The quandary of which rider from Ducati’s stable is set to inherit championship leader Andrea Dovizioso’s seat in the factory team for 2021 seems to have been conclusively settled after yesterday’s San Marino Grand Prix and the impressive first podium finish for satellite rider Pecco Bagnaia.
The 23-year-old delivered his best result to date in the premier class to make up for misfortune at Jerez, when an engine failure on his Pramac Ducati cost the 2018 Moto2 champion his first visit to the premier class rostrum.
Making his return from injury after missing the previous three rounds of the series in the Czech Republic and Austria, Bagnaia was able to convert sixth on the Misano grid into second at the chequered flag with a calm and calculating race.
He picked his way through the field to second, defended the spot from friend and mentor Valentino Rossi, and then held off the late charge of Joan Mir.
And while it might not yet be enough for Ducati to immediately set down a factory contract in front of Bagnaia for the coming season, the noises from within the Bologna factory are indicating that he’s now done enough to win the spot ahead of Avintia Ducati rider Johann Zarco.
However, speaking after yesterday’s podium finish, Bagnaia said he wasn’t yet sure what was going to happen next, with further talks still to take place with the factory.
“I haven’t spoken yet with Gigi [Dall’Igna], Paolo [Ciabatti] and Davide [Tardozzi],” he admitted, “but I think we have to wait until Barcelona to see.
“We’ll see what they say to me after the race and I’ll let you know what they say!”
That is set to leave Czech Grand Prix podium finisher Zarco out of a shot at a factory bike – but with the option remaining for him to step up to the Pramac squad and to replace Bagnaia enough to keep the Frenchman happy.
In fact, he says even a move onto 2020 bikes next year instead of the 2019 model he’s currently competing on would be a big upgrade in itself as MotoGP’s coronavirus-imposed cost saving rules mean engine development and testing has been massively curtailed for the coming year.
“Even the 2020 spec for me will be an evolution for next year,” Zarco admitted after a difficult run to 15th at Misano.
“Some riders would love to keep the same bike, but with the rules the new bike won’t be a huge evolution but it’ll be a plus for me.
“I can’t say that I’ll have more grip and be stronger because I don’t like to speak too much about the technical things – the rider can make too much of a difference.”
Bagnaia is set to follow his current Pramac team-mate Jack Miller up to the factory line-up, where the exits of Tech3 KTM bound Danilo Petrucci and the currently ride-less championship leader Dovizioso leave two seats free.