Satellite strike | Could Pramac Ducati mount a 2022 MotoGP title bid?

Could this be the year that a satellite team - such as Pramac Ducati - can defeat their factory counterparts to win the 2022 MotoGP World Championship?

Johann Zarco, Jorge Martin - Pramac Racing Ducati GP22

Pramac Racing has pulled the wraps off its Ducati GP22 entries for the 2022 MotoGP World Championship with a view to potentially challenging for a first satellite-led title since 2001.

The Italian outfit is one of the series’ stalwarts, making its debut in 2002 at the start of the MotoGP era initially with Honda before beginning its long association with Ducati in 2005.

Loyal to the Italian manufacturer ever since despite dips in form over time that has seen it spend several seasons making up the numbers, Pramac Racing has steadily been incorporated within the factory set-up to be an effective extension of the ‘Corse’.

A regular podium contender in recent years, though it took until Jorge Martin’s win in Austria for the team to record its first success in MotoGP, it landed eight podiums in 2021.

Pramac Racing broke the mould in 2020 by getting the opportunity to supply on-spec machinery to both of its riders. Though it is a format mirrored by KTM and Honda now, it is widely accepted that Pramac Racing is considered closest to its factory.

Regardless, it is still considered a ‘private’ team but such a close association means Pramac Racing is well placed heading into the 2022 MotoGP should the much feared new Ducati GP22 prove as formidable as its predecessor - the GP21 - was during the closing stages of the 2021 season.

Moreover, while differences between factory and satellite teams is now measured towards the rider line-up, there are many that consider Pramac’s pairing - Martin and Johann Zarco - to be capable of usurping Pecco Bagnaia and Jack Miller.

With the team revealing its colours for the 2022 MotoGP season - its first without the guidance of Francesco Guidotti, who has migrated to KTM - new boss Claudio Calabresi says Pramac has ‘great ambitions’ for the season ahead.

"It’s my first time as Team Manager and I’ll give my best to take Pramac Racing even higher. I am sure that Johann and Jorge will help us, they already have done an exceptional job in 2021. 

“This year the challenge is fascinating: to keep high the level and grow again. We have great ambitions and we will do everything to give many satisfactions to our fans.”

Can a satellite team win the MotoGP World Championship?

Statistically, no satellite team has ever won the premier class world title during the MotoGP era, which replaced 500GP in 2002.

However, only a year previously the 500GP title did go the way of Valentino Rossi, riding the Nastro Azzurro Honda which - though heavily supported by HRC - wasn’t strictly classified as a manufacturer.

Over the ensuing years several privateer teams mounted title challenges, such as Gresini Honda, but full factory Honda, Yamaha, Ducati and Suzuki efforts would ultimately win in each of the 20 championships since 2002.

Indeed, manufacturers proceeded to go through a phase of putting air between its factory and satellite efforts during the 2000s and early 2010s through supplying them with year-old machinery, giving rise to the fabled ‘aliens’ term to describe the upper tier factory riders, namely Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner.

However, after Honda broke ranks by supplying factory machinery to LCR’s Cal Crutchlow in 2015, rivals followed suit by supplying one on-spec bike to its satellite associations. Then when Tech 3 Racing switched to KTM in 2020 under the promise of it receiving two current RC16s, Ducati followed suit. Honda did the same for 2021, while Yamaha also did this in 2020, albeit with Fabio Quartararo riding what was termed an ‘A minus’ factory bike in that it had some year-old parts.

It led to a breakthrough in 2020 for the satellite teams, with the season-ending Portuguese MotoGP marking the first time in history the entire podium was made up of privateers - Miguel Oliveira (Tech 3 KTM), Jack Miller (Pramac Ducati) and Franco Morbidelli (Petronas SRT Yamaha).

Interestingly though, there appears to be some waning from factories to allow their privateer outlets to overshadow them. Tech 3 suffered from being forced to wait for new parts in 2021 due to the RC16 proving less competitive than expected, while the rebranded RNF Yamaha is notably less aligned with the factory for 2022.

It means Pramac Racing is in a good position to potentially ruffle feathers in 2022, particularly if the GP22 is as quick as its rivals fear.

Much attention will be on Martin, who developed into a very promising contender belying his rookie status in 2021, even if a few rough edges remain. Meanwhile, though he is yet to win a MotoGP race, there were periods last season when Johann Zarco led the standings.

In short, Ducati will be going all out for its first title since 2007, and it could come from any one of four riders, rather than just two.