The first and most important piece in the jigsaw puzzle that is MotoGP's silly season for 2013 has fallen into place. This morning, Yamaha issued a press release announcing that they have signed Jorge Lorenzo to a new two-year deal, meaning the 2010 World Champion will remain with Yamaha for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Casey Stoner's retirement at the end of this season had massively boosted Lorenzo's market value.
Lorenzo's signing will add fresh impetus to the current round of rider bargaining. The Spaniard was widely seen as the key player in the rider merry-go-round once Stoner had decided to retire. Both Yamaha and Honda were pursuing Lorenzo hard; Lorenzo was the only man capable of pushing Stoner for the championship, and with the Australian gone is the top favorite to dominate the class in the coming years. HRC boss admitted recently that he had had conversations with Jorge Lorenzo's manager, Marcos Hirsch, adding that it had been mainly an introductory chat, rather than actual negotiations.
Lorenzo's decision to remain with Yamaha, despite the obvious temptations to go to Honda, especially given the pot of gold reputedly being dangled in front of the Spaniard's nose, does not entirely come as a surprise. At Barcelona, Lorenzo's manager was repeatedly spotted in talks with Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis, a sign of the seriousness with which Yamaha were pursuing the Spaniard. For Lorenzo, the choice will have been more about ambition than money, however. Staying with Yamaha was his best chance of securing another championship or two, especially as he will be able to retain the group which has been assembled around him, including crew chief Ramon Forcada. At Barcelona, Lorenzo's team manager Wilco Zeelenberg predicted that the Spaniard would not leave Yamaha for Honda. Zeelenberg told the Dutch publication MOTOR Magazine that money was not a factor for Lorenzo. The choice would come down to whether Lorenzo believed he could win more titles with Yamaha, Zeelenberg explained, adding "Anyway, I don't think it would be very sensible to change teams for next year after winning three of the first five races."
The move will have a major impact elsewhere in the riders market. Lorenzo's decision to remain with Yamaha presents a major obstacle to what had been rumored to be Valentino Rossi's preferred option for 2013, with Yamaha less inclined to welcome Rossi back with Lorenzo already in place. If Rossi were to make a return, the Italian would need both to take a major pay cut and to bring a substantial amount of sponsorship to the team. At Barcelona, Rossi had joked with Italian reporters about taking a pay cut, when discussing his options for next season. "I have already made a lot of money in my career," he quipped, "so we'll see."
Lorenzo's signing also leaves Honda in a quandary. Though Dani Pedrosa is now certain to be retained for 2013, his position safe until Honda can move Marc Marquez into the factory team, as is expected in 2014, the question is who can take the seat left vacant by Stoner. Though Pedrosa has proven himself to be capable of winning races and constantly scoring podiums, the Spaniard has always fallen short of being truly competitive for a title. The list of potential championship winners in MotoGP is rather short, which could open the door to Rossi at Honda, but the Japanese factory is still stinging after the things that Rossi wrote about the factory in his 2006 autobiography, What If I Had Never Tried It. It is believed that Honda headquarters in Japan would veto a return to the factory team, though a slot could be made available in a satellite team, with the San Carlo Gresini squad the most logical option, should Rossi decide to leave Ducati. He could decide that the Bologna factory offers his best chance, though, especially if the upgrades expected during the summer finally start to show some of the serious performance improvements which Rossi has been asking for.
With Stoner gone and Lorenzo now re-signed by Yamaha, Silly Season is now officially open. Expect a lot of riders to start pushing that little bit harder over the next few races, as they try to catch the attention of factory bosses and put themselves in the shop window for next season. Managers are about to get very, very busy over the next couple of months.
Below is the official press release confirming Lorenzo's new two-year contract with Yamaha.
Yamaha Confirms Lorenzo for 2013 and 2014
Press Statement - Tuesday 12th June 2012, 09.00hrs CET, Gerno di Lesmo (Italy)
It is with great pleasure that Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd can confirm the extension of Jorge Lorenzo’s contract to ride for the Yamaha Factory Racing MotoGP Team for 2013 and 2014.
Jorge Lorenzo joined Yamaha in 2008, achieving fourth place in his first season and claiming the Rookie of the Year title. He was then second in 2009, went on to become MotoGP World Champion in 2010 and was second again in 2011.
Lorenzo currently leads the 2012 MotoGP World Championship by 20 points having taken three victories from the first five completed races of the 18 race series.
“I am extremely happy to have signed with Yamaha for two more years. They’ve made great efforts to retain me in the Factory Team so I want to thank all those involved at Yamaha for this. I’ve been treated like part of the Yamaha family since 2008 and I love working with them. It has always been my first option to stay here and so I’m happy that this important negotiation has finished with such a positive outcome. Now I can focus on the Championship and I’m looking forward to paying back Yamaha’s trust in me starting at Silverstone this weekend. I look forward to winning many more Championships together; my dream to finish my career with Yamaha is now closer to becoming a reality!”
Managing Director, Yamaha Motor Racing
“This is excellent news for Yamaha and for the Yamaha Factory Racing Team. Jorge has been with us since 2008 and achieved superb results in the first four years, the highlight being his World Championship victory in 2010. He’s currently on top form having won three of the first five GP races and finishing second in the other two. Jorge’s contract extension allows both him and Yamaha to concentrate 100% on this year’s Championship challenge without any distractions and also to make future plans together to further strengthen the winning partnership.”