You are here

MotoGP, Four Blazing Saddles: Morbidelli, Mir, Raul and Augusto Fernandez

After the early market jitters, for some riders the Austin circuit may prove to be the tipping point in their attempt to get back to being competitive again: Morbidelli on a hot GP24 seat, Augusto Fernandez overshadowed by Acosta, Raul Fernandez and a potential future on Aprilia and Joan Mir all at sea on the Honda

MotoGP: Four Blazing Saddles: Morbidelli, Mir, Raul and Augusto Fernandez

MotoGP is about to arrive in Austin in the USA, currently the onlyAmerican event on the calendar, although with the arrival of Liberty Media things could change soon. With two rounds down since the start of the championship, it's all shaping up to be a fiery season, between confirmations like Bagnaia and Martin, newfound riders like Bastianini and Marquez, and new arrivals like Pedro Acosta who is fully living up to expectations, both KTM's as well as ìhis rivals.

Predictably, it is also a season in which sparks will be seen not only on the track: with many riders at the end of their contracts and awaiting renewal, the upcoming races could be the tipping point for the fate of many of them. Already there has been no shortage of early gunfire to stir up a grid that had remained fairly static until Marc's departure from Honda last year in Indonesia. From Aldeguer's arrival at Pramac in 2025, to Bagnaia's renewal with Ducati until 2026, followed then by Quartararo who, in a way that was by no means a foregone conclusion, has decided to remain loyal to Yamaha blue for another two years. The pawns are thus beginning to move, and with the remaining seats still available on the chessboard, the obvious game of musical chairs is set in motion that will force the most at-risk riders to seek results quickly, and for some of them it will be a real race for personal redemption to convince them that they can still be MotoGP riders.

Franco Morbidelli and a 'hot' GP24 seat.

The fact that the Ducatis, especially the latest generation GP24s, are the bikes most coveted by riders is no surprise . The numbers say it, and the facts prove it, between the constructors' championship and the two world championships won by Bagnaia. With eight Ducatis on the grid, Borgo Panigale's dominance has prompted even Dorna to make amends; in anticipation of the rule change, to avert that the remaining Japanese manufacturers will not follow Suzuki's example, it  has put its foot down firmly on the accelerator in terms of concessions, while cutting testing and tires to the Rosse: seeing Pirro on the circuit this year will be difficult.

With Bagnaia's renewal expected but not necessarily a foregone conclusion (although the understanding between the multiple champion and engineer Dall'Igna has always been plain to see) and Aldeguer's arrival next year (perhaps) at Pramac, the two remaining GP24 seats are now burning even hotter. On the one hand the official one of Bastianini, on the other that of Morbidelli who after being exiled from Yamaha can say that he has gone from the fire to the frying pan instead of the other way around. The GP24 by all accounts is less problematic than the GP23 on its debut, but this year there is no shortage of suitors. Bastianini, Martin and Marquez could all justifiably vie for a seat on the factory team, but the GP24 in Pramac would still make anyone who decided to settle for it an attractive proposition.

Franco Morbidelli's season started with high hopes, but a bad crash right at Portimao during a training session immediately dampened his enthusiasm, denying him crucial tests. The Roman from Tavullia has always been well aware of the red-hot situation in Ducati since his first approach: "The first 20 laps of the race were a good experience - he said on his debut in Qatar - so I feel I still have a big margin. It will be necessary to proceed step by step to acquire the harmony that the other top Ducati riders already have."

But in today's MotoGP now made extreme because of aerodynamics, and with so many riders bunched within a few tenths, there has been little time to find the harmony: 18th in both races. Redemption for the Roman on a GP24 is still definitely possible, however; Austin will be his next battleground, a circuit where he achieved victory in 2017 in Moto2.

Augusto Fernandez in Acosta's shadow

The Spaniard, a rookie in 2023 in the Tech3 GasGas team, convinced top management in Mattighofen to bet on him, eliminating an injured Pol Espargarò for much of last season. Now in his second year on a competitive KTM whose development is proving fruitful, he finds himself in the uncomfortable position of having to share the box with the enfant prodige fresh off the Moto2 title, Pedro Acosta. As always, a great light also casts a great shadow, and Augusto is fully aware of this: "It will be a decisive year. I have no illusions it's a difficult time, if I'm not fast I won't have any contract. Even though I'm in my second year it's like starting from scratch. I wish it was just an aerodynamic problem but even the carbon frame is giving me problems."

Legitimate concerns then, and with a 17th and 11th place finish in the first two stages the flicker that allowed an Acosta to already find the podium is not yet there. It is clear that there is still time for a redemption of the Spaniard, but KTM in the past has not always been patient, as demonstrated in the case of Remy Gardner.

Raul Fernandez and Aprilia's gamble.

For Raul Fernandez, the start of the season has also not been entirely smooth sailing. From the abandonment of MotoGP by Razali's RNF team to the arrival of the American Trackhouse, the entire Aprilia machine stepped in to allow the Spaniard to test. Massimo Rivola has never hidden the fact that he sees in the young Spaniard one of the potential futures for the Noale-based manufacturer, so much so that he secured him an RS GP 2024 for half the championship while waiting for the new aerodynamic package.

The early stages of the season have not been encouraging, however, with two crashes in both Grands Prix, leaving the Spaniard with a 14th and 10th place finish in the sprints alone. The season is just beginning, however, and with the strides made by Aprilia in terms of both traction and aerodynamics, as the results of Aleix and Maverick are showing, there is no doubt that with the arrival of the RS GP24 Raul can begin to repay the trust placed in him.

Joan Mir at the helm of Honda all at sea.

Four years ago Joan Mir was crowned world champion riding for Suzuki, only two years later he then found himself exiled to a Honda in clear trouble. Needless to say, Honda is going through some extremely difficult years of which Marc Marquez's departure is but the icing on the cake. The eight-time world champion has thus bequeathed his chief technician Santi Hernandez precisely to Joan Mir, called to drag the Japanese manufacturer through this transitional phase in the company of newcomer Luca Marini, on whose technical acumen the Japanese are betting heavily.

With the Italian in an ironclad position thanks to a two-year deal until 2025, and with Honda in the midst of a "restructuring" phase, it is therefore time for the Spaniard to tighten the gloves well and find the right speed, within the limits of the bike, just to be clear. The early results, a 13th and a 12th place finish in races, have not been the easiest, although at the beginning of the season the mood was high and imbued with optimism "This will be the most important year of my career, " he declared at the beginning of the year. "I'm willing to do anything to get back to the front and Honda is doing the same, they are working so hard in Japan," he later commented - joking if his own paternity had caused him to lose tenths. No one can get a better idea of the importance of redemption than someone who has already touched the highest peak.


Translated by Julian Thomas

Related articles