After three years in the factory Ducati outfit and six in the Ducati family, where could Michael Ruben Rinaldi end up and why a multiple World Champion in MotoGP™ could hold all the cards
Michael Ruben Rinaldi's (Aruba.it Racing - Ducati) future has been a massively hot topic since his departure from the factory Ducati outfit was confirmed by their signing of Nicolo Bulega for 2024. However, at the Tissot Aragon Round this weekend, the 27-year-old Italian confirmed in his debrief with international media that he has "options", of which one has a deadline of Sunday at Aragon, whilst there's another on Sunday at Portimao.
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Speculation has been rife about Rinaldi, who stated ahead of the round that "he's as free as a bird" and that he "doesn't care about the pressure", with his sole aim to be strong at the front again. It's been an up-and-down year for the #21, who started strongly with a double podium at Phillip Island and was in victory contention at Mandalika, before a nightmare Assen round. A notorious clash with arch-rival Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) in Barcelona's Race 1 resulted in fireworks between the two off-track, although Rinaldi recovered to a podium for Race 2, as well as two more at Misano. However, difficulties at Donington Park, Imola and Most left him somewhat anonymous, before bouncing back at Magny-Cours with a podium and was fighting for victory until he was taken out by Championship-leading teammate Alvaro Bautista.
Speaking about 2024, Rinaldi said: “It depends on many details. We know how strong the Ducati package is and if I jump on another Ducati in another team, I know what we can do. Sometimes you need new challenges; if it's a good challenge, a nice project, why not? I haven't decided yet. Money is important but not the most. I enjoy riding a bike and trying to finish at the top. It's a matter of things, not just money or winning. Look at Marc Marquez; it happens everywhere. You need to be clear in the mirror with yourself.”
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However, could Marc Marquez be a deciding factor in Rinaldi's future? On Saturday morning at the Indian Grand Prix, Paolo Ciabatti spoke to MotoGP.com in pitlane for FP3, stating that "Gresini have the opportunity and are waiting for Marc's decision. He will talk with Honda management in Japan", with the Japanese Grand Prix the next GP after India. This would open the door for Iker Lecuona (Team HRC) to move back to MotoGP™, as he said on Thursday that his goal is to stay with Honda, although he stated that "the place, we don't know" as he's Honda contracted, leaving a vacant seat that could be filled by Rinaldi. It is thought Lecuona would move to LCR Honda to replace newly-signed Johann Zarco, who would move to Repsol Honda should Marc decide to leave.
That piece of the jigsaw would make sense when Rinaldi responded to a question in his debrief about whether or not the deadlines are in his hands or if they depend on another team’s plans, with a potential Honda seat up for the taking: “I have one on Sunday and another on Sunday at Portimao. If I want to go with the first option, then I have to decide quickly. If next week, I say, "I don't know yet", then the first option is gone. Few are for me to decide, other ones depend on something else.”
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