With the MotoGP season at its halfway point, and the silly season starting to shake itself out, it's time to take a look at the state of the market for 2011. With contracts either signed or on the verge of being signed, the picture of who will be riding where is becoming clear. For the most part, names have been at least pencilled in, those pencil strokes to be replaced by contractually obliging ink after Brno and Indianapolis, but there are still one or two question marks that remain open.
In the first part of this silly season summary, we will address who goes where in the factory teams. The rider picture is just about settled, with the only real question mark what happens at Suzuki. But riders aren't the only factor here, as somebody has to pay the bills. So alongside the rider lineup for each team, we've addressed the issue of sponsorship, and who is likely to be footing the bill next year. Riders and sponsors in bold are confirmed (or as good as confirmed), while names in italics are either best guesses or based on firm rumors. Tomorrow, we will look at the state of the satellite teams.
|Factory Yamaha||Sponsors: Petronas and Movistar/Telefonica
Along with Valentino Rossi, Yamaha will lose the title sponsorship provided by Fiat. Malaysian Petroleum giant Petronas has promised to up its involvement with the project, but Jorge Lorenzo's imminent world championship is also persuading Telefonica to return to MotoGP. Backing Lorenzo would also provide a very sweet revenge for Telefonica on Dani Pedrosa, with the Spanish telecoms giant having pulled out of MotoGP when Pedrosa went to Repsol Honda.
|Jorge Lorenzo||Probably a two-year deal through 2012, with options for more.|
|Jorge Lorenzo won the battle for supremacy inside the Fiat Yamaha garage this year, and only serious injury can prevent him from winning the 2010 title. Winning the championship does mean that Lorenzo's hand has been forced, or perhaps his options limited. Throughout the first half of the season, Lorenzo has emphasized that his options are open, as far as he is concerned, but the truth is rather more complex. Winning the battle inside Fiat Yamaha means that Rossi has left for Ducati, and one of Rossi's demands will surely be that they do not hire Lorenzo alongside him.
So that leaves just Honda and Yamaha as potential employers, but Honda look to already have two of MotoGP's Fantastic Four in Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner, and seem unlikely to be making a serious bid for Lorenzo's services. Jorge Lorenzo will almost certain be announced as one half of the Yamaha team's MotoGP lineup at Brno, and with the loss of Rossi, is he rider that Yamaha have staked their future on. He will probably sign a two-year contract at Brno, with options for a third year tacked on. Lorenzo's 2010 title is unlikely to be his last.
|Ben Spies||2011 - Spies is in the first year of a two-year deal with Yamaha Japan.|
|With Rossi gone, Ben Spies is the pawn that Yamaha will move up to take his place. The Texan is in the first year of a two-year contract with Yamaha Japan, and has served his apprenticeship in the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team with great aplomb. Coming into MotoGP and dominating as he did in World Superbikes in 2009 was always going to be impossible, but with a podium finish on a satellite bike, as well as regular top 6 finishes, Spies has acquitted himself well, on a new bike with new tires and at circuits he hasn't seen, for the most part.
Spies will be taking his crew chief Tom Houseworth and his mechanic Greg Wood with him to Yamaha, which should help ease the transition once again. Spies could never have lived up to some of the hype which surrounded him, but so far, he is more than matching what might realistically have been expected of him
|Factory Honda||Repsol. The Spanish petroleum giant has become increasingly reluctant to extend its involvement with HRC's MotoGP project, a step that Honda is trying to pre-empt by hiring Livio Suppo from Ducati. Repsol's current contract comes to an end at the end of 2010, but they are likely to extend it for one more year along with Dani Pedrosa.
Honda had originally planned to field a three-man factory squad with Andrea Dovizioso, but Repsol would neither fund the expansion nor agree terms on liveries which would have allowed Red Bull to step in to back Dovizioso. And so Repsol will continue to be the title sponsor for Honda for 2011.
