Written by Jenna Post, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
When it was announced that current factory Yamaha rider Franco Morbidelli would be leaving the Japanese manufacturer at the end of 2023, following a nearly two-and-a-half year stint with the team, his future was uncertain. Rumours of a move to the World SuperBike Championship were thrown around, and were put to bed as quickly by Morbidelli himself.
Before the Mooney VR46 rider Marco Bezzecchi announced his deal to remain with the team for 2024, and a potential opening at Johann Zarco’s Prima Pramac seat, as the latter switches to LCR Honda next year, Morbidelli was a potential target to take over Bezzecchi’s seat, more so than Zarco’s. So, how did the Italian secure a seat on arguably, the best bike on the grid?
Morbidelli was the first official member of Valentino Rossi’s VR46 Rider Academy, training in Tavullia, Italy before the academy had even officially been created.
He later went on to enter the Moto2 scene in 2013 as a wildcard entry, and from 2014 joined the class full-time. He won the 2017 Moto2 World Championship, and entered MotoGP in 2018 with the same team, Marc VDS, and ultimately won Rookie of the Year.
For 2019, Morbidelli joined the Yamaha satellite team, Petronas SRT, on a two-year deal, which saw him partner with then-rookie Fabio Quartararo. Prior to the delayed season start in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic, Morbidelli signed another two-year deal with the team.
Morbidelli’s first MotoGP podium was at the 2020 Czech Republic Grand Prix, where he finished in 2nd place, and his first MotoGP victory came only a few races later, in his home race at Misano. He went on to secure another two wins, and a further rostrum appearance, resulting in a second-place finish in the championship, only 13 points behind Suzuki rider Joan Mir. What makes it more impressive is that Morbidelli achieved his feats on the 2019-spec Yamaha, while teammate Quartararo, who had the factory-spec bike, finished in eighth place. Quartararo himself also had three race wins that year, but didn’t make any more podium appearances.
In 2021, Morbidelli became teammates with mentor Rossi, having been replaced at the Yamaha factory team by Quartararo. He secured a podium at Jerez, but suffered a training incident after the German Grand Prix, leaving him with a knee injury, and on the sidelines. Regardless of his slow recovery that caused multiple replacements during the season, Morbidelli was announced to move up the factory Yamaha team for the rest of the 2021 season, from October. Missing a total of five race weekends, Morbidelli ended the season 17th in the standings, on 47 points.
Partnering up with old teammate Quartararo, Morbidelli suffered a difficult 2022 season. Despite being at a factory team, with a teammate who finished second in the standings on the same bike, Morbidelli slumped to 19th overall. Yamaha were committed to honouring Morbidelli’s contract, and thus continued their partnership into 2023.
While the 2023 Yamaha M1 has struggled to show its competitiveness for both riders, this season so far has been relatively successful for Morbidelli, in comparison to the past. Sitting behind Quartararo in the standings, in 12th place, with only a 28-point gap, Morbidelli has scored points at every Sunday race this season, his best result being fourth in Argentina, round two of the season. More than anything, Morbidelli has been consistent, considering he is also the only rider on the grid to have finished every race in 2023.
Upon confirmation of Bezzecchi’s choice to stay at VR46, the Pramac seat remained open, alongside a seat at Gresini Racing, with expectations that their current rider Fabio Di Giannantonio would lose his spot at the end of the season. The likes of Moto2 riders Jake Dixon and Tony Arbolino were both pitted to take Di Giannantonio’s seat, but both have decided to stay in Moto2 for another year. Gresini was initially the most likely destination for Morbidelli, given it was a Ducati satellite team, and with Morbidelli’s lack of performance in past years, it didn’t make sense for the Italian to go to Pramac — who are currently battling for the 2023 MotoGP World Championship with their rider Jorge Martin.
Both Honda riders Marc Marquez and Joan Mir were linked to a potential Ducati move, with Marquez still yet to decide his future. Then came the likes of KTM Moto2 rider Pedro Acosta, who currently leads the Moto2 standings with a significant margin. Acosta was promised a MotoGP seat in 2024, though KTM seem to have their lineup already kitted. But what do all these riders have in common? Contracts, and not easy ones to get out of, either.
Morbidelli being contract-free was a preferable trait for Pramac, and being an Italian rider with ties to Rossi was undoubtedly beneficial. Morbidelli has proven he is a talented rider, and Pramac have expressed confidence that he can deliver results. Pramac Team Principal, Paolo Campinoti, said after the announcement:
"I am very happy that Franco is joining our family for 2024. I have an excellent relationship with him, and he has proven to be a champion on many occasions. I am confident that in our team, he will find the right conditions to fight for the positions he deserves."
Ducati Corse General Manager Luigi Dall’Igna also expressed his confidence in Morbidelli, saying:
“...It's no coincidence that in 2020, he was the MotoGP vice-world champion, winning three Grand Prix races. We are confident that, together with the Pramac Racing team and thanks to our support, he will be able to show his full potential…”
While it may seem like an unusual pick for some, Pramac views Morbidelli as a promising addition to the team, regardless of his previous underperformance at Yamaha. Morbidelli’s MotoGP career still has time to flourish, and he has shown to be a contender. Moving to a Ducati team paired with the Desmosedici GP24 may just be the kit he needs to get back to the front of the grid, and begin fighting for a championship once again.