The Consequences Of Tragedy: MotoGP's Silly Season After Simoncelli's Death

The paddock is about to reconvene at the final round of the year at Valencia and return to the normal business of racing, or at least, as normal as possible less than two weeks after the death of Marco Simoncelli in a tragic accident at Sepang, and there are still a few empty seats to fill on the 2012 MotoGP grid. The slots at the Ducati, Honda and Yamaha factory teams are filled, as are the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha satellite seats, and of course Karel Abraham at the Cardion AB team, but beyond that, MotoGP's silly season for 2012 is still in full swing.

In a stroke of bitter irony, Marco Simoncelli's death gave the rider merry-go-round a bit more impetus. Simoncelli's place in the San Carlo Gresini Honda team had already been confirmed, complete with factory Honda RC213V and HRC contract. His death blows everything wide open again, and adds a massive number of complications. Though it is far too soon for Gresini to be signing contracts - Fausto Gresini was hit particularly hard by Simoncelli's death, as he was close to the Italian personally, and this was the second rider he has lost to a fatal crash, after Daijiro Kato back in 2003 - rider managers will be circling the Gresini pit box and making cautions enquiries as to the team's plans for 2012. As tragic as the loss of Marco Simoncelli is, life goes on, and riders will be racing next year, one of them from the garage destined for Simoncelli before his demise.

The key to the final round of rider signings - of factory and satellite teams, that is, not Claiming Rule Teams - will be Suzuki, and their future plans in MotoGP. Though the press release preview of Valencia held more hope than news, the prospects for Suzuki's future in MotoGP are looking ever bleaker. With every day that goes past without an announcement of their return for 2012, their withdrawal looks ever more likely, and with rumors that some team members are looking for jobs, things are not looking good. The most likely scenario appears to be the Crescent Racing team (the organization behind Rizla Suzuki) focusing all of their resources in World Superbikes after Suzuki decides to pull the plug.

An official decision from Suzuki will determine Alvaro Bautista's future. The Spaniard has been impressive in the second half of the season, and has pushed development of the GSV-R forward. His preference is still to stay with Suzuki, but he, like everyone else, is still waiting for an announcement from the Japanese factory. His patience will not last forever, however: Honda is chasing Bautista hard, hoping to place the Spaniard with Lucio Cecchinello's LCR Honda team. According to Spanish journalist Jose Maroto of Motociclismo magazine, HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto would like Bautista in the LCR team aboard a factory-spec RC213V. LCR is still short of budget, but Bautista's international popularity may help him secure the extra deals he needs to close the gap.

If Bautista does not move to LCR, then the two other candidates are Randy de Puniet and John Hopkins. De Puniet rode for LCR from 2008 until last season, but a few pointed comments from Cecchinello saw that relationship deteriorate in 2010. After a disastrous year with Toni Elias, LCR may be happy to welcome De Puniet back, though the prospect of new blood in the shape of John Hopkins may be more appealing. If LCR can't get Bautista, they may prefer a fresh start with Hopkins to a revival with Randy de Puniet.

With Bautista most likely to take the LCR spot, that leaves just two more seats to fill. The most desirable is the gaping hole left by Marco Simoncelli, and that presents an immediate and complex problem. Leaving aside the sensitivities of the situation for a moment, and the fact that no real negotiations are likely to start for a while, Gresini's fortunes are tied in with the requirements of his sponsor, Italian potato snack manufacturer San Carlo. San Carlo's market is mainly the Italian domestic market, though the company also has brands it sells in other European countries. Its main brand San Carlo - and the title sponsorship on the side of the Gresini bikes - is overwhelmingly aimed at Italy, however, and that requires a face that the company can sell to its domestic customers.

The obvious candidates for Gresini would be Randy de Puniet and Toni Elias. Elias has a long history with Gresini, riding for the team in 2006, 2007 and 2009. But the Spaniard has always struggled on Bridgestone tires, as this year has demonstrated, with Elias laboring at the back of the field with the LCR team. De Puniet could be a better option, both in terms of results and sponsorship, but the main problem with both men is their nationality. If San Carlo insist on an Italian, then the obvious choice - in the absence of Andrea Dovizioso not being either able or willing to get out from under his Tech 3 deal - is Andrea Iannone.

