The Courtship Ritual Begins: Prelude To MotoGP's Silly Season, Part 1

It is going to be a busy – and lucrative – year for the managers of MotoGP riders. With almost everyone out of contract at the end of 2014, and with Suzuki coming back in 2015, top riders will be in high demand. The signs that competition will be intense for both riders and teams are already there, with the first shots already being fired.

Silly season for the 2015 championship kicked off very early. At the end of last year, HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto made a few casual remarks expressing an interesting in persuading Jorge Lorenzo to come to Honda. He repeated those comments at the Sepang tests, making no secret of his desire to see Lorenzo signed to an HRC contract.

Lorenzo has so far been cautious, ruling nothing out while reiterating his commitment to Yamaha. He is aware of the role Yamaha have played in his career, signing the Spaniard up while he was still in 250s, and bringing him straight into the factory team alongside Valentino Rossi in 2008, against some very vigorous protests from the multiple world champion. Yamaha have stuck with Lorenzo since then, refusing to bow to pressure to the extent of letting Rossi leave for Ducati, and in turn, Lorenzo has repaid their support by bringing them two world titles, 31 victories and 43 other podium finishes.

Yamaha, in turn, have already expressed their determination to retain Lorenzo, as well as Movistar Yamaha teammate Rossi. Speaking to Motorcycle News, Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis said that it was a 'very important year' in terms of contracts and that renewal discussions would start with both riders very soon. With Movistar stepping in as title sponsor, the Spanish telecommunication giant is said to keen to retain both Rossi and Lorenzo, the Italian for his unrivaled marketing power, the Spaniard as the face of Movistar in his native Spain.

But can Yamaha do it? If they do, it will come at a very heavy price. Honda made a play for Lorenzo the last time his contract was up in 2012, driving up his salary to around 9 million euros. Though he denied it at the time, Honda's offer is rumored to have been the reason he split with his then manager Marcos Hirsch. Hirsch, the rumor said, had not told Lorenzo of Honda's latest offer, thought to be in the region of 12 million euros. By that time, Lorenzo had already signed with Yamaha for less than that.

Honda will be looking to pull the same tactic in 2014, offering Lorenzo more money to make the switch. For HRC, it is a situation where they cannot lose: either Lorenzo accepts their deal and switches to the Repsol Honda team, or Lorenzo stays with Yamaha, but at an inflated salary, driving costs up and potentially using money which the Japanese firm could otherwise spend on developing the YZR-M1.

Throwing a second spanner into the works is Ducati. There were rumors earlier this year that Ducati had offered Lorenzo 15 million euros to sign for 2015. Lorenzo dismissed such rumors out of hand, but they do not appear to be completely without foundation. Lorenzo has a good relationship with Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna, having ridden for the him when the Italian was head of Aprilia in 250s. Progress at Ducati has been good, with Dall'Igna appearing to have finally succeeded in bringing the needed change to Ducati Corse, succeeding where others have failed. If Honda and Ducati enter a bidding war for Lorenzo's services, that would drive Yamaha to the very limits of their budget. They would need Movistar to come forward to extend financial support for the team to help pay for keeping the Spaniard on board.

But there are also risks for Lorenzo in leaving Yamaha. The Spaniard is surrounded by a tight-knit group, with at its center crew chief Ramon Forcada and team manager Wilco Zeelenberg. Forcada is the technical genius who has helped Lorenzo utilize every ounce of performance from the Yamaha M1, while Zeelenberg has been the mediating force between the two temperamental Spaniards, guiding Lorenzo's riding, providing key input on bike set up, and helping to filter the data Lorenzo is providing. It was Zeelenberg who carefully guided Lorenzo through the collarbone operation at Assen, walking him through the process one step at a time, from deciding to have surgery immediately, to flying to Barcelona and back, to racing to an astonishing 5th place on the Saturday.

Forcada could be persuaded to leave Yamaha, and go with Lorenzo to either Honda or Ducati. The experienced crew chief has no particular loyalty to one factory or another, though he is very happy to be working within Yamaha. Zeelenberg, on the other hand, would not leave Yamaha. He has a long association with the factory, having worked with them as a rider, then a team manager in World Supersport, and now with Lorenzo. When I asked Zeelenberg if he would leave Yamaha to follow Lorenzo, Zeelenberg dismissed the suggestion out of hand.

