MotoGP Silly Season Update: How Ducati Became The Hot Ticket

With the start of the summer break coming up in ten days time, contract negotiations are starting to hot up for the 2013 MotoGP rider market. The two race weekends at the Sachsenring and then Laguna Seca will see a frenzy of meetings, horse trading and secret talks as the few open MotoGP seats for 2014 get closer to be being filled.

The biggest problem facing riders looking to upgrade their seat is the scarcity of good seats available, both for 2014 and beyond. The Repsol Honda and Factory Yamaha teams are fully booked through the 2014 season, and even after that, it is hard to see them changing personnel. Jorge Lorenzo has shown he has the potential to win multiple championships for Yamaha, and Marc Marquez looks like doing much the same at Honda. Neither man is showing any intention of going anywhere for the foreseeable future.

Dani Pedrosa is looking stronger than ever, and has to be getting closer to his first ever MotoGP title. Though he considered retiring early after a couple of difficult years with injury, the Spaniard has rediscovered his passion for racing, and is also likely to extend his contract with Honda again once it comes up for renewal at the end of next year.

The only possible candidate to vacate his seat at the end of 2014 is Valentino Rossi. By then, the Italian will be nearly 36, the age at which most Grand Prix racers are in full decline. There had been some speculation that Rossi's run of mediocre (for a nine-times world champion) results was the first sign of Rossi's decline, but his convincing victory at Assen seems to have put a stop to such chatter. More importantly, it appears to have revitalized the Italian and restored the fire of his ambition, which had sometimes seemed to be dying down. There is no doubt that Rossi will complete both years of his two-year deal with the Yamaha factory team, and the odds of him extending beyond that are looking better and better.

That leaves Cal Crutchlow, in particular, with no place to go. The Englishman had been pressuring Yamaha to sign a two-year deal, with a guarantee of a seat in the factory team in the second year of his contract. The problem is, either Lorenzo or Rossi would have to go. Given Lorenzo's current form, it would be foolish to drop Lorenzo for Crutchlow, as strong as Crutchlow may have proved himself to be. And dropping Rossi in favor of Crutchlow - no matter how good Crutchlow's results - simply makes no business sense, as Rossi remains the top draw in the sport, and Yamaha's biggest sales ace-in-the-hole around the world. Crutchlow told the venerable British publication MCN that Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis had refused to guarantee him a seat in the factory team for 2015, leaving him to choose between remaining with Tech 3 for the next two years, and fighting on second string equipment, or taking his chances elsewhere.

However, "elsewhere" is a very limited selection of slots indeed. For the LCR Honda seat is taken, with Stefan Bradl set to stay on for another year - though HRC have made it clear that they expect better results from the German, if his pre-contract is to turn into an actual contract. Alvaro Bautista has a contract with Gresini for 2014, though Bautista's position is far from certain, given his disappointing results. In a report on, Fausto Gresini expressed his discontent with the results of the Spaniard, and emphasized that Bautista needs to realize just how much effort was going in to ensuring that he had an RC213V at his disposal for 2014.

Even the Tech 3 squad appears to be already full. Bradley Smith has a contract for 2014 with Herve Poncharal, while rumors persist that Yamaha has already signed either a contract or a letter of intent with Pol Espargaro to take the second seat at Tech 3. Even if Cal Crutchlow wanted to stay with the Tech 3 team, it could get very complicated.

And so Ducati finds itself with riders lining up almost around the block. With the Bologna factory the only manufacturer with seats open, there has been a lot of interest expressed in slotting in alongside Andrea Dovizioso, the only factory Ducati rider certain of his seat for 2014. There are four candidates to take the second Ducati seat, and the places in the satellite team could also be up for grabs, in some combination or other.

Chief among the candidates for the second Ducati factory seat is Cal Crutchlow, the Englishman having renewed his talks with the Italian factory after the management clear out instigated after Audi took over the company. Officially, discussions are only at an exploratory stage, but an increasing number of insiders believe the deal to be very close to being agreed. Crutchlow continues to deny rumors of the deal being nearly done, but there is so much smoke that some kind of fire must be present, however small.