Iannone is keen to get into MotoGP, but the financial hurdles are huge, as Stefan Bradl found out, when 2.5 million Euros turned out to be insufficient to fund a satellite ride. The vacancy at Gresini offers an opportunity for Iannone to enter the class at a much lower price, especially as HRC is likely to swap the factory-spec RC213V earmarked for Simoncelli for a machine with less support. With San Carlo footing the bill, and Iannone a clearly marketable commodity in Italy, there is an opening there. In the end, though, any decision will come down to what San Carlo decide suits their marketing best.

The final unclaimed seat is with Pramac, and given the results of both the Ducati GP11.1 and the Pramac squad, it has not proved to be the most attractive proposition on offer. Randy de Puniet has certainly earned a return, but the Frenchman is looking for a way to get back onto a Honda. The most likely candidate is Hector Barbera; the Spaniard has done very well riding the Aspar satellite Ducati, and has turned down Aspar's offer to stay with the team, preferring to race a prototype rather than the CRT bikes which Aspar will be fielding in 2012. Barbera is a good fit with the Pramac squad, and will have the backing of Ducati if he goes to the team.

All of this will be wrapped up at Valencia, as time is running out to raise the money and prepare for the 2012 season. With the paddock back together once again, the frenzied meetings that are the bedrock of silly season can take place once again. The only deal that will not be completed will be the vacancy at Gresini, as the pain is clearly and understandably still too fresh. But whatever the niceties of the situation, and however much sympathy and compassion the riders, their managers, the other teams, Honda and Dorna have with Fausto Gresini and his team, pressure will start to be applied on the Italian to start giving serious thought to the future. As they say in the professional cycling peloton in July, "The Tour waits for no one." The harshness of that cliché does not prevent it from being any less true.

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Well that's just a frighteningly great idea. If that happens it will certainly be entertaining to watch.

I think Iannone would be the best replacment for Marco. I find them to be very similar in the way they race and am a big fan of them both. To me Iannone is the best choice for Gresini unless Dovi gets out of his Tech3 contract.

Ciao Marco, we miss you buddy

Back in MotoGP. He deserves the factory Honda ride, at least a shot at it. I know he has loyalties with Suzuki but they have made it clear they are just not taking the premier class seriously. I don't blame them either. The rules just aren't stable enough to commit to the massive spending needed to be up front. Why would they send millions creating a bike that might be obsolete in two years?

The GSV-R has made some great strides forward, and I know an honest effort with Hopkins and Bautista at the helm of a 1000cc prototype would bring results. If they decide to come back with 800's they'll look even worse battling it out with 1000cc CRT bikes. Fans of the brand deserve better representation than this. When Kawasaki saw they could not play seriously they pulled out and saved face. Such is Japanese mentality.

That's why I think Hopkins has been more than patient in waiting for Suzuki to make a decision, and now needs to look after what's best for him. That leftover Honda RC213V is his best ticket back into the premier class.

I predict Suzuki will pack up at the end of the year and head to WSBK. The Cresent Team is strong and Leon Camier is just sitting around now that Aprilla picked it's line-up for 2012. That would be a match made in British heaven if he gels well with the big Gix. Sure Hopkins could partner him, but we all know his sights are set on a return to the premier class.

We need all the quality riders we can get in the premier class, and John Hopkins is a proven commodity...

John Hopkins' loyalty is to Paul Denning more than it is to Suzuki.  Even though he got out of it once while keeping on good terms to go to Kawasaki, there is nothing to suggest that LCR can talk Playboy into paying enough to repeat that feat.

RdP and Lauren Vickers make a much better marketing team than that image Hopkins is trying to distance himself from, and LCR knows it.

Conversely, it is unlikely that LCR can offer Hopkins anything more lucrative - in either salary or success - than what staying with Denning would get him in WSBK.  He should (and will) follow Denning, wherever that leads...  which may be a CRT ride in a couple years' time.

Paul Denning isn't an issue the way you think he is. Hopkins jump from Suzuki to Kawasaki was anything but in good terms. Denning has openly admitted a few times that Hopper was just chasing money. There's a mutual respect there, but Hopkins isn't waiting for Denning's permission to do anything...

Though RdP and Vickers make a good pairing for Playboy, Hopper has a ball of Monster Energy money. The drink maker has strongly supported him since day one, and through thick and thin. I could easily see Hopkins going to LCR bringing his "Monster Money" and Playboy getting a much smaller logo on the LCR's fairing come next year...

The point is I want to see Hopkins in MotoGP, and I'm sure I'm not alone on that. He might just need a little bit of help (Hey Carmelo! I'm talking to you!!)

Carmelo is far more interested in RdP's passport than Hopkins'.  And that is an important consideration for LCR.

