Mid-Season MotoGP Silly Season Update: 22 Bikes - Marc VDS Out, Petronas SIC In

The summer break – if an extra weekend off can be counted as an actual break – marks the end of the first half of the 2018 MotoGP season, but it also marks a significant point in the MotoGP Silly Season. With Marc van der Straten telling the riders and crew of the Marc VDS MotoGP team that the team will not be competing in MotoGP in 2019 and beyond, the final shape of the 2019 MotoGP grid is almost clear.

There was no official announcement to mark the withdrawal of the Marc VDS squad, it was indirectly confirmed when the team sent out a press release (shown below) announcing that they had extended their deal with Alex Márquez for the Spaniard, younger brother of Marc, to remain in Moto2 for another season. Emilio Alzamora, who manages both Márquez brothers, had been pushing for Van der Straten to keep at least one grid slot in MotoGP for Alex Márquez, a move which had the strong backing of his brother Marc. Alex Márquez remaining in Moto2 is tacit confirmation that there is no seat in MotoGP for the Spaniard.

The withdrawal of the Marc VDS team, and the transfer of the Angel Nieto Team's grid slots to the Petronas SIC Yamaha team (whose existence was confirmed officially in a press release between the Dutch and German rounds of MotoGP) means that the MotoGP grid will be smaller in 2019. There will be 22 riders lining up at Qatar, rather than the 24 who started at Losail this season. The loss of two riders from the grid will not overly trouble Dorna: with uncertainty over who will broadcast MotoGP in Spain next year, saving around €6 million in team subsidies will create some negotiating room for the series organizer.

Of the 22 MotoGP bikes on the grid, 17 riders have already been officially announced and signed up. Of the rest, both Taka Nakagami at LCR Honda and Tito Rabat at Reale Avintia are certain to continue, though contracts have yet to be signed. That leaves the two Petronas SIC Yamaha seats still open, and the second seat in the Avintia squad.

The two Petronas SIC Yamaha seats are also close to being finalized, though here too we are awaiting official announcements. Franco Morbidelli will be taking one seat, assisted by crew chief Ramon Forcada, who will be leaving Maverick Viñales at the end of this season. The saga of the second seat took quite some time to nail down: first, Jorge Lorenzo turned down the offer in favor of Repsol Honda. Then Dani Pedrosa chose retirement over a late-career switch to Yamaha.

Now, it seems, Fabio Quartararo is to be brought up to MotoGP at the request of Yamaha, as they look for a way of channeling young talent into MotoGP. Morbidelli is to have a full-factory Yamaha M1 at his disposal for 2019, while Quartararo will learn the ropes in MotoGP on a satellite spec bike. This, and the creation of a test team using a European former GP rider as a full-time test rider are part of Yamaha's plans to improve their competitiveness in the coming season, made partly as a result of pressure from Valentino Rossi.

The role of Yamaha test rider is open, though Bradley Smith and Jonas Folger have been linked to the position. Smith may have the choice of being a test rider for KTM, if Mika Kallio's injury, sustained in a crash at the Sachsenring, proves to be career ending. Folger, meanwhile, has offers to race in Moto2. Whether he tests or races depends on how fit he feels, and if he believes he is capable of racing for a full season.

The one truly unknown on the 2019 grid is who will take the second Avintia seat alongside Tito Rabat. Though Xavier Simeon ostensibly has a contract for 2019, he has failed to adapt to MotoGP. The Belgian rider has crossed the line either last or second to last in the seven races he has finished so far this season, and despite the money he is bringing to Avintia, the team needs results to show to its sponsors.

That opens up the second seat to other riders, though they will probably have to bring money with them. Karel Abraham is currently favorite to take the ride, as he has the financial backing to pay for the ride and is losing his ride at the Angel Nieto Team due to the team selling its grid slots. At the moment, Alvaro Bautista is also a candidate for the seat, but Bautista's problem is that he wants to be paid, rather than pay for the ride. "Now where can I go?" he lamented at the Sachsenring. "A top five rider with no bike for next year."

When can we expect formal announcements of the as yet unconfirmed riders? It is very likely that the remaining rides will be officially announced in the next couple of races, either at Brno, or between Brno and Austria. The only seat that may remain unclaimed for a while is the second Ducati at Avintia, as the team sorts out its financing and its priorities.

