MotoGP Silly Season Nearly Done: Hayden, Laverty And Espargaro Start Final Shuffle

As the 2013 MotoGP season heads into its final five races, negotiations for 2014 are coming to a head. While the seats on factory and satellite machines were filled some time ago, the next level of competitiveness, both in terms of riders and bikes, is now up for grabs.

Two names and two teams were the focal point of the negotiations, and the log jam behind which many other riders were waiting. It was up to Aleix Espargaro to make a decision on whether to stay at Aspar, or pay off his contract and head to the NGM Forward squad, and up to Nicky Hayden to decide whether his future lay in MotoGP with Aspar or Forward, or if it was time to head over to World Superbikes, and become the first rider to win a title in both series. 

In turn, the Aspar and NGM Forward teams had become the hot ticket, because of the packages they had to offer, and how competitive they are expected to be. Forward will be running Yamaha's leased engine package, consisting of an engine, frame and swingarm from the 2013 Yamaha M1 for 2014, with the rest of the bike to be built by FTR. The British engineering firm will then build an entire chassis package for 2015, though the chassis could be entered earlier if it is finished. The package will run the spec Dorna software instead of Yamaha's custom electronics, and this is likely to be the limiting factor on performance.

Aspar will continue with Aprilia, after a brief flirtation with running the leased Yamahas, and after losing their Power Electronics sponsorship for 2014 (the Spanish company has shifted their focus to soccer), they have become a de facto Aprilia factory team. Aprilia will be providing a completely revised bike, featuring an engine with pneumatic valves, possibly a seamless gearbox, and a brand new chassis. The team will be entered as a non-factory entry for 2014, using the spec software while they continue to work on reducing fuel consumption, which would allow them to prepare for a switch to factory status in 2015, running their own custom software. 

Though Espargaro was aware of the increased effort and involvement from Aprilia, the lure of a Yamaha M1 has proved too tempting. According to, Aleix Espargaro and his new manager Albert Valera - who also manages Jorge Lorenzo - have negotiated the release fee for the current CRT leader down from 650,000 euros to just 400,000. Espargaro will now race for Forward in 2014 and 2015, with an option to leave after 2014. If he does decide to leave, he will have to repay most of his Aspar buyout fee, some 300,000 euros, Motocuatro claims.

While Espargaro is leaving Aspar, Nicky Hayden will be joining the team, preferring to stay in MotoGP than to switch to WSBK. At Misano, Hayden denied the deal had been done (though it would be more accurate to say that he refused to confirm the deal had been done), but sources confirm that Hayden will be at the Spanish squad. His contract, however, will be directly with Aprilia, the factory controlling rider selection in return for providing equipment. Hayden's interest in Aprilia went from rumor to fact after the American accidentally uploaded to his social media exercise app the route to his morning run a week before Misano, which had taken him around Noale, the Italian city where Aprilia is based. Hayden confirmed his interest to the media at Misano, and when members of his family were seen going into and out of the Aspar truck for meetings, the signing seemed all but confirmed. Full confirmation of the deal is expected at Aragon.

Taking the other seat at Aspar is almost certain to be Eugene Laverty. The Irishman has a contract with Aprilia, but with the Italian factory courting Marco Melandri to race in World Superbikes alongside Sylvain Guintoli, there was no room in WSBK. Laverty has long wanted to return to MotoGP on competitive machinery, and being placed inside the Aspar squad on an Aprilia is an ideal situation for him. Laverty will drop the #58 plate he races in WSBK to take his old number, #50, which he raced in both 250s and World Supersport, before being forced to drop it when he moved up to World Superbike where it was taken by Sylvain Guintoli.

With both seats taken at Aspar, there is no room there for current rider Randy de Puniet. The relationship between the Frenchman and the team has deteriorated over the last season, something which could be related to De Puniet's role as Suzuki test rider. For 2014, the Frenchman looks like taking on this role full time, preparing for a return to the premier class in 2015 with the Japanese factory.

Alongside Espargaro in Forward will most likely be Colin Edwards. The Texan has found a recent burst of speed in the second half of the season, finishing as best CRT rider at Misano. Edwards has long made his desire clear to stay with Forward, especially once the details of the M1 lease package emerged. Edwards has been an invaluable resource in helping to develop the FTR chassis currently housing the Kawasaki engine, and believes that his experience with the previous M1 bikes can be valuable. Though nothing is settled, it looks like Edwards will get his wish and stay at Forward.