If Ducati decide against a seasoned MotoGP rider - a decision which they could come to regret, given the amount of development still needed to make the Desmosedici competitive - they could go for a younger rider. Two names are being linked to the ride, those of Andrea Iannone and Scott Redding, though both are outsider for the ride. Iannone has a contract with Ducati for 2013, with Ducati holding an option to extend that for 2014. That option is due to expire after Laguna Seca, but Iannone continues to be a possibility for the second Ducati seat. The Italian has adapted well to the new category, though problems with arm pump meant he has been hindered to some extent in his first year.

Scott Redding remains the other option, though the factory Ducati seat is the least likely of the young Englishman's choices. Redding impressed the Ducati organization last year during the tests, when he was faster than Andrea Iannone, who had already had some time on the bike. Redding and his management team are in the same boat as Crutchlow, having rebuilt their bridges once the old guard were removed by new management put in place by Audi.

And then of course there is Nicky Hayden. Hayden has a wealth of experience on the bike, and is a one-man sales machine for the Italian factory, working as hard at promoting the brand as he does to go racing. Hayden has been an outstanding ambassador for the Italian brand, and has helped to shift large amounts of product, especially in the US, Ducati's most crucial market.

The question is, of course, does Nicky Hayden need to be on a Ducati in MotoGP to help shift Panigales in the US? The answer to that question is obviously no, and a sideways move to World Superbikes would be an obvious move. It would be good for Ducati, to get someone with experience of the frameless chassis in MotoGP try to figure out the same concept in World Superbike aboard the Panigale. It would be good for Dorna and World Superbikes, too, raising the profile of the sport in the US, and helping Dorna sell TV rights in the country. According to both and, Hayden already has a contract offer for World Superbikes, believing that contract to be with Ducati. Hayden has repeatedly said he wishes to remain in the MotoGP paddock, but that may not be possible for Hayden, if he is to retain his current position.

Then there's the situation at Pramac. Ben Spies has a two-year contract with Ducati, though so far, Spies has not stated explicitly that the contract specifies him racing in MotoGP. As a rule, Spies' contracts are locked down pretty tight, and so to expect him to do anything other than stay in MotoGP for 2014 is probably incorrect. The one angle of attack which Ducati may have in negotiations is the Texan's extended absence, with Spies badly hampered by an early return to testing and racing after major shoulder surgery. The Texan is currently scheduled to make his return at Indianapolis. If he still isn't strong enough then, it may mean his shoulder will never recover the strength needed to race in MotoGP.

If Andrea Iannone's contract is renewed, and Ducati hire Cal Crutchlow for the second factory seat, Iannone could remain in the Pramac squad - or whatever structure is thrown up to replace it - for next year. If he doesn't get another year on his contract, then he has options with Gresini as well. The Gresini team has made no secret of their desire to hire Italian riders, and a slot riding one of Honda's production racers alongside Alvaro Bautista would be a boost for the Italian team, making it easier for them to find sponsorship.

A more intriguing possibility is for Scott Redding to take the second satellite Ducati, but in a separate team to be run by Marc VDS. His current team has been in talks to move up to MotoGP with a number of people, with a leased Yamaha engine in a Kalex chassis one option, and a production Honda another. But perhaps the most attractive is to take over the running of the Pramac squad, and field the Ducati junior team. That would allow Redding to retain much of the team who current surround him, and have been instrumental in his success. It would also give Marc VDS a foothold in MotoGP, something the team has been interested in for a while.

But Redding has other options outside of the Marc VDS team, with talks ongoing with Gresini about a production Honda there. Yamaha have also expressed an interest, but the Japanese factory already has all of its slots more than filled, and so has nothing to offer the Gloucestershire youngster a the current time. Redding told MCN earlier this week he expected to make a decision after the Sachsenring, at some point during the summer break.

