State Of KTM’s MotoGP Project Exposed
After KTM's home MotoGP race, the Austrian Grand Prix, Tech3 rider Remy Gardner admitted that he will now unlikely remain with the team and in MotoGP in 2023. The harsh words he spoke afterward only underlined how badly the factory job was managing their driver.
He signed a two-year deal in 2020 that involves one season in Moto2 and a second year in the premier class, which according to him, is not a terrible decision for the team even if he felt arduous to ride the 2022 KTM RC16.
Gardener does not have a year like his fellow rookie and former Moto2 rival Marco Bezzechi. But he's still within reach of regular factory duo Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira and has almost certainly beaten teammate Raul Fernandez, despite being the clear second favorite for Take 3.
Still, it looks like there won't be a place for him at the hostel next year as KTM resumed talks with Pol Espargaro to place Oliveira in the newly named Gas Tech3 team, a move that would put Gardner out of his seat.
It's the latest in a series of back and forth swings that made his debut year particularly stressful, suggesting the 24-year-old should be looking out of the MotoGP paddock as early as May. Until the other part changed, and he became safer.
Now, however, it's flipped the other way as KTM is pitting three riders against each other, with Oliveira, Gardner, and Fernandez all appearing to be using it as a mark against one another. The 2022 championship contender is said to be Augusto Fernandez. The latter is in the starting blocks waiting around to replace one of them if KTM feels like it.
After Sunday’s race at the Red Bull Ring, Gardener said it is not looking good for next year. There is nothing in MotoGP, and KTM has done it again.
The comment reveals the truth about how KTM’s MotoGP project is going. It means bordering on disaster in terms of on-track performance and complete mismanagement of its rider line-up that stretches back almost to the project’s first days of success.
It’s reminiscent of similar issues at Aprilia in the early days of its MotoGP return; riders have been used and dispatched rapidly, especially at Tech3.
KTM recruited Bradley Smith and Espargaro in its MotoGP project launch to get rid of Smith, thereby replacing him with Johann Zacro. This move lasted mere months of his two-year contract before a severe breakdown in relations between rider and manufacturer. They parted ways halfway through their first season together.
The seat was first offered to then-satellite rider Oliveira, who chose to instead stay with his squad, to become infuriated with KTM when it asked the factory spot not to test rider Mika Kallio. It is because he was expected, but his fierce Moto2 and Moto3 rival Brad Binder was promoted ahead of him into factory colors.
Therefore, when Espargaro departed for Repsol Honda, Oliveira joiedn Binder. Still, it left a bitter taste, reinforced when Binder signed a new four-year deal with the team just as Oliveira was starting to win races.
However, the ultimate snub for the Portuguese rider came at the start of 2022 when KTM announced that he was set to be replaced for next year by Ducati rider Jack Miller – but then went on to offer Oliveira a chance to stay with the team in satellite colors.
Oliveira initially rejected the offer, but now it seems the deal is potentially back on, according to KTM Motorsport boss Pete Bearer. Although it's unclear whether Oliveira thinks he should accept it, Aprilia will join the newly converted RNF Racing team next year.
It was not just Oliveira who struggled with KTM's handling, too. Gardner and Fernandez's exit from Tech3 would be the second time in two years that he has lost both drivers at once, repeating last year's firing of Danilo Petrucci (after just one year) and Iker Lecuona, the youngest driver on the grid and someone who was just starting to show promise on the bike.
None of this is compared to the way Fernandez ended up on a MotoGP bike for 2022. He is interested in remaining with the team and completing another year in Moto2. Still, there was a firm insistence that he should step up – strong enough to see him looking elsewhere and entering into negotiations with Yamaha about a spot on its RNF team.
The things that happened behind closed doors still remains a mystery. However, it was so significant (perhaps Fernandez telling the team he had raised the necessary cash to buy himself out of his contract) that KTM felt the need to take immediate action. They announced halfway through a free practice session at the Red Bull Ring that it had hired the Spanish youngster without his consent.
There have been multiple other incidents over the years that draw an unwelcome spotlight to KTM’s rider-management practices and its general disdain for negotiating deals. It is something perhaps best combined earlier this year by Beirer, who, after a falling out with Gardner’s representative Paco Sanchez, described rider managers as ‘the worst thing to happen since COVID’ to the MotoGP paddock in an interview.
All in all, it portrays a somewhat messy picture of how the brand operates. We had seen significantly dented morale and performance before at Aprilia, which was only addressed, thereby adding Massimo Rivola to its management structure, a move that Aleix Espargaro credits for transforming the team into a title contender.
That is something that has been warned about in the past. It is the nature of working with KTM that many had hoped would be resolved by the arrival of former Pramac Ducati boss Francesco Guidotti.
Given KTM's recent contract dispute, the influence of Guidotti, which enjoys Pramac's excellent reputation for fairness and well-oiled machinery, was not felt on the team.
Like Aprilia's Rivola, Guidotti was not authorized to lead KTM's MotoGP operations fully and has been shown to occasionally attempt to quell inflammatory interviews released by KTM President Stefan Pierer and Motorsports President Beirer.
It means that things may not go as expected during your tenure. Perhaps we can learn a lesson from Aprilia's case at KTM. And maybe not all responsibility for the disappointing 2022 season so far lies with our engineering department.