MotoGP: Who needs replacing, when will they be replaced, who will replace them?

MotoGP's opening race weekend of the 2023 season was astonishingly attritional. Several riders will need replacing, but when, and who?

Jorge Martin avoids crashed Miguel Oliveira, Marc Marquez, in 2023 MotoGP Portuguese Grand Prix. - Gold and Goose

MotoGP’s first race weekend of the 2023 season brought many stories, and the first Sprint race in MotoGP history. It also brought injuries, which have consequences for the respective riders’ teams.

One key point in this situation is that riders will be replaced in Texas, at round three, and not this upcoming weekend in Argentina, at round two. This is because there is a 10-day threshold when it becomes necessary for teams to replace injured riders. Essentially, if a rider is injured less than 10 days before an event, the team does not need to replace the injured rider if they do not wish to do so; but if the injury happens more than 10 days before an event then the injured rider’s team needs to make every effort to find a replacement.

If they do not find a replacement, but are able to show that they did all they could to source one, then they remain within the rules, but - basically - if the race is more than 10 days after the injury is sustained then the injured rider needs replacing.

Obviously, since the Portuguese and Argentinian Grands Prix are back-to-back, there is no requirement for any of the riders injured in Portimao to be replaced by their respective teams for Argentina. But, in Texas, the 10-day threshold will have been exceeded, so the requirement becomes enforceable.

Enea Bastianini - Ducati

We will first consider Enea Bastianini, who was wiped out of contention from the aforementioned MotoGP Sprint after only three laps by Luca Marini’s wayward VR46 Ducati GP22. 

It was not an overly-aggressive move by Marini, in comparison to the one with which Joan Mir knocked himself out of the race, but the Italian’s front fold cost Bastianini a broken scapula on Saturday afternoon, and the Italian is therefore almost certain to miss next weekend’s Argentinian Grand Prix. 

It has clearly not been the ideal start to Bastianini’s time as a factory rider, but maybe there is some comfort in knowing it was not your fault. On Ducati’s side, even with Bastianini’s non-scoring weekend, they still lead all three World Championships - Riders’, Manufacturers’, and Teams’ - thanks to Francesco Bagnaia’s race wins in both the Sprint and Grand Prix.

Either way, Ducati will need a replacement should Bastianini be forced to miss the Grand Prix of the Americas which follows two weeks after Argentina, for which (Argentina) Ducati has confirmed that Bagnaia will be its factory team’s only representative.

The answer for Ducati is probably going to be quite simple. Michele Pirro is about as safe a pair of hands as it is possible to have in control of a Grand Prix motorcycle, and that is what has made him such a strong test rider for Ducati over the past eight-or-so years. 

Pirro is undoubtedly a strong candidate - the strongest, really - but, should Ducati look elsewhere for their Bastianini fill-in, there are some interesting options.

First, there are the two Ducati riders in WorldSBK. Alvaro Bautista is a proven rider in the Grand Prix paddock, and replaced Jorge Lorenzo in the factory Ducati team at the end of 2018, after the #99 was injured, first in Aragon, and then again in Thailand. 

However, Bautista is also leading the WorldSBK championship, which has its third round of the season in Assen the week after the Grand Prix of the Americas, and the Spaniard has won five out of the first six races in 2023. So, risking GP starts is probably not worth it the opinion of either Bautista or Ducati. 

So, what about Bautista’s teammate? Well, Michael Ruben Rinaldi has never ridden on a Grand Prix weekend, so it is unlikely that Ducati will choose him over either Pirro or Danilo Petrucci, who this year is racing for the Barni Spark team in WorldSBK. Petrucci is going quite well in his first year as a WorldSBK rider, but he doesn’t like the Superpole Race, and is therefore probably averse to racing a MotoGP Sprint; especially after the kind of chaos is brought last Saturday in Portimao, and especially in a race track like the Circuit of the Americas, which has perhaps the sketchiest first turn of the season. 

Pirro seems like the most-likely choice, then, if any is needed to replace the Bastianini, who could yet return for Austin.