Elsewhere, seats are still open, but some clear favorites are starting to appear. PBM will continue with a two-rider team, the current plan being to continue to develop the chassis being raced by Michael Laverty. PBM had been in talks to run Honda's production racer, but had rejected the idea on the grounds of cost. Though the rider line up is not yet fixed, Michael Laverty is close to extending his deal with the team for another year, and he looks set to be joined by Alex Lowes, who has been impressive in BSB.

PBM's current rider Yonny Hernandez, who is to replace Ben Spies at Pramac for the rest of 2013, will likely get to stay in MotoGP, but he will be forced to switch teams. Having a South American is important with MotoGP making a return to the continent next year, and place could be found at the Avintia Blusens team, probably alongside Hector Barbera, who brings personal sponsorship.

As for the IODA team of Giampiero Sacchi, they will almost certainly continue with their  Suter BMW package, and with Danilo Petrucci on one of their bikes. IODA, too, are losing their sponsors, security door manufacturer CAME leaving MotoGP altogether, despite being chased by Yamaha and LCR Honda. The IODA team is working on a replacement, and a proposal which looks to be highly innovative and a break from the traditional approach. The second seat at IODA will depend on their success at leveraging that proposal.

The influx of new riders changes the balance of nationalities in the paddock, with Spanish and English speakers predominating. Seven Spaniards will line up next season, and while the three best riders in the world are Spanish, series organizer Dorna is less happy having so many riders from the same country. The Espargaro brothers are highly regarded, but Dorna would very much like to get rid of both Alvaro Bautista and Hector Barbera. Though both are fast, Dorna would dearly like to replace them with riders from other countries who are just as fast. But there is also a distinctly British flavor to MotoGP next year - or more accurately, the flavor of the British Isles. With the arrival of Scott Redding and Alex Lowes, the number of UK passport holders will rise to four for 2014. Add in the Laverty brothers (Irish passport holders, hailing from a town in Northern Ireland), and that makes a grand total of six men from the same region. The common cry of British fans that the series is dominated by Spaniards will ring rather hollow in 2014. At least it will to the Germans, French and even Italians.

The 2014 MotoGP rider line up, as it looks so far:

Team Rider Bike Contract until
Factory Yamaha      
  Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha M1 2014
  Valentino Rossi Yamaha M1 2014
Tech 3 Yamaha      
  Bradley Smith Yamaha M1 2014
  Pol Espargaro Yamaha M1 2015
Repsol Honda      
  Marc Marquez Honda RC213V 2014
  Dani Pedrosa Honda RC213V 2014
LCR Honda      
  Stefan Bradl Honda RC213V 2014
Gresini Honda      
  Alvaro Bautista Honda RC213V 2014
  Scott Redding Honda PR 2015
Factory Ducati      
  Andrea Dovizioso Ducati GP14 2014
  Cal Crutchlow Ducati GP14 2015
Pramac Ducati      
  Andrea Iannone Ducati GP14 2014
  Ben Spies Ducati GP14 2014
NGM Forward      
  Aleix Espargaro FTR Yamaha M1 2015
  Colin Edwards? FTR Yamaha M1  
  Nicky Hayden Aprilia ART  
  Eugene Laverty? Aprilia ART  
Cardion AB      
  Karel Abraham Honda PR 2014
  Michael Laverty? PBM Aprilia  
  Alex Lowes? PBM Aprilia  
  Danilo Petrucci? Suter BMW  
  ??? Suter BMW  
Avintia Blusens      
  Hector Barbera FTR Kawasaki  
  Yonny Hernandez? FTR Kawasaki  

All entries with question marks (?) are still uncertain.

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I am interested, given Ioda's continuation, whether BMW will increase their involvement or improve equipment. For Ioda, and by association BMW to compete with the leased machines or upgraded Aprilia and Kawasaki, surely a big step will be essential?

I've read rumors that BMW will be assuming a more active role in MotoGP.

It seems that pulling out of WSBK is in fashion these days, but do BMW honestly expect us to believe they left in order to focus on boring econo-bikes?

The S1000rr continues to be a successful platform, and BMW has injected countless euros and man-hours in to making it a success. IMO it just doesn't follow that they would drop that success so abruptly. Something bigger has to be in the works.

I do hope Aprilia can take it to the MSMA with the spec ECU and software, considering they will have 12 engines per season and 24l of fuel per race. It's not like the geeks at Magnetti Marelli are stupid. They just have less data than the MSMA ones, but, with most of the grid using their hardware, the data volume available is bound to grow very fast. If Aprilia are successful, I wouldn't be surprised to see Suzuki also entering as non-MSMA, which could prompt other manufacturers to do the same and, eventually, push everyone towards spec ECU and software, which could also be done by Dorna reducing the amount of fuel for the MSMA even further. Don't they want a technical challenge? 2014 is already looking very interesting.

