The Other Silly Season: Stoner's Retirement Leaves His Crew Up For Grabs

Once the shock of Casey Stoner's retirement passed, the speculation began over who would take his place at Honda, and what his departure would mean for contract negotiations among the other riders in the paddock. The permutations are endless, much like a sliding puzzle: will Repsol be able to tempt Jorge Lorenzo away from Yamaha? If Lorenzo does go, will Valentino Rossi be welcome at Yamaha, or could he even go back to Honda, the factory team he left at the end of 2003? What of Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez, and where do Ben Spies and Nicky Hayden fit into this?

But amidst all of the focus on the riders' market, a bigger catch appears to have slipped under the radar. For Stoner's retirement means that it is not just his seat at Honda that will be available next year, his current crew, including crew chief Cristian Gabarrini is also up for grabs. Gabarrini and crew - mechanics Bruno Leoni, Roberto Cierici, Andrea Brunetti, Filippo Brunetto and Lorenzo Gagni - came across to Honda along with Stoner when he left Ducati at the end of 2010, the group remaining intensely loyal to the Australian since winning their first world title together at Ducati in 2007.

The stock of Gabarrini and crew has risen along with Stoner's at Honda, and especially because of what has happened at Ducati since the Australian left the team. Valentino Rossi took over Stoner's ride at Ducati at the end of 2010, and brought his highly-regarded crew led by legendary crew chief Jeremy Burgess along with him. But just as Rossi has struggled to get to grips with the finicky Ducati, so have his crew found it much more difficult than anticipated to give the Italian a bike that he can be competitive on. While much of the focus among the fans and the media has been on the comparison between the fortunes of Rossi and Stoner, much less attention has been paid to the fact that Gabarrini & co found a way to set the Ducati Desmosedici GP10 up to allow Stoner to win on, a feat that Burgess & co have failed to emulate.

Clearly, Gabarrini will be much in demand once it comes time to shuffle the seats in MotoGP. Two things seem probable. Firstly that Gabarrini will stay with Honda is an obvious choice, though the Italian has not expressed an opinion on the matter. The second is that the current crop of factory riders all have long-term associations with their crew chiefs, and sometimes with all of the members of their crew. Rossi has Burgess, Jorge Lorenzo has Ramon Forcada (though Forcada also has experience with Honda), Dani Pedrosa has Mike Leitner, Ben Spies has Tom Houseworth and Nicky Hayden is very happy with Juan Martinez, who took over as the American's crew chief early in the season in 2009. Positions at the satellite teams are also fairly well fixed: Guy Coulon remains at Tech 3, the team he co-founded along with Herve Poncharal, and Christophe Bourgignon is a long-time LCR Honda man.

The most obvious destination for Gabarrini and associates would be alongside Marc Marquez, once the Spaniard makes the move up to MotoGP. But Marquez is firmly embedded inside the Monlau Competicion operation, which seems determined to move up to MotoGP as a whole, along with crew and mechanics. But with Gabarrini's experience, their learning process in MotoGP could be vastly speed up.

Will Gabarrini join Marquez? Will he return to Ducati? Or will he join whoever moves to take the slot left at Repsol Honda by Casey Stoner's departure (Valentino Rossi? Jorge Lorenzo?) Right now, we have no idea. But this could be a move which proves just as fascinating and just as crucial as which rider ends up going where. With it becoming ever more critical and ever more difficult to get the setup of a MotoGP machine spot on, crew chiefs are becoming almost as important as riders.

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A good crew chief can help a rider develop and improve as a rider, especially a new to the class rider. It's not just the rider telling the CC what he needs to go faster, its also the CC observing his rider and suggesting ways to improve.


to replace J.B. has one major problem - he's used to setting the bike up for Stoner and that's exactly how Rossi doesn't ride it! Marquez (because of his very similar style to Stoner) and Gabbarini seems like an HRC dream come true, but they may have to hold on to Gabbarini and crew till 2014 for that to happen.

In my own little dream land, i'd love to see the crew stay with Honda and give RdP a 1 year shot at a factory team, for whatever reason I think he's had a hard run of rides over the years and i'd love to see what he is truly capable of.

In reality, however, the Marquez/Gabarrini pairing would be the best result for both, and who knows, it could give Gabarrini the chance to go up against Burgess' legend over the long run.

I hope so. Though I think he is definitely retiring.
I hope Lorenzo go to Honda next year.

I hope Stoner take a year off and make a comeback, riding for Yamaha in 2014.

Once again David, thank you for this perspective. It is interesting to note that Gabarrini and crew have not been afforded the same amount of ink as Burgess and co., and the first time there was much focus on them was when it was announced they would all leave Ducati to follow Stoner to Honda - and they had to with Rossi taking his crew to Ducati. Next time we heard anything was when Stoner defended his team after criticism from Rossi and Burgess later in 2010. Perhaps with all the data that the Ducati team should have, they should replicate the chassis geometry Stoner and Hayden used to such good effect in the latter part of 2010. The litmus test was Hayden getting on the podium at Aragon in 2010. When has that happened since then. An interview with Gabarrini would be great if it could look at these things, as well as the team members' various backgrounds in racing. These are the guys who have helped win more MotoGP races in the past six years than any other crew.

Comparing Hayden's results from the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011 (when he had the same crew, and a bike which was not a vastly different) implies that the changes Ducati made over the winter (without any input from Rossi/Burgess and co.) made the bike less ridable. This is purely down to the Ducati Corse R&D team, and has nothing to do with any rider/crew.

