Marquez exit leaves big Honda hole. Is there an obvious swap?
Should Marc Marquez make the shock move to the Gresini Ducati team for the 2024 MotoGP season, as he is now overwhelmingly expected to do following official confirmation he and Honda will part ways, it will push current Gresini rider Fabi Di Giannantonio out of a job.
But Marquez’s move out of the Repsol Honda set-up will create a hole of its own for Honda to fill across its four bikes, and there’s an argument that Di Giannantonio is the perfect fit to step in and take over at satellite squad LCR as Honda reshuffles its own riders.
Six-time MotoGP champion Marquez seems all but certain to be replaced at the factory Honda team by Johann Zarco. He was signed up to replace Alex Rins at LCR, but seems likely to join Joan Mir in Repsol colours without even getting the chance to ride for Lucio Cecchinello’s satellite squad.
Speaking exclusively to The Race only days after his switch from Pramac to LCR was announced, Zarco suggested even then that he was aware a promotion to a works Honda seat was certainly possible – albeit on a slightly longer timeline than the expedited one we’re now potentially witnessing.
“Having a straight contract with HRC always leaves the door open to have a chance to be in Repsol,” he said. “And… maybe this could happen in ’25.
“If the situation happened before [then] it would be really a surprise for me and for everyone, but a nice surprise. For sure the Honda is not the favourite [bike] at the moment, but to jump in the factory team, I’m just smiling about [the idea].”
While moving Zarco up should sort out one Honda problem, it doesn’t make life any easier for former racer Cecchinello and his squad, given that one side of his garage has traditionally been reliant on a combination of sponsors – and those sponsors are generally attracted by the potential of a high-profile racer who comes capable of delivering results.
Led by Cal Crutchlow from 2015 until his retirement in 2020, before Alex Marquez and then Alex Rins took over, LCR has experienced significant successes – from Cruthclow’s first of three wins at Brno in 2016 to a shock Rins victory earlier this season at the Circuit of the Americas.
Di Giannantonio might not be a rider of that level, and he certainly isn’t going to be winning races any time soon on a Honda RC213V given its well-documented woes of late. But he does have something else in his favour that other contenders for the spot such as World Superbike racer Iker Lecuona don’t: his nationality.
An Italian rider with a strong personality and plenty of character is exactly what the Italian LCR squad needs to placate its sponsors, many of whom hail from the same country. Hiring Di Giannantonio would therefore be a sensible commercial decision for the team.
It’s hard, after all, to even imagine that Zarco would be a regular frontrunner on the LCR bike next year – so if you can’t have results, you might as well have someone who keeps the people paying the bills happy.
It’s certainly not a concept that Di Giannantonio is opposed to, either. He is desperate to do anything he can to remain in the premier class next year instead of stepping down to Moto2 or making a backwards step of his own to the World Superbike paddock, and admitted after arguably his best weekend in MotoGP at the Japanese Grand Prix that he’d love the LCR opportunity should it come his way.
“I think I have a great relationship with all the paddock,” he said, when asked about how he gets on with Cecchinello in particular. “If we don’t have a seat for next year and Lucio has a place for me, then for sure I will take the opportunity with open arms.
“Honda in the end are struggling in this period, but Honda is Honda. They are one of the greatest, if not the greatest company, of bikes in the world, and I don’t think that in the future they’ll always be in a tough moment. So why not to grab another opportunity?
“At the moment I’m fully focused on racing, as I’ve always said, and I’m fully focused on being the best rider and doing the best job I can with the Ducati, with my team. It’s not done yet. Nothing is done yet.
“For my growth, it would be amazing to continue with my team and my bike one year more, but if there is no place there then I need to find another place. We will consider everything.”