Aprilia's quasi factory involvement in MotoGP was evident from the start of the ART program, but I'm afraid a non-MSMA effort now just won't be enough. They need to go all-in.

Aside from handling, one of the ART's strong points has been its software; tried and tested in WSBK, and refined for MotoGP. The ART can lose up to 20km/h to the MSMA bikes on the straights, and still tangle with the Ducatis and the satellite bikes on race day. The bike handles, and has excellent software.

Take away the software and what are you left with? The ART already enjoys more fuel and a higher engine allocation compared to the MSMA entries (not to mention softer tires). Can the seamless tranny and pneumatic valves promised by Aprilia make up the gap? Probably not.

If the program were as promising as we've been lead to believe, Aleix Espargaro wouldn't be buying his way out of it.

I think they need to get rid of Barbera and I am not in agreement with Smith been there and some of the other Spanish riders. Nearly half the grid will be Great British or Spanish. Really do hope the Aprilia are competitive and also BMW step up involvement. I still believe the 20 litre rule is rubbish. Eszpelta needs to go as well

David, can you elaborate on the "Dorna would very much like to get rid of both Alvaro Bautista and Hector Barbera" comment. Was that explicitly stated, or is it a rumor/hunch?

People who have discussed the subject with Ezpeleta tell me this is how those two are regarded. Not fast enough to race with the top 3, and they have had their shot at the series. There are faster Spaniards coming up, and there are too many Spaniards in the series. This is not what is said in public, but it is what is said in private.

Man, that was a surprise to me heading to Aprilia. He will not have handling problems if we can use this past two years as evidence. Seems like damn near every bike handles better than this one. That Panigale must have left him feeling pretty unimpressed to go to Aprilia. I know their effort for next year is supposed to be full on, but it is another gamble. Really was wishing I could see Nicky racing in WSBK. I think he could have battled for the title. Been great to see him win something again. Hopefully Aprilia will surprise all, otherwise it will be another year of no podiums and no wins with a bunch of disappointing results that lead to his face looking like a pepto bismol commercial. Good luck to him. Probably THE most disrespected World Champion on the grid. I feel for him but it is getting to the point where I just cannot stand to watch the painful interviews.

2 years with the MotoGP Aprilia team opens doors down the road for a switch to the Aprilia in WSBK which happens to be extremely competitive. With another year of fuel development, Nicky might just get a full factory effort in 2015 which many, myself included, would argue that this is possible making it a more attractive offer than staying at Ducati for another year.

Never said staying at Ducati was what I wanted or thought Nicky would do. In fact that is the LAST thing I thought he would do. Just thought with his resume, (which some would laugh but I still think he is solid as a rider), he could get a Factory ride put together just for him in WSBK. Because in all truth he is NOT going to win another Motogp Title. But he has a SOLID chance of winning a WSBK title. His work ethic and drive would be better than a lot of top racers in WSBK.

The comment I made was based on my own selfishness to see Nicky winning again. :)

I'm a big Nicky fan, and as much as I would love to see him win a WSBK title, I think he knows that he can always do that in the future.

The WSBK ride would have to be on something extremely competitive like he said. BMW just pulled out there factory effort. The Aprilia WSBK seats are full, the Honda is still the same CBR from the last 4 years, and well, he rode the 1199R and he must not have been overly convinced.

Getting in good with Aprilia now, who are very capable of building a competitive WSBK could easily lead to a WSBK championship year down the road.

Until then, you have to try and stay in the light, which is MotoGP.

CRT podium yeah Hayden should get his fair share with the Aprilia, top three podiums not a chance in hell with that bike. As Alex has proven by being the best CRT rider by far, even dreaming of cracking the top 5 is a long shot. Hayden is signing up to fight for 10-12th spot every race.

More than his test ride, WSB as a series is losing it's luster. I am a fan since 1988. The racing may be great but so is 600 SS. I thought Nicky might take the Ducati money with the slight chance of sweeping all series. Kudos to him for staying true to what he wants. Personally, he should have took the money.

And I'd be willing to bet they gave him a fairly big bag of it.

Aprilia handpicked Hayden.

Maybe it's not the same money as Ducati was waving, but we certainly don't know anything about that yet. In the meantime, NIck gets to stay in MotoGP, which is what he wanted all along.

