moto gp

Zarco To Leave Ducati.

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By Donovan Fourie:

It was revealed this weekend at the Austrian MotoGP that Johann Zarco is making a somewhat shock move away from the protective bosom of the Pramac team and indeed a factory Ducati. That’s a bike that budding young racers would sacrifice both testicles just to be in the same room with. He’s off to the LCR Team and a Honda, a bike that is notorious for savaging its rider.

Why this madness? 

It is indeed a tough pill to swallow, but seemingly Zarco has gulped it down nonetheless.

His cushy Ducati seat has a lifespan, one growing increasingly shorter as talented youngsters teeming with ambition vie for that seat. Until now, his bum upon it has been somewhat justified. He has been a consistent top ten, often top five, finisher. This is indeed a good spot to finish given the satellite nature of the team.

But Zarco has now clocked 33 years of circling the sun. 

In racing terms anyway, he’s no spring chicken. While he may still have the competitive edge, it’s safe to say that he is at very least on a plateau, with the inevitable decline imminent. 

He has been racing in the premier class since 2017, has stacked up 19 podiums, eight pole positions and six fastest laps, but no wins. 

It’s fair to say that his chances of progressing to a title contender are left somewhat slim.

And finding a youngster with a possibly brighter future seems more inline with Ducati’s goals than keeping the Frenchman, and Zarco knows this.

Ducati offered him one more year upon their bike, but what then? Taking a satellite ride in WSBK?

No. If there isn’t room for a MotoGP title left in his future, then it’s perhaps better to take a more business-like approach to proceedings.

One more year on a competitive machine will probably lead him to once again being a consistent top ten finisher, but not much else. Moving to Honda will mean probably struggling to achieve top tens. Or worse. But he will spend races jostling for point scraps while his bank account bursts at the seams, and Honda will gladly see to that.

Zarco may have limited value to Ducati, but to Honda he may well be the goose that lays the golden egg.

Take a look at Jack Miller who left a factory Ducati seat for KTM. He was able to give direct comparisons between the most competitive machine on the grid and the KTM. This is pure gold to the engineers tasked with evolving the motorcycle.

Binder is fast and can explain where he is finding difficulties, but he’s been on a KTM his entire MotoGP career. He literally knows nothing else. Miller, though, gave the team a perspective, he gave them what is achievable. And this year KTM has become the second most competitive bike on the grid, if not sometimes on par with the Ducati.

Currently, among Honda’s development staff, is Marquez who, like Binder, knows nothing else but the Honda. The same goes with Taka Nakagami. The other two riders are the former Suzuki pair of Mir and Rins, who both cut their MotoGP teeth with Suzuki. 

While the input these two gave may have provided some insights, it’s a far stretch trying to compare the inline-four Suzuki with the V-four Honda.

A Ducati rider, however, offers something more tangible. Honda could well manage a similar feat to KTM with the right guidance, and they are willing depart with much silver for said guidance.


Much to ponder...

What I predict is that Zarco will serve a role at LCR similar to what Cal Crutchlow served in the past – working as a test bed for new parts, testing what works and where before it is handed to the likes of Marquez in the factory team. 

And if this strategy pays off, Marquez might not be tempted to switch teams at the end of 2024 which, if things continue as dismally for Honda as they have been recently, he most certainly will.

Honda desperately wants to keep Marquez and return to winning ways. And they are willing to pay handsomely to do it. Zarco might not win a MotoGP title, but will lament not winning one from his yacht near his holiday house in the Bahamas.

It could be worse.

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