|Casey Stoner||2012 - Stoner has a two-year contract with Honda, for 2011 and 2012.|
|Things have not been easy for Casey Stoner, though the question remains just how hard he has made it for himself. His return from the lactose intolerance he was diagnosed with last year was a triumphant one, taking a second and then two wins, before ignominiously crashing out on the warmup lap at Valencia, but his 2010 season got off to a difficult start. Problems with the front end of his 2010 Desmosedici GP10 saw the Australian crashing out of two of the first three races, until Stoner decided to switch back to the forks he used in 2009. Since then, his fortunes have improved but he has not shown the dominance he has in previous years, something that Stoner puts down to the Ducati being at the limit of its development. These issues are unlikely to have played a part in his decision to move to Honda, which was probably taken over the winter, under the encouragement of his friend and former Ducati team manager Livio Suppo, with the deal finally signed at Jerez back in May. Stoner heads to Honda hoping to find a bike that is more consistent than his fickle Ducati, and knowing that the mighty Honda are finally starting to sort out their RC212V 800cc MotoGP bike. Stoner is probably still the fastest man in MotoGP, and back on the fastest bike again next year, he could be a very serious threat once again.|
|Dani Pedrosa||2011 - Pedrosa will probably only renew for one more year, to test the balance of power once Casey Stoner arrives. Pedrosa could also be gambling on Yamaha being willing to ditch Spies to sign him when Spies' contract expires after 2011, and will want to be free for 2012.|
|The love affair between Dani Pedrosa and Honda, which has lasted since Pedrosa entered the series on a 125 in 2002, appears to be cooling from both sides. After Honda built the tiny 2007 RC212V around Pedrosa's short stature, creating a bike that Pedrosa hated along with every other Honda rider, the relationship has been more and more strained with every season that passes. From Honda's side, they had enlisted the Spaniard to bring them a title, something that is almost impossible for a rider with only two wins a season to achieve. From Pedrosa's side, HRC has refused to fix the one big complaint the Spaniard has had about the bike, the harsh and aggressive engine response.
Last year, Pedrosa and HRC extended their marriage of convenience for one more year, to give each other another chance. Both sides have improved significantly, Honda handling the rules limiting engines to just six a season with supreme aplomb, creating clearly the fastest bike, while Pedrosa has already bagged his quota of two wins this year after just 9 races, and has looked like posing a serious problem for Lorenzo, though not enough of one to prevent his compatriot from lifting his first championship. The mutual improvement will probably see both sides sign up for another year, to give the relationship yet another chance. But with the rules changing again in 2012, and the return to 1000cc machines, Honda is probably the best place to be for an aspiring rider. After the debacle of 2007, expect Honda to come out swinging in 2012, and Pedrosa is likely to be their chief threat.
|Factory Ducati||Marlboro. Though Marlboro will continue to act as title sponsor - and the only sponsor to actually contribute sufficient funds to cover development costs as well as rider salaries - Ducati has a host of companies lining up to join the Italian Dream Team of Rossi and Ducati. First and foremost is Fiat, who will defect from Yamaha with Rossi, but anyone can see the marketing magic that is the two Italian legends, and combined, their selling power could bring in much-needed outside sponsorship, potentially including some surprising names.|
|Valentino Rossi||2012 - The exact details are unknown, but Rossi will have signed on for at least two years, with options for more. Rossi will stay in the class for the 2012 switch back to 1000cc, and will be hoping to add a title with that configuration to the 500cc, 990cc and 800cc titles he already holds.|
|On Sunday night at Brno, after the post-race press conference, the dreams of a nation will finally come true. Valentino Rossi will at last announce that he has signed a two-year contract with Ducati Corse, to ride their Desmosedici MotoGP bike. The context of the announcement will set its tone. If Rossi has won, and beaten his irritatingly fast teammate, expect the tone to be magnanimous, full of thanks and praise for Yamaha. If Lorenzo beats Rossi once again - as he was doing consistently before Rossi crashed and broke his leg at Mugello - the focus will be on the fact that having two number one riders in a team is not a sustainable position.
There are lots of reasons why Rossi is going to Ducati, too many to cover here. Most of all, though, it is to escape Jorge Lorenzo, and have a chance to fight his current teammate with a different weapon. The move will further secure Rossi's place in the MotoGP history books, but if the Italian secures another title on his third different manufacturer, he will pass beyond the role of legend and into the realm of myth, and perhaps even deity. If he loses, then of course the machinery must be to blame, and expecting a plucky little Italian factory to compete with the Japanese giants is asking too much of their limited resources. Rossi will be praised for his bravery, the title of his autobiography cited again and again, ad nauseam. Tact and a fear of the fan backlash will prevent most people from providing the appropriate answer to the question "What if I had never tried it?" Namely, that with both Rossi and Lorenzo on equal machinery, the question of who was the better rider would have been settled beyond all doubt.
