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Could Acosta get a Verstappen-like mid-season promotion to KTM in MotoGP 2024?

In 2016, Max Verstappen moved up to Red Bull’s primary Formula 1 team after just four races in the new season, and the rest, as they say, is history. Eight years on, could Pedro Acosta land a similar mid-season promotion with a Red Bull-backed MotoGP squad?

Pedro Acosta, Red Bull GASGAS Tech3

Photo by: Rob Gray / Polarity Photo

The 2016 F1 season had started with Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo driving for the main Red Bull team, with Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz, both directly contracted to the energy drinks giant, occupying the two seats at Toro Rosso.
But ahead of the fifth round of the season in Barcelona, Red Bull took a bold decision to instigate a driver swap, promoting Verstappen to its primary team at the cost of Kvyat, who was shuffled down to Toro Rosso.
The sudden change in the two line-ups attracted criticism from some quarters, but Red Bull’s decision was vindicated when Verstappen capitalised on a collision between Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to score a sensational victory in his first race with the outfit.
Could history repeat itself? There are certainly some comparisons to draw between that situation and what the Red Bull-sponsored KTM operation faces in MotoGP this year.
Like Red Bull, it has another rising star plying his trade at the secondary GasGas Tech3 team. And much like eight years ago, demoting another rider in its stable for him would attract some backlash from both those within and outside the KTM family.
KTM started the year with a well-thought line-up, with race winner Brad Binder and Jack Miller competing for the factory team and youngsters Augusto Fernandez and Pedro Acosta gaining experience with the Tech3-run GasGas squad.
But just three rounds into the season, rookie Acosta’s performances have already led many to cast him in the same mould as Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner, all of whom were rapid from the get-go in their premier class careers.
Pedro Acosta, Red Bull GASGAS Tech3

Pedro Acosta, Red Bull GASGAS Tech3

Photo by: Rob Gray / Polarity Photo

Acota finished ninth on his debut in Qatar, before scoring an incredible podium finish in his second race weekend in Portugal. He then claimed second in the Americas GP earlier this month, only beaten by runaway winner Maverick Vinales on the Aprilia. He has been rapid in sprint races too, claiming eighth, seventh and fourth in his first three appearances. 
Thus, in the six races he has competed in so far, including three sprints, he has finished ahead of Binder four times and beaten Miller on five occasions. 
In the overall standings, Acosta is already the top rider from the two KTM teams in fourth place, two spots ahead of Binder and six positions clear of Miller. 
The progress Acosta has made in these three events is also astounding. Since the Qatar round, where Binder scored two second-place finishes, the Spaniard has never been beaten by the KTM talisman - and that has begun to mount pressure on the South African.
Acosta’s results are also significantly better than what Verstappen achieved in the first four rounds of 2016 - his second season in F1 - with the Dutchman finishing 10th, 6th and 8th in Australia, Bahrain and China respectively before retiring from Russia. But like in Acosta’s case, it was clear that Red Bull had a champion in the waiting.

Can KTM make a similar driver change?

As far as the regulations are concerned, nothing prevents KTM from promoting Acosta to its flagship team and shuffling Miller or Binder down to GasGas.
In terms of technical personnel, it won’t be a major issue either as it is the factory staff that manages Acosta’s side of the GasGas garage. As such, they will only have to swap their red polos for orange while making the switch to KTM Factory Racing.
Verstappen was moved up to Red Bull at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix

Verstappen was moved up to Red Bull at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

However, commercial commitments and the need to prioritise personal relations could force KTM to remain patient and wait until the end of the season before giving Acosta his big shot. 
That’s because there are at least two key people who could be left upset by an early promotion for Acosta in MotoGP. First is Miller, who is most likely to face a demotion to GasGas if the 19-year-old does end up moving to KTM. The Australian is liked by the factory and is already reaching the end of his two-year contract, which means a 2025 swap would be better for their relations.
The second figure who could also be impacted by such an early switch is Herve Poncharal, the owner of Tech3 and the president of MotoGP teams’ association, the IRTA, since 2006. The Frenchman is one of the most respected persons in the paddock and an honest team boss, so dismantling his team’s line-up in the middle of the year would lead to difficulties, especially in terms of sponsor and commercial commitments. 
Having said that, the results are what matter the most in MotoGP and it is important to understand the Austrian mentality, which is not used to being carried away by sentiment.
To highlight that, it is important to note that Red Bull did not sponsor the GasGas Tech 3 team during the 2023 season when it ran Fernandez and Pol Espargaro, but it returned as a major commercial partner this year with the arrival of Acosta. KTM, which actually pays for the contracts, doesn’t appear anywhere on the bike and the motorcycle.
As they say, history repeats itself. The next MotoGP race, the fourth round of the season, is in Spain. Jorge Lorenzo predicted Jerez could be the venue where Pedro Acosta will score his first premier class win. Will it be with GasGas or KTM?

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