After Nicky Hayden's less than surprising switch to Ducati, the 2nd worst kept secret in MotoGP was announced at Motegi today. HRC formally announced that Andrea Dovizioso will be heading to Repsol Honda as Hayden's replacement. The Italian rookie has made a big impression since arriving in MotoGP, and his long-standing relationship with Honda, including struggling to compete with the much faster Aprilia's in the 250 class, made him a racing certainty for the Repsol Honda seat.
The devil of such a deal is, as always, in the details. Dovizioso signed a one-year deal with Repsol, in itself a rarity, as the factory team has preferred to work on a two-year cycle with riders. But Dovizioso's biggest challenge will be sharing the pits with Dani Pedrosa. With the full weight of the team's Spanish sponsor behind him, as well as a competent political operator at his side, Pedrosa has had most of the attention from HRC over the past two years, even going so far as to engineer a switch to Bridgestone tires in mid-season, breaking up a long-standing relationship which HRC has had with Michelin.
But according to GPOne.com, Dovizioso has secured some powerful guarantees from Honda. Firstly, according to Masumi Hamane, President of HRC, both Dovizioso and Pedrosa will be afforded equal treatment, with a decision made during the season as to who will get preferential access to new material based on who is ahead in the championship at that time. Furthermore, regardless of whether a single tire rule will be introduced or not, Hamane said that "regardless of what happens (with respect to a single tire rule - Ed.), we hope to be able to give both riders the same tires. Even more intriguingly, Hamane ruled out that the two sides of the garage would be divided by a wall, as is the case in the Fiat Yamaha pit box, and as was introduced into the Repsol Honda garage after Pedrosa switched to Bridgestones.
The one inkling that all is not well at Repsol Honda is the length of Dovizioso's contract. Signed for just one year, his contract will run out at the same time as Dani Pedrosa's, opening the way for a complete shake-up of the team. There are already strong rumors that Dani Pedrosa has been given notice that he will be fired if he does not win the 2009 world championship, and unless Honda can sign another Spanish rider with championship potential, it is not unthinkable that the Iberian oil giant may reconsider its sponsorship of the factory team. Repsol is increasingly desperate for a Spanish world champion, and if Pedrosa fails them, they may feel they are not getting the necessary return on their investment.
Dovizioso's promotion to the factory Repsol Honda also clears the way for some changes at his current team. Around the same time Dovizioso's signing was being announced, HRC also announced that Team Scot would get custody of the RC212V from the Team Scot / JiR divorce, and that as expected, their Japanese 250 rider Yuki Takahashi would move up into the MotoGP class to take Dovizioso's place. Like his predecessor on the bike, Takahashi has been punching way above his underpowered Honda's weight in the 250 class, scoring podiums he has no right to based on a bike that has basically seen no development for the past 2 years. And as Dovizioso has proved, being forced to fight on an underpowered bike is excellent preparation for riding a satellite Honda in MotoGP.
But Takahashi and Team Scot's gain is someone else's loss. JiR's Luca Montiron, on the losing side of the team split, issued a politely bitter press release, announcing the team would be moving on to new projects and new manufacturers. That is unlikely to be in MotoGP, despite Montiron's earlier claim to have a contract with a title sponsor and the triple AMA champion Ben Spies, but Montiron is rumored to be headed for Aprilia, to run the Noale factory's World Superbike effort.
The other loser is likely to be Shinya Nakano. With a fresh young Japanese face in MotoGP, Nakano looks set to be surplus to Honda's requirements. The MotoGP veteran, who many believed failed to fulfil his potential after some outstanding results in the 250 series, is likely to be offered the job of test rider for HRC, replacing Tady Okada, who is getting decidedly long in the tooth. Nakano may well take the job, as it would at least guarantee him a couple of wild card appearances in MotoGP next year. But until an agreement is signed, his future remains uncertain.