Miller is proving Ducati's radical shake-up was worth it - The Race

Miller is proving Ducati’s radical shake-up was worth it

Mar 18 2021
By Simon Patterson

The first tests of the 2021 MotoGP season didn’t just mark Australian Jack Miller’s first foray as a factory Ducati rider; it was the 26-year-old first outing in his new role as Ducati’s lead rider following the exit of its cohort of veterans.

Miller’s step up to the factory team was originally plotted in Ducati’s Bologna headquarters as a chance for him to join team veteran Andrea Dovizioso – perhaps as the hot young talent, but still not in the vein of team captain or number one rider given Dovizioso’s near-decade of Ducati experience and previous title shots.

However, that all went wrong when, fuelled by internal feuds and division, Dovizioso dramatically walked away from the contract offered to him, leaving Miller replacing not the also-departing Danilo Petrucci in the support role but inheriting Dovizioso’s place as Ducati’s main MotoGP hope.

Miller leads an inexperienced team in 2021 as well, as Ducati pivots away from the safe experience of Petrucci and Dovizioso towards betting on the future.

Though they’re not much younger than the 26-year-old Miller, three of his five fellow Ducati riders are MotoGP rookies, as Jorge Martin (Pramac), Luca Marini (VR46) and reigning Moto2 world champion Enea Bastianini (Esponsorama) join the ranks.


And Miller’s works team-mate is his previous Pramac Racing partner Pecco Bagnaia, also promoted to the factory team after two years in the satellite squad.

Even relative veteran Johann Zarco (four years older than Miller but with four years of MotoGP experience to Miller’s seven) is not as experienced as the Australian, so Miller suddenly finds himself in the hot seat for Ducati.

So far it’s not something that has seemed to have bothered the chilled-out Miller too much. He’s got experience of what a factory team is like thanks to his time in Pramac, where he was able to observe how things worked at Ducati despite not quite being in the top team yet.

That’s because he was Ducati’s nominated ‘racing test rider’, making him the first regular racer to receive new equipment for evaluation ahead of it finding its way across to the factory squad (a role now inherited by Zarco).

It’s made for an easy transition for Miller. He’s familiar with many of the faces he’s working with, he’s no stranger to the development processes that Ducati uses, and he knows key team personnel like technical manager Gigi Dall’Igna well.

In fact, the departure of Dovizioso has actually aided Miller’s transition over the past six months, as Ducati shifted focus off the departing riders early in favour of its new crop of talent, effectively flipping around the two teams’ roles in the final races of 2020.


Given Miller’s speed in the second half of the last season, that wasn’t too big a surprise. He quickly showed in the last part of 2020 that while many of his fellow Ducati riders were still struggling with Michelin’s new rear tyre, he had already found the secret to making it work for him.

Adding extra grip compared to previous years, the tyre neutralised the Ducati’s ability to hammer the rear brake on corner entry. It had been using the rear as an anchor to turn the long and low bike (a necessity to harness the power of its super-fast engine), and adding traction from the rubber meant that braking so hard as you tipped in led to the rear tyre pushing the bike around.

It’s something that the engineers have been working hard on all winter, bringing new parts to last week’s Qatari test in order to help fix the issue. But long before the arrival of new components, it’s an issue that Miller already seemed well on top of, as evidenced by his strong run of form at the end of 2020.


Finishing the year with a pair of podiums, he was by far the fastest Ducati rider of the latter stages of the year despite failing to match Dovizioso and Petrucci in taking a win.

That’s going to be one of the first things that Miller wants to rectify – but thankfully for him, it’s something he should be able to do relatively quickly, with many tipping the Ducati rider to be the favourite for the opening two races of the year at the Losail International Circuit where testing took place.

If Miller’s 2020 is anything to go on, it’s not unreasonable to see him, like many of his opposition already do, as a title favourite

Ending five days of testing in Qatar fastest overall and with race pace that was just as impressive, he should be hard to beat – especially when his likely main rivals are all on Yamahas.

They’re as strong as Miller is on time attack and on race pace – but they’re severely lacking in top speed, and if he can sit with them until the end of the race, then his 5mph speed advantage means he’s definitely going to be the favourite for the sprint to the line.


What about beyond Qatar? That’s harder to tell, given that we’ve got very little evidence to go on so far. But if Miller’s 2020 is anything to go on, it’s not unreasonable to see him, like many of his opposition already do, as a title favourite.

“I think Miller can be one of the guys because he was doing really well last season and understands well the strong points of the Ducati,” said Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales earlier this year, adding fuel to the fire of Miller’s predicted success in the coming year.

A huge part of that comes from his new-found consistency. His four non-finishes from 14 races might suggest he still lacks on that front, but the previously wild rider was barely at fault for his 2020 race day issues.


Knocked off by Brad Binder at Aragon, victim to a technical problem at Le Mans and forced out of the race at Misano when his bike inhaled Fabio Quartararo’s tear-off, only his fall at Jerez in the second race of the year was Miller’s own fault.

That’s evidence of his newfound maturity both on and off the bike, and it’s going to be the key to his success in 2021.

If he can use his new position of responsibility within the team and his new confidence on the bike to convert himself into a regular race winner – or even to just take maximum points from the opening two races, then he’s going to be a man to watch, and perhaps even the key to Ducati’s return to premier class domination.

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