It's Done: Lorenzo Signs For Ducati - Probably

The past few days have been a veritable whirlwind of news, or more accurately, rumor and speculation, about the future of Jorge Lorenzo. The Spaniard has been holding up the MotoGP transfer market since early July, when he held off on signing a new contract with Yamaha over the conditions of the deal, and explored the options on offer to him from the other manufacturers. He had, as he took pleasure in pointing out, received offers from all the other manufacturers, and was using those offers as leverage with Yamaha, to try and extract promises of equal treatment from the team. The kind of promises that Lorenzo believed he had from the factory when he signed with them the first time around, for the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

At Brno, the market started to show some signs of movement, with Marco Melandri going to Gresini Honda, Alvaro Bautista moving up to the Rizla Suzuki ride, strong indications that Hector Barbera would take the Aspar Ducati, and a statement by the head of HRC that they had reached basic agreements with Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso. At the same time, HRC boss Tetsuo Suzuki also indicated that they would not be signing Jorge Lorenzo. Two different stories are in circulation about the reasons for this: One says that the deal failed because Honda was unwilling to meet Lorenzo's salary demands; the other reports that Suzuki-san's statement was a face saving operation, after Lorenzo had already turned Honda down.

It looked like Lorenzo's role was played out. But Casey Stoner's absence due to illness, the presence of Philip Morris head of marketing Francesco Calvo at Brno despite Stoner's absence, and a series of late night meetings in the Ducati hospitality unit soon gave rise to speculation that Ducati were closing in on signing a deal with Jorge Lorenzo, to take over development of the troublesome Desmosedici, and become the new face of the team. The sums involved were reported to be astronomical, somewhere between 4 and 8 million euros a year, for a two-year deal.

The saga, which reported on on Saturday, Tuesday and Wednesday night, seems to be coming to a head. For Spanish website Motocuatro is reporting that Lorenzo has reached an agreement in principle with Ducati, and will be riding with the Bologna-based factory for the next two seasons. Concrete salary numbers were not reported, but according to Motocuatro, the deal would make Lorenzo the second highest paid motorcycle racer in the world, behind only - you guessed it - his team mate Valentino Rossi. That would put the deal in the upper end of the 4 to 8 million euro range being bandied about.

More than money, though, Jorge Lorenzo is certain to have asked for and received undisputed number one status at Ducati. Lorenzo's signing, it is reported, is at the express request of the most senior figures inside Philip Morris, the tobacco company that bankrolls most of Ducati's MotoGP effort, Ferrari's Formula One program, and pays the salaries of Ducati's riders. The way in which Stoner handled his illness - allegedly, a week before Brno, the Australian simply informed the team that he would not be riding at the next three races without consulting them about the matter first - is said to have been the final straw for Marlboro. Stoner has frequently refused to help out with marketing and promotional activities, believing that his job is that of a motorcycle racer, and as such, his main priority should be to focus 100% on winning races, and not get distracted by the fripperies of marketing. Marlboro disagrees, as they might considering they pay tens of millions of euros to pay for the program which allows Stoner to race.

Lorenzo, who is both aware of the necessity of marketing and promotional activities, and understands the business principles underlying the decision to sponsor motorcycle racing, has shown himself to be a sponsor's dream, turning up and going through the motions at the many activities put on by the Fiat Yamaha team. Added to that is his ability to both deal with a difficult bike and then develop it in the right direction, abilities he showed in the 125cc and 250cc classes, and his undeniable talent, pushing Valentino Rossi to the limit to hold his young upstart team mate off. All these things add up for both Marlboro and Ducati, and signing Lorenzo is an obvious choice.

At first glance, the reports in Motocuatro seem fairly definitive, but read a little further and there is still some reason for caution. The story states that Jorge Lorenzo will be riding with Ducati for the next two seasons, but couches it in the phrase "with almost certain probability." In other words, they believe that the deal is done, but cannot be 100% certain. Given the accuracy of the publication's news stories over the past few days, they would appear to have excellent sources inside the Lorenzo camp. However, they also claimed that Lorenzo had met with Ducati's MotoGP boss Livio Suppo, who according to the Italian site is currently vacationing with his family in the US. On the other hand, the Catalonian paper El Periodico claimed that Suppo passed through Barcelona on his way to his vacation address in the US. A cynic might offer the alternative hypothesis that the Lorenzo camp is using a series of judiciously placed leaks to gain yet more leverage over Yamaha in the negotiations, and finally get some cast-iron guarantees of equality with Rossi, but that must remain nothing but speculation.

One way or another, we will learn the truth of the matter in just a few days time. Jorge Lorenzo is due to announce his plans for the future at Indianapolis. It will be one of the most eagerly awaited press conferences of the year.

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and I suspect that Lorenzo had rather placed himself in a position that he couldn't backtrack and re-sign somewhat meekly with Yamaha - then Phillip Morris almost certainly has gained the PR persona they seek.

