With all the debate and discussion over the changes coming to MotoGP for 2012 - 1000cc machines, the appearance of the Claiming Rule Team machines, arguments over exactly what the Aprilia bike is, and the ongoing talks over the imposition of a rev limit and spec ECU for 2013, it is easy to overlook the fact that it is not just the bikes which are changing. All four of MotoGP's so-called Aliens are out of contract at the end of next season, as well as just about every other rider on the MotoGP grid. With the last five years utterly dominated by the Fantastic Four - Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner winning all but four races in 5 season - the key for any factory to securing a MotoGP title has been having at least one Alien on its books.
That lesson has not been lost on Yamaha. The Japanese factory secured five of the last eight championships with either Valentino Rossi or Jorge Lorenzo at the helm. With Rossi moved on, and Lorenzo not yet 25 years old, Yamaha has tied its long term future to the success of the 2010 World Champion. So much so that according to Matt Birt of MCN, Yamaha is already looking to extend their contract with Lorenzo once the current one runs out at the end of 2012. Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis told MCN that keeping Lorenzo was "key" and that he wished to open contract negotiations early. Jarvis also said that it was "very, very important" to secure the services of either Lorenzo or 2011 World Champion Casey Stoner.
With Stoner looking set to stay with Honda for the foreseeable future, that leaves Lorenzo as Yamaha's favorite option. One item of interest in the MCN story is Jarvis avoiding any mention of either Dani Pedrosa or Valentino Rossi. Despite his strong performance, Pedrosa's propensity for injury dogs his reputation; his speed is not in question, but injury has prevented him from getting anywhere near securing a title, despite the fact that the injuries he suffered were through no fault of his own. Rossi's name is perhaps more conspicuous by its absence, especially given the success the legendary Italian has brought to Yamaha. But Rossi's departure from Yamaha almost certainly left scars which will need time to heal, and with Rossi's age starting to become, if not a factor, then at least a relevant consideration, Yamaha may prefer to look to the future with younger riders, rather than to the past with a proven older one.
But the Yamaha situation will be the very start of it, and the rule and policy changes coming in 2013 could make the upcoming silly season negotiations even more interesting than they would have been otherwise. Carmelo Ezpeleta has reiterated his determination not to provide financial support to teams that lease factory prototypes from 2013 onwards, and this shuts out the normal path to a factory ride.
To take Marc Marquez as an example: the Spaniard is heavily tipped to be able to match the pace of the Fantastic Four, and both Honda and Yamaha are believed to be chasing the young Spaniard. Previously, Marquez would have followed the path taken by Andrea Dovizioso and Ben Spies, joining a satellite team for their rookie year, before moving up to a factory team the following season. But with no financial support from Dorna, private teams such as Tech 3, Gresini and LCR can no longer afford the exorbitant lease prices demanded by the factories.
This leaves both the factories and riders such as Marquez in a quandary. As the so-called Rookie Rule prevents a new rider in the MotoGP class from joining a factory team in their first year, neither Yamaha, Honda nor Ducati have anywhere to put Marquez should they be able to secure his services. The only way that Yamaha could be sure of moving Marquez up into the factory team in his second year is by placing him with Tech 3 in his rookie year, and providing a factory prototype at virtually no cost. An alternative for Marquez could be for his sponsors to step up and pay the lease on a factory prototype, but the power has now shifted towards the riders. With just 6 factory prototypes likely to be on the grid from 2013, riding a CRT machine is much less of a risk, especially if Ezpeleta pushes through rules imposing a rev limit and a spec ECU. The playing field could be evened quite a bit in 2013.
The complications of the Claiming Rule Teams and Carmelo Ezpeleta's reluctance to subsidize the factories through exorbitant lease prices could make for a very interesting silly season in MotoGP for 2013. Added to that, there is the question of whether Dani Pedrosa and Ben Spies will be retained by their current employers - Andrea Dovizioso has made his intention clear of taking a factory ride with Yamaha for 2013 - and who could be drafted in to take their place. With the loss of the satellite teams, the factories could push for the Rookie Rule to be repealed, though with Dorna and IRTA in their current mood, such a move would meet with massive resistance. The rule has, after all, served its purpose very well, allowing satellite teams to sign big-name riders and benefit from the surge of publicity such riders generate, and the satellite teams will have more of a say in the direction of MotoGP from 2012, while the factories are forced to take a back seat.
If the silly season which played out ahead of 2011, the last time all four Aliens were out of contract, is anything to go by, the 2013 Silly Season looks like being a genuine media frenzy. The fact that speculation is starting after just the very first test at the end of the 2011 season just goes to underline this. Even if Yamaha succeed in their aim of signing Jorge Lorenzo to a further contract extension early in the year, the complications could be endless. It's about to get very, very interesting.