For Lorenzo, the decision will come down not just to money, but to where he believes he has the best chance of winning another title. The Yamaha struggled against the Honda RC213V last season, only becoming competitive again once the seamless gearbox made its appearance on the bike. In 2014, the M1 is struggling to cope with the new Bridgestone tires, which have less edge grip than the 2013 versions. What's more, there are questions over how the reduced fuel allowance will affect the Yamaha, though after the first race at Qatar, the M1 seemed to manage better than expected. If Yamaha haven't given Lorenzo a bike he feels competitive on, he is much more likely to defect. And as his main rival for the future will be Marc Marquez, Lorenzo may feel his best chance of beating him is to be on the same bike, negating any advantage which could come from machinery.

If retaining Lorenzo could be a struggle, keeping Valentino Rossi on board should be a much more straightforward task. Rossi has said that he will make a decision on his future after the first five or six races of 2014, only willing to continue if he is still competitive. His season has started well so far, proving to be much closer during testing than he was in 2013, and finishing 2nd to Marc Marquez at Qatar. But Qatar was one of Rossi's strongest races in 2013, and the Italian will be hoping it isn't another false dawn. Austin – if it stays dry – will be a better measure of Rossi's progress, and the likelihood of him staying. Rossi retains his passion for racing, he recently told Italian broadcaster Sky Sport, and is keen to renew. The chances of him staying in MotoGP for another two years are looking better with each race, and Rossi appears to be done with gambling on switching factories. Both Valentino Rossi and Yamaha know that they have a long and lucrative post-career relationship ahead of them, with Rossi acting as brand ambassador, along the lines of Giacomo Agostini.

At Honda, the situation is simple: retaining Marc Marquez is the highest priority for HRC, with Marquez showing no desire to jump ship. First, he has some winning to do, with the challenge of switching to another factory still a very theoretical one for the far future. Dani Pedrosa's seat is also relatively safe, despite the Spaniard's failure to secure a title for Honda in his 8 seasons with the factory. Despite the lack of championships, his record speaks for itself: Pedrosa has racked up 25 wins for the Repsol Honda team, and leads Kenny Roberts, Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz in the all-time standings. At Sepang, Livio Suppo emphasized once again Honda's support for Pedrosa, pointing out that bad luck has played a big part in the lack of titles for the Spaniard.

Pedrosa's seat is safe unless Honda manages to sign Jorge Lorenzo. If HRC secures Lorenzo's signature, then it is Pedrosa who will make way for the double world champion. But that would open up a vacancy at Yamaha, and though Yamaha have signed Pol Espargaro to a factory contract in the Monster Tech 3 satellite team, Pedrosa would find a warm welcome in Yamaha's factory squad. Pedrosa has a long history with Telefonica – they left MotoGP after a long period because of Pedrosa, when the Spaniard was signed to the Repsol Honda team, rather than a separate team, which Telefonica and Pedrosa's management had wanted – and so Movistar (a subsidiary of Telefonica) would welcome the Spaniard back to the brand. Movistar will want a Spanish rider in the factory Yamaha team, and with Pedrosa the only proven winner available, he would be the obvious choice.

Honda and Yamaha are only half the story, however. Tomorrow, we will take a look at Ducati, and how the return of Suzuki will impact the riders market.

Back to top


i would love to see Lorenzo and pedrosa change bikes...

I also would like to see this. I have a hunch that Pedrosa would do slightly better on the M1. However, it is just a hunch as I have no real reason why :)

... at least they know how to get the tire warmers off over at Yamaha.

Personally, I'd love to see him on the Yamaha. He would possibly be as dominant as he was back then in 250. I don't need to elaborate. His diminutive stature always compromised his natural assets on the Honda GP bike, hence the pick up and squirt mastery he's demonstrated over the years on the bike. You have to believe he'd have a Casey similar 2010 HRC test on the M1 post Valencia should it ever materialize 2014 mid November. Well, Alberto Puig is scouting for new talent. Dani may as well search for a first GP(senior) title elsewhere. George, as much as I respect him as one of the modern era greats needs to throw a leg over an unknown entity like an L-4 Honda or Ducati. Gloating in the wings old 46.