Likewise, Monster will not pay to be on the fairings of 2 different teams.  Monster will continue to be his personal sponsor, wherever he goes (most likely), which means a sticker on the side of the helmet like Rossi and Simoncelli.

I, too, want to see Hopper back in MotoGP.  But, the most realistic way for that to happen in 2012 is for Dovizioso to end up in the Gresini HRC seat and for Monster to offer a "no harm done" phone call to Poncharal.  And that scenario isn't very likely.

More plausible is (if Suzuki do bail out) Paul Denning using his WSBK team to work towards a CRT bike (with a Suzuki engine, of course).  I think that is a very likely option on his menu, and putting Hopper on that bike is a no-brainer.

Dovizioso walked away from Honda as Simoncelli was more valued by HRC than him. But now that there is a factory Honda ride to go for at Gresini and with the Italian crisp sponsor demanding an Italian rider Dovi will swallow his pride, buy himself out of Poncharal's Yamaha Tech3 contract which would be paying peanuts and be riding a factory Honda once again next year.

This won't affect our current situation, but can someone elaborate on the rookie/factory team rule as it would apply to a rider returning to MotoGP after competing in a different series?
Back to the current topic, Hopkins has his head in the right place for the first time in his entire racing career, and I think he would take a much more mature approach to racing if offered a chance at redemption in the big leagues. De Puniet really hasn't shown what he's capable of, but I think one last-ditch effort on a Honda could be his saving grace.
Iannone...? Eh, I don't think he's quite ready, but if he can bring the exposure for his sponsors, that has the tendency to trump skill and readiness.
Suzuki needs to put out or get out and stop half-assing the effort.
I'm a Bati fanboy, and I'd love to see what he can do on an already-developed bike. He's not a development rider, and he's floundering with Suzuki, no matter what they decide to do next year.
My two cents.

Wow - Bati floundering with Suzuki? Hardly...if anything, I think he's out ridden the bike dramatically and has a ton of people looking his way. His results have been far exceeding expectations...

Hopkins would not be considered a rookie but that really doesn't matter anyway because the only factory team he could possibly go to would be Suzuki and they are exempt from the rookie rule anyway.

Even though Marco Simoncelli had to abide by the rookie rule it was certainly no secret that he received factory equipment and was signed, and presumably paid, directly by Honda which made a mockery of the rookie rule anyway. No reason why Hopkins couldn't do the same.

Personally I really don't see Hopkins on a Honda next year, I think it's far more likely that he will stay with Crescent Suzuki in WSBK but that's just a guess.

As far as I am aware, Simo was not on a factory bike in his rookie year. He got the factory bike this year.

IIRC, rookies are riders who have competed in no more than 4 races, so a hiatus should not affect the rider's status, only the # of MotoGP races.

Could there be a rethink by Marquez or his handlers now a 'works' satellite bike is (tragically) available ? Italian connection, or lack of, aside, of course. He seems like a better learner than Iannone, and altho' perhaps not the right time to bring it up, than Marco too.

As much as Marquez would love to get his hands on the works Honda the sponsors wouldn't have it. San Carlo will insist on an Italian rider and Gresini are also sponsored by oil suppliers Castrol which would clash with Marquez sponsor's Repsol.

Leon Camier to ride for the Cresent Suzuki team in WSBK according to MCN. Seems the final nails are being beaten into the coffin for Suzuki's GP effort...

Sad to see. Hope it's not too late for Bautista to find a decent ride...

Fantasy: Rossi to buy his way out of his worthless Ducati contract and jump to HRC - what a tribute to his fallen friend that would be, but also what a way to put his career and reputation back on track. Marco would have wanted it for him!

Yes probably fantasy but talk about the collective jaws dropping in the two wheeled moto-world. In fantasy logic it would be a coup. Rossi gets to compete on equal terms with the dominant machine again and show if he can go out of his career on top, or not. San Carlo, and the Gresini team get the dream Italian to carry their colors, and in an Italian melodramatic way Rossi picks up his friend's flag and rides in tribute. That would be the movie version. Real life ain't going to go like that.

Indeed. HRC might not want/need him on their machine at this moment. After practically giving the factories their marching orders with the 2013 all CRT spec ECU announcement, I do not think nanny Dorna has much leverage over them anymore. Lets see, change the rules again, factories spend money developing new machines, then tell them it is good for only 1 year.

