Two traditions surround MotoGP's Silly Season: the first is that it kicks off earlier each year; and the second is that it kicks off with the wilder and more improbable rumors, before settling down and becoming a fraction realistic until the contracts finally start to get signed. The problem with the improbable rumors is that occasionally, one of the truly barking ones turns out to be true.
The rider merry-go-round for 2013 is no exception. With all of the MotoGP riders out of contract at the end of 2012, the permutations of riders and bikes are almost endless. The rumors began at the very first race, with wildly speculative reports from Italy that Valentino Rossi had a satellite Yamaha backed by Coca Cola lined up for 2013. What most damaged the credibility of such reports was the assertion that Rossi was ready to quit before the end of the season, something which the contracts drawn up by sponsor Phillip Morris' lawyers would make excruciatingly expensive.
But even talk of leasing a Yamaha satellite machine seems beyond the bounds of reason. Yamaha has a contract with Herve Poncharal's Tech 3 team to lease two satellite bikes to the team. Yamaha has repeatedly made it clear that they believe that four bikes - two factory and two satellite - is the maximum they can support in MotoGP, with the extra staff and expense not being covered by the leasing fees paid by the satellite teams. Adding an extra bike for Rossi, while not impossible, would be so expensive that finding a sponsor willing to pay may prove too expensive even for a figure as popular as Rossi. A return to the factory team is even more unrealistic: Rossi and Yamaha did not part on perfectly amicable terms, and though Rossi would undoubtedly bring sponsorship to Yamaha, he would also bring a much heavier workload, as he did when he was with the team between 2004 and 2010.
In an interview with TV commentator and journalist for Spanish sports daily AS.com Mela Chercoles, Yamaha's Managing Director Lin Jarvis was decidedly cautious about a return to Yamaha by the Italian. Asked if Rossi's return to Yamaha was an interesting possibility, Jarvis replied "It is, but mainly for the press." Jarvis denied that Rossi figured in his plans, saying "I have not given any thought to him with respect to next year." Asked whether he would consider a return, Jarvis replied "I have not closed the door, but it's not a very realistic situation."
A return to Honda is even more improbable. Speaking to GPOne.com, HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto ruled out a return to the factory team, saying that "Honda has two good riders in the Repsol team, so there is no chance for him to come back there." The only option for a return to Honda would be with a satellite team, Nakamoto said, as the satellite teams themselves decide the line up.
The other piece of improbable news comes from inside the Repsol Honda camp. According to the normally reliable Spanish magazine Solomoto, Casey Stoner is considering retirement at the end of the 2012 season. According to Solomoto, the reigning World Champion is said to be tired of the itinerant lifestyle forced upon him by the MotoGP season, away from home for long periods of the year, and with only a few short months a year back in Australia. The arrival of his baby daughter Alessandra is said to have been the deciding factor, with Stoner preferring to head back to Australia to help run the family farm. His passion for racing would be sated by taking part in the Australian V8 Supercar series, of which he is known to be a fan.
Other sources deny Stoner's retirement plans, believing that the confusion is arising over the current contract negotiations between Stoner's father and manager Colin and HRC. Honda wants to sign Stoner to a two-year contract, while Stoner is keen to negotiate a one-year deal, giving him options to extend or retire at the end of 2013. Stoner is known to be a bitter opponent of the rule changes proposed by Dorna, fearing that the MotoGP bikes will cease to be something special. For this reason, he has often commented, he has no interest in racing in World Superbikes; it is the unique and special nature of the MotoGP machines that attracts him to them. But with the rule changes likely to be limited to a rev limit for 2014, no real changes to the bikes are expected for 2013, and so Stoner will have no technical reason to retire.
Both HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto and HRC marketing director - and Stoner's close confidant - Livio Suppo have told GPOne.com that negotiations are already underway with Stoner for 2013. Nakamoto has informed Stoner of how much they can afford to pay, and the Australian is currently considering his options. Should Stoner either retire or go elsewhere, Suppo said, Honda would be forced to make a play for Jorge Lorenzo. But Lorenzo's first priority is to extend the deal with Yamaha, with talks already underway on a contract extension.
When speaking to the press, Stoner does not give the impression he has the slightest intention of retiring. If anything, the Australian is more relaxed and more comfortable with his situation than he was in 2011. Stoner's competitive streak still burns fiercely inside him, and so to retire now would be a very difficult decision. It seems far more likely that his intentions are being misinterpreted, rather than that he actually wishes to retire.
We shall find out the truth - insofar as riders and teams ever tell the media the truth - of the situation on Thursday. Stoner is slated to appear at the Estoril pre-event press conference. The chances of Stoner not being asked a question about the retirement rumors are absolutely zero. The Australian will either answer directly, or he will refrain from comment. The latter option, if anything, would make the situation worse, as it would be a tacit acknowledgement that it is something he is considering.
We are not yet three races in to the 2012 MotoGP season, and already, Silly Season is in full swing. Hopefully, it will stop being quite so silly from here on in.