At the start of the 2021 MotoGP season, Ducati took a big punt by radically altering the strategy that it uses to recruit MotoGP talent.
For all too long, its strength was its purchasing power, as the Italian marque continually looked to snap up established riders from other brands – but a new youth development strategy changed all that for the current season.
Perhaps the most visible measure of that is the all-new factory team line-up of Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia. With both being products of Pramac Racing (albeit through three years at Honda for Miller), it was the first time that Ducati had promoted youngsters from within its own ranks.
But it’s not just the factory team that’s seen long-term strategy change, as Ducati signed up a whole host of other talent in its two lower-ranking teams, in an attempt to finally fix an issue that has plagued it for years.
Esponsorama Racing is now split into two parts thanks to an interim investment from Valentino Rossi ahead of his full takeover of the squad next year, and its two riders are certified stars in the making. Enea Bastianini is the reigning Moto2 world champion on the existing side of the garage, while the VR46 seat is occupied by the man who pushed him hardest last season, Luca Marini.
So far, the pair haven’t quite shone in MotoGP, mind you. Bastianini (pictured below) hasn’t suffered too tough a rookie season, becoming a regular points-scorer. Averaging three points per race and leading the rookie of the year standings, he’s easily ahead of his quasi-team-mate.
That’s not too much of a surprise given what we expected of Marini, and what past history has shown us. He’s something of a steady learner, an intelligent rider who makes sure things are just so before making a step. He’ll benefit significantly from remaining with the team for 2022 – although his current form is getting there too.
It’s not harsh to say that neither rider looks so far to have the potential to be Ducati’s next big star, though, with a solid introduction to the class but nothing makor to write home about in their opening nine races.
Rather, that honour goes to Pramac Racing’s signing Jorge Martin, a past Moto3 world champion who has been tipped as a future MotoGP title winner since 2017. The Spaniard showed exactly how long he was taking to adapt to the series in only the second round of the season by scoring pole position and a podium finish in Qatar.
Since then it’s been a tougher time, thanks in large part to injuries sustained in the very next round in Portugal. Having only returned at Barcelona in early June, he’s had just three races in the second part of the season to get back to form – but it’ll be exciting to see what he delivers when the action returns after the summer break.
However, while the new strategy at Ducati might have already delivered one potential superstar out of three, based on what we’ve seen of them so far, it’s worth remembering that this is very much year one of a whole new rider development system that’s bound to pay dividends for the Bologna manufacturer in the coming seasons.
There’s a very obvious reason why Ducati has poached Gresini Racing from Aprilia for 2022, and it’s not entirely down to the team’s previous success in the premier class. Rather, Gresini has an at-hand feeder system that stretches from Moto3 to MotoGP, and you can rest assured that Ducati will make the most of the pipeline to drive talent directly to the factory team.
To be harsh but frank, it’s unlikely that it’ll instantly reward Ducati in 2022 either, as Fabio Di Giannantonio joins Bastianini at the Gresini team, but it’s a chance to take another Moto2 hot property to the premier class and to try them out – and it means that Ducati’s longer-term future is more secure than ever.
Similarly at VR46, the addition of Marco Bezzecchi to the line-up alongside Marini means another hot young Italian talent becomes a part of Ducati’s structure, and thanks to the strength of Bagnaia’s form in the factory camp this year, Ducati is more than aware of the level of talent the VR46 Academy produces.
It might be a few years yet until Ducati manages to find another diamond in the rough like it did with Casey Stoner many seasons ago, and it could well take even longer until it’s able to cherry-pick a young superstar and do what Honda did with Marc Marquez or what KTM seems intent on doing with Raul Fernandez and Pedro Acosta now. But for the first time, Ducati has the potential to replicate its rivals, and it can only be a smart move in the long term.