Could Bastianini leapfrog Martin, Miller in Ducati factory 2023 MotoGP plans?

Enea Bastianini shines through gloom in Indonesia after fightback as another Jorge Martin crash adds more factors into factory Ducati 2023 MotoGP decision

 Enea Bastianini - Gresini Racing Ducati

Here’s a statement that might elicit a debate: Enea Bastianini was the Rider of the Day at the Indonesian MotoGP.

There I said it… fair enough, you don’t sound convinced. 

Admittedly, a rider who started fifth and wound up 11th at the chequered flag doesn’t exactly scream outstanding on paper, while there are equally good arguments to ‘award’ commanding race winner Miguel Oliveira or expectation exceeding Darryn Binder such a title instead.

However, taking the circumstances - heightened pressure, unfamiliar wet weather conditions and a team taking a punt on settings in them too - his dogged recovery from a dismal start demonstrated sure-footed adaptation on the go. 

While a bit of bullying in a hefty group of spray-kicking bikes denied him a top eight finish, in clear air he was - eventually - as fast as the leaders. Either way, it was enough to shame factory star Pecco Bagnaia and - perhaps more importantly - keep it sunny side up through the gloom, unlike a certain Jorge Martin.

The latter note is important because it’s another point in favour of Bastianini over Martin in the affections of a Ducati team who might be wondering around now whether their future star can be found in Gresini, rather than Pramac.

Bastianini sweats but stays cool under MotoGP spotlight

Much ink has been spilled about Bastianini since his tremendous maiden victory in the season opening Qatar MotoGP, which - perhaps belatedly - elevated the 2020 Moto2 World Champion into the inner circle of MotoGP’s ‘next generation’ heavyweights alongside Martin.

However, heading to the Mandalika Circuit on Lombok Island, things could have easily fallen apart for Bastianini, who found himself blinking under a trained spotlight during media sessions on Thursday and seemed uneasy at the notion of rivals branding him a MotoGP title contender.

Nevertheless, he navigated qualifying solidly with a run to fifth on the grid - proving the strong gains of Qatar in his weakest area weren’t a fluke - only to find himself looking ahead to four bikes and a sodden circuit come Sunday’s race.

Wet races for nascent MotoGP riders are rarely a test that come at the right moment, but one can imagine Bastianini foreseeing the glow of his Qatar success disappearing in hail of damp gravel stones.

Indeed, while this wasn’t Bastianini’s first wet outing in MotoGP, he had only attempted one before at Le Mans last year (Ed: He had retired from the Austrian MotoGP before rain arrived). Moreover, for all of Gresini Racing’s experience, this was its first time guessing at the wet set-up with the Ducati GP21.

It might go a long way to explaining the nervy first turns as Bastianini plummeted from fifth to 14th by the end of the first lap… then to 16th and then 17th. By lap four, Bastianini found himself 20th in a 23 man field.

So far so bad… however, in true Bastianini style, the race came to him as he gained in confidence, quickly gaining on the group ahead and lapping as fast as the leaders in clear air. A Binder-sponsored shove off line restricted him to 11th at the flag, but it was enough to retain his championship advantage.

By all accounts it was making the best of a bad initial job, but he could just have easily skidded off or lost his composure when things went south, something which couldn’t be said for Martin…

Bastianini in for Miller for 2023 MotoGP?

If Bastianini’s upturn in form is cause for a party, then feeling the subsequent hangover is Ducati, who - though sharing in the Italian’s champagne celebrations - faces a dilemma over who will partner Bagnaia on the factory Desmo for the 2023 MotoGP World Championship.

First and foremost, it is not a foregone conclusion that Jack Miller is out of a ride but even the Australian is aware he is facing a difficult task in repelling the riders in Ducati’s brimming pool of talent.

With Bagnaia pinned down to the end of 2024, most have been expecting Martin to get the nod over Miller but it seems Ducati has done both the service of evaluating their starts to the season to determine whether Miller can unlock his full potential and Martin can refined the rough edges of his rookie campaign.

After two races the results are inconclusive. Miller has been there or thereabouts but - like in 2021 - hasn’t sparkled either, while Martin has been quick (one pole, one front row) but crashed out of both races. Though his exit from Qatar wasn’t his fault, bad starts have twice put him on the back foot and has appeared loose in wheel-to-wheel combat as a consequence.

It’s a concerning trend for Martin, who has been outstandingly quick over a single lap, but has tempered it with a number of unrefined races littered with crashes, errors and dodgy getaways. 

Much of this can be put down to his inexperience at this level, but when you consider he is like-for-like with Bastianini, the Italian’s savvy racecraft has been far and away superior.

One in, two out at Ducati?

In short, Ducati would be foolish not to consider Bastianini instead of Martin for the 2023 Ducati MotoGP ride. However, it will need to select carefully as picking one means there is a strong chance the other will slip out of Ducati’s grasp.

If Ducati was choosing today it would likely pick Martin for the factory ride and ‘hope’ Bastianini is satisfied with a pseudo-works Pramac seat. However, as time goes on, factory teams like Suzuki, Honda and KTM could present a very tempting factory alternative.

With the clock ticking for Ducati, it makes the next couple of races crucial for all concerned but especially for Martin, who not only has to now target defeating Bastianini (and Miller), but prove he is the full package.