The defection of Marquez from Honda to Ducati will bring together two of MotoGP’s most successful players in the eight-time world champ and Ducati technical mastermind Gigi Dall’Igna
After 11 seasons with HRC in the premier class, Marc Marquez will walk out of his final year of a four-year deal with Honda – and a reported $20 million-plus salary – to seek new inspiration. That will be with the satellite Gresini team aboard a superseded but factory fettled Ducati GP23.
It is unsurprising that the tightly controlled autocracy and technical excellence that is Dall’Igna’s Ducati kingdom appeals to Marquez’s hard-core racer mentality. But it so easily could have been in reverse. For in their desperate bid to appease Marquez’s demand to bring European engineering talent on board, Honda made a bid to poach Dall’Igna from Ducati.
That bid failed and a disgruntled Marquez walked anyway, unconvinced that Honda had the technical answers to satisfy him for a 12th season together.
Dall’Igna’s arrival would have triggered a huge upheaval at Honda, because it’s not just engineering and technology Dall’Igna is in complete command of at Ducati Corse, but he oversees rider signings too. Rescuing Honda from its current demise would have been a huge challenge and while momentarily enticing for the results-driven Italian, it did not happen.
“It is probably normal to happen in such a situation; I had some discussions (with Honda),” Dall’Igna said. “But I feel good in Ducati. I’ve struggled so hard to get to a situation where Ducati is considered a reference for everyone else, so to leave at this time would perhaps not have been logical.
“Then, it’s true that with what I’ve done here, it could have been a challenge won and filed away. And for sure Honda is an equally interesting and important challenge, but I think it’s logical to continue here after all the hard work done.”
That hard work includes a total refresh of the Desmosedici campaign and in 2022 adding a second MotoGP World Championship to Ducati’s honour roll, 15 years after Casey Stoner’s 2007 title.
“I have extreme respect for Honda, I was very pleased (to be called).”
Dall’Igna has a long history of interaction with ego-driven champion riders and the often challenging management required to maintain equilibrium in race teams. He’ll need even more of that in place for the arrival of Marquez.
When he was technical director at the Piaggio Group (Derbi/Gilera/Aprilia), Dall’Igna orchestrated the 250cc championships with Jorge Lorenzo and Marco Simoncelli and then in WorldSBK with Max Biaggi. And Marquez (Derbi) in 125cc.
The fearsome self-belief that has been the catalyst for Marquez’s awesome record in the premier class – 59 wins and a total of 101 podiums – makes him a commanding presence in any garage.
It’s a scenario exaggerated in Ducati with eight bikes across factory and satellite squads with a trio of riders dominating the 2023 title chase; 2022 world champion Pecco Bagnaia, Prima Pramac’s Jorge Martin and Mooney VR46 star Marco Bezzecchi.
“That is one of the concerns, one of the challenges,” Dall’Igna said. “We will have to be good at managing strong riders, with strong characters. Beyond Marc, there is already a concentration of important champions in Ducati. We will add one who is perhaps more cumbersome, having won so many championships, but it’s a job we know how to do”.
And Dall’Igna has moved quickly to douse any speculation that he will add to the complication by downgrading Enea Bastianini – out injured for a long period this season – from the factory squad to open a slot for Marquez.
“That is absolutely out of the question,” Dall’Igna said, and does not feel that the championship will be even more of a Ducati series than it is this year.
“I would like to stress that the battle of this year between Pecco and Martin looks exciting to me,” he said. “And next year we will see some good fights, and it won’t be an uninteresting world championship in any way. I like the fight between Pecco and Jorge, so far it has been an extremely sporting duel and I hope it will continue to be so until the end.”
Despite the potential destabilisation of Ducati’s current squadron of speedsters, Dall’Igna is unsurprisingly fascinated by the prospect of Marquez on his famed Desmosedici.
“Absolutely yes. Marc’s a rider who has won so much, one of the most important in history, and I don’t think anyone can say anything to challenge that,” he said.
As Marquez conjured his Honda departure he was in private discussion with Dall’Igna even though the final deal for 2024 is one between Marquez and the Gresini Team. Ducati was not scouting the deal.