I really hope Bautista finds a good ride. I'm sure he would put a factory Honda to good use. I think he's an undersold rider. Former top rookie then 125champ, very close to 250 champ a couple times, and has proven he at least has the gist of MotoGP if not the right wheels under him. I hazard he would do as well as Dovi or Sic could have as he was regularly dicing and beating them in the underclasses.

Of all the recent MotoGP exiles, Melandri (along with Hopkins) is the guy I feel most belongs back in MotoGP. Not sure why things went so badly for him in 2010, or what his relationship with Fausto Gresini is now. Or whether Melandri himself would like to race in MotoGP again. Anyway, he's a proven, competitive race winner (albeit not in the most recent past). But he just signed a WSBK contract with BMW.

The timing of Simoncelli's tragic death -- it is still tough to accept that he's gone -- was not the best where Dovizioso and Melandri are concerned. Although perhaps the Dovizioso-Honda partnership had soured on its own. You have to think Yamaha are a bit disappointed with Ben Spies so far; is that the feeling in the paddock? If so, by switching to Yamaha Dovizioso may have had his eye on a factory ride next year.

It is not impossible to imagine that both Rossi and Ducati might find it mutually advantageous for Rossi to move to Gresini - Rossi to try to recover what has been a much-tarnished reputation from this season and Ducati to have the PR disaster of not being able to provide a bike Rossi can ride competitively removed. It would not bee too hard a task for Rossi to 'validate' (no pun intended!) a story based on a 'finish what Simoncelli started' story-line, and Ducati could hang off the coat-tails of a 'much regretted but totally understood and respected desire by Rossi to honour his friendship' line.

The fly in that ointment as I see it is Marlboro's reaction and the effect that any withdrawal of sponsorship $$ might have on Ducati. Since Marlboro was entirely ready to dump Stoner - who had given them a WC and many race wins, because apparently he did not fit their requirements as a PR persona - what other rider than Rossi is out there who could bring them the attraction they appear to demand for their sponsorship cash? Since it is unlikely that Ducati will produce a magic winner for next season that could transcend the PR persona problem, it would need a massively attractive PR persona to fill Rossi's boots and nobody immediately appears to be in that frame.

You think Rossi would exploit the death of his close friend to try to get onto a more competitive bike? I don't quite know what to say. As much as I don't like a lot of his behind the scene machinations Rossi is a serious competitor and would never stoop to such lies. And what storyline would he be finishing that Simoncelli started? Taking the perennial underdog Honda to a title?

Besides, how would Rossi running to a Honda and being immediately competitive (highly likely) be advantageous to Ducati? Rossi breaking his contract would likely be the end of Ducati participating in GP. Who else would want to ride for them? Marlboro would quickly keep their millions when presented with a lineup that consisted of no aliens.


Why would Rossi go to Honda and risk being humiliated by Stoner? That is almost certainly what would happen. Rossi knows how good Stoner is, even if Rossi's fans don't. And why would Honda want Rossi back? History is against it, and besides, Honda will appreciate that they already have the best rider. It isn't Gresini's call, because Honda supplies the bike.

I can't see the people that run MotoGP being happy with the Rossi to Gresini idea. Ducati and MotoGP need Rossi on a Ducati to be at least competitive in 2012. Rossi and Hayden have both said that the Ducati works better in the 1000 cc configuration. Plus, with some of the restrictions on testing being removed it will surely give Ducati and Rossi a much better chance to find a solution to Ducati's problems. And it does seem that Ducati have made some real progress in recent races, which has rather been masked by Rossi's on-track errors.

Ducati needs to find a way to make their bike work for everyone. Surely Rossi staying at Ducati is the best way to do that.

Actually, Ducati simply needs to find a way to make their bike work. Then everyone can simply ride it to their own maximum potential, as happens with the other brands.

The only real glimmer of hope at the moment is the fact that in the 990 era Ducati did have a bike that could win races in the hands of riders other than Stoner - indeed, it took first and second places in the 'last ever' 990 race before the series went to 800cc - so let's hope that they can tap back into that potential and give their riders something that does the job.

I don't think any of these guys go out there with any fear of being humiliated by anyone. It's just not in the character of what got them all to the MotoGP class. Even Elias as beaten by the new Bridgestones as he has, I'm sure still feels it within himself to compete. On the Honda point it was well reported that Honda recently said the door was not closed. I'm sure they're fine where they're at but if when Rossi's Ducati obligation is satisfied they'd be happy to at least sit down and talk. Fading star or not Rossi won't ever end up on anything but a fully factory backed machine. I don't see him fading out through the satellite teams. As a fan of the series seeing Rossi back on a Honda isn't something I'd relish. He's been there, done that. While your first paragraph strikes me as a bit more of the Stoner fan worship/Rossi bashing that is the current fad I agree wholeheartedly with the rest of your post. Rossi's scripted his fairy tale to include Ducati. I would rather see that story through. It might be the dark part of the woods in that plot but if out of all the bloodletting emerges a Ducati that is a viable option for riders to compete on then all can move on with dignity intact.