Perhaps Stoner will get offers from other teams that he considers attractive, but unless Ducati are prepared to release him from his 2010 contract, my bet is he'll not be too worried provided Ducati continue to supply him with an equal bike. Assuming that what he has is a treatable post-viral fatigue condition and not full-blown CFS, Stoner should be back next year, hopefully with his wrist fixed properly this time, and in strong form. He'll most likely be very happy NOT to have PR demands, let Lorenzo do that stuff, while he gets on with the racing. That could make for some very interesting dynamics if Lorenzo has trouble extracting performance from the Duc.

If Stoner in fact has developed CFS, (which affected Sheene badly for four years, apparently and Sheene was a damn tough cookie with no questions of lack of mental strength) then Ducati are likely to be the better off for Lorenzo's presence.

Oscar, i go along with you: Casey wouldn't be too phased out to partner with Lorenzo. He's after all the rider that did bring the title to Bologna and he knows perfectly that alone means a lot.

Ducati has demonstrated themselves to be quite fickle with the #1 status. On the other hand, I have to agree with Oscar's opinion of Stoner. #1 status doesn't seem a priority as long as he's getting top equipment and running up front.

Lorenzo has a gift for attracting the spotlight. He appears to enjoy himself and those around him. He's worth the extra money, but he sure shoots down Herve Porchoral's notion that riders will take a 70% pay cut in 2010!

Poncharal said that the riders would take a big pay cut, except for the Untouchables. Who are just making more, it seems...

is the comment about "Lorenzo developping a bike".

Sure the Spaniard can be fast with the best bike (he has proven that both with the factory Aprilia in 250cc and with Rossi's Yamaha in MotoGP), sure he can be (almost) as mediatic as Rossi and has always been all out for the press/media (he has even "written" his biography on his early 20ies before even wining a serious title), but if anything, he is the only guy of the top4 in MotoGP to have never ever developped a bike.

Hope he goes to Ducati, so that he stops complaining about his situation and we all can see how fast can he be when he is left alone with a bike that most can't ride.

Assuming this isn't total fantasy on behalf of some journalist, then I see a huge problem for Stoner.

Lorenzo would not sign this deal without explicit understanding that he is #1. Stoner might not mind riding with Lorenzo if he's a nominal #1, but I can't imagine enjoying the experience if Jorge gets the lions share of effort.

All this sounds unlikely though. Recent experience of Ducati shows them to be a family and they treat their riders very well. Do right by them and they'll look after you. Disrespect them, well, different story.

As for PM, don't forget that Casey was the 3rd choice rider in 2007 and his only offers were from LCR and Ducati. It is alleged that he was picked up for a pittance (low retainer, high bonus) and that was a 2yr deal. So last year also cost them relatively little. For sure, this year is different, but he's still consistently there or there abouts.

I have little time for Stoner, I personally don't find him appealing as a person, but as a rider he is beyond doubt one of the best there is (and that takes a lot for me to say!). But I doubt whether outside of Australia he sold 1 additional motorcycle. And despite what people might say, Ducati is a for profit entity. They race for no other reason than to sell motorcycles and as long as their Motogp program delivers tangible benefits they'll do it. But to sell bikes, you need personalities as well as wins. Mmmm, it'll be interesting to see how this all goes. One part wants me to see Lorenzo on a Ducati, the other wants to see Stoner back and working well, on his own terms and then decide how and when he wants to leave the sport.

David, I've been thinking that the current process of bringing children through the ranks isn't doing them or the sport any good. We're seeing more and more teenagers riding who are nothing more than a product of a machine. Some seem well adjusted and able to deal with life, but others (such as Stoner) don't seem to be happy doing what they do (much like child tennis stars). Has anyone discussed the wisdom of having 15yo children racing at 125cc World level?

He can't go to FIAT Yamaha b/c of the rookie rule. If anything, I think Yamaha would sign Hayden to a 1 year deal, and then possibly promote Spies to Tech 3.

Actually Spies could ride a factory supported "works" bike his first year just not on the factory Fiat Yamaha team. This is a very likely scenario imo.

Perhaps but why would Yamaha do that. They have Rossi. The smart money is on seeing what Spies can do against Edwards. Edwards is sort of the yardstick - the median between the "aliens" and the rest of the pack. If Spies can beat Edwards on the same equipment then he deserves the factory ride.

Winning WSBK does not mean you are going to get any results in MotoGP.

I think Spies's manager has probably already negotiated about this with Yamaha to some extent. I think we could see a all Texan Tech 3 team for a year. Besides if you want to compare Spies and Edwards here's a little fact for you, last year out of the 3 races they were both in, Spies finished ahead of Colin in 2 of them and he was riding a Suzuki! Spies beat him not same equipment but worse equipment last year when he raced. WSBK isn't AMA and so on that argument is so old. Nothing about Spies rise in talents and results in his career are yet to indicate that he won't win in MotoGP.

While the Suzukis are thought to be lesser equipment than the satellite Yamahas, one has to look at those 2 races in greater detail.

