Andrea Iannone has been something of an enigma since joining Suzuki. The Italian was blisteringly quick last year on the Ducati, which is one of the reasons Ducati took so long to choose between him and Andrea Dovizioso after they signed Jorge Lorenzo to the factory team. He was fast when he jumped on the Suzuki GSX-RR for the first time at the Valencia test, then carried that speed to Sepang, where he finished as second quickest overall.
Things have gone downhill since then. The Italian slipped down the order at the Phillip Island, then trailed further behind at the Qatar test. His season has gone from bad to worse since racing started: he has five DNFs from 13 races, and when he finishes, he usually ends up around tenth. His best result so far has been a seventh place in Texas, but that was the exception, not the rule.
He currently sits in sixteenth in the championship, with a paltry 33 points. Iannone, race winner in Austria last year, sits behind both Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rookies, and behind a total of seven riders on satellite bikes. His rookie teammate, who has spent most of the season banged up with injury, is threatening to beat him more and more regularly. How to solve an issue like Andrea Iannone?
There has been one possible solution floating around since early summer. The basic concept is a surprising, yet surprisingly logical, swap. The idea was that Andrea Iannone would be shipped off to World Superbikes to ride the Kawasaki of Jonathan Rea, while Rea would take Iannone's place on the Ecstar Suzuki in MotoGP.
This would kill several birds with one stone. Suzuki would lose a rider who was clearly underperforming for them, and gain an experienced, disciplined, and highly motivated racer with bags of talent. Iannone would get the best bike in the best team in WorldSBK, and get a chance to find his winning ways again.
Dorna would lose the rider who has utterly dominated WorldSBK and made the racing predictable (the biggest question in WorldSBK at most races is whether it will take Rea one lap or two to go from the third row on the grid in Race 2 to the lead). They would gain an exciting Italian with a big fan base capable of mixing it up at the front. Everyone would be a winner.
The idea first came up in early July. But all of the sources I have consulted say it was only ever short lived. By late July, the idea had been all but abandoned. Rea is to stay in WorldSBK, Iannone is to stick it out with Suzuki.
The obstacle, paddock rumor suggests, was Suzuki Japan. Japanese management were not keen on the idea of a switch, and would not be persuaded. They had backed the idea of signing Andrea Iannone to Suzuki, which originated with team boss Davide Brivio. Now, they were determined to see it through, and were not open to the idea of abandoning Iannone midway through his (extremely lucrative) contract.
Since then, the story has reemerged from time to time. But each time it does, the main players involved issue stern denials. Suzuki boss Davide Brivio told GPOne.com, "We've never talked about breaking Iannone's contract. I can't see how this change would be possible. It's not even conceivable."
At Portimao, Jonathan Rea was just as emphatic. "I think that it's more a case of fantasy than reality," the Kawasaki rider said." There has been no official communication between me and Suzuki and I am very happy here. I have a contract for 2018 and so does Iannone."
Rea did not categorically reject the idea of a switch to MotoGP at some point, but he was very clear that it would only happen if the conditions were right. "My heart is in Superbike. The championship suits me very well, I'm on a winning package and to move to Grand Prix it would have to be on a winning package. It would need to be an exciting project to make it worth my while because I know that I could go there and be in the front group if I had the right package."
Does this mean that the idea of swapping Jonathan Rea and Andrea Iannone between championships is dead? Such notions are never completely dead until the new season has started. As one anonymous manager likes to say, "contracts can always be broken." The situation around Sam Lowes at Aprilia is proof enough of that. Given the political will, and sufficient money, anything is possible. But at the moment, at least one, and probably both of those conditions are missing.
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