Tech3 and KTM sprang a surprise by announcing that 2021 star-signing Danilo Petrucci would race at the French squad rather than the Official team.

It had been widely expected that Petrucci, the first premier-class winner to join a KTM MotoGP team, would be a direct replacement for departing factory leader Pol Espargaro.

Instead, Miguel Oliveira will switch from Tech3 to the Official team next year, reuniting a Moto3 and Moto2 partnership with Brad Binder, while Petrucci lines up alongside Iker Lecuona.

But Petrucci - whose factory Ducati seat will go to Jack Miller next season - wasn't the only race winner showing interest in KTM for 2021. Current team-mate Andrea Dovizioso and LCR Honda's Cal Crutchlow are also yet to sign for next season.

So why Petrucci and why Tech3?

"First of all it was, let's say, a shock for the KTM factory in general to see Pol leaving, because Pol is part of the family," Tech3 boss Herve Poncharal told Crash.net, referring to the Spaniard's (to-be-confirmed) move to Repsol Honda.

"Once it was clear that he was leaving, everybody was thinking what to do. Pit Beirer [KTM motorsport manager] mentioned a few weeks ago that the target was to keep the same four riders, so once Pol decided to go for a new adventure, it was obvious the others – Miguel, Brad and Iker – would stay and that was almost a very easy mission to have the three of them re-signed.

"What we all like and especially the KTM board is that these three guys are proper KTM riders, almost born on an orange bike and with a KTM DNA, believing in the project and wanting to stay here and show the project is moving on.

"So we had the three young guys - Brad, Miguel and Iker - and the question was what do we do for the fourth? Do we take another young talented rider from Moto2 or do try to have an experienced rider?

"Clearly, they [KTM] were more comfortable to try to have an experienced rider next to the three almost 'rookies', even if Miguel is not technically a rookie any more.

"Once it was decided that we needed an experienced guy, there were just a few interesting names."

'No more Inline-four riders!'

Around half of the current MotoGP grid is technically still to sign for next season.

"It had to be somebody that was free, have experience in the MotoGP class on a different brand of bike and… [laughs] - I was laughing because Pit always mentioned 'no more Inline-four riders!' Because it was not such a big success," Poncharal said.

Johann Zarco's difficulties in adapting to the RC16, after two strong seasons with Tech3 Yamaha, led to the #5 being granted an early divorce midway through last season.

The Frenchman's former Tech3 team-mate Hafizh Syahrin also struggled with the switch to the V4-powered KTM and has returned to Moto2.

'Then there was Cal, Danilo and Andrea'

"So then there was Cal, Danilo and Andrea," Poncharal continued. "They were the three main names. Pit was leading the negotiation. He was consulting with me, but he was the one deciding and informing his boss, Stefan Pierer."

Poncharal explained that Petrucci's factory visit had been particularly well received.

"Danilo took the decision to physically go and visit the KTM factory and meet Pit Beirer and Mike Leitner. I think that was very well appreciated and - you know how I am and also how they are - at some stage the difference between riders comes down to the feeling. Because as I quite often say, a happy rider is a fast rider.

"What they really wanted inside KTM is somebody who they felt believed in the project, liked the project and was not coming only to have a job. Not, 'I've lost my job, but I still want to race a few more years and have a good salary'.

"I think with Danilo, the way he spoke, the way he explained himself, the way he behaved when he sat down on the bike. I think all of that was what Pit Beirer and Mike Leitner wanted to see.

"We all know Danilo is a very friendly person, we all know he is a very committed guy. But also we mustn't forget that he won the Mugello Grand Prix and it was an intense fight with Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez.

"He beat them on the last lap and to beat both Marc and Andrea on the last lap you need to be a special rider. Even if you have done it only once, you need to be a special rider with skill, courage and sharp eyes.

"He ended up sixth in the championship and he's also coming from a very interesting motorcycle, which is also a V4, and an extremely competitive machine. So it will be very interesting to listen to his comments.

"So that was how Danilo got the job with KTM."

Triple title runner-up Dovizioso is now expected to remain at Ducati, while Crutchlow - whose LCR Honda seat appears under pressure from Alex Marquez, due to Pol Espargaro's expected arrival at Repsol - has also been linked with Aprilia.

'Never use that word!'

As far as Petrucci being placed at Tech3 rather than the Official KTM team, Poncharal admitted he was also initially surprised, but said there had been a variety of factors.

"We all thought, and I was thinking, that Danilo was going to go to the factory KTM team in place of Pol. Then Pit said to me, 'would you mind having Danilo with you?' I said, 'I'd be very happy Pit! But does it make sense, because we are a kind of Junior team?'.

"Pit replied: 'Never use that word!'

"Because for two years he's been telling me not to call my team a Junior Team. I know they want to communicate it more and more, and this is the truth, that the four bikes in 2020 are completely identical. The four riders will all have the same spec, same support and same evolutions together.

"Also I know that Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder were like a dream duo when they were team-mates in Moto3 and Moto2 with KTM. They won quite a few races, were both on the podium at the same time.

"These two guys also respect each other a lot and like to push each other in a healthy atmosphere, which started to make Pit think 'why not reunite the Oliveira-Binder line-up?' Which is a real Red Bull KTM team because these two guys almost always raced with Red Bull KTM in grand prox.

"Then Pit told me, 'if we would do that, would you be happy?' I said, 'We have four extremely good riders for 2021. I have a lot of faith in any of these four, all of them will be fast, helping each other in a positive atmosphere. Not whingeing or complaining. At the end of the day, why not?'

"Then I talked to Danilo and explained to him, because I didn't want him to feel that he was going to be kind of 'downgraded' from a full-factory guy to satellite. Pit also explained to him that there will be technically absolutely no difference and then we made it happen.

"All in all I think it's a good organisation and it shows to everyone that when Pit says there are four factory KTM guys - if you put the fastest and most experienced guy in the satellite structure, that means the four bikes are at the same level and there is no Team A and Team B."

'A very exciting mission for us'

Tech3's main mission in recent years has been to introduce and then develop rising stars in the MotoGP class, first for Yamaha and then (since 2019) KTM.

After Dovizioso left Tech3 for the Ducati Team at the end of 2012, Bradley Smith, Pol Espargaro, Johann Zarco, Jonas Folger, Hafizh Syahrin, Miguel Oliveira and Iker Lecuona have all completed their rookie seasons for the French team.

But the arrival of Petrucci marks a step change.

"So far my challenge was taking some young guys and trying to help them to understand and learn the MotoGP class," Poncharal said. "But to work with an experienced MotoGP winner is also a challenge, to make him feel good, make him feel as supported as he was in a full factory team and to try to help him to work well with the KTM engineers to further develop the bike.

"That will be a very exciting mission for us. We are very eager, very proud. But we all talk like it's going to be the next race, but this is for '21! We haven’t started 2020 yet!"

'A little sad to lose Miguel'

If Oliveira's form at the recent Misano test is anything to go by, when the Portuguese matched the pace-setting times of Pol and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia), Poncharal believes there will be much for Tech3 to look forward to during the delayed 2020 campaign.

"Of course I'm a little sad to lose Miguel because I have a lot of respect for Miguel," he said. "We did a test in Misano last week and he was very impressive, honestly.

"This is the first time since the 2019 Austrian MotoGP race at the Red Bull Ring where he finished eighth that he has had full fitness in his right shoulder. The following race in Silverstone he was hit by Johann and since then he's been struggling so much with the shoulder.

"So 2020 should be on paper a very good season for Miguel. We will have one more year together in '20 and then he will be leaving for the factory team and I'm happy for him and happy to see him working with Brad again."

 

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