Why, though, would anyone want to take a gamble on a Ducati, when the brand has been struggling so badly ever since Casey Stoner left the team and went to Honda? Two factors. Firstly, the Audi takeover changed a lot of things inside Ducati, some of the significant changes underlying the heart of the organization. Changes in communication, in some key personnel, and in business processes are underway, but that kind of change takes a very long time.

Ducati have to get it right some time, or they will have no future in the sport. Those looking closely at Ducati contracts have been listening very carefully to what they have been told of the changing processes inside the Italian factory, and of their hopes for progress. There are signs of a more methodical work process, though that has yet to bear fruit. But a gamble on Ducati is a gamble that the small Italian factory can once again triumph through ingenuity and application, just as they have done before.

It is surprising that Ducati should be the hot ticket in MotoGP, but at the moment, they are the only factory with anything to offer. With a strong hand, the Italian manufacturer looks set to pick up a bargain or two in the next few days. Interesting times lie ahead, starting in Germany.

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They're not the hot ticket, they're the only ticket. Everything else is a CRT or unknown production racer. In the article about innovation in Moto2, you stated riders like to stick with what they know. As bad as it is, they know what to expect at Ducati.

Huge risk. It's a boy who cried wolf situation. I am not sure Ducati will be serious about development and change "this time". They need a new everything starting with the engine

Nothing has been said about Suzuki. It seems they are working hard to get in the show. Perhaps Cal may go there? And maybe Nicky, or ??? I wouldn't count Suzuki out, they have the experience, and wouldn't be coming back in if they didn't think they had a chance to win.

And what about the competitiveness of the CRT bikes this year? Is it only because of the riders, or are the bikes getting better? Obviously some are not, but Espargo and DePuniet are pushing into the top ten, and maybe with a better engine program from Honda & Yamaha & ??? Things may look better for some of the younger, upcoming riders?

which world do you live in man and how much do you really follow motogp ? it's old news now suzuki announcing they'd be entering motogp in 2015, not 2014. they need more time for development and so on.

and there's no CRT from 2014 either.

Suzuki are coming in '15, and if they think they'll be competing for wins, God bless 'em, but they're wrong. Not even all the Hondas and Yamahas are competing for the win. Even Cal, for all his skill, has yet to compete for a win. Ducati continues to want to throw riders at the bike, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle again. It's not like Ducati had a capable bike just a couple of seasons ago; they haven't been consistently competing for wins since 2009. Look at Nicky's 2010 season - quite a few 4s and 5s there. This year? 7s, 8s, 9s, 10s. The bike has gotten worse, or, at best, stayed the same while everyone else improved. But being a factory ride, it offers the slim hope that if, just if, Ducati can get it together, there might be another ride capable of winning a race. Right now there are 6 rides theoretically capable of winning a race, though the Tech3s are a bit of a stretch. There's a lot more talent than rides in GP. We're bringing guys through Moto2 and there's nowhere to go.

Oh, and before we count Rossi as being well and truly back, let's spare a thought for Spies's only GP win. At Assen. In cooler conditions. Sound familiar? Maybe Rossi needs to win a couple more before we count him a consistent threat.

Couldn't agree more about Rossi. Everybody was over the moon after his second place in Qatar, then everybody wrote him off again after Mugello/Barcelona. People seem to have very short memories.

Let's see him win a few times more before deciding that he'll extend after 2014. Or even still compete in 2014.

Didn't compare Rossi to Spies, compared Rossi's latest win to Spies's only win - very similar circumstances. Cooler track, Lorenzo hampered by circumstances (in Spies' case JLo taken out by Sic) so the other Yamaha capable of winning was behind the 8 ball. A healthy JLo in Assen this year may well have had Rossi P2 at best. Let's not extrapolate one race win into a "he's back!!!!!!!!!" for Rossi. Everyone did that after his P2 in Qatar, then nothing much happened after that until Assen.

