The boss of the Aruba.it Ducati team has teased it will be ready to announce who will partner its WorldSBK Champion Alvaro Bautista for 2024 towards the end of this month.
Speculation over which rider will get the opportunity to ride the factory Ducati Panigale V4 R - winner in 16 of 18 WorldSBK races so far this season - has been rife since Bautista staved off rumours he could retire by agreeing to an extension for 2024.
Michael Ruben Rinaldi is the current incumbent in what is now his third season in the works-backed team, but while he is still in the frame to be retained, a lack of front-running consistency appears increasingly likely to see him axed.
It was thought Ducati would therefore replace Rinaldi with Axel Bassani, the young Italian having emerged as one of WorldSBK’s breakout stars on a privateer Ducati run by minnow squad, Motocorsa Racing.
However, in recent weeks, the momentum in Ducati’s interest in Bassani has waned in favour of Nicolo Bulega, the young Italian having built a strong case for the seat in the WorldSSP Championship.
A former Valentino Rossi VR46 Academy member, Bulega is in his second season of WorldSSP with the Aruba.it Racing team and, with eight wins from 12 races, is currently 55 points clear at the top of the standings.
For now, Aruba.it Ducati boss Serafino Foti was giving little away, instead to say the team is in ‘no rush’ to make and communicate its final decision.
“Bulega could be an option, but we have other options on the table. We’re not in a rush. We would like to understand what the best compromise for our team is. I think we will make a decision at the end of July or beginning of August.”
"Bulega deserves Aruba Ducati WorldSBK chance" - Axel Bassani
Should Ducati indeed select Bulega, it will come as a bitter disappointment for Bassani, who many consider to be the most attractive candidate for the factory squad.
Though not officially aligned with the Ducati factory on the privateer Motocorsa machine, Bassani has developed into a consistent front-runner. After six rounds, he’s achieved nine top five results and currently holds fifth in the overall standings, ahead of factory rider Rinaldi.
To his credit though, Bassani - who is expected to stay at Motocorsa for 2024 - says Bulega deserves the chance to jump directly from WorldSSP into a factory Ducati ride alongside Bautista.
“I think Michael [Rinaldi] is not having a good time and I understand that, there is so much pressure on him.
“But Bulega is winning and he has all the cards, so if he goes there, he will deserve it.”