After eight rounds of the 2023 MotoGP season, riders on Ducati bikes have won seven races, underlining the dominance of the Italian constructor as they finally emerge from the shadow of their Japanese counterparts.
Since 1975, Yamaha, Suzuki and Honda have had premier class championship winning riders in all but two seasons – when Casey Stoner dominated in 2007 and last year when Francesco Bagnaia famously erased a 91-point deficit to win the title.
Stoner’s breakthrough season on the Ducati was seen as a one-off as Yamaha and Honda quickly re-established dominance, but Bagnaia’s championship feels like the changing of the guard.
The red-hot ‘Desmosedici’ machines make up nearly half the grid with the satellite teams – VR46, Gresini and Pramac – using the Italian manufacturer’s bikes.
Mike Trimby, who leads the International Road-racing Teams Association (IRTA), had been apprehensive about the number of Ducatis on the grid at the start of the season.
“Ducati have done a brilliant job in producing a bike… They’ve now got satellite teams beating them. The customer teams are beating the factory,” Trimby told Reuters in March.
“Hopefully VR46 may go to Yamaha next year so that will level things up a bit. But you can’t blame Ducati if they’ve got the best bike for getting the best customers.”
VR46 rider Marco Bezzecchi may beg to differ after a stellar second season in MotoGP where he is battling for the championship with factory Ducati’s Francesco Bagnaia and Pramac’s Jorge Martin.
The Honda and Yamaha garages are full of gloomy faces as they struggle to match Ducati’s pace while their riders are either licking their wounds after multiple crashes or out of commission altogether.
Ducati’s aerodynamic packages have been key to their resurgence, with Aprilia and KTM following suit to design bikes with radical wing designs and appendages. But Honda and Yamaha have yet to perfect theirs.
Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo has fared poorly with the 2021 champion nursing injuries and finishing on the podium just once this season.
He did not mince his words when explaining Ducati’s superiority.
“It’s difficult to be calm on the straights when you see a rocket ship coming,” Quartararo said when he was easily overtaken by VR46’s Luca Marini in Texas.
Honda’s Marc Marquez, a six-times MotoGP champion, has not finished a race this year – either crashing out or sitting out with injuries to his hand, thumb, ankle and a broken rib.
The 30-year-old crashed five times in the weekend prior to the German Grand Prix at his beloved Sachsenring, where he has eight MotoGP wins, before withdrawing before the race. He was then declared unfit to race at Assen.
Marquez and Quartararo are two of MotoGP’s best riders but the fault is not theirs alone as they attempt to ride beyond their machine’s limits.
“On Friday my natural riding was there and I was second fastest,” Marquez had said at Sachsenring.
“The problem is that when you use your natural riding you arrive very quickly at your limit. Then the others arrive at your limit and pass that limit, so I’m struggling.”
Marquez has had to dig deep into his bag of tricks and use a tow to set fast times on Saturdays by using slip-streams of his faster rivals, but his race pace on Sundays has been found wanting.
His struggles led many to speculate that he might split with Honda after 11 years together and despite his assurances of ‘maximum commitment’ until his contract ends in 2024, team boss Alberto Puig was more direct.
“We have a contract, but every person is free to do what they want in life,” Puig said.
“Honda is not a company that wants to have people who’re not happy at Honda.”