Why did KTM pick Oliveira over race winner Petrucci for Factory ride?

Danilo Petrucci's move to KTM for the 2021 MotoGP season may not have been a surprise, but his placement at Tech 3 Racing rather than the Factory team is...

Danilo Petrucci, Miguel Oliveira - Ducati, Tech 3 KTM

While the official confirmation that Danilo Petrucci is swapping Ducati red for KTM orange in MotoGP next season didn’t come as a huge surprise given nudging and winking that has been emerging out of Austria in the past week or so, the fact he will be doing so with Tech 3 was a twist few anticipated.

Petrucci’s shuffle towards KTM’s satellite outfit has been one of the stories of the prolonged off-season, with the end result quite the unexpected outcome compared with where he was little more than 12 months ago.

Indeed, it was around this time last year that Petrucci firmly closed the deal to remain with Ducati for the 2020 MotoGP season, fresh from not only clinching his maiden win but doing so on its beloved home ground of Mugello. 

At the time he was also riding high in the standings, whereas his rival for the Factory seat, Jack Miller, instead found himself mired in speculation he was about to replaced at Pramac Racing by an interested Jorge Lorenzo.

Fast-forward a year and while the 2020 MotoGP season hasn’t turned a wheel in anger as yet, Petrucci has been replaced at Ducati by Miller and the Italian has landed at KTM, albeit with the sister Tech 3 Racing outfit. 

Indeed, on paper Petrucci looked like an ideal like-for-like replacement for the outgoing Pol Espargaro, who is almost certainly going to be confirmed at Repsol Honda for 2021 any moment now. With eight years of experience and nine podiums under his belt, Petrucci appears a good fit for the Austrian marque given the options.

And yet, KTM chose to promote Miguel Oliveira into the Factory team, where he will be partnered with Brad Binder. With no racing taking place in 2020 as yet, it means the pair have just one single season of MotoGP racing between them at this moment, making them by far the least experienced pairing on the grid, much less a Factory outfit.

Did KTM 'owe' Miguel Oliveira Factory ride?

Read between the lines though and KTM might have feared what would happen if it had overlooked Oliveira for a second time in six months. The Portuguese rider made his MotoGP debut in 2019 and gave a solid account of himself in Tech 3’s first year using KTM machinery that was supposed to be on a par with the Factory RC16, but in reality was several races behind in development.

When Johann Zarco abruptly left KTM midway through 2019, Oliveira was considered a favourite to join Espargaro in the Factory team, only for the manufacturer to promote rookie Binder into the role. Oliveira didn’t hide his feelings very well.

With Espargaro now on his way out, one can assume KTM ‘owes’ Oliveira a factory shot after last year’s debacle, even if there is now pressure to live up to his billing against a talented team-mate in Binder and a more esteemed stablemate in Petrucci.

To KTM’s credit, it maintains the plan is to have four identical RC16s across its two teams. Its the primary reason why Tech 3 gave up its Yamaha customer role – a relationship that has yielded dozens of podiums and pole positions over the years – in favour of a swap to an entirely different project.

While the reality of four-way parity didn’t quite live up to the intention as parts shortages left Tech 3 Racing chasing around the back of the field last year, it is more confident it will be on level pegging with the Factory team when the 2020 season starts. 

It’s this assurance that is likely to have convinced Petrucci to accept the Tech 3 role, not least because Aprilia is still keen on him depending on whether Andrea Iannone is cleared to race, while Ducati would have likely been open-minded on salary in order to siphon him into the WorldSBK Championship.

While Tech 3 Racing may not appear to be the big factory team a rider like Petrucci might have expected as he prepares to get back on his title-contending factory Ducati in 2020, he is nonetheless the de facto replacement for Espargaro in terms of experience and prior success.

Perhaps a pressure-free stint as an underdog in one of MotoGP’s pluckiest independent teams is just what is needed…

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