Having said that, Gabarrini's team clearly understood how to get the best out of a bad package, at least as far as Stoner's riding style is concerned. I'm not sure that this expertise would translate to Rossi's style though.

Baron I don't know about that. All of us, or anyone who really follows the sport knows that Gabarrini, Forcada, and Burgess are the top 3 chiefs in the sport. Gabarrini and Forcada certainly know what to do with a bike in terms of settings. I do know the journalists respect both of these men and like Rossi, Burgess is no longer the best of the CC's, he is one of the best these days.

Any rider would be extremely lucky to work with Forcada or Gabarrini as they have championships underneath their respective belts.

The casual fan does not know of these guys but you could fill a book with what they don't know.

I rather like the suggestion of Gabbarini replacing Houseworth.........but unfortunatley Spies probably won't be there next year. Not a likely scenario but the only change that would or can help Spies. That's what Spies needs NOW, not next year.

Burgess is going to retire at the end of the year so it would make sense for Gabbarini going back to Ducati. Then again, would he really want to try to undo the mess the current crew have made of the Ducati? Probably not.

Which isn't as ludicrous as it sounds.

If you were looking to replace Stoner with the current field of riders, he would certainly be close to the top of the list.

I am no big Spies fan, but he can undeniably ride fast - he didn't lose two seconds a lap over the winter. I believe his current problems are down to his crew not being able to set the bike up to give him what he needs.

With Stoner retiring, Spies would make a decent one-year placeholder for HRC. He is the only non-Alien that has scored a podium (that HRC would consider - Dovi blotted his copybook, never to return, Hayden won't ever leave Ducati, De Puniet has shown remarkable consistency to not finish on the step - twice in seven years???).

If I was looking for someone to keep the seat warm, I would think he has all the attributes - and he would be a) grateful b) cheap c) mouldable

Spies doesn't have a big debt at Yamaha, after all, for most of his career he was a Suzuki guy... he needs to get rid of Houseworth - that could be the perfect opportunity.

I believe Jorge will stay where he is. He's got the measure of his team mate, knows he can beat Pedrosa, makes it less likely Rossi will come to Yamaha (hat-in-hand) and he has a good team and a great bike.

It seems to me Gabbarini & Co will stay in place until Marquez joins the Repsol team, servicing whoever it is that will take Stoners seat.

That person I believe will be Bradl. If he can keep up his efforts and results all year I think he will get the nod. If so, it's likely once Marquez comes into the Factory Repsol squad that Dani Pedrosa finds himself without a ride and we see a 2014 line up of Bradl and Marquez.........

A formidable line up.

Gabbarini and co respected Stoner that they all upped roots from Ducati and moved with Stoner. I mean let's say you won the 07 title and plenty of races since as crew chief, but you knew deep down it was cos the Ducati was a superior bike.. Would you've keen to jump ship when the rider moved? Obviously they respected Stoners ability a lot, and though he's leaving next year I doubt that crew will be keen to sign up for anything less than an Alien.

The crews are mercenaries - they are on a contract, not Ducati or HRC or Yamaha employees - although there are some of those in the overall team.

They had no choice - their contract was up.

Stoner included them in his negotiations at Honda, in exactly the same way as Rossi included JB and the rest of his crew.

That's the way things work in top-class motorsport.

He should join the rider or team that has the best future long term. He should also look for a rider that has a similar style to Stoner. In that case, it would be silly for the Monlau team not to go after him and be the Crew Chief for Marc Marquez in MotoGP next year.

You state that like he is at a buffet with a wide range of choice.

It's a dog-eat-dog world in GP racing. Simoncelli's crew ended up in WSBK... Aoyama's 250GP and MotoGP crew chief is back in Moto2 with Bradley Smith.

There are a limited number of jobs - and a lot of existing allegiances.

He/they will go where the best deal is...

I admit to having no clue about what will happen ... other than that, barring a miraculous turnaround, Spies will not be on a factory Yamaha next year.

It will be interesting, though.

And I would not be at all surprised to see Stoner change his mind, especially if, as rumored, Honda were to throw a LOT of money at him.

Given that the established factory riders have solid long term relationships with their crew chief's and Mark Marquez is set up the same way within his team, why not Crutchlow take both the ride and the team? He wouldn't have to pay for his own brakes, or have them delivered through embarrassment at any rate, and would fit well within the "rides like Stoner" genre.

Seems an obvious solution to the jigsaw puzzle.

Crutchlow is the protege of Wilco Zeelenberg, Yamaha's Team Manager. He was instrumental in getting him to Tech 3.

I can't see him sticking two fingers up to Yamaha and doing a runner to Honda.

Besides, it would be a brave director at HRC that gave Crutchlow a factory ride - he has yet to score a podium.

There's talk that Stoner may not retire after-all, CS may be pushing for a 1-year contract from HRC for 2013! Casey may have just said F--k it to HRC since he didn't want to play the contract games anymore. I hope Stoner had enough respect for his crew to let them know what he was going to do before he announced it. Spies? Ben & his crew really need to sit down and figure out what or who the problem truly is regarding their very poor weak performances this year. Ben needs a better crew-chief for motogp. I can't see HRC giving Ben a seat at Repsol for 2013 with a 1-year contract when they still have Dani and MM coming. Ben may go back to Tech-3 after Cal and Dovi takeover the factory squad if Jorge moves to HRC!? The next few months will be very interesting on and off the track!