Pol Espargaro - GasGas Tech 3 Factory Racing

Second, we come to Pol Espargaro, who was involved in a crash at turn 10 on Friday and will be out for a while with fractures in his dorsal vertebrae and jaw, as well as a pulmonary contusion. 

It is not certain when the GasGas Tech 3 Factory Racing rider will return to MotoGP action, but since he is almost certain to miss the Grand Prix of the Americas, Tech 3 needs a replacement. 

Like Ducati, the choice seems simple. KTM (which owns GasGas and builds the KTM RC16 that races in GasGas colours for the Tech 3 team) has a team of three MotoGP test riders, with Mika Kallio having been involved with the RC16 project since pretty much the beginning; Dani Pedrosa having come on as test rider after he retired from full-time racing at the end of 2018; and Jonas Folger, who joined KTM’s test team over the winter. 

It is quite the array of talent for a substitutes bench, but part of the reason for having 75 Grand Prix victories on said subs bench is so that you can call on them when there is a gap to fill.

Since we are not heading to Germany especially soon, and the Finnish Grand Prix is dead, the popular vote would probably be for Dani Pedrosa, who is racing as a KTM wildcard at the Spanish Grand Prix at the end of April, two weeks after the Americas GP. 

Pedrosa’s appetite and enthusiasm for racing multiple GPs per year is hardly record-breaking, but one additional race before his home Grand Prix might be appealing to the 54-time Grand Prix winner. On the other side, Pedrosa’s Spanish nationality is likely to be appealing to KTM, whose GasGas brand is of Spanish origin itself.

Certainly, any time Dani Pedrosa is getting back on a MotoGP bike, it is a good time. But, should KTM want or need to look elsewhere, what about Folger and Kallio?

For a replacement, the kind of ‘safe pair of hands’ approach as alluded to with the aforementioned Michele Pirro is generally preferred. Mika Kallio is pretty much exactly that.

Kallio also has much more experience with the KTM RC16 than Folger, which might make him the preferred choice to replace Espargaro in Texas should it be between the two. 

Jonas Folger, though, is possibly the favourite for the second GasGas ride, according to media reports. Folger had one standout moment during his time in MotoGP, which came at the German Grand Prix in 2017 - his only season in MotoGP, in which he rode for the Tech 3 team - when he finished second to Marc Marquez, which you could almost consider a race win at the Sachsenring. 

Since then, Folger has ridden in the IDM series on a BMW, flopped in WorldSBK, also on a BMW, and been a non-test-rider for Yamaha’s MotoGP project. 

Marc Marquez - Repsol Honda Team

Finally on the injury list, we have Marc Marquez, who crashed out of Sunday’s race, ruining both Miguel Oliveira’s and Jorge Martin’s respective Grands Prix in the process. Marquez was the worst-affected by the incident, and had to have surgery on a broken metacarpal in his right hand on Monday morning. 

That means Marquez can’t race in Argentina this weekend, which means he can’t serve the penalty awarded to him for causing the crash in the first place, due to suboptimal wording of the penalty notice by the FIM MotoGP Stewards.

However, Marquez will not be replaced in Argentina, and he should, theoretically, be ready to race in Texas, meaning HRC do not need to find a temporary teammate for Joan Mir. (If they did, it would of course be Stefan Bradl.)

All in all, it was a brutally attritional opening weekend of the 2023 season for MotoGP in Portimao. In Argentina this weekend, only 19 riders will be entered. Hopefully the Grand Prix of the Americas entry list will not see that number fall even further. In 2010, MotoGP was in crisis because there were only 18 bikes on the grid. The reasons now are different, but the numbers are more or less the same.

Update: Miguel Oliveira is now also confirmed to be out of the Argentinian Grand Prix, having sustained "further damage," as reported by Peter McLaren on the evening of Monday 27 March. Razlan Razali, RNF Racing Team Principal tweeted simply "Not good," at 19:23 BST. Oliveira is presumed to go unreplaced for Argentina, and is hoping to be back for the Grand Prix of the Americas, meaning round two of the 2023 MotoGP World Championship will feature only 18 riders.

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