That Danilo Petrucci was heading to KTM was an open secret, after the Italian and his manager, Alberto Vergani, visited the Austrian factory’s race department in Mattighofen.
That he would not be replacing Pol Espargaro in the factory Red Bull KTM team is a huge surprise. Instead, Petrucci is to switch to the Tech3 satellite team, and take the place of Miguel Oliveira, who is to be moved up to the factory squad.
According to Italian media, the reasons Petrucci is headed to the Tech3 team are twofold: firstly, as the KTM press release makes clear, because all four KTM RC16s will be full-factory spec, and with full factory support. And secondly, because Brad Binder had a clause in his contract stating he would be in the factory team in his second year.
Petrucci’s negotiating hand was clearly not strong enough to demand a seat in the factory team. If he wanted to remain in MotoGP, his other option was to try to sign with Aprilia, but that would have meant waiting to see what happens with Andrea Iannone.
Aprilia has made it clear they are willing to wait for Iannone’s doping case to be heard at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, or CAS, and there is as yet no official date for a hearing. The earliest that is likely is in August, however, and by that time, the KTM option could have disappeared.
Petrucci also had the offer of a seat in Ducati’s WorldSBK team, but the Italian was determined to stay in MotoGP. In that case, there was only the Tech3 seat vacated by Oliveira on offer.
Oliveira’s promotion to the factory team was the most logical step for KTM. The Portuguese rider had expressed public dismay at Brad Binder being given the factory ride ahead of him, when Johann Zarco announced he was leaving the factory squad a year early after a disastrous first half of 2019.
At the time, Oliveira was a victim of Tech3’s reluctance to lose an experienced rider, and be saddled with two rookies for 2020. With the arrival of Danilo Petrucci, Tech3 get an experienced rider and Grand Prix winner, and someone they can be confident of being competitive from the off.
Moving Oliveira to the factory team keeps the Portuguese rider in the KTM family. Like Binder, Oliveira is a long-time KTM rider, having ridden in both Moto3 and Moto2 for the Austrian factory, for many years alongside Binder.
Oliveira lost the second half of 2019 to injury, after having been taken out by Johann Zarco at Silverstone and damaging his shoulder, but had been showing good progress until then. Oliveira has been quick at the test currently taking place at Misano.
All of this means, and the press release acknowledges, that Pol Espargaro is leaving.
Though the press release says merely that KTM and Espargaro wish to “pursue different paths”, it is an open secret that Espargaro is close to a deal with the Repsol Honda team, though rumors persist that he could also take a seat in the factory Ducati team, especially as the negotiations with Andrea Dovizioso continue to drag on.
Repsol Honda is a better fit for Espargaro, the KTM and Honda requiring very similar riding styles, and being very similar bikes.
The completion of KTM’s line up also leaves no room for Jorge Martin in 2021. The Spaniard, currently riding for the KTM Ajo team in Moto2 (on a Kalex, now that KTM have withdrawn from the Moto2 class), was a hot favorite to move up to MotoGP for next season, but the logjam of talent for KTM left little room for him. Instead, Martin is expected to join the Pramac Ducati squad for 2021, as teammate to Pecco Bagnaia. Neither rider has been confirmed yet, however.
The next stumbling block for the 2021 line up is Andrea Dovizioso. The Italian is still stuck in negotiations with Ducati, with money apparently the issue. Dovizioso’s last contract was negotiated after finishing second in 2017, and during a highly successful 2018 campaign, and was decidedly generous.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic causing huge economic problems, money is significantly tighter. Add to this Dovizioso’s performance in 2019 – only two victories, and a massive points deficit to Marc Márquez, despite still finishing second – and it is clear that Ducati are looking to save money.
According to Italian website GPOne.com, Dovizioso has an offer for three million euros, a significant cut from the eight million he received in 2019.
Some reports suggest that Ducati is not just looking to save money in 2021, but also in 2020. Ducati is trying to cut Dovizioso’s salary for this year, as well as next, and that is causing bad blood for the negotiations for 2021.
Here again, Dovizioso’s options are limited. His choices are basically to extend with Ducati or retire. Though the Italian has said he does not want to continue racing forever, he has shown no desire to hang up his helmet for 2021.
There is also the option of Aprilia, but again, that requires Aprilia to decide to move on from Andrea Iannone, and it also means sacrificing a year or so to get to grips with the new bike before being able to compete.
To add to the confusion, rumors persist that Jorge Lorenzo could return to Ducati. Spanish sports daily AS.com even puts the odds at 50%.
Public statements by Ducati, such as Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall’Igna, are more skeptical, saying that they understand how Lorenzo would want to be remembered for his disastrous last year in MotoGP with Repsol Honda, but that it is ‘difficult to understand his motivation’.
Seeing Lorenzo’s posts on social media, he does not look like he is training flat out to prepare for a return to racing at the very highest level.
The reality is that Ducati and Dovizioso will have to break their impasse first, however, one way or another. That could take some time, though.
Source: KTM; Photo: Ducati Corse