Gracias David - 2 stars for this article? Tough crowd!
Thank god for Moviestar Telefonica coming in and the timing. My eyes are also on what major and 2ndary old/new sponsors enter w Suzuki and Aprilia. Methinks the economy is perking up
I feel like we fans are in a similar spot as Honda re Lorenzo - cool if he stays and cool if he goes wherever. Crystal ball says...
He would not go to Ducati regardless of $.
However, w a jump on a very strong and cheap Open bike, we will see Ducati satellite and customer seats grabbing up and developing some REALLY strong riders next year (Hey Yonny, don't get too used to that garage).
Lorenzo would do well on the Honda.
He would be a better fit for a strong 22.5 liter Open Yamaha built around him to date w the wheels in line front end focused metronome style. Yamaha would do better w Lorenzo on it than ANYONE else next season.
We are in for a HUGE treat the next several seasons w the playing field being levelled, so much interesting development of riders, bikes, teams, and possibility on track.
He not only drives up his salary at Yamaha but also hastens their move to Open for the good of all.
Aleix Espargaro is a better bet than Pedrosa.
Even though Pedrosa is growing as a rider now he will still not make a breakthrough to the front and it is a last nudge of his career peak.
Rossi stays as he and the Yamaha (and the Bstones) are gelling better and he is too energized by the changes happening in the series creating possibilities, ESPECIALLY as he is asked to work w testing an Open Yamaha in a reasonable timeframe.
Here come the youngsters! - Look at all that are in the pipeline now, and WOW there will be a bunch more w the Asian, Spanish CEV, AND Redbull rookies developing. Moto2 is conducive to popping out a few more Alien babies.
There is room for a dark horse surprise rider in 2015-2016 as bike performance evens up a bit, and that this is a very good sign indeed.

Always wondered why they don't give riders a chance to break away and test ride other bikes during summer break. Everyone knows you dont buy a car, get married (or divorced), without testing the waters and taking it for a spin first. A summer fling with another bike would be great for the media and gossip pages too.

I wonder if Honda will threaten to quit MotoGP if Lorenzo doesn't sign. Seems to be a strategy for getting their way so far.

Like Christmas displays, the silly season seems to come earlier every year, have more brightly colored distractions and cost (factories) more than budgeted. Thanks for delivering some insights to us loyal readers (subscribe now!) and I'm looking foward to Austin. If we run into you there David, be prepared to tell me what your favorite drink is because I'm buying!

Is it just me, or is this one of the most interesting bits of the season? I know some don't agree (a certain M. Oxley, for one) but I think the manoeuvring before and between the races adds a certain spice to the sport; an interesting subtext to those who are paying attention.

Not to take away from the race day action, but it's nice to have something to speculate about between Sundays...

silly season already ;-)

Here's a challenge for you David. Please track down Casey Stoner and ask him how JL would go on the point and squirt Honda.

Not asking the impossible, eh?

I have said all along that Honda is not going to have 25-30 million in riders salary. They are going to pay big money to re sign Marquez, and will not have the money in the budget to pay Lorenzo what he will demand. It has always been a ploy to get Yamaha to burn up assets. Barring injury, Honda and Yamaha will look very familiar for 15-16

Keeping Marquez will be a priority for Honda and Lorenzo for Yamaha.

Lots of distractions and curve balls will be forthcoming to screen the real intent of the factory and second tier teams. If Aleix Espargaro is up for grabs it would also be money very well spent by whoever wins his contract. The money ball theory comes in here. Forget about reputation, look at performance as an indicator of the worth of the rider. AE can't command the same massive fees as the top 4 riders (yet) so would be a very, very good investment. Same with his little brother (if available).

I like both Dani and Jorge as racers, so a swap would not be a big deal for me. No brand loyalty involved unless Laverda and Moto Guzzi decide to go GP racing... :-)

What do you do with more than 20 million € over a lifetime? That's about 30k€/month until age 90. So does the money really have any influence other than reinforcing vanity?

