The Price Of Success - How The 2010 Silly Season Will Cost Millions

Two unrelated themes dominated the 2009 MotoGP season: Cost-cutting and the Rise of the Aliens. Drastic reductions in testing, a limited number of engines and the dropping of Friday morning practice were all aimed at turning the Niagara Falls of cash the series consumes into a more manageable torrent. Meanwhile Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner took a near whitewash of podiums, cleaning up 44 of the 51 rostrum spots available during the year.

2010 is likely to continue where 2009 left off, but these two different aspects are on a collision course, due for impact around midsummer this year. For though the manufacturers and teams continue to meet in the Grand Prix Commission, to discuss further ways of trimming the costs of racing, the fact that the contracts of the four finest riders of their generation all expire at the end of the season will unleash a bidding war unlike anything ever seen in MotoGP.

The Aliens, as Loris Capirossi has dubbed them, already command the lion's share of rider salaries in the series. Numbers are hard - if not impossible - to come by, but Valentino Rossi alone probably earns more than all of the riders except the Aliens combined, and Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Stoner will each earn many times the salary of any of the other Mortals. It may not be fair, but given that the Aliens won every race but one and hogged 86% of podiums this year, it is the only guarantee of getting your bike and your sponsors onto TV. Success sells, and without an Alien on your bike, success is a very scarce commodity indeed.

So sometime around June, hostilities in the Great Contract War of 2010 will start in earnest. A four-way fencing match will commence with a few carefully-placed feints from the Fiat Yamaha garage, as Valentino Rossi considers the various - highly lucrative - options available to him. These maneuvers will come in the guise of an innocent comment in a pre-event press conference, but they will trigger a frenzy of speculation and rumor as the pundits rush to interpret what the man who moves MotoGP meant. Was it a prelude to retirement? Did Rossi hint at a switch to Formula One? Could it herald the move that all of Italy has been praying for, that Rossi will finally do his name justice, and switch to Ducati for 2011?

On the other side of the Fiat Yamaha garage, Jorge Lorenzo will be working on Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis, angling for control and a lead role in the development of the M1, under threat of defection. The Spaniard will resume the open flirting with both Honda and Ducati he suspended in August last year, bought off with the promises of equal treatment with Rossi he had wanted from Yamaha management.

At Ducati, Casey Stoner will continue to blitz the competition on the GP10, while keeping an eye on the machinations at Yamaha. Over at Repsol Honda, if Dani Pedrosa isn't within a handful of points of the championship lead, both HRC and Pedrosa will be studying other options. Honda will be busy courting Jorge Lorenzo, while Livio Suppo argues the case for Casey Stoner to his new bosses at HRC. Dani Pedrosa will be watching the situation at Yamaha, and wondering whether replacing Lorenzo at Yamaha will be easier than replacing Stoner at Ducati.

Despite their public pronouncements that they will not be drawn into a bidding war, the factory teams will start offering larger and larger sums to attract a rider capable of winning a championship, using the 8 million euros a year Phillip Morris offered Jorge Lorenzo last year as their guide. More significant, though, is Livio Suppo's move to Honda: The Italian, who as one insider put every sticker on the Ducati, has been hired by Honda to do the same trick for them. Repsol may be a loyal supporter of HRC, but they are hardly a generous one, and Honda will need the extra income from sponsorship if it is to outbid Ducati for the services of Jorge Lorenzo or Casey Stoner. Let alone attract Valentino Rossi back into the fold.

By early September, when the paddock returns from Indianapolis, the war should be largely over. Lorenzo will have been tempted away to HRC by promises of lead rider status; Pedrosa will have given up on Honda and be headed to Ducati; and Suppo will have failed to tempt Stoner away from Bologna, as the Australian gets close to securing his second world championship. Rossi will be happy to see the back of his Spanish teammate, though less so about his Texan replacement, and delighted with the extra salary he leveraged out of Yamaha to convince him to stay.

When the smoke clears, and the balance is drawn up, the cost of competing in MotoGP will have risen yet again. Despite the endless search for ways to cut costs, the wage bill for the top four riders will have nearly doubled, completely dwarfing the few paltry million the factories will have saved with previous measures. For it is not just the talent of Rossi, Lorenzo, Stoner and Pedrosa that is out of this world. Their salaries are just as astronomical, but that is the price of success.

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If these motors have to last the entire season and will be sealed and stamped in advance. What will the advantages be for the factory teams other than their given surrounding team structure? Will factory bikes really be better than satellite bikes? Will there be innovations that come at mid season to gift an advantage? I have a feeling that this silly season will give rise to a new 'factory supported' team. I think the obvious place for it to happen would be in the camp of Yamaha and their embarrassment of riches. But It could happen anywhere where the sponsors have a large enough pile of cash.

What I would like to see most is Rossi moving to Suzuki and his team working their magic again. Ducati may please Italy, but another feat like 2004 would remove all doubt of the deserved Oxley-dubbed title of Motogenius.

While it might be entertaining to see Rossi struggle with the Suzuki, it must be noted that Rossi's move to Yamaha was based on a massive investment in the bike by the factory as well as bringing Furusawa. Suzuki will never get the type of finding needed to pull off the same feat.

