It’s been a difficult season so far in 2021 for new Tech3 KTM rider Danilo Petrucci, with a top-five finish last time out at Le Mans so far his only notable result of the year.
But as MotoGP heads back to Mugello for the first time in two years, what can the Italian do to repeat his incredible success from last time out there – and more importantly, what does he need to do to retain his seat?
Petrucci’s start to 2021 and his move from Ducati to KTM hasn’t been an easy transition.
He’s 16th in the standings with 16 points from the first five races, most of which came in the rain-hit French GP. In the dry, he’s yet to break into the top 10.
The cause of KTM’s woes in 2021 haven’t been solely laid at the feet of Petrucci, though, with all four of the Austrian manufacturer’s riders struggling so far this year.
Miguel Oliveira, Petrucci’s predecessor at Tech3 until he earned a factory promotion, has gone from being a runaway race winner at Portimao last year to crashing out of the top 15 this year around, and so far has taken just nine points.
Last year’s rookie sensation Brad Binder has continued his ability to shine on race day, but his overall situation isn’t an awful lot better than Oliveira’s, with 24 points on the board from the 125 that have been so far available.
And on the other side of the Tech3 garage from Petrucci, relative rookie Iker Lecuona (now in his second season but by far the most inexperienced rider in MotoGP) is one point behind Oliveira.
Much has been said about KTM’s problems with Michelin’s 2021 tyre allocation, but it seems like there are bigger issues at play within the manufacturer than just that. Somehow misstepping over winter in terms of development, KTM has been somewhat left behind by a rapidly changing MotoGP situation and is paying the price.
With Petrucci, though, there’s always an added element when it comes to bike set-up and adaption.
Simply put, he’s a big guy, one of the tallest riders in MotoGP and even in current racing form he’s heavier than his lightweight opponents. There’s not much more that he’s going to be able to do to change that without fundamentally changing his body, though, as he’s already worked hard to cut as much weight as possible.
So as a result, KTM has been working extensively to find a way to adapt the RC16 specifically to him.
One of the huge benefits of KTM’s tubular steel chassis is that it’s easy to make changes on the fly and to modify sections of the frame to tailor the bike to each rider, and that seems to be the process that the team and the marque are working through with Petrucci at the minute, even if it does remain something of a closely-guarded secret.
How long that process is going to take remains to be seen, as does the end result of it. We’ve seen sudden transformations in KTM rider performance in the past thanks to the arrival of a key new part, and there’s a chance that such a thing could happen for Petrucci – although the chances of a sudden turnaround in form this weekend are admittedly slim.
That is, unless the threatening rain on Sunday afternoon does show up after all. So far it’s only an outside bet based on the forecast and only then predicted for Sunday afternoon, but if it does come to fruition and impact the race it would play right into the hands of MotoGP’s rainmaster and the current king of Mugello.
Petrucci, Tech3 and KTM are all hopefully aware enough to realise that any real and significant improvement in form is going to take time though, and won’t be in a rush to make any rash changes to the rider line-up for 2022 until they see if their hard work is paying off.
That’s good news for Petrucci, given that there’s a whole crop of young talent waiting to step up and take over from him.
Moto2 front runner Remy Gardner has some sort of contract clause that should see him step up to MotoGP next year – but based on Tech3 results, it’s more likely that he’ll displace Lecuona and not Petrucci.
That’s thanks in part to the role that Petrucci was hired to play at not just Tech3 but at KTM.
Brought onboard to replicate his function at Pramac Racing for Ducati, he’s the elder statesman of KTM’s effort and the man in theory charged with looking after development in a team of young hotshots – and while those others are also struggling, it makes no sense to chop Petrucci as well.