Objectively, Ducati’s start to the 2022 MotoGP season couldn’t have gone much worse than it has.
Sure, it leads the championship with Enea Bastianini – but it’s not the Gresini Racing rider who it’s pinned title aspirations upon.
After two races, its planned main stars Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin have scored just a single point between them.
But, with a long season still to go, are things really as bad as they look?
It’s fair to say that while Bastianini was expected to make a strong start to the season, no one at all expected him to be leading the championship as MotoGP heads to Argentina for round three.
Bastianini is mounted upon a 2021 bike that finished the season in dominant form in Bagnaia’s hands, winning four of the last six races of the year, so he was always going to have a good start, of course – but there’s also a feeling that he’s had things fall into place just the way he needed to since taking an impressive victory at the opening race of the year in Qatar.
He clearly didn’t have the form to fight hard to maintain his lead in Indonesia – but with the unexpected arrival of rain for the race, he was handed a lifeline, and, carving his way through from 20th after a terrible start, he almost made up for it with enough valuable points in 11th place to keep his lead.
But while Bastianini heads to Termas de Rio Hondo (where he’ll be a MotoGP rookie) with 30 points to his name, things look very different for his fellow Ducati riders.
First of the 2022 machines is Pramac satellite rider Johann Zarco in fifth with 24 points, while factory racer Jack Miller is a distant 11th with half of the Frenchman’s tally. The other three GP22 bikes (belonging to Bagnaia, Martin and Luca Marini) have scored six points between them, mainly thanks to Marini.
Things are particularly bad for the pre-season title tips Bagnaia and Martin, of course. Never comfortable looking on the new bike even after a dramatic late switch of engine spec in testing that put the factory team of Bagnaia and Miller on a different variant to everyone else, Bagnaia of course didn’t just make a rare error to crash out of the opening race of the season at Lusail—he took Martin with him.
Martin needed no help doing that in Mandalika Bay, mind you, falling completely of his own accord after aquaplaning on a wet patch at Turn 1, while Bagnaia failed to convert what looked like a step forward in the dry into a result in the wet, taking home just one point in 15th place.
It’s increasingly obvious that the problems don’t lie with the riders, however. There is bad luck and pushing too hard, and then there are the sort of chronic problems that have hit the 2022 Ducati since testing started two months ago.
Expected to be a gradual revision of what was already a very good bike (see Bastianini’s performances for proof of that), it instead seems to have been a much more substantial reworking than thought – or than perhaps the riders even asked for.
They’ve almost had to start from scratch again when it comes to building not just a base set-up but also an electronics strategy.
That hampered Ducati during testing in particular as its riders spent the entire five days of the pre-season working not on the final tasks needed to build a race-winning position from but rather on finding a way to make the bike less aggressive when trying to exit a corner.
That significant (and unexpected) amount of testing needed has been the bane of Bagnaia’s season in particular so far, with the 2021 title runner-up complaining after his disastrous Qatar race about the way Ducati had been working. Team boss Davide Tardozzi even offered an unprompted apology to him for the lack of focus throughout that opening weekend.
Things looked a little better in Indonesia, of course, and we finally got to see something we’d anticipated before the season started – a Ducati domination of qualifying, with Bologna bikes taking seven of the 12 Q2 places and two of the three front row spots.
While unable to capitalize upon it because of the rain, it perhaps means that things aren’t quite as bad as they seem right now.
Sure, Qatar was a proper blip, but in Indonesia both Bagnaia’s poor results and Martin’s crash are easily explained away by the rain, and while wet-weather specialist Miller wasn’t able to hold onto the early lead he snatched, his inconsistency of late means that’s not the biggest surprise in the world either.
What that assessment all relies upon, of course, is two strong weekends for Ducati as MotoGP heads into its first back-to-back races of the year in Argentina and the USA.
It’s often said that the season doesn’t start properly until Europe – but that’s something predicated on limiting the damage of the opening rounds overseas, and it’s fair to say Ducati hasn’t done that so far.
That puts the pressure on it now to build up some momentum. It’s aided, of course, by many of its fellow pre-season favorites having less than ideal starts themselves.
Reigning champion Fabio Quartararo has 27 points, 2020 title winner Joan Mir 20, and of course Honda rider Marc Marquez will probably add another two DNSs to his one from Mandalika.
Ducati has bought itself some time, but it’s rapidly running out now – and this weekend’s first visit to Termas since 2019 is a make or break moment for the factory if it’s to live up to the dramatic expectations set by Bagnaia himself last year.