On Saturday night, Karel Abraham told a meeting of his fans that he would not be back in MotoGP. The Czech rider found out on Friday that the Avintia team wanted to end their relationship, when he received an email from a notary representing the team stating in Spanish that the team would be terminating his contract.
The move came as a massive shock to Abraham. It had been completely unexpected, as he had been told at Valencia that he would be back with the team in 2020, and to turn up for the test at Jerez. Only on Saturday was he told not to travel to Jerez.
Abraham had already made arrangements, however. He also needed to recover his leathers and various other belongings which had been sitting in the Avintia truck when it was driven to Jerez for the test. While he was at the Jerez circuit picking up his belongings, Israeli TV commentator Tammy Gorali, present in Jerez to report on the test, grabbed him and spoke to him for MotoMatters.com. That gave Abraham a chance to give his side of the story.
"As much as many people were surprised, I was very surprised, because I absolutely didn't expect it," the Czech rider told Tammy Gorali. "Well, you could say I could have expected it, the season was not great. Yes, I agree, that's true, but OK, we had a two years deal."
Abraham's contract with Avintia ran through 2019 and 2020, and talks had already taken place about improving the performance of Abraham and the team next season, the Czech rider said, and even prospects beyond that. "In the middle of the season I came to the team and said hey, look, we need to talk, do you want me to stay? And they were 'yeah everything is going in line and everything is perfect and great'. But since we had this meeting, we also were talking about 2021, because Tito also signed a 2-year contract."
Things in the team had taken a turn for the worse after that, Abraham told Gorali. "Since then things were not working really great," he said. "When we came to Malaysia the guy from Ohlins was not in our team. Our Ohlins guy was in Malaysia, but he was not allowed to work with us, because there were some issues." Abraham would not be drawn on what those issues were, though he hinted at what they might be. "If you try to find out, it's quite simple."
Looking for solutions
Those problems had been cause for Abraham to sit down with the team to try to work out a solution for next year. "We said, OK, look, everything is more or less alright, but there are a couple of things which we are not happy about and want to talk about. And we wanted to have a meeting in Sepang, which we did, we wanted to have a meeting again in Valencia, which we also did."
When rumors that Avintia was looking at putting Johann Zarco in the team in place of Abraham, the Czech rider spoke to Ruben Xaus, who handles team management together with Raul Romero. Xaus told Abraham he did not need to be concerned, Abraham told Gorali. "So we talked in Valencia again, and after the rumors with Zarco I went to Ruben again, multiple times actually, and asked what is going on, is it happening or not happening? And on Tuesday – he missed the last day of testing on Wednesday – he confirmed and said don't worry, you have your contract, everything is as it should be. I asked if they were talking to Zarco and he said 'No, we are absolutely not talking to Zarco, this is just some rumors, it's not true'. "
That reassured Abraham. "So I said OK,I did one day of testing, which was not bad, then I went back home. We texted a couple of times with Ruben, but he did not answer but I did not take it seriously."
Fired by email
It was only on Friday that Abraham received an email for the lawyers handling legal affairs for the team. "Late Friday evening, I opened my email and I received an email from a notary," Abraham told Gorali. "I opened it and it was in full Spanish, not English or Czech, saying 'Hello Mr Abraham, I am the notary of Esponsorama [the organization behind the Avintia team - DE], these are the documents and paperwork that this is the official notary'."
Because everything was in Spanish, Abraham could only get the broad lines of what the email was saying. Professional translation services were shut, it being Friday night, so Abraham had to use an online service to get a rough sense of the contents of the email. "When we put it into a translator, it was quiet clear that it was the termination of our contract. So we texted Ruben again, with 'Hey, what is this?' No answer."
Abraham tried texting repeatedly, to no avail. "We texted him multiple times, but we didn't receive any answer from him," he said. "But on the next day, Saturday, I texted him again saying 'Hey, Ruben look, you sent me this Spanish email, I have no idea what is in it and tomorrow I am leaving to Jerez, should I go to Jerez or not?' Only then I received a message saying, 'Correct, it's the termination of the contract, don't come to Jerez, and stop communication with me'."
The way that Xaus had handled that had come as a real blow to Abraham, he told Gorali. "I am disappointed because he was always this kind of friendly guy, he borrowed a car from me, he went with me to the hotel, or in Australia we spent a lot of time together, very friendly. And then he says 'don't talk to me anymore'. So I was like, "Are you serious? You are basically kicking me in the ass after the season is done and while we have a contract, and not even talking to me?'"