Nicely said. As totally cool as it was to see Vale take another win, to extrapolate from there that he's suddenly capable of winning on a regular basis seems to be a leap of faith. At Assen, the Hondas struggled, with Cal fighting with Marc for a place, and obviously Jorge was injured.

Having said that, I think he's on form for a win in Germany, especially if the weather is as cool as the forecast predicts it will be.

What? Move from one noncompetitive bike to another, even more inferior? Ducati's problem is with the bike, not the rider. Has everyone forgot that Hayden has repeatedly beat Rossi (who is now winning races again on the Yamaha) on the same bike, or that he has also beat Dovisioso on occasion? If Ducati goes with an untested rider next year it will make things even worse. You'll see Crutchlow go from stealing podiums to fading away into history. Iannone? Redding? Chances dead on arrival. And watching Hayden get crushed in WSBK isn't going to make me want to watch that series any more than seeing the great Carlos Checa being destroyed by, well, pretty much everything else on two wheels does now.

So Nicky is gonna help Dorna grow WSB in the United States and help with TV rights? It's hard enough to get MotoGP out here. Speeds coverage is horrible, we get to watch Flo, the Progressive Auto Insurance chick's commercial about 10 times in the one hour broadcast and the minute that rider crosses the finish line it's fade to black. And that's for GP. Then we have Superbike. Good luck if you can even find the cable channel it's on and if you can it's likely in the 3rd tier of the cable programming so it will cost you another $34.99 a month on top of the $119 you already pay for DirecTV and the like. I'm sorry, I'm not sticking around to try to find coverage of Nicky battling it out against Marco Melandri. No one cares. If Nicky isn't in GP he may as well go into broadcasting. Ben Spies and Colin Edwards don't do much to promote the sport. Have you ever been to Indy or Laguna and see how hospitable they are? OK, Colin used to shoot tee-shirts out of a canon to the fans. Bonus points for that. Ben Spies mama yells for someone to "get my boy's scooter so he can get out here" and then there's Nicky. The guy who sticks around and signs every single last autograph and takes every single photo until everyone is happy. I just don't see any win-win for Dorna or Ducati if Nicky goes to WSB. Just my opinion.

Ben Spies mama yells for someone to "get my boy's scooter so he can get out here"


Is actually quite good now that it is on beIN sports. Coverage is uniterrupted and you get supersport too. Also you get Sarurday's superpole.

and it is 9.00 a month

And at Laguna and Indy the past few years CE signed outside his motorhome til the sun went down.

Spies is not the friendliest guy around.

I'd love to see Hayden & CEII in WSBK. I just don't see the point of them doing laps in GP on hopeless rides. As for the coverage in the U.S., yeah, it sucks... But it doesn't stop me from watching and/or following it as best I can.

And if Cal doesn't get a works seat this year or next, then he might as well return to WSBK too.

It'll be interesting to see how Spies' injury plays into all this if he's hampered all year.

If only there wasn't this incessant, ever more restrictive rule changing, we would have two possibly very competitive Suzukis on the grid in 2014. I would have liked to see Crutchlow and Hayden on those.

BeIN Sport makes Speedtv look like an infomercial channel.
Coverage is live and virtually uninterrupted

I vote for Hayden either on Kawasaki or an aprilia.

Edwards stayed in GP because forward is paying him 7 figures. Not much more than 1 million I suspect but it's more than they are paying in WSBK. That is why he is there. And Yamaha is keen on Edwards doing the race testing and development of their leased engine project. Even during Rossi's prime, Edwards was more respected by Michelin and paid as much as Rossi in sponsorship. He is still respected in Japan and France as one of the best development riders in the world.

If Hayden moves to WSBK with Ducati he will be well paid due to US marketing.

