Dre’s 2023 MotoGP Season Review – Part 2 (KTM, Ducati, 2024)

From KTM and their misdirection to taking in just how dominant Ducati has become, Dre finishes up his 2023 Season Reviews with Part 2 on MotoGP.

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Read time: 15 mins

Welcome back to the final part of my 2023 MotoGP Season Review. In Part 1, I looked at the struggles facing Japan’s 2 prolific manufacturers as Honda lost their Shohei Ohtani, and Yamaha might be about to lose theirs. We also talked about Aprilia, their wheel-spinning season, but also the excitement of what Trackhouse is bringing to the table with their customer team in 2024. If you missed Part 1, you can click here to catch up. 

In Part 2, we’re talking about another team seemingly in no man’s land in KTM, trying to make sense of all four Ducati teams, and talking a little bit about 2024 as a whole. See you on the other side.

Brad Binder – 4th In Points (293), 2 Sprint Wins (🇦🇷, 🇪🇸), 5 Podiums

Jack Miller – 11th In Points (163), 2 Sprint Podiums, 1 GP Podium

Augusto Fernandez – 17th In Points (71), Best Finish – 4th (Rookie of the Year)

Pol Espargaro – 23rd In Points (15), Best Finish – 12th (12 Races)

KTM is another factory in a similar sort of place to Aprilia. On paper, a good year. Brad Binder as your elite rider had his best season yet in the standings, fourth overall and moral victor of the “Best rider not on a Ducati” award. That 15th to first Sprint Win in Argentina was incredible riding, his best in the top flight. As an overall team, the factory boys were fourth behind three of the Ducati teams and second overall in the Constructors is great, right?

But there are cracks beneath the surface. They were a distant second as a factory, barely scoring half (373) of the Ducati’s monster 700-point haul. There are concerns about their riders. Brad Binder is an exceptional talent but he went winless on the year in Grand Prix’s. Hard to believe he hasn’t won since his flag-to-flag epic in Austria back in 2021. And he took a nasty turn in the back half of the season when his usual aggressive riding style started becoming straight-up penalty-worthy on several occasions. I don’t know if it was frustration or desperation but to me, it felt like a line had been crossed with Binder. 

And then there’s Jack Miller. The big-money move after being booted from Ducati… was a flop this season. You don’t hire Miller to finish eleventh overall and it was the same old traits we’ve seen from Jackass before. On his day, as fast as anyone in the field. But he’s never seen a tyre he can’t shred and falling down the order was commonplace. He had six crashes in a weekend in Austin. Miller’s ceiling was mostly seventh place for the year. That’s just not good enough for a team that should now be aiming to get both bikes in the Top 6 overall. There was a point in the middle of the season where I wondered whether he should have been the rider sacrificed for Pedro Acosta (More on him shortly).

It leans towards an Aprilia problem and I think the overall KTM issue, their setups are erratic and it makes them inconsistent. When they get it right, they’re as fast as anyone in MotoGP. Yes, Binder was winless, but in Jerez and Buriram he was a handful of lengths from victory, making shapes as he so often does to try and win. Brave as hell in Silverstone when the rain fell too. But there were too many weekends where they were lost in the midfield shuffle. Finishing 4th and 6th isn’t terrible, but you’re not getting any major honours with that. It’s that final leap to true contention that’s holding KTM back. They need a base they can rely on race-to-race and I’m not convinced they have it. 

And then there’s the messy politics that still takes place within this camp. Tech3 was the personification of all of that. A team that was derailed from the first competitive day of the season when Pol Espargaro suffered a horrific crash in practice that could have potentially been life-altering, calling Portimao’s safety into question. 

Pol missed eight races and in that time it was proven that rookie Augusto Fernandes was more than competitive at the highest level, including a sensational fourth at Le Mans. Pol came back at Silverstone and was about par with Fernandez, but with Acosta essentially promised a promotion, and two riders both under contract for 2024 already, it got nasty with KTM having to cancel Espargaro’s contract and have him as a test and development rider instead. If Acosta was always the gameplan (Which it’s hard not to believe otherwise), why give Fernandez a multi-year commitment and guarantee yourself a headache you could have avoided? 