Below is the line up for 2019 and beyond:

Movistar Yamaha
Valentino Rossi Yamaha M1 2020
Maverick Viñales Yamaha M1 2020
Repsol Honda
Marc Márquez Honda RC213V 2020
Jorge Lorenzo Honda RC213V 2020
Ecstar Suzuki
Alex Rins Suzuki GSX-RR 2020
Joan Mir Suzuki GSX-RR 2020
Gresini Aprilia
Aleix Espargaro Aprilia RS-GP 2020
Andrea Iannone Aprilia RS-GP 2020
KTM Factory
Johann Zarco KTM RC16 2020
Pol Espargaro KTM RC16 2020
Factory Ducati
Andrea Dovizioso Ducati GP19 2020
Danilo Petrucci Ducati GP19 2019
Pramac Ducati
Pecco Bagnaia Ducati GP18 2020
Jack Miller Ducati GP19 2019
LCR Honda
Cal Crutchlow Honda RC213V 2019
Takaaki Nakagami Honda RC213V  
Tech3 KTM
Miguel Oliveira KTM RC16 2019
Hafizh Syahrin KTM RC16 2019
Petronas SIC Yamaha
Franco Morbidelli Yamaha M1 (factory)  
Fabio Quartararo Yamaha M1 (satellite)  
Avintia Ducati
Karel Abraham?/Alvaro Bautista? Ducati GP18  
Tito Rabat Ducati GP18  

Names in italics not confirmed yet. Names with question marks still undecided

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While, as an ardent Bautista supporter, I am certainly not objective on the matter, I honestly fail to see the upside of the decision (if it indeed has been made yet) to draft Quartararo into the new Yamaha team at this point. Aside from the fact that both Martinez and the sponsor apparently preferred Bautista and having an experienced rider paired with a relative newbie in the form of Morbidelli, I am also still a bit surprised by the choice of Quartararo specifically.

When he took the CEV by storm and came into the world championship early via the "Quartararo rule" I was as keen as anyone to see what he can do and there was probably just a bit too much pressure on his shoulders to develop properly. But while he clearly has the raw talent and speed, I do think it is too early to bring him up and potentially burn him out in MotoGP, he has yet to show any form of consistency I think. I also wonder why he is given the advantage over someone like Baldassarri, who was already rumoured to make a move and seems a more suited candidate to move to MotoGP. The rumours about Fabio instead felt like they came out of left field.

Even within the framework of the unending search to "find the new Marquez", it would make more sense (to me at least) to groom and develop a rider properly, put someone else on the bike for a year, then bring in Fabio a season later, when he is (hopefully) ready. Which I don't believe he is right now. Personally, as a fan of the riders and the sport, I am both annoyed at a deserving rider being pushed out of the class and more than a little concerned about a young talent potentially being broken early again. If/When Fabio gets the ride, I do wish him well and hope I am wrong with my prediction, but from the view of my armchair I can only shake my head about this at the minute.

I don't understand this choice one bit. I have no business criticizing riders but it seemed like for next season they were really going to cut the fat (and I mean that with the utmost respect for the backmarkers). The talent pool is so extremely high that I just can't understand taking one of the most underachieving moto3 riders who just got got his (albeit an amazing) first moto2 win. 

Tito Rabat has convinced me more this year, but how is it after SO many years that Karen Abraham STILL has a good chance of getting a ride next year??? Yes I know it's money but that doesn't make it right.

Hopefully Avintia will choose the most competitive rider, rather than the one who brings the most money. Perhaps they could emulate what the Haas team have done in F1 by getting decent riders capable of respectable results. Paid riders who have been on the grid for a few seasons don’t bring results or other sponsorship. Same with average riders who fall and end up costing more. And from a spectators point of view they don’t even add to the show. We all have pretty good idea of who will finish in the last few places well before race day. 

Now that the bulk of the grid is finally becoming competitive the best riders should be on the grid.

Leave paid riders in Moto3 and Moto2. Part of graduating MotoGP should be that they’re good enough that the teams and sponsors Really want them.