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Ducati set to drop Rinaldi, promote Bulega to works WSBK team

Michael Ruben Rinaldi appears likely to lose his works Ducati World Superbike ride for 2024 in favour of World Supersport series leader Nicolo Bulega.

Michael Ruben Rinaldi, Aruba.it Racing Ducati

Bulega, 23, is hotly tipped to make the step up to WSBK next year on one of Ducati’s two factory V4 Panigale Rs alongside reigning champion Alvaro Bautista.

That would leave Rinaldi needing to find an alternative berth to stay on the grid, something that current Ducati title sponsor Aruba.it is thought to be keen on facilitating.

Rinaldi first stepped up to the works Ducati team in 2021 as team-mate to Scott Redding, scoring three race wins that year on his way to fifth in the standings, and was kept on for 2022 as Redding departed to make way for Bautista.

However, the 2022 season yielded no wins and just a handful of podiums, a trend that has continued in the first half of the current campaign.

While Bautista has won every race bar four this year, Rinaldi sits sixth in the standings following last weekend’s Imola round, one place behind satellite Ducati man Axel Bassani.

Meanwhile, former Moto2 rider Bulega has been the standout rider this year in World Supersport in his second year in the category aboard a factory-run Panigale V2, having won eight of the 14 races held so far this year.

 

Bulega has already tested the V4 Panigale Superbike and is said to have impressed Ducati with his speed, which combined with the desire to groom a suitable successor to Bautista, appears to have got the nod to replace Rinaldi.

Bassani had also been linked to a factory promotion but instead looks set to remain at Motocorsa Racing in 2024.

Rinaldi’s most likely option for next season would be a return to Go Eleven, where he raced in 2020 prior to his factory call-up.

Speaking last weekend at Imola, Rinaldi said a family atmosphere would be a priority as he seeks to firm up his WSBK future.

“I want to be happy when I ride the bike,” said Rinaldi. “That’s what I’m looking for. I want to win again, or at least fight for podiums. I want to find the joy I had when I was dreaming of being a professional motorcycle racer.

 

“I can’t be happy at the moment because I made too many mistakes this season. Also, some things have happened. But it is what it is. I have to deal with it and get back into the best shape possible.”

Iannone in contention for Ducati satellite ride

As well as Rinaldi, ex-MotoGP racer Andrea Iannone has been linked to a seat at Go Eleven as he looks to WSBK to resume his career after his four-year doping ban expires at the end of the year.

Iannone attended last month’s Misano round and was again in the paddock last weekend at Imola, making little secret of his desire to race in WSBK, and his links to Ducati combined with his high profile would make him an obvious fit for a customer V4 R.

He was initially linked to the Barni squad, which could expand to a second bike alongside the one currently occupied by another former Ducati MotoGP rider, Danilo Petrucci.

However, an offer of technical support from Ducati could lead Iannone to link up with Go Eleven, which currently runs a single bike for German rider Philipp Oettl.

 

Whatever happens, it appears unlikely that Oettl will remain with Go Eleven in 2024.

An additional Ducati at either Barni or Go Eleven would mean two extra V4 Rs on the grid next season: Long-time Moto2 squad Marc VDS has already confirmed plans to bring Sam Lowes over to WSBK using one of the Italian machines.

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