The week of Ducati's MotoGP launch has seen a seemingly endless stream of press releases from the Italian factory announcing one sponsorship deal after another. In the past couple of weeks, there have been announcements from Italian clothing manufacturer Diesel, Taiwanese computer giant Acer, and an extension of their existing agreement with Shell. As predicted, the combined selling power of the Valentino Rossi and Ducati brands has proven irresistible to sponsors, and cash and material support is pouring into Ducati's MotoGP war chest.
The contrast with Yamaha is shocking, and rather worrying for the Japanese factory. While 2010 World Champion Jorge Lorenzo continues to rack up personal deals (switching from Dainese to Alpinestars leathers, and a new deal with energy drink company Rockstar), the fairings of Yamaha's MotoGP team remain stubbornly blank. The withdrawal of Italian car giant Fiat came as no surprise, given Valentino Rossi's close personal contact with Lapo Elkann, a sire of the Agnelli clan that founded the Italian company, though the fact that Fiat did not make the switch along with Rossi did surprise many in the paddock.
Finding a replacement is proving difficult, however. Despite fielding the world champion - and the promise of a #1 plate for the first time in many years - nobody has stepped forward to take Fiat's place. Speaking to Italian website GPOne.com, Yamaha's communications chief William Favero admitted that Yamaha have still not managed to sign a title sponsor, despite ongoing talks with a number of parties. As a result, Favero told GPOne.com that Yamaha will appear at the first MotoGP test of the year at Sepang with bikes painted either in Yamaha's corporate colors, or else with plain black carbon fiber fairings.
Favero did hint that they hoped to have something in place for the second test in Sepang, which is due to take place on February 22nd through 24th. The details would be announced at Yamaha's official presentation, likely to take place in Malaysia. Holding the team launch in South East Asia underlines the importance of the region to Yamaha, and hints at a sponsor coming from the area. Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis is known to have been in talks with AirAsia, the Malaysian-based budget airline serving the region, and AirAsia is already heavily involved in MotoGP, serving as title sponsor to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone last year, and sponsoring a 125cc team in 2010.
Speaking at the Ducati launch, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta also let slip that he expected Yamaha to have a title sponsor for the 2011 season, and given Dorna's penchant for pressuring series sponsors into taking on the title sponsorship of teams, it would seem reasonable to suggest that Dorna could help persuade AirAsia to take on the title sponsorship of Yamaha's MotoGP team. With Jorge Lorenzo spending the next few weeks in South East Asia on a promotional tour, that idea does not seem very far fetched at all.