With the contracts of the four riders in Honda's and Yamaha's factory teams expiring at the end of 2014, real fireworks were expected when contract negotiations began for the 2015 season and beyond. But as the season progressed, those fireworks have turned into something of a damp squib, with it looking increasingly likely that the factory line ups will see little or no change for 2015.
The first contract has already been signed. Today, HRC announced that they have reached agreement with Marc Marquez for another two years, meaning that the 2013 world champion will stay with the Repsol Honda team for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Given Marc Marquez' perfect start to 2014 - four wins from four pole positions in the first four races - this comes as no surprise at all. Clearly, retaining the services of the reigning world champion and the man leading the championship was Honda's highest priority.
With Marquez signed, where does that leave the rest of the top four? At the moment, the signs are that the rider line up of the Repsol Honda and Movistar Yamaha teams will remain completely unchanged for 2015. Valentino Rossi's results have shown the improvement he had himself demanded, a combination of a better Yamaha M1 and renewed motivation from his gamble of swapping crew chiefs, replacing Jeremy Burgess with Silvano Galbusera. Rossi has already spoken of his desire to stay on for another two years, and getting a contract extension with the Movistar Yamaha teams looks to be a given. Rossi is fast enough to be competitive, and his selling power is a powerful marketing tool for Yamaha and their sponsors.
With Marquez under contract, Honda's need for a rider that can win championships is already filled. That means that Dani Pedrosa's seat looks safe in the Repsol Honda team, the Spaniard having proven that he can pick up the baton whenever Marquez falters, and is capable of pushing for a championship himself. Pedrosa is 8th on the list of all-time winners in the premier class, and has shown that he can win races and, more importantly, finish ahead of the Yamahas consistently. Team principal Livio Suppo has repeatedly expressed his support for Pedrosa, which makes his spot at Repsol Honda look secure. Marquez and Pedrosa are clearly a winning combination, so why change?
The biggest question mark at the moment is over Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo has, of course, expressed his desire to stay with Yamaha, but he is hotly sought after. Before the 2014 season began, HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto expressed a keen interest in Lorenzo, saying that he could be a strong addition to the Repsol Honda team. Since Lorenzo's disastrous start to the season, Nakamoto has gone quiet, the balance shifting in favor of sitting rider Pedrosa.
That leaves Ducati. There are strong rumors from several sources that Ducati Corse chief Gigi Dall'Igna is keen to sign Lorenzo in the Ducati factory team, having worked with the Spaniard in the 250cc class with Aprilia. Dall'Igna is rumored to be willing to pay Lorenzo a very large fee to make the switch to Ducati. Whether Lorenzo will make the jump remains to be seen, however. The Yamaha is a proven entity, and despite the initial trouble the M1 is having with edge grip on the 2014 Bridgestone tires, and with less acceleration and fueling with the reduced 20 liter fuel allowance, Yamaha is still Lorenzo's best chance of becoming world champion. The choice for Lorenzo will boil down to ambition over financial rewards, unless Ducati can conjour up some significant improvements over the next few races. Lorenzo's decision is not likely to come until after the summer break.
Below is the press release from Honda, announcing Marquez' contract extension:
Honda Racing Corporation renew with Marc Marquez until end of 2016
Honda Racing Corporation is pleased to announce the renewal of the contract with 2013 World Champion, Marc Marquez, for a further two years.
The young Spaniard took the MotoGP World by storm winning the Championship in his rookie season last year. It was a priority for HRC to re-sign the young sensation who has won every race so far this season – all from pole position. Since joining the Factory outfit – the Repsol Honda Team – Marc has finished on the podium in all but two of his twenty-two MotoGP races. He’s taken ten victories, six second’s and four third’s. He’s also accumulated thirteen pole positions in the premier class.
He arrives at this weekend’s French GP leading the Rider’s Championship by 28 points after just four rounds.
Shuhei Nakamoto – HRC Executive Vice President:
“We are very satisfied to have reached an agreement to keep Marc in the team for a further two seasons. Of course as Honda we wanted to keep Marc in our family and he also wanted to stay with us so… it was natural to renew the contract even if it is very early in the season! He is enjoying a fantastic start to 2014 and even though he is still learning, his ability to absorb information and adapt to the machine is remarkable”
“I am very happy to announce my renewal with HRC. I had always dreamt about being part of the Repsol Honda Team, and thanks to Honda the dream came true a year and a half ago. Everything happened very quickly last season, and I would have never imagined that I could achieve what we did. Becoming World Champion during my first season was another dream turned into reality. It is a great honour to be a part of the Honda family and I’m glad to remain with this special group of people for another two seasons”
Marc Marquez World Championship Statistics:
Podiums: 20 (10 x 1st, 6 x 2nd 4 x 3rd)
Fastest Race Laps: 13
World Champion: 2013
Podiums: 25 (16 x 1st, 6 x 2nd, 3 x 3rd)
Fastest Race Laps: 7
World Champion: 2012
Podiums: 14 (10 x 1st, 4 x 3rd)
Fastest Race Laps: 9
World Champion: 2010