Johann Zarco says he’s determined to earn a top place within the Ducati MotoGP set-up for 2021 – and made a good start by finishing today’s qualifying at the Red Bull Ring in third only hours after the Italian manufacturer confirmed that he would remain a Ducati rider for next year.
However, with a pitlane start penalty to serve after last weekend’s high speed crash with Franco Morbidelli, the Frenchman might have to wait until next time out at Misano before he’s able to show his true potential despite today’s vote of confidence from Ducati.
Team boss Paolo Ciabatti confirmed that both Zarco and Pecco Bagnaia (currently watching from the sidelines as he recovers from injury) will stay with Ducati for next year – but says that Ducati is yet to decide which rider will slot into which of its three teams.
“It’s true that we basically agreed terms with Pecco for the next two years,” Ciabatti told TV during this morning’s free practice session. “It’s too early for us to say if we continue with Pramac or he will move to the factory team. We will also continue with Johann Zarco, and then we will make up our mind just before Misano.”
Bagnaia became the prime candidate to replace the departing Andrea Dovizioso last weekend when the veteran announced he would part ways with Ducati at the end of 2020.
This would theoretically allow Zarco to step up from the tier-three Avintia team.
However, speaking after yet another impressive result today in Austria, Zarco – who has now qualified on the front row twice in three races despite missing all of yesterday’s track time – says he’s out to earn his place within Ducati and repay its faith after a rocky 12 months for his career.
It’s one year ago since Zarco announced that he would be splitting from the Red Bull KTM team, subsequently forced to walk away mid-season and looking to have put his MotoGP future into serious peril.
But, with that behind him and with lessons learned from the year, Zarco is adamant now that he can do enough to prove his worth before the year is out.
“It’s pretty good news that I know I can continue with Ducati for next year, but they still need time to decide where to put the riders,” Zarco said. “Clearly the factory bike is the dream bike, and I’ve learned from my experiences in the [KTM] factory team and the mistakes I made.
“I feel like I’m ready to go on the [works] bike, but first of all I need to get some more podiums and be more constant in fighting for the top spots to show that I deserve it. The Ducati team are losing Dovizioso and they can have it [a constant frontrunner] with Jack [Miller], but if they can have two riders who can fight for podiums it would be a good thing.
“Of course the factory bike is the dream, but the main thing is staying with Ducati. A few months ago I was thinking that it could have been a very complicated year with the Avintia team, but with the support of Ducati it has been a good time and I can only smile.”
Riding injured for the first time in his career following a Wednesday operation on a fractured scaphoid, Zarco says that he’s quietly confident for Sunday – especially if the weather decides to help him out.
“I haven’t too many words for today because I surprised myself after only three or four laps. The pain is under control and I can do good laps, and on Saturday you only need to be fast for one lap!
“The rain would be useful for me, because 28 laps in dry conditions at this pace is something I don‘t have. If it’s raining it’ll be a more random situation and I feel I’ll be better able to do the laps. Tomorrow isn’t only about a good result, but if I can I’ll try to catch some points and if it’s raining there’s more chance of doing that.
Who will join Ducati roster in place of the departing Dovizioso in the reshuffle remains to be sorted, too. With Jack Miller stepping up to replace Danilo Petrucci in the factory team and Jorge Martin signed as his replacement (even though it can’t be officially announced), Ciabatti confirmed that Ducati is looking at the Moto2 contenders as well.
“As you know there is another Moto2 rider that is interesting for us that we cannot mention at the moment,” he admitted, presumably referring to Martin.
“But for sure Luca [Marini] and Enea [Bastianini] are doing very good. So, we are also looking at the possibility to sign another Moto2 rider joining Ducati for next year.
“I think again we will probably make a decision in the coming weeks, then the target is to make an announcement just before Misano so then the rider line-up for Ducati for 2021 will be clear.”