The Laverty brothers actually ride under two different passports - I forget the history behind their personal choices but I'm sure its more to do with money than political statements! Regardless - as a Northern Ireland resident I'm glad to see increased representation in MotoGP. :)

I've been watching GPs for 30 years and Hayden was the only case I can remember of a world champion to not get the factory he won the championship with fully behind him the year he was supposed to defend his title. Aprilia will be his first time as the #1 rider. If Dorna can see the interest of factories in coming back to or joining MotoGP without the fuel limit nonsense, they could have that MSMA rule, created to price the competition away, bite them in the backside by making that limit so tight that there's no way Honda, with all their money, can compete against, say, Aprilia and Kawasaki, with 24l of fuel per race and 12 engines per season, thus allowing more people, like Hayden, a shot at being competitive on a more level playing field.

If this whole MSMA rule turns around and Honda and Yamaha find themselves unable to compete with 5 engines and 20l of fuel then all they have to do is take the spec software to level the playing field.

Honda with 12 engines and 24l of fuel will still build a better race bike than Kawasaki or Aprilia with 12 engines and 24l of fuel. That said, I hope everyone ends up with the spec software, then maybe we'll see better racing and less electronics. Put some more control back in to the rider's right wrist.

That would be a public embarrassment for Honda and Yamaha. Something they would be very reluctant to do. The Japanese are very prideful and to them, doing that would be very shameful. You would have to understand the Japanese and Honda to understand why that is something they'd stay away from.

Yeah Honda has already made comments about wanting it to be 2 engines per year. No way they'd want the limit increased. The engine limit thing is a tight rope they'll all have to walk. Sure less engines seems like one way to limit cost but then more money goes into developing them and they get more exotic. The other way and you have a Max Biaggi/ Aprilia issue where they used what 30+ engines in a season.

I think espargaro has done his home work comparing how competitive NGM with yams stuff vs aprillia with upgraded smeamless+pneumatic stuff will be, we'll see next year.

I can't help thinking the exact opposite - that Hayden has found himself in the box seat. The NGM bike will be the a 3rd-tier Yam and Yam will see that it does stays a bit slower than the T3 bikes. Meanwhile Hayden is (at least till we see how Laverty pans out) clearly #1 rider for the Aprilia brand - count their world championships.

Next year could be quite interesting seeing how this new "mid pack" (the ducatis, aprilias and the non-MSMA Hondas and Yams) shakes out. Likely a lot more exciting than whats going on up front - Marquez, 2 seconds, Lorenzo, 2 seconds, Pedrosa, 2 seconds, Rossi.

It'll be interesting to see how espargaro adapts to the change from being #1 rider on a (admittedly very restricted) factory bike to #5 rider on a leased non factory machine. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Hayden is quicker on the art

You are sitting in front of the computer racing on words to type, outsmarting the guy who actually sitting on the bike, he prefer no to race next year. I say, I trust him!

The truth is no one knows how good the Forward FTR/M1 will be. It's reasonable to assume that it should be fairly good relative the other mid-tier/production bikes, but it hasn't even been assembled yet. For 2014, FTR will have to outfit the frame with all the required components (not really a big deal since they're all third-party supplied) and create the fuel tank (maybe not so simple given Cal's frustrations) and the areo package. How the spec ECU operates is anyone's guess right now. So you've got a bunch of parts that should be pretty good on paper, but it's not a lock.

Where it really gets interesting for Forward is in 2015 (or sooner) when they start to using FTR frame. Again, FTR is good, but it's no lock. (I'll assume the FTR will look an awful lot like the M1 frame with tweaks based on 2014's lessons).

The Aprilia has some history now and a solid base from which to work, but no guarantees there, either, given the amount of changes and the apparent decision to go with the stock ECU. But 2015 looks more and more like an official factory effort.

At the very least it'll be interesting to learn which bike was the better choice.

...on the whole Espargaro 'Sofie's choice' drama, I'm left thinking he has made a good decision. With Aprilia continuing as non-mmsa/MotoGP (not factory option), he would have been in a position whereby he can only really fail- the last two years being CRT 'champ' means he could only go backwards and not be. The FTR Yamaha may or may not more competitive but it seems sensible to try to push on rather than, at best, repeat his feats of the last two seasons. I wish him luck.

I'm not aware of any current MGP riders frequenting the boards here (but there may be?) so all we are all doing is giving our opinions from the sofa, or at best from a privileged position inside the "scene".
It would by far not be the first time a rider has got it wrong (sometimes horribly!) with regard to the competitiveness of the machine he is moving to.
It's simply a guess of mine based on over 30 years of following the sport that being a 3rd tier Yam rider on what will be (based on history) a deliberately dumbed-down bike will not necessarily be a better prospect than being the #1 rider for Aprilia - especially given Aprilia seem to be on an upward slope of participation/competitiveness and the Forward bike is very much an unknown even for 2014, let alone when they lose the Yam chassis the following year.

