Nothing to lose | Could Jack Miller really swoop in and win 2022 MotoGP title?

A rich vein of free swinging form for soon-to-be-ex-Ducati rider Jack Miller has invigorated his bid for a very unlikely 2022 MotoGP title challenging

Jack Miller - Ducati Corse 2022

The 2022 MotoGP World Championship season. It's been a strange one, hasn’t it?

A series that only a handful of years ago had us pondering whether anyone could possibly usurp the utterly dominant Marc Marquez era (it turns out that person was Marquez himself), today we’re heading into the final three events with no clear indication of who will come out on top in Valencia.

Stranger still, it’s not as though we’ve really seen a definitive tug-of-war towards the summit of the standings, with no rider really exerting anything akin to a strong grip on the crown.

In the blue corner we have Yamaha's Fabio Quartararo, who has - oddly - been fighting a rear-guard action really since Round 1 because he’s ended up on what is probably (and curiously) the slowest like-for-like bike on the grid right now.

Over in the red corner is Pecco Bagnaia, the form man at the moment with four wins since the summer break raising his season tally to six. It could have been eight but for sloppy errors, so while Bagnaia - now just two points behind Quartararo - is perhaps the smartest choice for a flutter, his tendency to drop the Ducati at inopportune moments means betting on him still comes with a fair degree of risk.

Then there is Aleix Espargaro (20 points behind Quartararo) on the Aprilia, whose momentum has waned but is capable of springing a surprise in a season peppered with them, plus Enea Bastianini (39 points behind), whose marvellous four race-winning sophomore campaign perhaps better prepares him for a more realistic 2023 MotoGP title tilt.

Finally, there is Jack Miller - a name that at no other point in the season had been uttered in the context of the title.

And yet, at this business end of the season, the Australian is convincingly pitching a long-range bid for a title that would be as satisfying for the man himself as it would be popular with MotoGP fans.

Strictly speaking, at 40 points in arrears of Quartararo, Miller is still very much an outsider here. 

Indeed, even if he does go ahead and win all three of the final races at Phillip Island, Sepang and Valencia, it would still require Quartararo and Bagnaia to finish off the podium to complete the turnaround.

Why Miller can the 2022 MotoGP title

Confidence can be worth a fair few tenths in MotoGP and, of the five here, it is Miller with the loosest limbed swagger.

For sure the underdog here, it’s a role Miller is relishing. Why? Well, for a long time he has been weighed heavy under Ducati’s expectant ‘top dog’ status… the Italian manufacturer having forgotten of course that it’s been 15 years since its last and only World Championship win with Casey Stoner.

Now though Miller has something to prove… a carrot to aim for that would prove the (many) doubters wrong. And Ducati bosses themselves are top of that cynical list.

Indeed, while Ducati’s merry-go-round of favour among the top brass is notorious, few will deny Miller put in the hard graft to get to where he is. From Moto3 straight into MotoGP, Miller has for too long been regarded as something of a diamond in the rough, even when he was scoring regular podiums on the Pramac Ducati for three diligent seasons.

Working in Miller’s favour coming into the final trio of races, however, is sheer experience, the impact of which could be seen clearly in Motegi and Buriram

The first time MotoGP has raced in Japan and Thailand since 2019, it has also been three years since upcoming Australian and Malaysian rounds have featured.

In the context of the title fight, three years is a long time. Back then Quartararo and Bagnaia were in the midst of their rookie campaigns, while Bastianini was still muddling around the Moto2 mid-pack. As for Espargaro, well he was racing… but then it feels as though has been in MotoGP since dinosaurs roamed the earth.

This doesn’t, of course, preclude them from being quick in one, two or all of the final events - after all, Quartararo was on pole for his Sepang debut - but picture this:

Jack Miller racing on beloved home soil brimming with confidence, swagger in full swing, racing a superior bike, recovering his belief, armed with a massive bullet point to prove and nothing to lose… oh, and two gloved bird flippin’ middle fingers at full mast.

It's also worth noting a change in rhetoric from Miller recently. Having towed a strict party line for five years - despite his otherwise brash approach to media engagements - Miller didn't exactly flatter Ducati recently by revealing he felt like an outsider

In short, Miller doesn't want the title for Ducati, he wants it for himself.

It could all be over in a flash - a DNF or poor result in any one of the three races ends his title dreams right there and then - but the Aussie is surely more of a favourite to win these races (when considered in isolation, anyway) than his rival quartet.

A question of loyalty(?)

While the Italian firm certainly has a strong argument for choosing Bastianini for 2023, you get the feeling some perseverance with Miller - for reasons of loyalty at least - would eventually reap rewards.

Whatever happens though, Miller will read the 2022 MotoGP season as a tale of missed opportunity. Indeed, while the same could be said for any of the five contenders - each having suffered from momentary lapses or being in the wrong place at the wrong time - Miller’s flops have more curious asides, whether it was his tyre calamities in Catalunya (15th), a late long lap penalty in Assen (14th), a rare tech issue in Qatar and skittling Joan Mir in Portimao. Then there is Misano, where he qualified on pole before crashing out of the lead on Lap 2.

So it’s largely honours even between Ducati and Miller for excuses, but the Aussie deserves extra credit for weathering the media frenzy surrounding his coveted factory spot, speculation that began before he’d even completed his first season with the Corse.

Indeed, while Miller himself will admit he didn’t sparkle in 2021, fourth in the overall standings hardly disgraced either. The rapid late season turn of form from Bagnaia shouldn’t really have manifested in the form of an axe for his team-mate so quickly, but Ducati’s embarrassment of riches within its eight-strong camp means the factory riders have probably the toughest KPIs of anyone.

Trouble is, when speculation begins before the end of one season, it gets dragged out to the start of the next one having proceeded to take a life of its own during the long winter months in lieu of a proper news cycle.

It meant trial by media had already signed Jorge Martin over Miller for 2023, only for his case to be drowned out further by the startling performance of Bastianini.

Ducati didn’t help matters by regularly talking up Martin and Bastianini, while barely referencing Miller in the context of its 2023 plans, before then allowing internal pressure to permeate as it stalled on a decision.

In fairness to Ducati, by the time it had made its choice of Bastianini over Martin, it would have been difficult for Miller to get a look in following his Catalunya and Assen issues right before the critical summer hiatus.

Ducati’s loss, KTM’s gain

Not that it mattered anyway, Miller having jumped before he was pushed onto the rider market to begin successful negotiations with KTM that will see him paired with MotoGP’s stealthiest racer, Brad Binder.

While the South African has carved a reputation as a smart, steadfast racer with a remarkable ability to race around bike problems without dropping it down the road, ‘thriller Miller’ is the cash flasher to Binder’s sensible savings.

Still, Miller does face a challenge on a bike that week-in, week-out isn’t fast as the Ducati, nor is it as strong at all circuits, nor will it be easy to adapt to, according to pretty much every rider that has tried the KTM.

But even if Miller’s fast charging title bid falls flat around Turn 1 at Phillip Island, he knows he can shuck off the Ducati red with his head held high and fully prepared to jump feet first into KTM orange.

For the record, if you crunch the numbers there are in fact still seven riders still in with a mathematical shot at winning the 2022 title, though KTM’s Brad Binder and Pramac Ducati’s Johann Zarco will need to seek out some voodoo hocus pocus to shorten their vast odds.