Johann Zarco says Ducati is “giving me back the smile” he lost during his tough tenure with KTM in 2019 that nearly led to the end of his MotoGP career.
The Frenchman joined the Austrian manufacturer following a pair of successful seasons with the Tech 3 Yamaha squad, though he struggled for form on the RC16 and split with KTM two-thirds of the way through year, both parties having already agreed to not continue the following the Austrian Grand Prix.
Some solid outings as a substitute rider for an injured Takaaki Nakagami at LCR Honda towards the end of that campaign put him on Ducati’s radar, leading to a deal to compete on a year old Desmosedici with the Avintia team, Zarco achieving a pole position and rostrum result in the Czech GP at Brno.
The potential he showed at Avintia meant he was given a place at prime satellite team Pramac for ’21, where he has started the year in great style by notching up a pair of runner-up results in both races held at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar, form he says has allowed him to “smile” once more.
“I don’t think about it too much (KTM tenure) I’m loving what’s happening right now, and the reason I took the decision 18 months ago (leaving KTM) I took it for me because if I can’t smile I might as well do something else,” explained Zarco.
“Ducati’s giving me back the smile and the team is giving me back some smiles so hopefully we can continue that way.”
Expanding on his performances across the Doha GP weekend, Zarco admitted he was happy to follow rookie team-mate Jorge Martin throughout the 22-lap encounter as it allowed him to “work on his own race”
“It’s been a positive weekend, a nice qualifying yesterday and the good surprise of my team-mate having the pole and having the pace to lead nearly all the race, and I expected the race to have a slower pace than last week but he was feeling comfortable and we went even faster than last week.
“I was very impressed with Jorge’s race, and it’s perfect because I know he was doing it right as I know how he rides and the bike he’s on so I could also use that to work on my own race and together the feedback we can give to Ducati will be pretty interesting.
“I hope we can make another step to have an even better feeling on the bike, but since Friday he has been riding well without mistakes and not like a rookie and controlling everything well.
“That was nice because I was behind him and was enjoying a lot, and everytime a rider was able to overtake me I could re-pass him to protect the second place as well as protection for Jorge (Martin) to keep him leading the race because he was so clean that I wanted him to keep the pace.
“With three or four laps to go Fabio (Quartararo) came and was strong, he was able to overtake Jorge at a good moment and get a gap so I tried to push so that he couldn’t escape too far.
“I wasn’t able to overtake Jorge easily, he was fast and it was pretty complicated until the last lap where I had to control the gas behind but it worked perfectly at Turn 15, so I’m so happy and didn’t expect to leave Qatar leading the championship.”