The Covid delay to the MotoGP season meant Danilo Petrucci missed out on the chance to try and defend his factory Ducati seat for 2021.
After a disappointing end to last season, following his emotional home Mugello win, the Italian came into the year knowing his place was under pressure and a strong start to this year’s world championship would be vital.
But with racing put on hold, Ducati ultimately took the decision to replace Petrucci with Jack Miller before a racing lap had been completed.
The decision put Petrucci’s MotoGP career in serious doubt, but Pol Espargaro‘s switch to Repsol Honda suddenly opened up a vacancy at KTM.
Other proven race winners, including Ducati team-mate Andrea Dovizioso, were also in contention. But Petrucci’s enthusiasm to join a factory that was yet to finish higher than sixth place in a dry race (equal to Aprilia’s best result) won the day.
It proved to be an inspired move…
By the end of 2020, KTM had taken eight podiums and three MotoGP wins, including two by Miguel Oliveira, whose Tech3 seat Petrucci will inherit in 2021.
“It has been a very strange situation,” Petrucci said of losing his Ducati place before the season had begun. “But all the things happening in the world this year have been very strange.
“For sure the day that Gigi [Dall’Igna] called me and said that I was not anymore in the factory team was a very sad day. Because I felt like I had failed my mission.
“But looking back I have to say thanks to him, because his move permits me to stay in another factory that is really, really competitive. Everybody at the beginning of the season didn’t think KTM was so fast, but now the results are the best possible.
“So I’m happy that Gigi fired me at the beginning of the season!” he smiled.
Although Petrucci managed a second MotoGP win this season, in the wet at Le Mans, it was one of only two events where he felt comfortable on the Desmosedici GP20 with the revised Michelin rear tyre construction.
“For sure I never found a really good feeling, I only really felt it was ‘my bike’ just in Barcelona, we struggled a lot on the straight, and then Le Mans, where I was always competitive both in the wet and dry,” Petrucci said.
“But the main problem was the braking area, all the season. And this race [Portimao finale] also, like in Valencia, we struggled with the grip and never found a good bike.
“The bike has changed a bit compared to last year, but regarding the rear tyre was the main thing. I’m not happy because – except for two races – I never found a really good feeling. But I always gave my best, sometimes it worked, sometimes not.”
While his future bike won at Portimao in the hands of Oliveira, Petrucci signed off six-years at Ducati with just 16th place.
“Really difficult, especially to finish outside the points with so many problems and struggling a lot was very, let’s say, crazy,” he said. “I fought with the bike all weekend, which I didn’t expect sincerely. I wanted to be faster but it was the maximum I could do. I never found a good pace, a good feeling on the bike.
“Anyway, I’m happy it’s finished. For sure, I wanted to finish in a better way but I struggled so much today to find a good feeling.”
The only downside to KTM’s success this season is that, having lost technical concessions, Petrucci now has to wait until Sepang in February to make his RC16 debut.
“Unfortunately [KTM] lost concessions, the free testing, so I have to try the bike in February,” he confirmed. “But I will go in the wind tunnel next week and it will be very important because the top speed this year for me has been a problem.”
Other than that, Petrucci’s winter plans consist of, “riding motocross so much… without covering the brand of the bike!
“I don’t know if it will be possible to travel outside of Italy. At the moment I hope just that the situation in the world gets better. That’s the only thing.”
A career-best sixth in last year’s world championship, Petrucci slipped to twelfth this season, when Ducati’s only other race win was by Dovizioso in Austria.
Dovizioso, who eventually finished fourth in the standings, was initially expected to stay alongside Miller next season.
Instead, the #4 called off contract talks with Ducati in mid-August, meaning the official team will have a new line-up of Miller (seventh in the world championship) and Francesco Bagnaia (16th) in 2021.