I suspect the reason was that KTM was asking Dorna for two more bikes. They wanted a third team of two more bikes to compete with Ducati’s eight. Allegedly, even if it meant Dorna waiving a couple of extra million euro fees they give to support a customer team. It could have been even stickier if some of the rumours were true it also led to negotiating power on the table in regards to the concession system. 

I honestly found it bizarre that Dorna was so resistant to a move. It ticks every box. KTM solves its rider problem immediately by keeping all their riders happy, as well as Pedro Acosta’s promotion being seamless into the premier class. And it likely would have immediately put KTM in the race for Marc Marquez as a second option given he broke his deal off with Honda early, with Red Bull almost certainly keen to help. Why would you not want those column inches and extra attention? I suspect Dorna have seen Suzuki’s departure as a reason to downsize and save some cash, but in any case, it stunts some potential excitement. 

KTM’s 2024 will be interesting. Binder’s their talisman for the long-term after his off-sequence three-year extension. Jack Miller’s in a contract year and under pressure from Pedro Acosta immediately and if Augusto Fernandez keeps tracking upwards, it could be another rider headache for the men in Orange. And they need a bike and setup philosophy that raises their floor, not their ceiling.

PS: Dani Pedrosa. Still him. 

Safe to say, the Death Star 2.0 is complete. As a reminder from my Valencia Review, the maximum amount of points available in the manufacturers’ standings this year was 728. (Remember, we had no Sprint in Australia, so not 740). Ducati had 700 of them, good for 96% of all available. Of course, it helps having a third of the grid in your colours, but to execute week in, and week out was astonishing dominance from the boys from Bologna. 

The Ducati was THE bike for all comers in all conditions. Whether it be hot, cold, high-grip or low, rain or dry, they were always competitive. They had at least one bike on all the 39 podiums in 2023, and were perfect from Misano onwards in the Manufacturer’s standings, winning everything and seven of their eight riders won at least one Sprint or Grand Prix across the season (Didn’t think Luca would be the man to miss out huh?). Catalunya was their one poor round and even then, the bizarre Bagnaia high side was the only real reason they didn’t feature strongly. 

Alex Marquez – 9th In Points (177), 1 Pole, 2 Sprint Wins (🇬🇧, 🇲🇾), 2 Podiums

Fabio Di Gianniantonio – 12th In Points (151), 1 Win (🇶🇦), 2 Podiums, 1 Sprint Podium

Let’s go team by team here. At Gresini, Alex Marquez probably deserved a slightly better season than what he got. The first half of the season was riddled with cartoon anvils falling on his head having been taken out multiple times like in Austin by Jorge Martin, or at Le Mans by Luca Marini. But the speed was there, taking his first pole position in Argentina, and winning a pair of sprints in Britain and Malaysia. It was great to see some more flashes of what he could do from his Honda days on a Duke. The first GP win is coming, for sure.

Fabio Di Giannantonio had a crazy season. He looked dead and buried halfway through 2023, losing his job as Marc Marquez suddenly became the worst-kept secret in Motorsport. But thanks to crew chief Frankie Carchedi and some setup changes in the back half of the season, Fabio came alive. Out of his 151 points in 2023, 108 of them came in the final seven race weekends. Including his cherry on top, beating Francesco Bagnaia straight-up in Qatar, knowing full well he was unemployed. 

And with “hotter than fish grease” Fermin Aldeguer being priced out of a last-minute promotion thanks to his manager asking for seven figures, Fabio did enough to stay on the grid via last-day employment at VR46. Good for him, and I hope to see that form continue in 2024, he was a fascinating case of what can be done with a patient approach in a ruthless sport.