The Stoner vs Rossi comment was tongue-in-cheek. Still, in my opinion, both Stoner and Lorenzo would prevail over Rossi over a season, but for sure Rossi would give a good account of himself. That isn't Rossi bashing at all, he is a great rider, but time moves on for everyone.

For the good of MotoGP Rossi on a competitive Ducati is the best solution. And Rossi himself has very firmly maintained that he is staying at Ducati. I can't see the tragic event at Sepang changing that. I don't see anything changing unless next season turns out very badly. Both Rossi and Ducati have consistently maintained that 2011 has been a development year, so it makes no sense for him to in effect admit defeat and jump ship for 2012. But Rossi will not want his MotoGP career to end badly, so he may be forced to working out a deal with Honda or Yamaha if the Ducati experiment ends up a failure. But as another alternative I would love to see him on a Suzuki if they hang around and develop a 1000, because I reckon in the right hands (an experienced alien and crew) that bike has the potential to win races. Rossi could do a Schwantz and stick it to the other factories. Probably just fantasy, but still....

Sorry bout that. Read with that frame of delivery your first paragraph is the intended chuckle... and a hint of reason. I'm not a betting man so I won't write anyone off or state certainties but for Rossi to come back and win a championship against Stoner and Lorenzo and the couple other fast up and comers around would be be a fairy tale end to a fairy tale career. A tall order if he was on equal machinery but as it stands it would require a resurgence of both Ducati and Rossi. I would certainly applaud him back near the front and on the podium now and again to keep things interesting but have my fingers crossed doubly that Ducati become a viable option for riders now and the future.

On a side note: Anyone seeing shades of Eddie Lawson in Rossi's situation? Dominant rider winning multiple championships on two different manufacturers only to end a career with a struggling but inspired Italian brand while the next generation of champions make news at the front?

IMHO, for the good of MotoGP, we need more riders/teams/machines dicing for the win right down to the last laps. It could be Stoner/HRC, Jorge/Yam, Rossi/Duc, but it do not have to be Stoner/HRC, Jorge/Yam, Rossi/Duc.

I think HRC would be a bigger sticking point. I don't see them giving full factory support to Rossi when they don't need to and without the factory electronics package he would not be able to regularly run at the front. Better sort that Duc out and, after all, that is what he says he is being paid big dollars to do.

though i don't know his contract status for next year, of the current crop of unsigned(?) Italian riders I think Andrea Iannone is the most promising and intriguing. San Carlo would get their Italian face to put on their snacks and a real talent, albeit an inconsistent one.

Personally I'd prefer to see Bautista get Simoncelli's ride. He's ridden the Suzuki far beyond its potential this year considering it's an old bike that hasn't been updated. Fair enough if he gets a factory bike in the LCR squad but to me Gresini is the top satellite Honda outfit and the right place for him.

To me Alex de Angelis is on top of the list for that ride.

He has experience on a MotoGP bike, knowns Honda, did very well in Moto2 this year, is almost Italian, and has the same manager as Marco Simoncelli (Carlo Pernat).

I did forget him. Wow. Yeah, that makes almost too much sense. Still would rather see Bautista get a factory Honda.

if I was in Bautista's shoes and looking at possibly riding an 800cc Suzuki or a 1000cc Honda next year there would be no question.

amidst all chaos and fight between Rossi and Stoner, i had a question in mind. If anyone could answer it, it would be helpful... I know about the motoGP rookie rule, wherein the rookies are not allowed to compete in Factory teams for their first year,

but why was this not the case for Nicky Hayden, Dani pedrosa, and Jorge Lorenzo? has it got something to do with winning the championship? if so Rossi was not allowed to compete and instead put on a Nastro Azzuro Honda in his first year. anyone got any idea what the rules are?

The Rookie Rule wasn't introduced until 2009, to help the satellite teams with sponsorship. That's why Lorenzo, Hayden, all the others could go straight to a satellite team.

"That's why Lorenzo, Hayden, all the others could go straight to a satellite team."

I think David means they could go straight to a factory team :)