It would be ironic if in an alternative universe where Lorenzo and Rossi had salaries capped to 2 million (they will still have their endorsement income), the extra money could have been used to develop a bike able to beat the Honda...

And that doesn't even include all the "friends" you'll have to help you lighten the load in your pocket.

Are getting to the level of stick and ball sports. I am not saying that the riders are not worth it, I guess I'm wondering who really wins? I believe Mr. Emmitt broke down the subsidies that DORNA pays the teams, but to what extent is that covering the riders/travel/development/expenses ect?

I am excited for the new ECU rules as much as I am opposed to it. The factories will still have the advantage just for the budget alone however, thinking of the potential shaking up of the finishing order every now and again excites me.

Mr. Emmitt - with the spec ECU coming into play has there been any talks about allowing the factories to provide more than four machines on the grid? It would be nice to see a 2005 type scenario with six (relatively) competitive Hondas on the grid again.

Oh My God!!! How it galls me to think that the four best motorcycle racers in the world would expect to be paid at the level of an average left fielder in major league baseball, who hits .275 with not much power and mediocre defensive skills. God, those biker boys are greedy.

So all the silliness of silly season might result in Lorenzo and Pedrosa swapping bikes. Let's face it, as long as there are more quality riders than quality rides, not much will change. There are really 4 bikes currently able to compete for wins and the championship. Pedrosa has had one of those bikes for 8 years. 8. Years. Rossi has been on one of those seats at Yamaha 6 of the past 8 same years. Lorenzo since what, 2008? The only seat that changes hands frequently is the championship seat at Honda. Marquez isn't going anywhere for 2 years at least. Suzuki and Aprilia won't add any winning seats to GP for a few years.

The result of silly season is usually more "as you were boys" than anything else.

I see that for the immediate term too Ghostdog. Do you also get a sense that this dynamic which became more solid and accentuated the last handful of yrs is now bring thatched out a bit to let something else come in? Nearly everything is always changing (even if it is solidifying) so I am super curious how. There has always been a pointy end of bikes and riders, just not THIS pointy with such a big monochromatic blob so far back behind it.
One take is that the specific rules that were a part of making this so are being undone and then some now. Little teensy Forward Racing is going to podium soon and I am going to go beserk. LOOK AT THEIR BUDGET! Not one but TWO factories are entering MotoGP now and not w bikes that will be grid filler at the back nor vanish fast as they came (think Harris or Illmore).
TRANFORMATION IS AFOOT methinks and I dig it.
p.s. I just don't think even Honda can/will afford to pay both Marquez and Jorge, and if I am wrong I will love it.

If we can get more competitive bikes then more riders will be moving around. By competitive I mean bikes that can win races, not something capable of a top 5 at best. If there are bikes that will let a rider ride to his own skill and compete for wins, then we'll see more movement of top riders. Look what A Espargaro has been able to do on a bike that allows him more control, something to showcase his skill. Hopefully he does get podiums this year. Hopefully he does harass the factory boys. I want more competitive rides. I want to see what P Espargaro can do on a good bike. I want to see what Iannone can do on a good bike. Ditto Redding, Bautista, Bradl, Smith. But that isn't going to happen until more bikes are able to compete for a win. And that only happens if A) more manufacturers are able to match Honda/Yamaha's design prowess (not likely) or Dorna is able to provide an alternative avenue for a bike to be fast. I was hoping that Ducati going open was a route to that, but Dorna balked at the last minute and instead of enforcing their desired rule set, made up a last-minute exception to keep the status quo. Which isn't what they say they've wanted. So I'm confused.

I'd just like to see some of the young fast guys get a chance. But that isn't going to happen as long as the veterans are sitting on all the good rides.

IMO, if Lorenzo goes to Honda, P. Espargaro takes his place (due to contract) and A. Espargaro goes on a full spec Yamaha bike in the Tech3 squad. Pedrosa will get a full spec Honda factory ride in a satelite team. once agian, IMHO :-)

Dani jorge swapping bikes. not a change! 1 of the espargaro brothers would get the factory ride. dani can ride the tech3. Dani didn't get the title once and Yamaha won't be looking for that. And i think.......Jorge won't be able to beat mm on the same bike.
And if jorge wins the title he wont be going anywere else