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Opinion

Why letting Marquez walk away would have been Ducati's greatest MotoGP blunder

OPINION: The dust is beginning to settle on the biggest MotoGP rider market bombshell of the year. And, while Ducati has had to give up much to secure Marc Marquez's signature on a factory contract, doing anything else would have been completely illogical

Marc Marquez, Gresini Racing

Tech3 rookie Pedro Acosta described the situation as a “soap opera”. Autosport’s revelation on Monday 3 June that Ducati had made a U-turn on its decision to promote Jorge Martin to its factory team in favour of Marc Marquez wasn’t followed by an Eastenders-style cliffhanger outro.

But it was the bombshell the 2025 MotoGP rider market was waiting for, the fallout of which being fast-moving and far-reaching.

Martin had been told prior to the Italian Grand Prix that he was Ducati’s guy for 2025. On Sunday afternoon, he was informed otherwise. Jilted, Martin went straight into Aprilia’s loving arms and penned a multi-year deal on the Monday after. It’s a massive coup for the Italian marque, once the laughingstock of the grid not five years ago, and a move that it wasted no time in ensuring would come to pass.

Ducati’s official announcement on Marquez’s promotion from Gresini to the factory team came on Wednesday 5 June. But, following Autosport breaking the news first on Monday, official communication wasn't necessary to see the power the eight-time world champion has displayed this past week.

Ducati thought it could have its cake and eat it, with Martin getting the factory seat and Marquez getting a works bike at Pramac. Marquez said Pramac was “not an option” and Ducati management was thrown a curveball. At that moment, it was clear Ducati was going to have to give up something precious.

A quick glance at the statistics this year will make you understand why Martin walking to another manufacturer is a hard pill to swallow. Two grand prix wins and three sprint victories have given him an 18-point championship lead. After seven rounds, he is on pace to score 24 points per round. Martin has been the most consistent rider in 2024 so far.

Marquez, by comparison, has had no wins, three GP podiums and five sprint podiums (which matches Martin’s total sprint tally) and is at a 19-point-per-round pace. But this is after seven rounds in total on a Ducati that is, in theory, less competitive than Martin’s as it’s the 2023 version. Martin, of course, has been on a Ducati since 2021.

Giving up Martin was a tough decision, but a necessary one

Giving up Martin was a tough decision, but a necessary one

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Martin is operating at a high level and is probably just hitting his stride as a top MotoGP rider. But the ceiling for Marquez on a Desmosedici appears incredibly high. And Marquez has the pedigree of six MotoGP world titles to show just what he is capable of when operating at his best.

After four miserable years at Honda since badly breaking his arm in 2020, it’s easy to forget just how dominant Marquez was on a bad RC213V in 2019 when he won his sixth world title. He scored 12 victories that year, finished second in the rest bar Austin (where he crashed out) and was champion by 151 points over Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso.

The next best Honda that year was Cal Crutchlow in ninth in the standings, 287 points back on Marquez and was the only other HRC representative to reach the podium. Now think what Marquez could do on the absolute best bike on the grid, something he hasn't really had since the earliest days of his premier class career.

Marquez and Bagnaia have already had a couple of flashpoints on track in 2024. There’s a Rossi/Lorenzo dynamic brewing that Ducati will have to manage eventually

Throw in the marketing value of Marquez – something Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali was all too aware of – and it makes the decision to promote Marquez a no-brainer. A study published in 2023 by Epsilon Technologies and Far Consulting showed Marquez was five-times more popular on social media than any other rider.

At the track, the way he has hyped up crowds in recent races has been a Rossi-level display of showmanship that is beginning to elicit the same emotions from fans. If Marquez - whether that is this year or in the next two - wins the title again, it will only take his legend to new heights given where he has come from with injury and leaving Honda to get to that point. Doing that on a Ducati, that's a field day for Borgo Panigale's marketing department.

The purists may not like it, but Marquez has selling power Martin will probably never have. And for a manufacturer like Ducati, that is a vitally important consideration as much as competitiveness is.

If you were the boss who let Marquez walk to a rival manufacturer with whom he wins races and the championship, you’ll be kissing your chunky pay packet goodbye not long after.

Marquez and Bagnaia have already had several flashpoints in 2024

Marquez and Bagnaia have already had several flashpoints in 2024

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Ducati will have several storms to weather now (as Oriol Puigdemont excellently illustrated in his expert analysis of the situation here) with this decision. Immediately, Bagnaia won’t be hugely happy at the influence Marquez already has within the manufacturer after just seven rounds on the bike. And by extension, his mentor Valentino Rossi – with whom Marquez is an arch nemesis – will be even less happy at this.

Marquez and Bagnaia have already had a couple of flashpoints on track in 2024. In Portugal they collided late on in the grand prix, while they banged fairings in a wonderful battle for victory at Jerez. There’s a Rossi/Lorenzo dynamic brewing that Ducati will have to manage eventually.

On top of that, Martin is now fully out for himself in 2024, which could lead to more needle. As could the possibility that Ducati stops updating his GP24 to avoid more secrets going to Aprilia. It will also be intriguing to see if any factory mechanics go from the Pramac garage to Gresini when racing resumes at Assen later this month.

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Ducati’s decision also likely points to Pramac walking away to become a Yamaha satellite partner, which in turn will mean VR46 (so Rossi will be satiated a little at least) will get factory exclusivity as Ducati’s satellite team.

There’s also the Fermin Aldeguer problem that looked, when he signed his factory deal, that he would make his MotoGP debut with Pramac. If Pramac walks, Aldeguer’s future will require some thought.

These are all headaches Ducati will surely gladly accept if it means having the best rider of the past decade in its factory colours. It has already annihilated the delicate ecosystem it had with its rider stable, but to maintain that at the expense of losing Marquez would have been as naive as it would be stupid.

Marquez's pressure on Ducati to give him the factory seat showed his power

Marquez's pressure on Ducati to give him the factory seat showed his power

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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