“The full credit goes to Gresini; they are the ones who took him, not Ducati. But I have spoken (with Marc) about many things,” he confirmed. “This whole thing only started recently but I want to reiterate one thing, it’s not my idea, it’s something different. It’s a team that has decided to make a deal with a rider. Once this is clear, of course I am very happy to see very fast riders on my bikes”.
And Marquez was not immune to what was on offer in his chase of adding more race wins and world championships to his history-making CV. The attraction of a championship-winning Ducati – even the 2023 model – is obvious. It would deliver the instant adrenaline rush of racing for wins on the superb Desmosedici.
Marquez has zero motivation for making up the grid outside the podium, a key factor in his Honda departure, as a tweet posted by younger brother and future teammate Alex when his split from Honda was announced, affirms.
“I know that today has not been an easy day for you, but you are brave and life rewards those who value it,” it read. “Few of us know what you’ve been through since 2020 and it’s time for you to go back to 100 percent of what you like the most.”
That split comes 20 years after a previous humiliation for Honda; the defection of Valentino Rossi to Yamaha in 2004.
Rossi won his first race on the YZR-M1 and the 2004 world championship on his first attempt. Given Rossi swapped from what was considered the best bike in the paddock to the worst, and still managed to win the title, Marquez looks well placed to repeat the feat of his now retired great rival for a history-making switch to Ducati.
Marquez on a Ducati is a tantalising combination that is set to invigorate the 2024 MotoGP championship, even if it continues to be dominated by Ducati front runners. And Dall’Igna anticipates Marquez will be fighting for race wins immediately and be in the running for the 2024 championship title, even though he will be aboard a superseded Ducati GP23.
It’s the same concept as Marco Bezzecchi this year, who is fighting for wins on a year-old GP22.
“Marc is someone who has shown us that he can do that in the past, so…” Dall’Igna said. “And even Bezzecchi, with a bike from the previous year, is fighting for this year’s title, so I expect that Marc will be able to do that too. It will also depend on him.”
Still to be decided is the actual specification of the GP23 for Marquez — will it be the final evolution the factory star steps off at Valencia in November, complete with its rocketship-like starting device?
“That is still to be assessed, whether it is that bike or the one before the latest evolution, which have crucial parts, is still being analysed,” Dall’Igna said. “[But] we certainly don’t provide the satellite teams with bikes that might have problems. We will define the bike soon.”
And all bets are off for 2025 with Marquez’s reported single-year deal with Gresini. He will be a free agent, which opens up not only the Ducati factory squad but the likes of Aprilia and KTM. And it’s one of the reasons it is likely that Marquez will not bring loyalist crew chief Santi Hernandez with him to Ducati, as the Italian firm doesn’t want to risk exposure to closely guarded technical secrets. Of course if Marquez goes elsewhere in 2025 he will have some Ducati secrets.
“Johann Zarco is going to Honda from Ducati next year. It’s the same thing”, Dall’Igna said. “The information, the knowledge, the things he knows for sure he will take with him. A transfer of knowledge is always there. When Zarco came to us, he brought with him the experience of KTM and Honda, and it’s clear that we worked on that as well. But that’s part of the game.”
But for now Dall’Igna and Ducati have a relatively smooth ride to the 2023 championship, no matter the rider, and the intrigue of 2024 can wait. Dall’Igna does not subscribe to the theory that Bagnaia’s title defence is a spent force and that he is nervous with the pressure.
“No, he is someone who, when is under pressure, normally comes out stronger. We saw that last year. I expect the best Pecco ever,” Dall’Igna said. All in the face of the impressive surge from Jorge Martin, a real growth story.
“Jorge has improved a lot from the point of view of riding technique, where last year he was facing more difficulties, but above all he seems to have matured in race management,” Dall’Igna said.
And then there is Bezzecchi, lurking back in the points but mentored by Rossi and set to be a future Ducati star, if not this year. Highlighting there is always a difference between factory and satellite team bikes, just as Marquez will have in 2024.
“Marco’s not that far away, but the other two have an official bike and that in my opinion helps,” Dall’Igna said. “Certain parts, like the starting device, definitely help.”
The fact that the once-dominant superstar of MotoGP is willing to settle for a one-year-old satellite bike speaks volumes in terms of how he feels about his current situation.
Interview Colin Young + Photography Gold&Goose