Ducati is moving closer to arranging a future without Andrea Dovizioso, should the three-time MotoGP runner-up elect not to continue with the team in 2021 – an option that’s looking increasingly likely as the two parties remain at loggerheads about money.
Dovizioso has made no secret of the fact that he feels undervalued by Ducati, remaining on a significantly lower salary than 2018 team-mate Jorge Lorenzo and offered much less for 2021 than the top names Ducati tried to lure from other teams.
On the other side of the coin, Ducati has in Dovizioso a known quality – a rider who while more than capable of being a consistent race winner, has shown that he’s unable to beat Marc Marquez to the title despite sitting on arguably the best bike on the grid.
But while Dovizioso has tried to play hardball in negotiations that Ducati boss Gigi Dall’Igna recently admitted have reached a stalemate, he might have to soon change tact thanks to increasing pressure from other riders hungry to steal his seat.
Ducati has already secured one factory rider in the shape of Pramac Racing graduate Jack Miller to replace the KTM-bound Danilo Petrucci next season, and Miller’s fellow satellite Pecco Bagnaia confirmed today when asked by The Race that he too has an option to step up to the factory team for 2021.
“It was my objective to remain with Ducati, because we have made our bed together,” he said.
“My goal was always to arrive in MotoGP with them and they have pushed me a lot, so it’s been something we wanted together.
“To continue two more years with them is good, even if I don’t have the contract signed yet.
“At the moment I don’t know which team it’ll be in, but in my head it’s very positive to know I’ve got something for next year.”
Ducati has for the first time in some years started thinking for the future, too, by lining up a strong cohort of youngsters to replace Miller and potentially Bagnaia at Pramac.
It’s believed to have already signed 2018 Moto3 world champion Jorge Martin on a two-year deal, and there’s now speculation that it’s in talks with none other than Valentino Rossi to secure the services of his younger brother Luca Marini.
Looking strong so far in the 2020 Moto2 championship and only five points off the title lead after two podiums in two races, Marini would be a good fit for the Pramac team.
That’s the thoughts of Pramac Racing boss Francesco Guidotti, who admitted this week to Italian website GPone that Marini is high on his shopping list should the Ducati factory poach both his riders.
“I don’t have much room to negotiate with Ducati!” he said. “Joking aside, I would never veto the move of one of my riders to the factory team.
“If absurdly we end up providing them with both, it means that in one way the factory team would be ours for a year, in a certain sense.
“Luca Marini is definitely the rider who has the most experience and has already shown that he knows how to stay up at the front, even though at times in alternate phases.
“I think he also has the competitive maturity to make the transition to MotoGP. He seems to me to be the most complete rider to date, although in three races everything can change.”
There’s also KTM refugee Johann Zarco to consider, with the Frenchman very clear in his goal to graduate from the third-tier Avintia Ducati team as soon as possible.
All those options combined means that Dovizioso’s tough negotiating strategy might be for nothing should his options close up on him.
Already admitting that a sabbatical isn’t out of the question in 2021 – but likely knowing that at 34 years old it would in practice mean retirement – he refused to be drawn on the speculation surrounding him ahead of this weekend’s Czech Grand Prix.
“I know very well what I want, but now I’m focused on races,” he said.
“We are in Brno, we are in an important moment of the season, and we want to make better results so we are focused on that.”
That all comes despite the fact that with Marquez out of the title race, Dovizioso could arguably be the championship favourite.
But it’s nothing new to see Ducati at odds with its star talent, either – something that its former rider Rossi alluded to when asked about it today.
“Sometimes what we’ve seen in the past, the relationship between riders and Ducati is difficult,” said Rossi.
“When I was there it wasn’t easy, and for that reason they [Dovizioso and Ducati] still haven’t arrived at the contract – but I hope that they do because in the past years Dovi and Ducati have always been strong.”