MotoGP Silly Season is nearly at an end. With the confirmation that both Jack Miller and Cal Crutchlow will be staying in their seats for 2017, the list of possibly vacant grid slots grew much shorter. Those that remain empty are growing ever closer to being filled, leaving only three seats open, and one seat still completely free. Time to take a look at the current state of play.
With the announcement that Aleix Espargaro would be joining Aprilia for two years, the last of the factory seats was filled. The factory rides filled up quickly in 2016, starting with Valentino Rossi and Bradley Smith at Qatar, and culminating eight races later at Assen with the signing of Espargaro. (The timing of the Aleix Espargaro/Aprilia announcement was peculiar to say the least. Making a major announcement that a rider had been signed to a factory rider – a signing everyone already knew about – on the Sunday night after one of the most remarkable MotoGP races in recent memory was guaranteed to achieve the absolute minimum of media coverage.)
Satellite teams, too, have filled up relatively quickly. Jonas Folger was the first rider to sign, being announced at Tech 3 at Le Mans. At Mugello, Pramac Ducati team boss Francesco Guidetti confirmed that they expected to continue with Scott Redding and Danilo Petrucci. And at Assen, the contracts of both Jack Miller and Cal Crutchlow were confirmed for 2017.
Even the seats which are not yet confirmed have some strong candidates. The second Tech 3 seat will be filled by Johann Zarco, with an announcement likely to come at the Sachsenring. Zarco had been given a contract with Suzuki, with the option of riding for the factory next year, but when it became clear there would not be a satellite Suzuki, and that the Japanese factory preferred Alex Rins over him, the Frenchman signed with Tech 3.
The second seat at Marc VDS is likely to stay as it is, team boss Michael Bartholémy prepared to give Tito Rabat another year to show some progress. There are signs of small steps forward for the former Moto2 champion, Rabat now no longer circulating at the back, out of touch with the rest, and the team is confident that he will soon start to show more of his potential.
Seats still open
There are four seats left completely unclaimed, but even there, names can be penciled in. The Aspar Ducati team have found some new financial backing, and as a consequence are looking for riders who can bring results rather than money. Given Eugene Laverty's strong results this year, the Irishman has an offer to stay. Laverty's decision will be contingent on the level of equipment available. He is holding out for a GP16, rather than a GP15, for 2017, not wanting to be two years behind the factory riders. He also has some strong options in the World Superbike paddock, and came close to taking the second seat at Kawasaki alongside Jonathan Rea.
Alvaro Bautista has also been linked to the Aspar team, and given the Spaniard's solid results at Aprilia, should be in the frame for the ride. Like Laverty, Bautista is keen on having a competitive ride, and is hoping to be on a GP16, rather than a GP15.
At Avintia, Hector Barbera is almost certain to continue, the Spaniard having a longstanding relationship with the team, and having shown this season that he is still competitive. Barbera is currently seventh in the championship standings, and the best Ducati rider, ahead of both factory riders.
The only real question mark left
Who will partner Barbera is still open to question. Loris Baz is still in contention, having also shown he is fast on a Ducati. The arrival of Johann Zarco into the premier class does make the argument for Baz less compelling purely on the basis of his passport, however. The alternative would be Yonny Hernandez, with Dorna keen to keep a South American rider in the championship. But Baz is still ahead of Hernandez in the championship standings, despite having missed races due to injury. Hernandez did his chances a lot of good at Assen, by leading the MotoGP race in the wet, but crashing out of the lead once again gave pause for thought.
The Sachsenring is likely to see a last frantic round of negotiations, wrapping up most of the remaining open seats. We could see a very early end to Silly Season this year, to match its early beginning.
Below are riders signed so far, and the seats still open:
|Satellite Teams with signed riders|
|Monster Tech 3 Yamaha|
|Marc VDS Honda|
|Seats still to be confirmed|
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