Danilo Petrucci has been officially confirmed as joining KTM in MotoGP next season, but not with the factory team.

Instead, the winner of last year's Mugello race for Ducati will join the satellite Tech3 KTM squad.

Putting Petrucci in Pol Espargaro's place had been widely expected, following the news that Espargaro had all but agreed on a deal with Repsol Honda, but KTM has instead chosen to promote Miguel Oliveira from the French team.

Oliveira, who made no secret of his disappointment when rookie Brad Binder was chosen to replace Johann Zarco alongside Espargaro this season, will now partner the South African once again (after being team-mates in Moto3 and Moto2) in 2021. Petrucci will ride alongside another retained rookie, Iker Lecuona.

KTM, which says it has built eight identical bikes for the start of this year, empathised that it will supply all of its riders with full-factory machinery in 2021.

“It gives me great pleasure to stick these four hungry guys together for our MotoGP program," said KTM motorsport director Pit Beirer.

"Brad and Miguel have a productive working relationship and have shown the talent and the desire to win races through all stages of Grand Prix. We believe they have the determination necessary to push our MotoGP project forward.

"The same goes for Red Bull KTM Tech3 where we’re happy to bring Danilo into the family. His experience counts for a lot but we’re also banking on a rider that is committed and with the right attitude. We believe he still has something to show in MotoGP.

"On one side we are investing in MotoGP front-runners ‘of the future’ but they could easily become stars already in 2021 and that would be exciting to see.

"We have two set-ups but really it is one big team with all four athletes on the same bikes and with the same possibilities. Our riders’ development and success will be a great KTM story and it will taste even sweeter to take these guys to new heights in such a tough competition.”

The coronavirus delay to the racing season meant Petrucci didn't get a chance to try and defend his factory Ducati seat against Jack Miller, the Australian getting the nod after a stronger end to 2019.

A Ducati Superbike ride was on offer for Petrucci, whose best chance of remaining in MotoGP initially appeared to be with Aprilia. The Italian factory had pursued Petrucci in the past, but is still waiting on the outcome of Andrea Iannone's CAS appeal.

Then rumours broke of Espargaro's surprise move to Repsol Honda, alongside reigning champion Marc Marquez and in place of Alex Marquez. A KTM contractual clause prevented Espargaro from signing straight away, but the absence of any clear denial meant it was only a matter of time.

In response, KTM would logically seek another experienced rider to complement young guns Binder, Oliveira and Lecuona. The likes of Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso remain available for 2021, but when Petrucci visited the Austrian factory recently, KTM's choice was clear. 

The Italian, 29, has taken nine MotoGP podiums (including the Mugello win) since his debut in 2012 and finished a best-yet sixth overall in last year's world championship.

Petrucci's deal also means that, for the first time since joining MotoGP in 2017, KTM has signed a premier-class winner to race the RC16. Triple MotoGP title runner-up Dani Pedrosa joined the project as a test rider in 2019 and has been credited with helping tame the aggressive nature of the machine.

Rising star Oliveira impressed with a best finish of eighth during his rookie season, in KTM's home race at the Red Bull Ring, but suffered a shoulder injury when he was taken out by Zarco at the following Silverstone round.

Further shoulder damage at Phillip Island prompted surgery, curtailing his season, but the winter break and rescheduled calendar means he should be fully fit for next month's new season-opener at Jerez.

Now that the future KTM line-up has been announced, there seems little point in holding Espargaro to the 'silent until September' clause.

'KTM would like to convey thanks to Pol Espargaro. 2020 will be the fourth year together in a collaboration that has delivered several milestone achievements and both parties want to pursue different paths in MotoGP from 2021 onwards,' read a KTM statement.

Espargaro and KTM claimed a wet podium at Valencia in 2018 and a best dry result of sixth at Le Mans last year, on the way to eleventh in the riders' standings.

 

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