So it's finally done. Jorge Lorenzo has made up his mind, and decided to stay with Yamaha for 2010. The deal was announced early on Tuesday morning, European time - just as your humble correspondent boarded a plane to fly to the US for the Indianapolis Grand Prix, as it happens - in a press release issued by Yamaha. As keen observers will come to expect, none of the important details of the deal were announced - how much money was involved and whether Lorenzo got the assurances he craved of equal treatment with team mate Valentino Rossi - all we know is that Lorenzo will be riding for Yamaha for at least one more season.
Despite the lack of details announced, there is much that can be concluded by Lorenzo's - in the eyes of most observers, extremely wise - decision to step back from the abyss and stay with Yamaha. As attractive as the 6-8 million euros a year that Ducati was reportedly offering him must have appeared, Lorenzo must have understood that the risks outweighed the potential rewards.
The biggest and most immediate problem Lorenzo would have faced is the drastic reduction in the amount of preseason testing. The Ducati is a notoriously difficult beast to tame, indeed, many would argue that only Casey Stoner has managed that feat successfully, and the only route to mastering the Desmosedici lies in seat time. With testing slashed to just 3 two-day tests prior to the start of next season, plus two more days directly after the final race of the season at Valencia, Lorenzo would have had very little time to acclimatize.
What's more, the test schedule for next year will be incredibly spread out. After the two-day test at Valencia, the next test would probably be on back-to-back weekends at Phillip Island and Sepang sometime in February, to minimize the amount of travel to be done. After that, a night test at Qatar on the weekend prior to the season opener there on April 11th is the last test before getting down to racing. With several months between the tests, the riders will need to spend at least the first hour of testing just getting their heads back around the incredible speeds involved in riding a MotoGP bike at speed, further cutting into actual testing and development time. Add in the potential for rain - though admittedly, Phillip Island is the place where that is most likely to happen - and the risks of taking on a new bike are just too great.
Which begs the question, is it still possible to switch manufacturers if you have championship aspirations? In years past, you had as many as six or seven two- and even three-day tests, and by the time the season started, the riders and teams had a pretty solid base setting from which to start. Now, with well under half that testing time, you are doomed to spend the first half of the season just getting up to speed. Any bike switch would have to be part of a two-year campaign, in which you basically sacrifice the first season, using it as the testing which you missed during the preseason, before mounting an assault on the championship the following year. With testing the way that it is, a repeat of Valentino Rossi's and Eddie Lawson's incredible feat of back-to-back titles on different bikes is effectively impossible.
With Lorenzo now firmly back with Yamaha, the question is what is Ducati's next step. With clear indications coming from Australia of a growing rift between the factory and Casey Stoner, and Nicky Hayden still well off the pace of the front runners, despite his recent improvement, Ducati need a backup plan. If Stoner leaves, either walking away from the sport or leaving Ducati at the end of 2010, or possibly even before the start of next season, Ducati has a huge problem. They need to find someone who can keep the bike at the front of the pack. But with Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo tied up through 2010, the Borgo Panigale factory is left with Dani Pedrosa as their only proven - and available - option.
Despite HRC pronouncements that they have reached a basic agreement with Pedrosa for next season, an actual contract remains resolutely unsigned, the stumbling block rumored to be the status of Pedrosa's mentor Alberto Puig. Pedrosa won't sign without his friend and advisor, HRC won't sign any contract with a formal role for Puig. If Ducati has to come begging, they would have no option but to accept any demands Pedrosa may have about the role Puig is to play. And, irony of ironies, if Pedrosa signed with Ducati, the deal would see the Spaniard and Puig reunited with their former team mate Nicky Hayden, with whom they had an occasionally acrimonious relationship.
Of course, all this is just speculation. As far as we know, Ducati have made no approach to Pedrosa, nor has the Spaniard been talking to Ducati. But after their spectacular approach to Lorenzo, an offer to Pedrosa would seem the logical thing to do.
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