Why Austin could be critical for Jack Miller's MotoGP future

Miller was unable to build on the positive result in Indonesia last time out at Termas de Rio Hondo, and he came home 14th.

Jack Miller - Ducati

JACK Miller goes into the fourth round of the 2022 MotoGP season at the Circuit of the Americas 11th in the championship. 

Miller was unable to build on the positive result in Indonesia last time out at Termas de Rio Hondo, and he came home 14th. 

After the Argentinian race, Miller said, “It was definitely a frustrating race because I couldn't make a single overtake, but unfortunately, I didn't have the right feeling to attack today.” He added, “It was an unusual weekend: this morning, we made a change that took us in the wrong direction, and I struggled a lot in the race. We know what we need to work on to improve, so now we'll try to learn from this and come back stronger for the next race in America.”

It will be vital for Miller that he does come back stronger this weekend, because his future is far from certain. 

Miller finally made the move to the factory Ducati team in 2021, and while Francesco Bagnaia - who also moved up to the factory Bologna team last season - was expected to learn in 2021 and create a foundation on which to build going forwards, Miller was expected to fight for the championship. 

That title fight never materialised, and in fact it was Bagnaia who won more races out of the teammates, and finished second in the championship. 

Bagnaia’s form at the end of 2021 was enough for Ducati to re-sign the Italian before this season even got underway (perhaps fortunate for Bagnaia, who has not exactly had a stellar start to 2022 himself), while Miller remains without a contract for 2023. 

The 2022 season, as in Qatar 2021, started poorly for Miller in Lusail. He was forced to retire due to electronics issues that meant the bike thought it was in a different place on-track to where it was in reality. That meant Miller had more power than he wanted in some places, and less than he wanted in others. 

He was able, though, to score a decent, top-four result in Indonesia in the wet conditions. This should have been the turnaround for Miller, but in Argentina things never got going for the #43.

First, he got a three-place grid penalty for blocking Fabio Quartararo in Q2, which meant he started 14th, and from there he went neither forwards nor backwards.

That Miller currently sits ahead of Bagnaia in the championship - four points ahead of the Italian - seems meaningless in the context of his current contract situation.

That is because, while Miller has been struggling and the results have not been coming, the two riders that are chasing that second factory Ducati seat have been excelling. 

Sure, Jorge Martin did not score a single point in the first two races of the season, but he was on pole in Qatar where his DNF was the fault of Bagnaia. 

Then, in Argentina he led the majority of the race, and was outdone in the end only by an Aprilia in the hands of Aleix Espargaro that had looked as close to unbeatable as it is possible to be in modern day MotoGP since the bikes first hit the track on Saturday afternoon in Termas.

The second place in Argentina was an important one for Martin, because it put him a further step ahead of Miller in the fight for that second Ducati seat. 

It also perhaps put him further ahead of Enea Bastianini. The #23 Gresini Racing rider was probably the least-fancied of the three to get the 2023 factory Ducati ride, but winning the season-opener in Qatar fired him right into contention. 

However, two difficult races in Indonesia and Argentina have seen Bastianini drop to third in the standings. The #23’s Argentinian result might have been better, but he committed the apparent unforgivable sin of trying to out-brake Luca Marini into turn five. He ran wide, had to do the job all over again, and lost a bunch of time. 

No one of the three clearly stands out at the moment, but perhaps Miller’s age, experience and that he has already done one season with Ducati, combined with the lack of stand-out results, sees him at the bottom of the list. 

That is a tough place to recover from against the likes of Martin and Bastianini, but it is not impossible. 

Miller finished third in Texas in 2019, behind Alex Rins and Valentino Rossi. Other than rins, Miller was the major beneficiary of Marc Marquez’ retirement from the race, as he was able to take the podium ahead of then-factory rider Andrea Dovizioso. 

Overall, the Circuit of the Americas suits Miller, because it takes an element of daring, or courage. Along with the likes of Marquez, Miller is perhaps one of the best riders in the field at getting the most out of imperfect situations, and the situation at COTA historically has not been perfect. 

The circuit was littered with huge bumps, particularly between turns two and 12, and also through the triple-right-handers at turns 16, 17 and 18. This was not exactly of benefit to Miller, but he was one of the riders who was able to suffer the least.

This should be changed for 2022, though. The Circuit of the Americas has undergone major work to improve the track surface between turns two and 12, as well as along the back straight and towards turn 16. In addition, a concrete base was constructed underneath turns 2-10 to reinforce the ground on which the surface is laid, in an attempt to combat the subsidence issues the circuit has faced. 

There was a NASCAR Truck Series race held at COTA a couple of weeks ago, and evidence of the resurfacing work can be seen there (note the darker asphalt). The full race can viewed below. 

To be honest, it is difficult to tell for sure how successful the resurfacing has been, because NASCAR Trucks - believe it or not - do not react the same as MotoGP bikes. 

It does, though, still look quite bumpy. The big bump through turn two, for example, still appears to be there, and the surface change between turn one and two also appears to be uneven. Also, the big bump on the exit of turn nine still seems quite severe. 

In general, though, through the ‘esses’ section in sectors one and two, it looks smoother, and also between turns 12 and 16 the track looks in better condition. 

Ultimately, the condition of the track will not be able to be judged by MotoGP standards until MotoGP bikes hit the track on Friday morning for FP1. But, whatever the condition, Jack Miller must make the most of them this weekend.