Under Gigi Dall’Igna's leadership, Ducati has been at the forefront of MotoGP's recent technical advances in areas such as aerodynamics and ride height control.

But the Italian insists the rider will always remain key to success.

"The rider is really important in motorbike racing, in MotoGP above all," Dall’Igna said on the eve of this week's Jerez MotoGP test. "And the technician is nothing if he hasn't got a proper rider.

"So I'm strongly convinced that the rider even in the future will be the real player of the game.

"I think that the riders have to make a difference and I think that they really did during this year," he added.

After talks broke down with Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati changed both its factory team riders for the first time since joining MotoGP in 2003 - putting faith in rising stars Jack Miller (26) and Francesco Bagnaia (24), promoted from Pramac.

Meanwhile the addition of three rookies - Jorge Martin (23), Enea Bastianini (23) and Luca Marini (23) - meant Johann Zarco was now the only Ducati rider over 30.

All but Marini (whose highlight was a front-row in Misano) would feature on the podium for a new Ducati MotoGP record of 24 rostrums in a season.

But while Jack Miller was expected to fight at the front - and duly took two wins on his way to a career best fourth overall, just ahead of Zarco - the biggest Ducati surprises were arguably Bagnaia, Martin and Bastianini.

Bagnaia charged to four victories and runner-up to Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) in the world championship, outscoring all other riders in the last six rounds.

Martin took a shock pole and podium in only his second race, then fought back from serious injuries in Portimao to claim the first-ever satellite Ducati win in Austria.

Bastianini rode his aging 2019-spec Avintia bike through the field to a pair of home podiums at Misano, plus two other top six finishes.

Asked to pick between Bagnaia, Martin and Bastianini as his biggest surprise, Dall’Igna replied:

"All of these three guys did a fantastic job. For sure Martin did a pole position at his second race in MotoGP, so this is something really difficult to do. He also won one race in his first season, not easy for sure.

"But honestly also Pecco did an incredible job and above all the last part of the season he was probably the best, because he won four of the last six races, maybe five! If we didn't have the crash in Misano [while leading]and then he was on the podium, third place, in Austin.

"Pecco is a rider that improves year-by-year and, when you [think] that he reached a real high level, he makes another step. So I don’t know who surprised me the most honestly.

"And even Enea, because Enea he didn't have the official bike. He had to use a '19 bike because this is the reality and even with this bike, he did some brilliant races like in Misano with the podiums and above all in the last part of the races he is really, really competitive. [As fast as] the riders that win the race.

"So he has to improve above all the Friday and Saturday practice and if he can start in a good position during the race I think that he will be a part of the game next season."

Ducati has retained all of its riders for 2022, when the Desmosedici line-up will grow to eight with the addition of rookies Marco Bezzecchi (VR46) and Fabio di Giannantonio (Gresini).

Bagnaia, Miller, Martin and Zarco will remain at their respective Factory and Pramac teams on the latest Ducati machinery, which Marini is also due to receive at VR46.

Bastianini is joining di Giannantonio at Gresini with both riders, like Bezzecchi, set to receive a 2021-spec bike.