Rossi isn't going anywhere. If you read the Crutchlow article David linked above, he said if JL and VR want to stay that's it. Assen was no fluke for Valentino as the Aragon test proved. They solved their problems in Aragon, not Assen. Assen was just a result of that. For all the yellow flag waving and hype people talk about, VR is that good, and how anyone with 106 wins can be disputed and still winning at this stage of his career is baffling. He has no plans of leaving and all that win did at Assen did was cement his plans to stay for 4-5 more years so anyone wishing and hoping for an exit are in for a bitter disappointment. Another win or two and you can rubberstamp the contract for 2015. Again read Lin's comments to CC regarding this. He is The marketing powerhouse in professional racing and also very arguably the GOAT. He wants Ago's 122 win record like I want a date with Isabella Heathcoate except he at least has a shot at that. To think Yamaha wouldn't back him to have the two most winning riders in history on their post race payroll is daft.

Cal is in a tough spot. I'd be talking severely with Honda about nabbing AB's seat as he is the biggest underperformer on prototype machinery at this stage. Smith and Crazy Joe are rookies and get a pass, Bradl is coming around so that leaves the bowling ball wrecking man Bautista holding a very poor set of cards.

If Cal takes the Duck seat and they actually improve the bike he is the best fit for that factory since Stoner IMO. He either goes to Ducati or takes another 1 year deal with Tech Trois and signs for Suzuki next year. HRC and Yamaha are sewed up for a few years to come. That leaves Ducati or Suzuki, he'll pick one or the other I bet. A resign with Tech 3 would tell me he's off to Suzuki in 2015.

It may be that the manufacturers are forcing Dorna's ruling that each factory may only enter four prototypes. This is going to save them a lot of money and after all only one factory rider can win the championship. But this is hard on the up and coming riders. Only the precociously talented riders get a shot at a factory seat while those who mature their talent more slowly are cast aside. The economic realities are keeping this sport small with no growth at the top, while the lower (and more affordable) feeder series are still producing an ample supply of riders capable and ready to more up to the top tier of MotoGP. Thus it ever was may be the standard response to this situation but MotoGP could be a more exciting and vibrate sport with more mass appeal (meaning TV contracts) with rules which allowed more teams to compete on a more level playing field. Dorna, I think, has been trying to move in this direction but against strong opposition from the MSMA manufacturers who wish to keep MotoGP a closed shop, meant for their use only.

... isn't mentioned much here, but I think overlooking it may be an error. A good rider on that thing, I believe, will do as well if not better than the factory Duc for the first part of 2014 at the very least. In an interview with, Edwards made his opinion very clear: "Don't let the valve springs fool you. That thing is going to be fast," I believe the quote went.

Per MSS 58 "Spies is not the friendliest guy around".

I find that an untrue statement. While I have not had an opportunity to talk to Spies during his GP stint, I have had multiple "Fan chats" with him from his 600 days thru WSB. Nothing but a nice guy who took a few minutes to listen and answer a few questions. While it's true, fans will do more talking than him, I don't find him unfriendly in any way.

While people like Colin Edwards or John Hopkins might talk your ear off, I don't think it's correct to see anything less as not friendly.

Maybe I am mistaking his lack of engagement with the crowds in these same events you refer to as unfriendly and, admittedly, when I first met him (in a golf cart ironically) in laguna last year he had just had the chicken soup knocked out of him when his bike broke coming out of the corkscrew, so I stand corrected.
However, even when healthy, he is not a man of the mob...

I think Nicky is going to go to WSBK next year, IMO it's the best course for him. He can go for the distinction of being the 1st to win both the MotoGP and WSB titles and be in a position to win races again.

With Ducati reported (by Carlo Pernat) to be putting its current MotoGP bikes up for sale to satellite teams for next year - with the Magneti Marelli ECU and Marelli software allowing them 24 litres of fuel per race and 12 engines over the season, at somewhere between 600,000 to 800,000 Euro, perhaps Yamaha's big noise about 'engines for lease' has been silenced. If Pernat is correct, then the choice for the second tier teams would be: stick with what they have, buy a Ducati for say 700,000 Euro, or dig deeper and cough 1.2 mil for the 'onda.

That should give Crutchlow a bit of breathing room as well.