The youth are taking over!
It’s fair to say that the factory Ducati team in MotoGP has not quite lived up
to their potential in recent times. It has been a long 14 years since Casey Stoner won Ducati’s last World Championship. Although Andrea Dovizioso got them close, it seemed as though Ducati were resigned to the eternal bridesmaid position.
However, it would seem that the brand has taken radical action to overcome the disappointment of missing out over recent years. When it was announced at the end of the 2020 season that both Pramac Ducati riders, Jack Miller and Francesco ‘Pecco’ Bagnaia, would be moving up to take on the factory seats, many fans and journalists were cynical. Miller had a fantastic end to his 2020 season, with two sensational last lap battles to take consecutive second-place finishes into the offseason. He was arguably, one of the most consistent riders on the grid last year, despite suffering four DNF’s. Only one was from his own mistake. The others, a visor tear-off being ingested by his bike’s air intake, a mechanical problem in Le Mans and a takedown by Brad Binder. Miller’s consistency and raw talent show that he deserves a factory Ducati seat.
Can the youngsters deliver?
The real surprise was Bagnaia’s promotion to the factory team. I mean no disrespect to Bagnaia, he has proven himself to be sensational on a motorbike. The 2018 World
Champion achieved a fantastic race to second place, with a broken leg at Misano in 2020. However, he does lack the consistency that a factory seat demands. Bagnaia had five DNF’s in 2020, three of which he did not even start due to the broken leg. The others he suffered came about through his own mistakes. If Bagnaia cannot find consistency (and quickly) his place in, the MotoGP paddock altogether could be at risk.
For most, the biggest shock was Ducati’s sour split with Andrea ‘Dovi’ Dovizioso. The three times runner up in the Moto GP World Championship and Ducati’s ‘premier’ rider for eight years. Arguably the only man to consistently challenge the indomitable Marc Marquez, in the last few years. Dovi and Ducati were thought of by many as inseparable, as much a given as it is that a factory Ducati bike will be red.
The bike suits the style of the riders!
Unfortunately, the factory Ducati team has a reputation of breaking its riders with their
uncompromising stubbornness, and the 2020 Michelin tyre was the straw that broke this
particular camel’s back. By nature the Ducati team bikes are long and low – the design is
there to extract the maximum bhp from the bike, and Ducati has always had the fastest bike (on paper at least.) This means that Ducati riders have to use a lot of rear braking in order to get their bikes to turn – it was this riding style that cemented Dovi’s reputation as ‘the last of the late brakers.’ The 2020 Michelin tyres did not work with this style of riding, and both Danilo Petrucci and Dovi were unable to adapt to the new tyres. This led to a breakdown of pleasantries within the team, and ultimately the hostile relationship caused both riders to lose their factory seats.
With today’s team launch showcasing the new boys in full factory red; have Ducati made
a mistake by focusing solely on young talent to solve their problem? Honestly, I could not say. Miller is embarking on his sixth year in the top category, is now the team’s de facto premier’ rider. His good friend, Yamaha Factory rider Maverick Vinales seems to think that Miller is going to be a big threat in the championship this year, and clearly, the Ducati team think so too.
Too much pressure on Miller?
Miller has never been in this position before, and with only a single race win to his name, the pressure to achieve wins and podiums from a traditionally difficult team could be too much for the Australian. Whereas for Bagnaia, who is about to begin his third year in the premier category, a maiden win in MotoGP must be the team’s foremost goal, as well as working on a more consistent approach to races.
The real problem is going to be making the bike turn. With the engine development
freeze in place for 2021, Ducati can do nothing about how powerful their engine is. Luckily
swing arm and chassis development have not been restricted, and you can be sure that the Italian team has thrown the kitchen sink at developing these items for the upcoming tests in Qatar next month.
From a personal perspective, I want Miller and Bagnaia to succeed. I’m not necessarily a
Ducati fan – I find the team’s treatment of their riders to be harsh in the extreme – but putting faith in young talent is a risky move, and it would be nice to see it paid off. Ducati has been the first of the factory teams to unveil their new team line-ups, bikes and liveries, but the rest are soon to come!
This article was written by the fantastic Rebekah Lee, our resident Motorsport nut and MA Creative writing graduate. She’s been fascinated by all things motorsports since childhood – follow her on Twitter at @bekahjlee
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