Who Will Partner Bagnaia at Ducati in MotoGP 2025?

Francesco Bagnaia’s renewal at the factory Ducati MotoGP team for 2025 and 2025 means there is only one spot left in the championship's top team

Enea Bastianini, 2024 MotoGP Qatar Test. - Gold and Goose

The news of Francesco Bagnaia’s renewal at the Ducati Lenovo Team, or factory Ducati MotoGP team, for the 2025 and 2026 Grand Prix seasons was hardly a surprise.

Together, Bagnaia and Ducati have wrapped up the last two MotoGP riders’ titles in the perfect, all-Italian marketing campaign. Bagnaia’s renewal for 2025 and 2026, therefore, was more or less confirmed already, as Ducati knows it has to reward the rider it has helped mould into the champion we see today, and Bagnaia knows that achieving similar success to that he has found at Ducati with another manufacturer would be difficult at best and impossible at worst. And so the contract was signed - a win for everyone involved.

And a loss for everyone not involved. Firstly, the factories that might have liked to sign Bagnaia, who have lost out on the most victorious rider of the past three seasons (18 Grand Prix victories, four Sprint wins) and a rider whose only finish outside of the podium places in a full-length race in 2023 came after a crash in the wet at Argentina. 

Secondly, and more immediately interestingly, the riders who might have liked to replace a departing Bagnaia. 

To put it somewhat simply: Enea Bastianini, Jorge Martin, Marco Bezzecchi, Marc Marquez, and Fabio Quartararo are all riders who at least feel they can win, and therefore that they deserve a race winning bike and a factory contract. Currently, only the Ducati Lenovo Team fulfils both of those conditions.

Round three

Enea Bastianini and Jorge Martin went head-to-head over the seat alongside Bagnaia in 2022, when Bastianini came out on top, and again in 2023 with the same outcome. Bastianini won in 2022 because he won four races and Martin won none, and in 2023 because he won at the right moment (Sepang, the third-last race) to counter Martin’s title-contending season.

So, Bastianini was better than Martin in 2022, which put him in a position to get a little bit fortunate in 2023.

That means Martin’s been burned by Ducati twice in two years, or at least that’s how he feels. The #89 is a rider who seems to ride particularly well when he feels like the odds are stacked against him, when he feels like he’s being disrespected, which means he will be especially dangerous in 2024, when Bastianini must repeat 2022 and prove straight-up that he’s better than Martin.

Even if Ducati chooses Martin, though, he might not choose Ducati. After he was burned the first time, Martin flirted with Yamaha, and now both Aprilia seats may be open for 2025. The RS-GP, at the moment, is a much more exciting prospect for a rider with title ambitions like Martin than the YZR-M1, and the Noale brand hasn’t had the chance to lose Martin’s trust yet. So, with the ‘Martinator’, the ball isn’t only in Ducati’s court.

Japanese Fall-Out

It is debatable whether Ducati has yet benefitted from the fall-out of the Japanese manufacturers’ decline in MotoGP. Honda’s failures have led six-time MotoGP king Marc Marquez to Gresini, which runs Ducatis but, of course, isn’t the factory team. On year-old machinery, Marquez has the chance to embarrass the Ducati factory team, somewhat, in 2024, just like he did in 2018 and 2019 when Ducati had the best bike but nonetheless was beaten by the #93 Honda.

Such an embarrassment might prompt Ducati to act and bring Marquez into the factory fold, but, like Martin, Marquez has reasons to stay out. For a start, remaining with Gresini would make it easier to return to Honda if and when the RC213V returns to competitiveness. And then there’s the energy drink question: Marquez has been a Red Bull guy since the beginning of his Grand Prix career in 2008, and Ducati is now a Monster Energy brand. The ‘M Claw’ is plastered all over the factory MotoGP and WorldSBK machines from Bologna, and its new motocross project. So, Marquez would have to split with Red Bull to become a factory Ducati rider. Maybe that’s not a problem, but maybe it is.

Fabio Quartararo is still trapped in Japan, but with Yamaha. Which of Honda and Yamaha is slightly less bad than the other seems to change on a weekly basis at the minute in MotoGP, but what is certain is that both are a way away from really challenging Ducati over the course of a season. 

Quartararo is, after one world title won two-and-a-half years ago, just as hungry as Marquez for another championship, and, like Marquez, knows he has the ability to do it. After all, just as Marquez embarrassed Ducati in 2018 and 2019, Quartararo did so in 2021 with Yamaha. The first part of the season will be crucial for Quartararo to decide whether he will stay with Yamaha or not, and Ducati is certain to be at the top of his list for potential destinations on his way out.

Factory VR46

The final option for Ducati is an all-VR46 factory team. Bagnaia himself is a student of the school of Valentino Rossi, a graduate of the VR46 Riders Academy, and its first MotoGP World Champion. 

Marco Bezzecchi was propelled into GP racing on a Mahindra in 2017 courtesy of VR46, had his career revived by the VR46 Moto2 team in 2020 after a terrible 2019 campaign on the Tech3 KTM, and was then given his premier class debut by the VR46 team in its first year as a MotoGP team in 2022.

Last year, Bezzecchi won three Grands Prix and the Dutch Sprint on his way to third in the championship with a year-old Desmosedici, but at the end of 2024 VR46 looks set to jump ship to Yamaha, for whom Valentino Rossi is an ambassador. If the YZR-M1 doesn’t improve to race-winning capabilities and VR46 does indeed make the switch, Bezzecchi will join Quartararo in seeking an alternative and, as it is for Quartararo and everyone else, the factory Ducati team will be atop Bezzecchi’s list.

Of course, the irony of the factory Ducati team featuring two VR46 riders will be immense, considering how the Ducati experience went for the #46 himself over a decade ago.

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