Marco Bezzecchi – 3rd In Points (329), 3 Poles, 3 Wins (🇦🇷, 🇫🇷, 🇮🇳), 7 Podiums, 1 Sprint Win (🇮🇳)

Luca Marini – 8th In Points (201), 2 Poles, 2 Podiums, 4 Sprint Podiums

Speaking of VR46, we have to give a massive salute to Marco Bezzecchi. For me, the breakout star of 2023. This man was 14th in the standings last year and only that wet qualifying session in Thailand gave us even the slightest clue as to what he could become. Like Gohan when he briefly went Super Saiyan 2 in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber when he was training to fight Cell. You’d have to be high on copium to ever look at that and go: “Yeah, Year 2 title contender.”

Bez is still very raw to me, but when he swung, he swung hard. In the three GP wins he had, he dominated. From borderline un-raceable conditions in Argentina to Le Mans and India in the dry, when his setup was right, he was untouchable. His Indian win was the biggest margin of victory in 2023, nearly nine seconds in front of Jorge Martin. Like I said, he’s still a tad green. When things weren’t clicking, he was more of a bottom end of the Top 8 runner. And it’ll always feel like a bittersweet season given the collarbone he broke in training during the flyaways took away his ultimate pace, dealing with the pain. But Bez took two leaps forward in terms of ability this season and deserves high praise.

Luca Marini to me got the “Jonas Folger” treatment. What I mean by that is that Folger’s first season at Tech3 was really good in its own right, in a vacuum so to speak. But it was completely outclassed by the guy across the garage (Zarco back then.) That was Marini’s 2023. In a vacuum, a big improvement. A couple of real strong poles to close out the year in Indonesia and Qatar, and a handful of podiums over half and full distance. Solid… until you see he was beaten by Bez by 128 points. I do wonder if that failure to take that next step was part of the reason he’s heading over to Repsol Honda. A member of the Rossi family back home where it all began does sound pretty alluring after all. Very curious to see how he gets on with another bike entirely. 

Jorge Martin – 2nd In Points (428) 4 Poles, 4 Wins (🇩🇪, 🇸🇲, 🇯🇵, 🇹🇭), 9 Sprint Wins (🇫🇷 , 🇩🇪, 🇸🇲, 🇮🇳, 🇯🇵, 🇮🇩, 🇹🇭, 🇶🇦, 🇪🇸) 8 Podiums

Johann Zarco – 5th In Points (225), 1 Win (🇦🇺), 6 Podiums

Pramac made history by becoming the first independent to ever win the Teams Championship, and it’s easy to see why. Johann Zarco had his best season yet with six podium finishes, a very strong first half of the season when he was in genuine contention, and finally getting that first win at Philip Island. Maybe Pramac was a little premature in moving on from the veteran Frenchman, as I’d certainly still have him there over Franky Morbidelli, but we’ll see if Gino Borsoi’s faith will be rewarded. As said in Part 1, there are few riders in a camp I’d want for a rebuild more than Zarco in the sport today, and I’ll be intrigued to see what he does with Lucio at LCR.

Jorge Martin. The Apollo 13 of MotoGP Seasons. A successful failure. A brilliant season, but one that will likely go down as an opportunity lost. Whether he wants to admit it or not, this was a winnable championship for the Spaniard. When he was dialled in, he was unbeatable. Especially over half distance with NINE Sprint Wins out of 19, and winning seven out of the last eight down the stretch. At a point, the Sprints became his “death by a thousand cuts” to try and keep himself in contention. But ultimately, his floor wasn’t high enough to support his tremendous upside. A bad Bagnaia day still put him on the podium. A bad Martin day, had him in a gravel trap.

It’s impossible to ignore that flyway stretch. He had a comfortable three-second lead in Indonesia when he lost concentration and crashed in a race that Bagania would win from 14th on the grid. He destroyed the field in Philip Island qualifying by half a second, but took a tyre choice Michelin actively said not to take, going soft. The margins were thin, but so was Martin’s soft tyre, one lap short of a heroic win. Instead, fifth and more points were conceded to Bagnaia in second. The dud rear tyre in Qatar killed a campaign where Martin was already visually losing his mental grip. At one point he went on strike during the practice session out of frustration the speed wasn’t there. He tried to get in Bagnaia’s head and wind him in Valencia, only to make the critical mistakes himself and crash out at the last. 