In Laguna, the compound of tire that Michelin brought for the teams were incredibly hard and had all the Michelin teams struggling to get heat into the tires; it was to the point where some teams were practicing with I believe hand cut slicks and intermediates at times. The Suzuki team were running Bridgestones.

In Indianapolis, they were practically in the middle of a hurricane with conditions so bad that they eventually red flagged the race and called it a day after going I think 2/3 distance (I'm probably wrong about that, but you get the picture).

This is of course to take nothing away from Spies. I think that he could probably do quite well in the class, but I still think it's a little unfair to take those 2 races as as a comparison of Edwards.

Still lots of "allegedly", "maybe", "probably" and "if". I believe it when they confirm it officially.

But except for the implications for the who's-riding-where next season, I'm already tired of the eternal Lorenzo drama which I'm convinced is at least 50% played up directly from his camp for whatever reason they see fit. As previously suggested in some comments, it would be hilarious if Yamaha simply said at some point that they won't take it anymore and refuse contract extension with him...

One thing about the article though: I don't see how or when he ever had a difficult bike in 250cc and developed it in the right direction. When he joined the class in 2005 he rode a Honda, a proven championship winning bike which Pedrosa took to another title that very year. And the team switch to Aprilia the next year can hardly classify as getting a difficult bike or you'd have to attribute this feat to about 80% of the 250cc riders from that year as well.
And imho it is a completely different thing to ride around possible weaknesses of your 125cc or 250cc bike than to develop a MotoGP prototype machine in a direction that suits your needs (Dovizioso might have a word or two on that). But I'd be happy to consider any contra argument for that assumption.

whatever this Lorenzo move happens to be true or not, prepare for some real packed drama from within the Yamaha and the Ducati garage: this story will take its toll on how Nicky and Jorge will perform in the following weeks...

1. Honda preferred Dovi,,
2. Bridge burned at Yamaha,,,

Jorge better make this work because there is nowhere to go except down. ;)

There will be two open seats on Yamaha M1s next year (assuming Toseland is out). Who is available and likely to fill those spots. Hayden sounds like a candidate but who knows if he's certain to leave Ducati (or if they'd want him)! If Spies is staying in WSBK, Simoncelli at Gresini, Bautista at Suzuki, Barbera with Aspar and Aoyama unlikely to leave the Honda fold, who is likely to move over from WSBK, WSS, or BSB (Crutchlow, Camier?). This leaves out the possibility of a 3-rider Ducati Corse as well. Fun stuff to think about, but my money is on the status quo.

I actually hope Lorenzo goes to Ducati. I like the churn in GP seats. Nick would be far better in WSB on a Duc. as far as results. Ben should do another year in WSB, and I'd sure like to see Matt do a 2 year deal in WSB with Yosh before he retires.

As far as Val. I can't see any problems with him being King until he throw's in the retirement towel, Stoner was his only threat. Lorenzo will just drop the ball under pressure!

Get well soon, Casey!

I think that if Lorenzo does go to Ducati as the number one and Stoner gets healthy and returns to previous form next year, it will be embarrassing for Lorenzo to get consistently beat by the number 2 rider.

I wonder why Lorenzo thinks that he can ride the Ducati where everyone else but Stoner has failed.

"I wonder why Lorenzo thinks that he can ride the Ducati where everyone else but Stoner has failed."

You could say the same thing about Rossi and the Yamaha before Lorenzo got on it. Now it's the 'best bike on the grid' even though only those two win.

I think it would be great to see him on the ducati. The bike has been known to win a race or two. Lorenzo is full of confidence (among other things..) and I think the unridable stuff is something that he would take pleasure in trying to disprove.

I agree with kokomosam- it really won't matter who is the nominal number one- the racing will ultimately decide. Take Brawn F1, they didn't have a nominal number one at the start of the year until Button started winning races.
I think Ducati is a gamble for any rider other than Casey. More careers have been damaged by the Ducati than crashes in recent years.

2008 - 6 podiums, 1 win, 4th in points
2009 - 8 podiums, 2 wins.

2008 - 16 podiums, 9 wins, 1st in points
2009 - 9 podiums, 5 wins, 1st in points (to date)

Let's remind ourselves for a moment why Yorgay is not the #1 Yamaha rider. The kid is bloody well fast, but he has not beaten his "target" despite having equal equipment. And there isn't a better bike to be had than the Yamaha. He hasn't shown he can develop his blue bike to be better than Il Doctore, and I don't think he can make the Red Ryder go any faster either.

This is an ego getting the best of a rider. When he beats Rossi, he'll have more offers than he can choose from. He'll be the undisputed #1. Until then, he DESERVES to be in the passenger seat. Respect is earned, not given (and not bought).

Sounds like Nicky is now in a good position to either demand Ducati put something forward, or to start negotiating with Yamaha to "trade" seats. He did well as Rossi's teammate in the past, and I would think they would work together again. And it sets up for Rossi/Spies and Hayden/Edwards in the near future.

James Toseland has the most to lose from this deal. I guess he'll get Spies' WSBK seat?