when all of the contracts in MotoGP are up for grabs.

That will not be easy. Firstly, finishing inside the top ten will be difficult: Marc Marquez will be set on defending his 2019 MotoGP title, there will be four competitive Yamahas and four Ducati GP20s on the grid, as well as two fast Suzukis in the hands of Alex Rins and the rapidly improving Joan Mir. The GP20 looks to be a big step forward for Ducati, the bike turning much better than its predecessor. Even the KTM RC16 has shown real signs of progress with its new frame. Then there are riders like Cal Crutchlow and Taka Nakagami, who are both capable of top tens on any given day. If Zarco wants to finish in the top ten, he has a lot of bikes he will have to try to beat.

Even if he can score regular top sevens, he also faces stiff competition for a seat in 2021. There is strong interest in the current crop of Moto2 riders for 2021, and there could be as many as five or six youngsters vying for seats in MotoGP. Zarco will be 30 by the time the second half of the 2020 season starts, and youth-obsessed managers may prefer to sign a youngster from Moto2 over an older Frenchman. 

Zarco has damaged his prospects of a 2021 seat with his behavior this year. The way he handled the KTM situation - especially his constant and public criticism of the team - did not sit well with factory bosses. That may even have cost him for 2020, as KTM team boss Mike Leitner will have made his feelings about Zarco's behavior clear to Repsol Honda boss Alberto Puig, the two men being good friends with a long history together. Yamaha had already cut ties with Zarco, after the Frenchman turned down a role as a test rider, and bad blood remains between Zarco and Suzuki after Suzuki took Rins over the Frenchman for the 2017 season.

So while it appears that one chapter of the Zarco Saga appears to be drawing to a close, it is not hard to believe that a new chapter is about to open. And if 2019 is anything to go by, it could well prove to be rather dramatic.

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Comments

Let's face it, Zarco fits this role rather well and whilst MM93 occasionally deputises admirably-the comments about not following Fabio in Malaysia before splattering himself being a prime example-he isn't really yer genuine Captain Hook is he? 
Not since the skull and crossbones fluttered over Max Biaggi's galleon, sorry, motorhome, have we had someone capable of carrying the dagger between their teeth. Yo ho hoann (sorry..) fits the bill, so shiver mi timbers and let's have more derring-do and mutiny-type tales as the winter nights draw in and mi beard blackens in the roaring fire. 
I'll get mi tunic....☠️

The heel is the crowd anti-favorite. He serves as the foil to make the good guys look better. However, he has an important place in the whole operation, and more importantly knows exactly what he's doing and what his purpose is.

I don't think any of this can be said about Zarco. He seems oblivious to the concept of cause and effect in the management of human relationships. He's fast like any MotoGP polesitter is, but nowhere near "build me a bike nobody else can ride and give my brother the other factory seat" or "yea I want to try a 3rd factory bike" fast. It took moving heaven and earth to get him that Avintia ride and I am skeptical on it working out over the long term

I know Karel Abraham was not the fastest thing on two wheels and was eternally at the bottom of the results sheet but that doesn’t mean he should have been treated the way he was by Avintia. I realize that world level GP racing can be a results based cutthroat business (what have you done for me lately?). However, the way Abraham was cast aside to make this backroom deal for Zarco really stinks, in my opinion. Especially in light of the way that Zarco behaved in the KTM team. It is reminiscent of the way many professional athletes are treated. No matter how bad a character they are, if they have the necessary skills someone will sign them in hopes of riding that talent to victory.

 

Kimi Raikkonen once said that no self respecting racer should ever consider being a pay driver, because it means admitting that your worth is less than nothing. It's a testament to Abraham's tenacity and will that he kept going as long as he has, but to the teams he was never going to be more than lines in a spreadsheet. Three sevenths places in eight seasons isn't enough.

Karel's announced his retirement from racing. He got to live his dream but now he's off to be a lawyer, he's certainly tough enough for it.

Look for Karel "the gravel" Abraham under a bus somewhere in Europe.

Karel will have got himself out of that situation already. No doubt Karel is moving on with his life and his career. Good luck to him.

Regarding " No matter how bad a character they are, if they have the necessary skills someone will sign them in hopes of riding that talent to victory." see Romano Fenati. Not on my short list, for any position.

Good luck to Johann Zarco as well, riding down the career path less traveled.

Maybe, but fast enough not to finish last, and faster than a few factory bikes on what was obviously very 3rd string bikes. I wouldn't mind 1/2 his speed and skill. 

We seem to forget his front running pace in 125 and 250 against the same riders he has been up against in MotoGP. 