Abraham had expected someone in the team to at least have the decency to phone him to explain, he told Gorali. "OK, Raul doesn't speak English, but Ruben or somebody else, I don't care who, they could pick up the phone and say 'Hey Karel, this is the situation'. But they said nothing. I am also here in Jerez because as you can see I did not expect this, because they assured me it's not happening and I have all my stuff in the track, so I just came to pick it up and then I am gone. But it was a big surprise for me too."
Abraham had been given the ride in the Avintia team on the understanding that he would bring sponsorship to the team. The Czech rider insisted that he and his sponsors had paid the agreed sum for 2019 in full, but acknowledged that early payments for 2020 had been put on hold, because he wanted to get assurances about changes in the team for next season.
"What you hear is half way true," Abraham told Tammy Gorali. "This is what they used to kick me out, but honestly, all of 2019 is paid for, there was no doubt. 2019 was completely paid for. There were some payments we were supposed to make for the 2020 season, but we did not pay them and postponed them, not for months, we are talking days. We postponed them because we had some doubts about things happening in the team."
The postponed payments were part of the negotiations for 2020, especially in light of losing an Ohlins technician in Malaysia, Abraham explained. "First of all, we postponed the payments because we did not get what we agreed in the contract, for example the Ohlins guy was missing and many other things happening. So we said hey, we want to talk about the next season before we fully commit. And they said, OK, we will talk in Malaysia, which we did, but there were new issues coming, so we said we will talk one more time in Valencia, and then we will proceed. In Valencia we agreed, we still wanted to do some adjustments so we sent some proposals, but we received no answer but the termination of the contract."
The postponed payments were used as the reason to terminate the contract, according to Abraham. "This is why they said they are kicking us out. Because we didn't pay in time, because we broke the contract," the Czech rider said. "But really, it's not true, because we agreed to have those meetings, and postponed the payments."
Though Abraham repeatedly said he had nothing against Johann Zarco, he was at a loss to explain why the Frenchman had been given his job. "I was talking to Ducati at Valencia during the test, not to Gigi but somebody else, and they told me they are not supporting Zarco," Abraham told Gorali. "They are not against him, but they are not supporting him, so they are not giving him better material, they are not giving him a discount on the bike. They told me that Avintia has one contract, and it doesn't matter which rider is on the bike, this is the bike they get at this price. This is what Ducati told me. If it's going to be like this, I don't know."
Abraham said that he had no knowledge of the situation beyond Avintia wanting to break the contract. "I know what is happening on my side, but I don't know what is happening on Avintia and Zarco," he said. "Honestly, I'm not even 100% sure it's Zarco. It's quite obvious but not confirmed. So I think it will be Zarco who is replacing me, but I didn't see the contract, I didn't see the official announcement or anything. It's just one guy, and everybody is talking about him, so it looks like it's going to be him."
He was surprised that Zarco was still being linked to Avintia after the Frenchman's cutting comments about the team over the Valencia race weekend. Zarco had said he would rather not ride for Avintia, as Avintia was not 'a top team'. "I'm not the one to judge Zarco’s moves," Abraham said. "It’s his choice. But he was in a factory team. I know he didn’t like the bike that much, but he was in a factory team. He got a very good salary and everything was set. Next year, the rumors say that quite a few riders will leave factory teams, so good opportunities, everything."
"Anyway, Zarco left this team. He didn’t talk very well about them," Abraham said. "After he didn’t even talk very well about Avintia. Then he fights for it, for Ducati Avintia team. He fights after going out of factory team, after saying bad things about Avintia. This is something that I don’t really understand, but this is the business of Zarco, not mine anymore."
The whole situation was so fresh that Abraham had not yet decided on a course of action, he said. "Because it just happened on Friday night, so it is one day and one night away. We didn’t even make official translation yet, which we will do during the week. Then we will proceed to take the actions, but what are the actions we are not sure yet. We really don’t know. We don’t know what is in the letters that we received. We have to take the package together and think about it."
