With the secrecy surrounding Valentino Rossi's impending switch to Ducati becoming ever more difficult to maintain, the Italian's departure from Yamaha is starting to open up the rest of the MotoGP market. With Rossi at Ducati, and Ben Spies moving up to take Rossi's place in the factory Yamaha team, openings are being created in the Tech 3 Yamaha team, and speculation is increasing about who will fill the Yamaha seat in that team (Yamaha control and pay for one seat in the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team, with Herve Poncharal free to fill the second seat as he pleases).
Initially, Cal Crutchlow's name had been pencilled in to take the Yamaha seat at Tech 3, but though the young Briton has shown a good deal of promise on the Sterilgarda Yamaha in World Superbikes, he has not showed the progress his dominant year in World Supersport had suggested. Other names being bandied about from World Superbike were probably irretrievably damaged by Valentino Rossi's stunning times on the WSBK R1 at Brno, circulating at better than race pace after just a few hours on the bike, highlighting the gap between the talent levels in World Superbikes and in MotoGP.
So attention is switching to inside the MotoGP paddock, and one name being put forward is that of Andrea Dovizioso. The current Repsol Honda rider was initially expected to stay in a three-man factory team at Honda, as HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto stated when the signing of Casey Stoner by Honda was announced. But that deal was dependent on Honda being able to find funding from outside sponsorship, which MCN is reporting is proving very difficult to secure. The hopes were that Red Bull would step up and fund a separate team for Dovizioso, but according to MCN, Red Bull are proving difficult to persuade. Red Bull have been been present in the MotoGP paddock for a very long time, but since the Red Bull WCM team at the turn of the century, the Austrian energy drink giant has proven reluctant to sponsor another team, and appear unlikely to change their stance.
This would leave Dovizioso out of a three-man factory team, and force Honda to place the Italian in a satellite structure, with Fausto Gresini's San Carlo Gresini Honda squad the most likely candidate. Dovizioso would be placed alongside Marco Simoncelli, with both men receiving full factory backing from Honda, as both Dovizioso and Simoncelli have contracts directly with HRC.
But Dovizioso appears to have an alternative: according to the ever-well-informed GPOne.com, Dovizioso has also been offered a spot in the Tech 3 Yamaha satellite team. The Italian would take over Ben Spies' Yamaha-funded seat in Herve Poncharal's team, and with Spies' contract running out at the end of 2011, Dovizioso could find himself with options of a shot at the factory Yamaha team as well. Spies has had mixed results in his debut year in MotoGP, scoring brilliantly in some races - including a podium at Silverstone - while finishing firmly mid-pack on other occasions. Much of Spies' difficulties have had to do with having to learn new tracks, while complaints also continue to emanate from the Tech 3 garage about the level of support that the team is receiving from Yamaha. The YZR-M1s the team is campaigning are closer to the 2009 models than the bikes currently being run by the Fiat Yamaha squad, and the satellite Yamahas are significantly down on power.
This is certainly one factor why Dovizioso may decline the opportunity at Tech 3, but there is perhaps a more significant one. Title sponsor of the Tech 3 team is Monster, the American energy drink company. Dovizioso has a long association with Red Bull, and may not wish to jeopardize what has been an extremely fruitful relationship with the Austrian company without guarantees of a factory ride at some point in the future. With Casey Stoner already signed at Honda, and Dani Pedrosa - already a double race winner this year - closing in on another deal with Honda, Dovizioso is becoming the odd man out at Honda. If Red Bull don't step up to save him, he could be forced to abandon them after all, and switch to Monster and the Tech 3 Yamaha squad.