Someone paying 400,000 Euros just to release Aleix? In a sport said to be strapped for cash? Where's it coming from, I wonder. And why? Is he really that good, or so marketable? Is he riding with little or no pay because the bike's going to be so much better than the best alternative that he feels he must be on it? Or is the opportunity to make a connection with Yamaha too much to resist? Or is it all connected with the opinion, said to be privately held by Ezpolita, which David refers to earlier that`There are faster Spaniards coming up, and there are too many Spaniards in the series'. Seems to me that Dorna is making sure Aleix makes it. I'd watch out if my name was Bautista, Barbera or Pedrosa.

David (or anyone)... is there any news on where he will land for 2014? He's on the couch for the season so he should have plenty of time to sign a 2014 contract! Cool Beans for Nicky and Aleix... they both are under-rated riders on the grid! Shame on American Honda for not getting Hayden the ride he desires but Aprilia knows his worth! When/if Aprilia becomes a Factory team, Hayden will be exactly in the #1 rider. With Aprilia being a full factory-team, could Biaggi make an appearance or GiGi?

Doesn't that mean an income of 2 million Euro for developing what is essentially a new bike, and supplying 4 bikes and 10 engines plus spares. Can't imagine that breaking even...

The R&D costs for the RCV1000R will outweigh the income by far. That's what Nakamoto said himself. He didn't give any numbers, though.

I dunno if it was anywhere in the english speaking media but german news magazines published an interview with him stating that he was more than satisfied with the performance of the proddies, claiming that they had the potential to get an occasional finish in the top 6 (depending on rider and track, he said).
However, the whole project would probably never pay off for HRC. He said, to get out of the deficit-zone, they'd have to raise the prices. But they wouldn't because Honda will stand to their word.
Typically japanese statement to make, I suppose.

The production racer could be viewed a clever move by Honda to essentially play ball with Dorna while grabbing more control of the bike supply. Plus they started the ball rolling for Yamaha and maybe even Ducati to offer customer packages There are now at least four more bikes that don't have a even a glimmer of hope of getting anywhere near the factory teams now or in the future.

And if Dorna gets its way and the factory option bikes go away in the next three years, Honda will be well positioned for that change.

Top six on occasion is pretty good, but these customer teams are hanging around to see what happens in 2017.

I see quite a number of people commenting that Nicky would have been better off financially had he taken Ducati's money and gone to WSBK, what I'll guess is that while his salary might be lower staying in MotoGP, his total income will be about the same.

What you are not counting is the money Nicky, and most other riders get from their personal sponsors, i.e. helmet, leather, gloves, boots, in Nicky's case Tissot watches, energy drinks, and so on. The amount you would get paid for those personal sponsors would drop tremendously, because of being in a less prestigious class with much less TV and media exposure.

In his Honda days Nick was making equal to or a bit more than his HRC contract money from his personal sponsorship deals.

Not much interested in the also-rans in their various configs of frames/motors that will never see the box because of the rule set that pretty much removes weekly development/inovation and any chance of finding an edge.

What motoGP needs is unification. One set of rules and a whole lot less BS and spec parts.

Although I love him, who really cares what non-factory bike Hayden rides to his 10th place next year. It's like filler songs on an album. Just padding.

And there is my unasked for opinion.

You're right of course, but for the statement about the also rans being thus because of the rules. Put every rider on proddy Hondas next year and you'd still have Marquez and Lorenzo at the front almost all the time, Pedrosa and Rossi most of the time. Things may change somewhat in the upper-middle order, but not at the pointy end. (just my opinion)

Hurry up Qualifying... I'm bored.

I'm already dreading the end of the season and the lack of interest in basically any sporting code for several months! Ok, boxing day test is good, but more for the event than the sport. Dakar is potentially good but the coverage is maddening - more so than the inane "cross to the people in the pits while the action is on the track" Dorna-isms.

while I would love for all these grandiose plans to bear fruit, I feel we all know what's going to happen: honda with marquez winning the title, and only a factory honda or yamaha ever seeing the podium. Ducati will continue to be lambasted for not being up there with them, while aprillia, forward, proddy hondas, and soon suzuki will be praised for occasionally getting in front of the factory dukes, claiming progress is being made at closing the gap to the front runners. Repeat next season, or maybe I've missed something. Maybe the only thing that will kill off factory specials will be when the world is so broke there simply won't be enough money to field them.