Pol Espargaro switches to Ducati in 2021? - by Steve Day

In the final edition of our 'What could happen if' series, MotoGP™ commentator Steve Day looks at the Pol Espargaro to Ducati rumours

We’re yet to turn a wheel in the 2020 MotoGP™ World Championship and already the 2021 grid is starting to take shape, with potential moves that even the most experienced fortune-teller couldn’t have foreseen. Pol Espargaro is the latest headline grabber, with both Repsol Honda and Ducati keen on signing the former Moto2™ World Champion.

After an extremely positive winter test schedule for KTM, a seemingly content Pol was almost certain to stay with the Austrian team, with the new and vastly improved RC16 looking like a genuine top-six fighter. The younger of the Espargaro brothers enters his fourth season with KTM but heads can turn when it’s two of the top teams in MotoGP™ chasing your signature and understandably it has caught his attention.

Honda and Ducati have won 46 of the last 55 races in the premier class and Pol himself has already expressed a desire to one day, make a dream move to either. Perhaps the characteristics of the Honda makes that seem like a more likely destination, that and wearing Repsol colours alongside the best rider in the world. But what if he decided to move to Ducati? And why would Ducati want Pol?

Having set their sights on the likes of Viñales, Quartararo and Rins during the close season, Ducati have lost out on crucial targets and, if you add the loss of Jorge Lorenzo mid-way through 2018, it wouldn’t be unfair to state that opportunities have been missed by the Bologna-based manufacturer of late. Jack Miller has recently signed for the factory team, a move that sees Danilo Petrucci seeking a seat for 2021. But what about their ‘leading’ rider, Andrea Dovizioso?

This is where the Pol Espargaro links commence and when, perhaps, their recent mishaps in rider transfers may be forcing them to cover their backs. It makes sense to try and keep Dovizioso in the hot seat, he’s finished runner-up during the past three seasons, knows how to get the best out of the Ducati, and is one of the very few men who has been able to occasionally ruffle the feathers of Marc Marquez. This will likely be Dovi’s last contract though and terms were not exactly swift the last time Ducati negotiations took place, so could this be the time to think about Pol?

With Miller adding exuberance to the factory team, one would think an experienced figure alongside him would be a preference for Ducati and despite being five years younger than Andrea, Pol has now spent six seasons in MotoGP™ and many a year in the smaller classes as a thorn in the side of a young Marc Marquez. His tenacity and unwillingness to give anything other than 100% is infectious and he is adored at KTM, but is that enough? Fond memories with a great team are lovely but the chance of winning races with another is better.

The KTM is not a machine that can yet poke the ribs of the fiercest competitors and yet in the hands of Pol, you wouldn’t be surprised if it made a few dry podium visits soon enough, so what could he do on a Ducati? His aggression on a motorcycle naturally sounds like a perfect fit for the Honda and yes, the idea of Repsol Honda colours is enough to get any rider giddy, but the reality is that you are fighting a marvel in Marc Marquez on the same machinery week in week out.

The three years prior to his KTM experience spent on a satellite Yamaha was not disappointing by any means, but in sport you are judged by results and a ‘0’ in the podiums column during his time at Tech 3 tainted his potential a little. Nobody expects Pol to be winning the MotoGP™ World Championship on a top bike but he is underrated and the Ducati is a race-winning motorcycle, so it’s entirely plausible to imagine Pol collecting regular trophies, challenging for the odd race win and perhaps even becoming Ducati’s king pin.

A lot hinges on Dovizioso, however, and of late his links to KTM have cooled, with his current teammate Danilo Petrucci sounding like he could be close to a deal with the Austrian manufacturer. Were that move confirmed, it would seem less likely that Pol’s move to Ducati would be feasible. Unless, of course, Dovi himself were to make a move back to HRC? Stranger things have happened!

Elsewhere, the progress and decisions made by Yamaha and Suzuki could also be problematic for Ducati as they look to plan their future. The competition and strength-in-depth is at an all-time high and they cannot afford to lose out in the market again. If Dovizioso and Ducati do not come to an agreement, they will need someone hungry to win races again and Pol is ready to extend his trophy cabinet.

It seems then that the Bologna-based team must have either Andrea or Pol aboard for 2021 and that’s not a bad position to be in. What Ducati cannot do is end up with neither.

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