With the announcement at Estoril that Hiroshi Aoyama is to ascend to the MotoGP class aboard a Honda RC212V in a team run by Daniel Epp, the man behind the current Caffe Latte team in the 250 class, the number of Hondas on the grid for 2010 increased from six to seven. The team is to be sponsored in part by the Swiss iced coffee company Caffe Latte, but the effort is also to be heavily supported by Honda. HRC have a long tradition of keeping a Japanese rider in the MotoGP class and were keen to find a replacement for Yuki Takahashi, who was muscled out at Team Scot and replaced by Gabor Talmacsi, the Hungarian bringing a badly-needed injection of funds to the cash-strapped team. With Hiroshi Aoyama edging ever closer to becoming Japan's first World Champion since the much-lamented Daijiro Katoh in 2001, and doing so on board an aging Honda RS250RW, the Japanese rider seems not only the logical choice, but also a highly deserving one.
The Caffe Latte RC212V will be an additional Honda on the grid, but the final line-up for the marque is still not entirely finalized. Honda expect to field seven bikes, and six of them have been settled: The factory Repsol team will see Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso return - though Dovizioso's current crew chief Pete Benson is believed to have been ousted, and is looking for work elsewhere; The San Carlo Gresini team will field the two Marcos, Melandri aboard a factory and Simoncelli riding a satellite spec bike; Randy de Puniet will make a return at LCR Honda, riding the new pseudo-factory satellite spec RC212V; And Aoyama's Caffe Latte bike will make 6.
The 7th bike is still to be determined. That bike is currently in the hands of Gabor Talmacsi and the Team Scot effort, but HRC is widely believed to be unhappy with the way the Hungarian has performed. Talmacsi has been given a certain amount of leeway, as the former 125cc World Champion jumped on a MotoGP bike almost directly from the 125cc class. The Hungarian had started the year with the Aspar-run Team Balatonring, riding an Aprilia RSA 250. But a dispute over image rights - a highly lucrative affair for Talmacsi, who is a huge superstar in Hungary - saw Talmacsi leave the team before Le Mans, moving up to the MotoGP class for the first time at Barcelona. With little experience of a 250, the leap to a MotoGP bike has been huge, perhaps too much for Talmacsi in the short time he's had to ride.
But HRC's patience is not boundless, and the end is looking increasingly near for Talmacsi and the Team Scot effort. The team is chronically short of funds - Aoyama's world championship challenge has been done on a shoestring, with just a single, outdated bike - and Talmacsi remains stubbornly two and a half seconds off the pace at the front. Honda are believed to regard Talmacsi very low on their list of priorities for next season, and recent press reports in the German-language magazine Speedweek suggest that Talmacsi may be looking towards Moto2 for 2010.
In his place, the final Honda could well end up at Team LCR, Lucio Cecchinello's long-standing wish to expand the team from one to two riders finally being fulfilled. The question of who that second rider might be is still very much open to question. With five Spaniard and five Italians already entered for next season, Dorna will be keen to get a fresh nationality into the class. The loss of James Toseland means that MotoGP will not have a British rider in the premier class for the first time in living memory. But a replacement Brit will be hard to find, the promising candidates either still in the 125 class, or already otherwise engaged in World Superbikes.
Other nationalities suffer a similar problem, with no obvious candidates knocking at the door. The name of John Hopkins has been linked to the FB Corse project due to enter the class for next season, along with riders on their way out, Alex de Angelis and Toni Elias. Elias is believed to be close to a deal to go and race in the Moto2 class for next season, while doubts linger over Hopkins' propensity for sustaining injuries. De Angelis is the rider most likely to pick up an additional Honda - his nationality would certainly help LCR, should the team get an extra bike, but Dorna may balk at the idea of 11 Mediterranean riders, out of between 18 and 20, depending on the FB Corse program. It may well be that the MotoGP grid is finalized only at Valencia, or perhaps even later than that.