For the past month or so, Nicky Hayden has been telling the press that an announcement on his future should come in the next couple of days. On race weekends, the press asks on Thursday whether there's any news, and then again on Sunday, and get the same reply: No, not yet, but it shouldn't be long.
We know who Hayden will be signing with - Hayden has been spotted going in and out of the Aspar team's truck that you start to suspect he's already been given a spare key - and up until recently, we though we knew what he would be riding, a heavily modified version of the Aprilia ART machine, with a new engine with pneumatic valves and a seamless gearbox, and a new chassis to put it in. But it appears that that bike has been put on hold, as the most important contract negotiations for 2014 are starting to reach a climax.
The man in the eye of the storm is Gigi Dall'Igna, currently head of Aprilia's racing department, and responsible for many of the successes which the Italian factory has enjoyed over the years, including a World Superbike title with Max Biaggi. Reports that Ducati have been trying to tempt Dall'Igna away from Aprilia had emerged before the summer, but Dall'Igna appeared to have rejected Ducati's offer. Dall'Igna had decided to stay with Aprilia, after receiving assurances that the MotoGP program would be expanded, to include the new ART machine incorporating more pure race technology.
Now, it appears, Dall'Igna's situation is up in the air again. Several sources are now reporting that Dall'Igna could be on the verge of a switch to Ducati, after finding himself under budget constraints at Aprilia, and having received guarantees of a free hand at Ducati. With Aspar seriously considering a switch to the Honda production racer - with backing from HRC and American Honda, who are keen to see Nicky Hayden back on a Honda, US publication Sport Rider is reporting - and Karel Abraham's Cardion AB team already having switched to Honda, there are few options left in MotoGP for Aprilia.
What could be even more decisive is the power which Dall'Igna is being offered at Ducati Corse. Although he will report to Bernhard Gobmeier, who is currently head of Ducati Corse, Ducati is believed to have offered Dall'Igna a free hand in reorganizing and clearing out a number of engineers from Ducati Corse. This is one of the most urgent priorities, according to Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso. At Aragon, he told reporters '[The engineers] who work in the bike didn't fix the problem. So it means the people who tried to fix the problem, are not fixing the problem.'
The problem was also caused by the removal of Filippo Preziosi as head of Ducati Corse after the purchase of Ducati by Audi. Nicky Hayden told reporters at Aragon that he felt that Preziosi's departure had left a big hole in the racing department. Preziosi was a clear leader, and that appeared to have been missing since he was gone, Hayden said. Having a man like Gigi Dall'Igna take the place of Preziosi - technically reporting to Gobmeier, but with a free hand to do as he pleases - would mean the return of strong leadership and a clear direction to Ducati.
Dall'Igna may not be the only name in the running at Ducati Corse. MotoMatters has learned that Ducati have also been looking to Japan for engineering expertise. There has been no evidence that the persistent paddock rumor naming former Yamaha boss Masao Furusawa as the man Ducati are interested in has any foundation in fact, that suggestion probably arising from the contact last year between Furusawa and Filippo Preziosi. But given the seriousness with which Ducati is approaching their MotoGP project for 2014 and beyond, it cannot be discounted.
Ducati have no choice but to make their MotoGP project a success. Although Philip Morris has signed up again for another year backing the project, the patience of the tobacco giant is wearing very thin. Ducati have gone backwards since winning the title in 2007, with development never keeping up with their rivals. If Ducati don't bring in someone with the engineering brilliance and the leadership skills to stop the rot, their time in MotoGP will be very brief indeed. The list of individuals qualified to take on such a role is really rather short.