With the news officially confirmed that Jack Miller will join the Red Bull-backed KTM MotoGP team for 2023 and 2024, the current Ducati rider becomes the latest name to enter the KTM team with aspirations to finally crack the nut and become the first to win two-wheeled motorsport’s biggest prize for the Austrian factory.
But, while other “outsiders” have tried and failed, can Miller really do what he couldn’t?
When established MotoGP riders joined KTM
Pol Espargaro (of Tech3 Yamaha) – left for Honda after four seasons
Bradley Smith (of Tech3 Yamaha) – discontinued after two seasons
John Zarco (from Tech3 Yamaha) – dropped midway through the first season
Hafizh Syahrin (of Tech3 Yamaha) – discontinued after one season
Danilo Petrucci (from Ducati) – discontinued after one season
In the first full-time year of the project, KTM recruited two established top-class riders from Tech3 Yamaha alumni, Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro.
But with the brand new bike the results weren’t exactly there – and it was Smith who was left out for 2019 as Johann Zarco joined the still winless squad.
However, it was an unfortunate experience. Hating the bike and never gelling with the team, Zarco barely lasted half a season.
He first agreed with KTM to end a deal after a year, then was benched before the end of that year, with KTM bosses citing his obvious dissatisfaction with the RC16 hampering team morale.
The RC16 improved a lot in the following off-season, but even taking into account that local Zarco replacement Brad Binder proved an almost immediate upgrade.
And on the Tech3 side of the equation (the French team having become KTM’s satellite team), Hafizh Syahrin had come with her from the Yamaha camp and found herself completely floundering with the RC16 – scoring nine points from 46 that he had managed. in his rookie year.
He wouldn’t be the last to switch from a rival bike to Tech3 KTM and find little success. A year after his exit, with Espargaro’s move to Honda turning into an eventual vacancy at Tech3, Ducati convert Danilo Petrucci filled that seat.
He arrived as KTM was diving, but while Petrucci himself struggled to race with the factory duo, he was also not definitely stronger than teammate Iker Lecuona and, after a season where he felt “useless”, it was abandoned.
The conclusion of all these attempts to recruit from outside, with only the hiring of Espargaro a real success, must mean that Miller – with extensive experience first in the Honda motorcycle and then in the Ducati – is heading to KTM in 2023 slightly worried about what the future holds. him.
The RC16 hasn’t improved in 2022 – it’s unclear what its baseline performance level is, but it’s certainly a far cry from the strength it was in 2020, which is the same year Miller could have joined KTM for the first time in MotoGP, having received an offer as a potential replacement from Zarco.
Trapped in a development hell that seems to alternate between too much to try and too little, KTM is always looking for those last tenths of a second that are needed to be competitive throughout the season rather than just delivering results. occasionally, when things are progressing. just to the right.
And the painful truth is that there doesn’t seem to be much hope that Miller’s presence will be the defining change at KTM. The Aussie doesn’t have a reputation as one of the best development riders on the grid – the 2022 Ducati, for example, isn’t much better than its predecessor.
Worse still for KTM’s long-term ambitions, it never showed the consistency to embark on a title campaign. He’s fast, but he crashes and when he’s having a bad day he tends to have a really bad day, as evidenced by the Ducati rider who only picked up points in the last two rounds of the championship.
It’s also worth remembering that Miller has been stronger than most for longer than most when talking about the importance of machine continuity in MotoGP. It was, after all, the very reason why he didn’t have his head turned by this 2020 KTM offering – because he didn’t want to start from scratch and was all too aware that he might need years to feel the RC16 bike is truly his.
You shouldn’t underestimate the effect a fresh start can have, of course, and maybe KTM will bring something new that it’s been missing after five years on Desmosedicis.
But the risk Miller is taking is that if he takes too long to adjust, his next contract is likely to be either on satellite machines or with a World Superbike team – a career path similar to that which others as the Gresini Ducati-bound Miguel Oliveira is on.
Still, while that might be a gamble, it’s also the only factory ride available to him at the moment. He was squeezed out of Ducati by his growing crop of talent, and Suzuki’s departure at the end of 2022 put a strain on the factory seats. Sure, KTM might not be the most ideal fit—but it’s a seat nonetheless, and (thanks to Red Bull) it’s a well-paid seat.
Hoping that it is also the one that allows Miller to be the best MotoGP rider possible.