Good news when we get the fastest guys on the fastest bikes. It is healthy for the championship, the sport in general. All else noted and acknowledged with nuanced grace as best we can, Zarco is very fast. And not a bad guy at ALL. Ask Herve. You try being the #1 crasher of the season in the rear pack on an incalcitrant bike, watching Morbidelli on "almost your bike." KTM and JZ05 was not supposed to work, on both sides. Orange has just learned to not stick a bunch of Yamaha guys on their Honda-like buckaroo. Dani is developing the bike, Binder is here, Pol is still on, two other kids are good Orange fits. It was a two way street the whole trip w Zarco and KTM.

Until Europe, watch Zarco adapt to a well set up 2019. Where does he get it at the Ducati tracks? Does he beat Petrucci, catch Dovi or Miller? Top seven finish is possible (Bagnaia better get his fire lit, eh?), maybe a bit better. How many bike - rider combos can we say that about? And before bowing out of MotoGP Aspar gets his rider finally, thanks to a Ducati contract. A few practice sessions and Rabat may never see his tail again. Wee pay to play Avintia just got mid pack with a Factory contracted Frenchman that led his very first MotoGP race on customer kit, and could be top Yamaha with the parts bin next to the crusher. "Cut ties" from Yamaha Test and "bad blood" from a 5 yr old silly season choice may seem overstated after a rider has made themselves known where the talking stops and the racing happens. Ducati needs vitality in their rider lineup. Zarco needs sublimation.

Just eyeing how he gets on with the bike. And hopefully comparing the 2019 with a better turning 2020 as he battles with his potential next ride (walking away from Bagnaia at Qatar, and into Petrucci's draft before Europe?).

Zarco, like many, is not a 'company man' that stays for the long term and the ups and downs. Life is too short. He will have ex-bosses that dislike him, like him, and maybe even love him, if only.....

A good team is about everyone and a good manager will meld the strengths and weaknesses. How often have bosses said "why didn't you say...?" as part of the exit interview? Even the rarified heights of MotoGP cannot use platinum for everything - sometimes a lump of steel, an airy-fairy alloy, or carbon, is the best material.

D'all Igna is no fool. That's for sure. The rest, time will tell.

Zarco may even have done Avintia a favour.

Glad to see JZ staying in MotoGP, but can't help but wonder if he would have been better off going back to Moto2 on a proven bike and bagging another title in that class. As David points out, he's going to have a hard time cracking the top 10, he's already slagged off the team, and Avintia clearly don't rank loyalty highly in their list of corporate values. I hope to be surprised next year -- it'll be hard to watch him struggle again if he doesn't get along with the bike.

it would interest me to revisit the whole Laurent Fellon fallout saga which to the casual observer was the catalyst for Johan's career path going pear shaped. For a while he seemed to be (rightly so) the flavour of the month. 

Hard to believe that contract decisions were made without Johan's knowledge or at least that is how it was reported at the time.

Perhaps our newly discovered reporter could shed some light on the subject, especially the split as friend/mentor which certainly put Johan in a dark place for a while

JZ5 was uninterested in the details of what made the Yamaha handle well; he has said he preferred to give his input and let the team decide what adjustments needed to be made. Maybe that carried over to the business side of racing: 'don't bother me with details just get me signed on a competitive bike'. If so, the break with Fellon is understandable as the KTM was not only not competitive but not at all suited to Johann's style. I'm a big fan, happy to see him on decent machinery

in the Laurent Fellon/Johann Zarco saga, and what happened, though it's unlikely I'll ever know, not being privy to their relationship.

Sort of like still wanting to know more about the whole Ben Spies/Yamaha thing, and why it fell apart. Probably never really know without being part of Ben's inner circle, and even then, it would only be Ben's side of the story.

It's like Emilio Alzamora and Marc Marquez. Emilio must share some of the responsibility for developing Marc's cutthroat attitude towards his competitors. But by the same token, was he also partly responsible for Marc reining it in, and not continuing to be such a bludgeon?

I think it's why we need more of Tammy Gorali's input on the podcast, or on the website. Though there's a danger when delving too deeply into the riders personal space, too. At what point does it stop being news and becomes opinion/editorial?

My dislike for Ducati's - Domenicali, in particular - management tactics have been documented here multiple times, but let me repeat - they suck.  For them to sign Zarco, especially in the manner they did, is like storing gun powder and gasoline together. Indoors.  And then giving Avintia a match.

It seems highly unlikley that Zarco woud be any better than the 4th fastest Duc on the grid, with Dovi, Miller, and Petrucci entrenched in front of him.  I'm not sure what bike Bagnaia has, but, if its a GP20, Zarco will be hard pressed to just not be the slowest Ducati.  Finishing in the top 7 will be real accomplishment.  This has to be a play to just stay on the grid.  If the stars align, or maybe if there's lots of rain, maybe he gets some decent finishes and lands somewhere for 2021.  I guess the guy can dream.

Top 7 results on a year-old Avintia Ducati sounds like fantasy, but those kind of results may be what Zarco needs to get into the factory team for 2021. Unless the behind-the-scene activity that got him the Avintia seat also opens the door to a factory ride.