But power struggles within Yamaha and the financial pressure - from Dorna, from Ducati, from Italy - of the legendary Italian aboard the Italian legend meant that Rossi's arrival at Ducati was almost inevitable. If Rossi's following has been fanatical so far, it is about to become completely hysterical. And companies will be standing in line to both pay for and profit from that hysteria.
|Nicky Hayden||2011 - Hayden will be offered another one-year deal, which probably won't be the last.|
|If Jorge Lorenzo was Valentino Rossi's worst nightmare as a teammate, Nicky Hayden is the polar opposite. Hard-working, loyal, fast enough to develop a motorcycle, but not quite fast enough to pose a serious title threat; Hayden is everything that Rossi could hope for in a teammate. Furthermore, Hayden is immensely popular around the world (and rightly so), and helps sell an awful lot of Ducatis: the special edition 848 that Ducati North America put on the market last year sold out within a couple of weeks. The Kentucky Kid has all the ingredients to make a perfect teammate for Rossi, and will be offered another year's contract by Ducati, the announcement probably to be made at Indianapolis, for maximum effect in the US market.
As for Hayden himself, the American has seen a dramatic turnaround in his fortunes from last year, when he looked like suffering the same fate as Marco Melandri. But with a year of data under his belt and a greatly-improved working relationship with the team, Hayden has taken a big step forwards. The Kentucky Kid has yet to score a podium finish, but with four fourth places in the first five races, that surely won't last. Another title for Hayden is a little too much to ask, given the strength of the current MotoGP field, but he could still add to his win total before he retires. He still has plenty of time to achieve that goal.
|Factory Suzuki||Rizla. Rizla will probably continue for another year, though the sum they are reputed to contribute barely deserves the title sponsorship they get in return. The task facing Paul Denning and co. is finding Spanish backing for what could be an all-Spanish lineup for 2011. After 2011, Suzuki look certain to pull out of MotoGP, after many long years of insufficient investment and its inevitable consequence, mediocre perfomance. Only a huge new sponsor will keep Suzuki in the series.|
|Alvaro Bautista||2011 - Bautista is in the first year of a two-year deal, which will see him through the end of next season.|
|Alvaro Bautista turned down the opportunity to continue working with Jorge Martinez Aspar, the Spanish team manager who has been so successful in the lower classes, because Bautista wanted the competitiveness of a factory-backed ride. Under the rookie rule which came into effect this season, that meant Bautista's only option was Suzuki, and you have to question whether those two words - "competitive" and "Suzuki" - are actually compatible. Ever since the switch to the four-stroke formula, Suzuki have failed to be competitive, and look a safe bet to pull out of MotoGP once the current contract with Dorna expires at the end of the 2011 season.
Bautista is currently in the first half of a two-year contract with Suzuki, and his contract will expire along with Suzuki's. The Spaniard has another year to prove he is better than the bike, and deserves a shot on decent (satellite) equipment. So far, his results have justified that chance, having beaten his more experienced teammate on a number of occasions. He will have to maintain that form for 2011 if he is to get a chance in 2012.
|Toni Elias||2011 - All that will be on offer for Elias is a single year, with Suzuki unlikely to stay beyond 2011.|
|The case of Toni Elias is one of the most mysterious in the MotoGP paddock. Elias remains the last rider to win on a satellite bike, taking victory at the memorable 2006 MotoGP round in Estoril, and the Spaniard has proven himself competitive on both satellite equipment and in the Moto2 class, which he is currently dominating. But his nationality is precisely the problem. With two Spaniards with a genuine shot at the title, something that is beyond Elias, despite his obvious talent, Dorna has no interest in subsidizing Elias' position in MotoGP, and he does not have major personal sponsors ready to back him. In addition, Elias has gained a reputation for excessive salary demands, which resulted in him being forced to switch to Moto2 for 2010. A year in Moto2 has moderated Elias' wage demands, his desire to return to the premier class greater than his desire to fatten his bank balance.
Elias finds a perfect fit at Suzuki: Suzuki need to fill their roster at minimal expense, and Elias is clearly the best value on offer among new entrants (or returnees) to the class. Like Bautista, Elias will have a year to prove himself, before being forced to look for employment elsewhere. With experience of both Moto2 and MotoGP, Elias could find himself in demand in 2012, as the ideal rider for a CRT team running a production-based engine in a prototype chassis.
So far, though, nothing has been confirmed at Suzuki, but Elias is their best bet of filling the seat that no one wants while the bike is so uncompetitive. Fate is conspiring to bring Elias and Suzuki together.