Why Ducati’s MotoGP odds are so valuable


In a MotoGP rider line-up that now consists almost entirely of hot young talent with big ambitions, there is one standout for Ducati: the presence of veteran Frenchman Johann Zarco at Pramac Racing.

How does the 32-year-old two-time Moto2 World Champion, who is now the team’s veteran and one of the oldest on the grid, fit into Ducati’s plans?

A few years ago, a rider Zarco’s age wouldn’t necessarily have been an oddity in Ducati’s line-up considering how they recruited and nurtured MotoGP talent.

Both held riders for a long time (like Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci) and liked to try to poach experienced talent from other factories (à la Jorge Lorenzo), which meant that Ducati’s squad traditionally was a bit older than, for example, the Suzuki or Yamaha line-ups .

But since the departure of those three names and the explosion of the competitive Ducati satellites (now over a third of the entire grid) that has changed. Now that the ultra-fast Desmosedici is the hottest bike and teams are financially secure enough to look for talent first and then paid riders, this has prompted a reversal that has welcomed an entirely new crop of racers.

2022 Rookie of the Year Marco Bezzecchi and teammate Luca Marini at VR46, ultra-fast Jorge Martin at Pramac (the result of a conscious effort by Martin’s management to select this team), Gresini pair Alex Marquez and Fabio Di Giannantonio and of course the meteoric Enea Bastianini’s rise to factory colors are all indicators of the pool of young talent that Ducati has amassed alongside reigning World Champion Pecco Bagnaia.

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Taken together, their average age is around 25 – making 32-year-old Zarco – almost six years older than second-oldest Ducati rider Marquez – quite an unusual figure among them.

While that may be an obstacle for some, the reality is quite the opposite – the experience that comes with his age is precisely why he is more important than ever to the team as we enter 2023.

In the past Ducati had a fairly obvious system for developing the bike – one pioneered by the Bologna brand and which has since been rolled out almost everywhere on the MotoGP grid, that’s how successful it was.

It’s taken fast riders who (at least at this point in their careers) aren’t necessarily the stuff of championship wins, placed them in Pramac and used them as race testers, the first to get new parts, try new strategies and give the factory engineers vital feedback admit.

Zarco was of course already in that role in 2022, inheriting it from Jack Miller, Petrucci, and Andrea Iannone before him (who all quit the job when promoted to Factory Red).

But as MotoGP continues to reduce the number of testing days available to teams, and as the new breed of younger riders with less experience developing bikes and racing other MotoGP machines rise through their ranks (let’s not forget Zarco has ridden Suzuki, Yamaha, KTM, Honda and Ducati MotoGP bikes), his role was very much cemented for at least the next two seasons.

Put simply, every factory needs a Zarco in the modern age of MotoGP and Ducati arguably pulled off one hell of a coup by taking a chance on him and putting him in the Avintia squad in 2020 when he was looking very badly damaged after a frankly disastrous short stint at KTM.

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Of course, that doesn’t mean that the Frenchman is only there as a test driver without any ambitions. Zarco has proven time and time again that he is a very competitive rider in his day and honestly at the moment it’s a farce that he hasn’t been on the top step of a MotoGP podium for so long.

Since joining Pramac in 2021, he has now had eight podiums, including six second-place finishes. It’s certainly only a matter of time before he gets the chance to win he deserves – while also cementing his position as Ducati’s point of contact for machine development for the foreseeable future.





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