I don’t want to be too harsh on Jorge, because this is still a massive step forward for him as a bike rider. Before 2023, he’d be rightly labelled as an extremely fast rider but lacked the bottle and temperament to get over the line. He proved across the season that has got the speed and the control to do it. But that slipping back into his younger ways when it mattered most will linger over his season. Hopefully, some lessons will be learned on and off the track if his TV interviews lately have been anything to go by. 

Francesco Bagnaia – Champion (467), 7 Poles, 7 Wins (🇵🇹, 🇪🇸, 🇮🇹, 🇳🇱, 🇦🇹, 🇮🇩, 🇪🇸) , 4 Sprint Wins (🇵🇹, 🇺🇸, 🇮🇹, 🇦🇹) 15 Podiums

Enea Bastianini – 15th In Points (84), 1 Win (🇲🇾) (11 Races)

The Factory team missed out on the team titles almost purely through the derailed season of Enea Bastianini. He was taken out by Luca Marini in the very first Sprint race in Portimao and broke his shoulder blade. That’s not an injury you can shrug off with painkillers. He spent five race weekends recovering and came back trying to build up the muscle memory he’d lost from not being able to use his shoulders. He was a fringe Top 10 runner for his return, only for a tucked front on the most dangerous first turn on the calendar (Catalunya) led to a Ducati sextuple pileup, a broken ankle and metacarpal, and four more races on the shelf. 

Even his season highlight; a stunning win in Sepang was tainted due to doing so via a tyre pressure violation. All things considered, it was a season for Bestia that you probably throw in the bin and call it a write-off. He needs another long off-season to find his form, adapt to his new crew chief and see if the factory team can emulate what he was doing at Gresini. THAT Enea can win a Championship. This one, can’t. 

And then there’s the Champion himself. Francesco Bagnaia had a ropey start to 2024, and I distinctively remember uttering the same phrases I was at the end of last year. He tucked the front at Austin, even if the bumps meant the punishment didn’t fit the crime. He did the same in Argentina when an easy podium was there for the taking and at the time, Bez wasn’t considered a threat. 

“He’s bottling it again!”

“Take the points, Pecco!”

By the time he was taken out at Le Mans in that ugly Maverick Vinales clash that almost led to blows, it was his early Sprint success that was propping up his early title defence. Then a shift in the Italian’s mentality changed everything.

After Le Mans, Bagnaia only finished off the podium once for the rest of the season. The Catalunya high-side mystery essentially didn’t exist outside the one-race injury it caused with his legs being run over by Brad Binder. The other was the crash in India. 

The key stat that defined the title battle between Martin and Pecco? Martin had eight podium finishes in the Grand Prix of 2023. Bagnaia had 15. That was the difference. Bagnaia had to sacrifice all of the 66-point cushion he had after that Catalunya crash. But this time, he was the one being chased, and even with Martin ramping up the pressure with his Sprint wins and occasional GP winning, Bagnaia held firm, and did what we’ve always wanted him to do – Rack up the points. The Championship always ran through him, and it never truly felt like Martin was in control. He was the puncher’s chance, the Conor McGregor to Bagnaia’s Floyd Mayweather.

Bagnaia sacrificed so many of those Sprints to improve and maximise his race setup, and it worked. He took the pain of Martin’s sprints and counter-punched in the GPs when it mattered most. I don’t think Martin ever truly recovered from that final knockdown in Philip Island. 

The scary thing is, I think Bagnaia can get even better. A faster Sprinter could punish him as a potential weakness. He still had multiple crashes of his own making across 2023 that could have been avoided. As said, Martin had a genuine shot at beating Bagnaia for the title. The biggest test could be right around the corner with the best rider in the world now on his Championship winning bike. Marc Marquez is coming. And it’s going to be a fascinating battle to see where the Antman from Cervera stacks up against the man many still aren’t convinced is “the man”. 

Francesco Bagnaia has won back-to-back World Championships, the first person to do so since 2019, the first time the #1 plate has been defended since 1998, and he’s still not seen as the world’s best in the eyes of many. Is this how cynical we’ve become of Ducati being THIS good?!