The overriding feeling for Abraham was anger mixed with disappointment, he told Tammy Gorali. "I am sad that I’m not racing, but mostly now I’m angry and disappointed, especially disappointed because to do this is really strange. They know that they received all the money from us, so they knew that they are going to receive all the money. In the paddock you can ask. There is nobody that we didn’t pay. In the past every time when we were supposed to do something, it happened. We don’t have a history of something bad."
The whole situation had left Abraham uncertain of his next move. "For the moment, it’s very fresh, but I’m not planning to stay in a racing environment," he said. "Apart from the Brno circuit, obviously, which we are running. But MotoGP, world championship, I’m not planning for the moment to stay."
Abraham was aware that he was only giving his side of the story, but he also believed that his history, and the history of the Avintia team, would bear him out. "Obviously everybody can say that there are two sides that you have to look at. I think you should look into my history. Not professional riding, but professional acting in the paddock, what I did, how was our history, how was the history of Avintia, how is the history of the people involved. Listen to both stories and take whatever you want out of it. I’m telling you how I feel it. I think I’m telling you the facts. That what it is," he told Gorali.
Although he is a trained lawyer, racing is the only life he has known since he was very young, Abraham said. "When I was fifteen, I started," he said. "So it’s been fifteen years that I was around, living between the tracks in motorhomes, traveling all the time in a car and planes and everything. So it’s kind of the life that I’m used to. So we will see what will be happening. Now I honestly have no idea. The speed, adrenaline… I need adrenaline. So the speed and adrenaline, people around, I’m sure I’m going to miss it. Maybe not in the first week. That’s more disappointment and anger, but you get hungry. That’s the time you will see. I don’t know yet."
What made Abraham most angry was the way the whole situation had been handled. Having his contract torn up at the end of the year, with no opportunity to go anywhere else, had been a body blow. "I understand that Johann Zarco might be a good guy to ride a bike," he said. "I understand that. But this is not how you treat a person. This is not how you do business either. If we have a contract and the contract is there and everything is ready and the season is over, and right now they know if they kick me out, which they did, I have no chance of finding a place now. Basically no chance in Moto2. MotoGP, absolutely not. Superbike also, not a good place, at least. So basically what they did, they just screwed me. It’s just, I’m done."
If the Avintia team had told him earlier, he might have been able to find something else, Abraham said. "If they told me in the middle of season, we could have done something. Or, they could also approach me in Valencia and say, 'Karel, look. We’ve got Zarco. This is the deal. He will bring a lot more money than you,' or whatever is the deal. I don’t know. 'What are we going to do about it?' Then I can say, okay, it’s bad, but maybe I was not so happy this year. Let’s talk about it and let’s do it the normal way. That’s how you do it. But you cannot have the contract and basically after Valencia it’s called the beginning of next season, right? So I was already testing 2019 bikes, and then they say, 'Okay, stay home.'"
Fired crew chief
Abraham was not the only victim of this approach, he told Tammy Gorali. "Basically two weeks before they did it to me, they did it to my crew chief. I didn’t know about it. Ducati didn’t know about it. Nobody knew about it. He came to Malaysia and they told him, 'Next year you’re not working here.' He said, 'Are you serious? Because now all the crew chiefs in Moto2, MotoGP, and Moto3 are taken. So I need to stay home next year.' They cut him off. When you leave for one year, it’s really difficult to come back."
Abraham could not see a future for himself in any of the other classes, he told Gorali. "Don’t take me wrong - Moto2 and Superbikes are amazing races. It’s great. But I have gone through it. I went to MotoGP. I left MotoGP. I desperately wanted to make some good results. I already said it before. I don’t want to make a step back."
He did not want to disparage either Moto2 or World Superbikes, Abraham insisted. "I don’t say it’s a step back like it’s bad. No. It’s great racing. But I already was there, and I would be coming back. This is something that I don’t want to do. It’s absolutely clear for me. I said there is only one condition under which I will do it, because I’m thirty years old. It’s not old, but for racing it’s not young. So going Moto2 or Superbikes, I would go if they gave me a really fast bike, and if they give me a good salary."
So Karel Abraham is to sit along the sidelines at Jerez, while the Reale Avintia team tests. Tito Rabat will be on one bike, while the Avintia squad's MotoE rider Eric Granado will be on the second bike for the Jerez test, as a reward for winning races in MotoE for the team.
The ball is now in Johann Zarco's court. If the Frenchman says the word, there is a seat in the Avintia squad for him. But so far, he has yet to make his mind up.
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