Márquez and Bagnaia: MotoGP’s new Punch and Judy show

09th July 2024
Michael Scott

Lennon and McCartney. Laurel and Hardy. Abbott and Costello. Rodgers and Hammerstein. Jack and Jill. Of those famous duos, the new Ducati pairing of eight-times champion Marc Márquez and triple champion Pecco Bagnaia has most in common with the last. Because it’s easy to see one (maybe both) come tumbling down the hill.

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The two major figures in the premier class will be sharing a pit from next year. On the dominant brand, it’s almost a given that one or the other will win the title. There is one other certainty. It will not be a happy camp.

Clever, if risky, manoeuvring by Márquez effectively forced the decision on senior Ducati management – race department boss Gigi Dall’Igna, Bologna’s biggest cheese, CEO Claudio Domenicali, and probably also higher-ups in their Audi ownership.

It surely wasn’t taken lightly. It meant losing the services not only of current championship leader and serial Sprint winner Jorge Martín and highly rated current team incumbent Enea Bastianini. A couple of weeks later they also lost their top satellite team, Pramac. This was a key factor in turning their back on two decades of close and favoured partnership with Ducati (Pramac, for example, are supplied with full factory-level bikes) to take up the same role with currently beleaguered Yamaha.

The build-up was long and complicated, but in essence was all about Márquez. His switch from Honda could hardly have gone better. No wins in the first eight races, but several podiums as a serious title contender, all while adapting his ingrained Honda style to a bike requiring a very different technique. A bike a step down from the factory Desmosedici, being last year’s model in the Italian satellite Gresini team.


Marc Marquez signs two-year deal with Ducati

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Marc was clear. He wanted a full factory bike for 2025. And while he was willing to stay in the Gresini team, alongside younger brother Alex, he rejected an offer to replace Martín at Pramac, with the younger rider promoted to the factory. Moving from one satellite squad to another was beneath his dignity. This left Ducati in a bind. Unwilling to give Gresini a factory bike, they risked losing Marc to one of the ever-improving European challengers, Aprilia or KTM. Strengthening their hand, while also losing the considerable promotional value of having Marc on a Ducati. Hence the all-or-nothing decision. The repercussions were far-reaching.

Firstly, Martín, denied promotion for a second year running, spat out the dummy and signed for Aprilia. “I will go somewhere where they want me,” he declared. This triggered the departure of Aprilia’s current top rider Maverick Vinales, whose win this year made him the first on three different makes in the four-stroke era. Unwilling to dispute number-one status with a strong younger team-mate, and mindful of the chance to become the first-ever premier-class winner on four different makes, he jumped ship to KTM. Likewise, Bastianini, who also moves to KTM, rather than accept demotion to Pramac. And then Pramac also dumped Ducati. Will it be worth it, or will these two top talents clash destructively?

The only comparable situation was in 2008, when Yamaha signed Jorge Lorenzo to join the then-dominant Valentino Rossi. Rossi was incensed and threatened to leave. Which he did, although only after three seasons. He’d retained his title in the first two; Lorenzo won the next, after Rossi broke his leg at Mugello, his first serious injury in a gilded career. The animosity was spectacular. Not only did Valentino refuse to share information and set-up data, he demanded a wall down the middle of the shared pit-box. At Ducati, all their riders (eight altogether) share all their data. Will Pecco and Marc be willing?

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There is also a Rossi element. Bagnaia is very much his protégé, hand-picked and carefully nurtured throughout his career. Rossi never took kindly to rivals, even in other teams. His open hostility to Max Biaggi was legendary. Even before they met on track, still on 250s while Max was on a 500, he belittled him constantly. Given his media-savvy charm, he carried popular opinion with him. His next deadly enemy was Márquez, who arrived as an interloper to his kingdom in 2013, and started winning right away. His dislike cost him a tenth championship. After an astonishing verbal attack, he barged Marc off the track at the penultimate round. Penalised with a back-of-the-grid start next time out, he lost the crown by just five points. To Lorenzo …

Just how he feels about Ducati bringing Marc into his favourite’s comfort zone can only be imagined. He has not yet spoken. Bagnaia, for his part, has stuck to the sponsor-friendly newspeak that prevails in the new-century paddock. Apparently, he doesn’t mind who his team-mate is. Oh really?

Maybe none of the classic pairing mentioned above really fit the bill. This one is going to be more Punch and Judy than Bonnie and Clyde.


Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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