At the end of my 2022 review, I was sceptical about the state of the sport. I had been worn down by multiple minor scandals that had racked up to close out the year. Adrian Fernandez being blocked in pit-road, the video leak of Tom Booth-Amos’ assault, Bagnaia’s Dennis Rodman tribute helmet, etc. It was a tough time. How do I feel a year later? Thoroughly whelmed.

Ducati has become THE racing manufacturer of the 2020s. They’ve reaped the rewards of pushing the envelope in racing development with aerodynamics, power delivery and traction. Beyond Bagania, they had the Top 3 and five riders in the Top 10 of the Championship, the Triple Crown across Pramac and their Factory teams in MotoGP, another Triple Crown with Alvaro Bautista in World Superbikes, the World Supersport title with Nicolo Bulega and a 1-2 finish in the British Superbike Championship with Tommy Bridewell and Glenn Irwin. BEATEMDOWN.

I’m glad the sport has reacted somewhat with a tweaked concession system I like, designed to bring the strugglers up rather than cripple Ducati from the top, but it’s hard to get excited about the state of play in the standings when the sports three best riders in 2023 were on Dukes and Marc Marquez is coming to join the party next year.

It doesn’t help that the racing product is largely mediocre. We still had a handful of great races. Germany was awesome, Qatar peaked late on, and Philip Island and Buriram were still outstanding. But many more races failed to move the needle as anything more than a procession. The dirty air these bikes are generating is worse than ever, leaving races looking like the F1 races that MotoGP fans have been trying to tell you for years it’s better than. Ride height devices are still needlessly dangerous and should have been banned three years ago but are still going with no factory daring to challenge Ducati’s headstart on the tech. 

Michelin has been thrown under the bus in terms of not having a front tyre that can deal with the unprecedented loads put on them, and are still a year away from running a new specification. So that means we’re going to have similar issues next season, where chiefs are going to have to either be super cautious and ruin the competitiveness of their bike by having their tyre pressures set too high or risk them going overboard if they get caught in traffic. 

Don’t forget that in 2024, there won’t be warnings and penalties if you go over, it’ll be disqualifications like any other technical infringement. Given a crew chief can’t predict how their riders’ race will go, they’ll be a lot of people completely screwed once the sensors get checked. We’re not due a new set of technical regulations in general until 2027. This could be the norm for the next THREE years. Doesn’t exactly make you feel good about the state of the sport.

The Stewards didn’t cover themselves in glory again this year. From the embarrassment of being loopholed out of Marquez’s Portimao penalty, to repeated inconsistency as to what merits a punishment (Martin didn’t get any formal action for hitting Marquez with a Roman Reigns spear), I still have very little confidence as to how the sport is being officiated.  

The Sprint race… worked. Ish. I can’t deny they were often the most exciting part of the weekend and I love that they borrowed a page out of World Superbikes book by bringing the riders closer to the fans when the track infrastructure allowed. But I’m still not convinced it’s a sustainable format for all 21 race weekends next year (Twenty-one weekends next year with a final week in November finish, fuck me). For every great racing highlight, there was an injury. We didn’t get a fully healthy MotoGP for a single grand prix in 2024. Injuries and missed time went up 40% this year. At what point does the coincidence of bike racing danger cross into avoidable harm? And at what point does the ever-expanding trend of “more races = more money be damned”, stop?

I’m genuinely excited for Trackhouse and what a bit of Americana can do for the sport. I hope Dan Rossomondo can start using his NBA background to usher in a bridge for content creators and social media coverage to improve, as the potential is there. It’s hard not to be fascinated by Marc Marquez on a Ducati and what happens when a guy four years since his magnum opus season joins the fastest bike in the sport. But for me, there’s a lot more reason for me to be concerned about the state of the sport right now than be optimistic, and that makes me sad about my favourite series. 

The sport, more than ever, feels stagnant. It needs something fresh to get it going again. Maybe it’s the second coming of Marc Marquez that can paper over the cracks. Maybe it’ll be the biggest touted silly season in a decade. But I’ll believe it when I see it. It’s Bagnaia’s world… but for how much longer?

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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