When the news broke this weekend (badly) that Raul Fernandez would be joining current Moto2 team-mate Remy Gardner in stepping up to the Tech3 KTM MotoGP team for 2022, it confirmed that not one but both of its current pairing of Danilo Petrucci and Iker Lecuona would be departing the team next season.
The news apparently spells an end to Petrucci’s decade-long career as a premier class rider – a career where he worked his way up from backmarker to factory rider and multiple race winner.
Yet since joining KTM, things haven’t worked out for him, leaving the Italian disappointed but not surprised to hear the news of his departure when the team announced Fernandez’s arrival halfway through last Saturday’s Styrian Grand Prix FP4 session without first informing its current riders.
The reality is that the transition from Ducati, where Petrucci raced a Desmosedici for six seasons both in satellite squad Pramac and in the factory team, has not been an easy one.
Nine races into the 2021 season, he’s scored only two top 10s, one coming in the wet at Le Mans. He’s been consistently matched by his much less experienced team-mate Lecuona, and any attempts to adapt his riding style to the KTM have amounted to little.
It’s still disappointing to see the factory sack him after only one season, though.
Petrucci is a unique rider on the MotoGP grid thanks to his size; he’s taller and (despite borderline dangerous dieting in the past) will always be one of the heavier racers. That means he needs a motorbike very different from some of his rivals – and it’s something that KTM pledged to support him with throughout his maiden season there.
Yet it seems that technical support has been somewhat lacking, with the 30-year-old more often than not left to do his own thing with limited support from headquarters in Mattighofen – a deal very different from the one that he was promised when he signed on the dotted line.
Arguably, if you concentrate solely on results then, as Petrucci says, it’s no surprise at all that he’s lost his seat.
But the reality, as always in motorbike racing, is more than that, and it feels like a rather brutal move from KTM.
That’s because of a uniquely KTM problem. It’s suffering from an embarrassment of riches right now, with more hot young talents than it has bikes to put them on.
Would Petrucci have lost his seat had Fernandez not had such an incredible rookie season in Moto2? Arguably not, no.
This isn’t the end of the issue for it either, because while names like Brad Binder and Gardner might have long-term contracts for their KTM future, you’ve got to be thinking that they’re warily watching the career progression of Moto3 sensation Pedro Acosta, who is Moto2 bound for 2022 and will be hunting one of the KTM MotoGP seats in 2023.
On the other side of the Tech3 garage, Lecuona is also a case of a rider in the wrong place at the wrong time for KTM.
He’s made solid progress over the course of his shortened season and a half with the team; it’s worth remembering that thanks to COVID-19 and calendar changes, he’s actually only started 21 races in MotoGP so far.
His start to 2021 was difficult, but that’s to be expected given that all the KTMs have been in the same boat – and that Tech3 received the new chassis that fixed that problem much later than the factory riders.
In fact, Lecuona’s main issue isn’t speed but consistency, with as many crashes to show for his time in the premier class as he has good results.
But that’s a problem that can always be addressed, and it seems like KTM is simply too interested in the talent coming through rather than sticking with what it has and could’ve made work.
But it’s not the end of the world for Lecuona. It sounds like he could potentially find a place on the grid for next season with Petronas Yamaha, with the satellite team hinting that there’s space for him given the departure of both Franco Morbidelli to the factory squad and Valentino Rossi to retirement.
Given the rookie-friendly nature of the Yamaha M1, that might actually be the perfect move for Lecuona, and he could be a surprise package next season because of it.
Petrucci’s fate is less certain. There’s interest from the World Superbike paddock that would help keep him in top level racing, and he’s also expressed an interest in trying out the Dakar Rally.
But, given how quickly seats elsewhere have been filled, it seems like Valencia in November will mark his last premier class race.
The fact he’ll be leaving as a grand prix winner – including at home at Mugello for the factory Ducati team, no less – is perhaps more than he would’ve dreamed of when he was grappling with the Ioda CRT bike in 2012. But the manner of his ejection still deserves sympathy even if his results didn’t justify Petrucci staying on.