The Final Piece Of The Jigsaw: Gibernau On A Ducati In 2009

The news that Sete Gibernau would be making a return to MotoGP aboard a Ducati run by the Onde 2000 team has been so long in coming that it barely figures as news at all. Gibernau's return had been mooted as early as June, after the Spaniard started testing the Ducati at Mugello. That news triggered a wave of speculation that Gibernau could make an early return to the series, with rumors that Marco Melandri was being retained on a race-by-race basis.

That switch never materialized. Many explanations were posited: Ducati were afraid that if they let Melandri go, he'd do better on a Kawasaki than he did on the Ducati, possibly even beating Gibernau; Gibernau's times, though good, were not good enough to take the risk; or that the Spaniard had simply made too many demands in terms of salary, and a guarantee of a contract for the factory ride in 2009. The official announcement that Nicky Hayden would be joining Casey Stoner at Ducati for 2009 finally killed any remaining speculation about Gibernau's return to the factory Marlboro Ducati squad.

But by then, most of the details of Gibernau's new project had been finalized. And on Thursday night, the Onde 2000 team, currently active in the 125 class, presented their MotoGP program for 2009. To the surprise of nobody, Sete Gibernau was introduced as the rider, while Pablo Nieto, the 26 year-old 125 racer who announced his retirement from racing at the end of the season at Sepang, will take on a management role alongside his brother, Gelete.

The team was expected to be sponsored by Onde 2000, a Spanish construction company owned by Fernando "Paco El Pocero" Hernandez. But at the team introduction, the team was introduced as the Grupo Fernando Hernandez Onde 2000 Guinea Ecuatorial team. Which suggests that Fernando Hernandez is putting his own money into the project, rather than funding it through Onde 2000. This is hardly a surprising step, as the Spanish construction industry, once one of the main pillars of the Spanish economy, is in a tailspin, suffering from both the implosion caused by the financial crisis, and the collapse of the Spanish housing bubble, which had grown to almost Herculean proportions over the past 10 years.

The question is, why did Gibernau come back? The Spaniard was widely believed to be mentally broken by Valentino Rossi during the 2005 season, Gibernau never winning another race after being bumped off track on the final lap of the Jerez season opener. Then, a string of injuries during 2006, aggravating a collar bone injury suffered previously, prompted Gibernau to retire.

But two years out of competitive racing have left Gibernau feeling refreshed and ready for a new challenge. The Spaniard's times in testing were very good, but fast testing laps are not necessarily an indicator of good results in races.

As for Gibernau's erstwhile nemesis, Valentino Rossi welcomed the Spaniard's return: "I'm very pleased to hear the news. I'm very glad that Sete is coming back, and I think he will be a rider who will be very competitive. I enjoyed racing him very much in the past, and I haven't forgotten the great battles we had together."

Whether Rossi is right, and just how competitive Gibernau can be, we shall see on Monday.


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