The engines don't have to be sealed and stamped before the season, just before they are used. Theoretically, the factories can bring two engines to Qatar, then use them all the way through to Valencia, before using an engine a session in that final round. In practice, the factories will bring two or maybe three engines to Qatar, have them all sealed, then bring modified engines a couple of times during the year. A sealed engine doesn't count as being used until it exits pit lane; at that point it is counted against the engine allocation. Factories are free to do whatever they want prior to that moment.

I agree, mostly, with your peerless prognostications. I can't see Rossi leaving Yamaha (It will take the proverbial pound of flesh to keep him though) or Stoner leaving Ducati. If Lorenzo tires of laboring in the Doctor's shadow and Spies does well enough for Yamaha to give him a factory seat, then I can see Lorenzo making a move. What I can't see is a bidding war for Pedrosa's services. Although technically an Alien, capable of running at the front and winning when all the stars are in alignment, he hasn't shown the toughness, physical or mental, to mount a charge for the championship. Luckily for him, the lesser Honda riders haven't shown it either. Unless Dovisioso or Simoncelli step up to the plate, I see Pedrosa staying with Honda, with a Mallorcan sticking in his craw. As upalatable as that may sound, it's either that or (gag) Suzuki.

I also expect that the silly season amongst the mortals (I think everyone but Bautista has a one year deal) to be similar -- Lots of sound and fury, signifying not much.  It'll be interesting to see who emerges as the dominant Moto2 rider in the maiden year, but barring catastrophe, I don't see anyone crossing to the premiere classe in 2011.

...for the most part.  Dani Pedrosa will not be able to command "Court of The King" wages anymore.  In fact, he risks not being on a factory team, at all, if Dovizioso maintains current form.  Dovi may not be happy to be 2nd chair to an incoming Lorenzo, but where else would he go?

I think Pedrosa's best hope is for, somehow, Alberto Puig to convince a certain Spanish sponsor (or three) to reunite with Suzuki.  And I don't intend that to suggest a punishment or sentence.  I actually think the best opportunity for that bike (prior to 1,000cc engines) is for a certain diminutive Italian to be joined (and subsequently replaced) by the even more diminutive Spaniard.

In reality, this is a question of sponsorship revenue.  Will Fiat see additional value in spending more to keep the Italian car company on the chest of the premier Italian motorcycle racer (and a similarly lanky Texan)?  Or will someone else step forward to fill the breach?  Will Repsol agree to pay more for an Australian as their #1 rather than a Mallorcan?  Will said Australian really even consider leaving if he is vying for the World Championship?  And what if his American team mate is close behind all season?  Will the American cigarette sponsor want to change anything?

The real "cost savings", in terms of equipment, will actually begin to materialize for the 2011 season...  just in time for the contractual battles.  If the long-life engines are holding together through to the summer, and with developments more-or-less reaching a plateau for the current formula, the factories will internally deliberate the merits of a lame-duck season.  In contrast to 2006, they will not all presume to make a heavy investment in developing a new formula; they will research it, but not fully commit to it.  They may all prefer to stick with their well-tested 800cc machines and leave the 1000cc formula to privateers.  As distressing as that may be for Dorna and the FIM, it is the only realistic way for the factories to contain their costs.

The real question is, as it has been, why can't Dorna successfully communicate to anyone outside of Spain and Italy that GP motorcyle racing is a far more cost-effective means of displaying a product name than the less entertaining 4-wheeled version?

Fragile things egos least not in an Alien. Whilst Ducati love to talk of their team as 'family' that means squat in the pragmatic world. Stoner was a damn fast rookie riding a satellite Honda on inferior rubber. He'd be winning on any bike on the grid - possibly even the Suzuki. Remember Casey was only about Ducati's third choice rider in 2007 so the love has only come through an arranged marriage. Ducati have to be very careful if they try to have their cake and eat it too - they maybe left with crumbs. Pie in the sky speculation before the season has started but the only significant move I anticipate is Lorenzo to Honda - but at who's cost?

After all, there will only be 6 bikes with the potential to win the championship. I think we could see that the Ducati is much easier to ride this year & the reliability of the engines is a complete unknown. Maybe Honda have got it right & Yamaha wrong? we won't know till the end of the season. It could be that some factories have the bikes the Aliens want to ride rather than the other way round.

It's entirely possible that one of the factories gets it more right than the others this year. But the rider is still such an important part of the equation that I don't believe the factories feel they can win without one of the Aliens. Even with six potential championship-winning bikes, there are only four potential championship-winning riders. So economics is on the side of the riders. 

It may very well be too early BUT with the season and pre-winter testing results Ben Spies have had you must say he may really impress the top factories for the # 2 rider position. Imagine Ben on the Duc if it confirms to be a more rideable machine! Another crazy "what if" is to see Dovi on the Duc. I believe yamaha is set with riders and even though losing Lorenzo will be a direct hit they will feel better knowing they have Spies if he trully impresses on non factory equipment. Dovi on a Duc maybe the marriage we have been waiting on as far as italian rider and machinery winning the title goes.
Lets be serious, do you really think Stoner is going to jump ship and start from scratch? NO
Do you think Yamaha will let Vale go after ALL that he has done for them and himself? NO
I can see Lorenzo moving on cause he is young and is a fighter. I can also see Dani moving on as well because at the moment it seems the Honda is too loose and powerful for him. Maybe a direct switch would be awesome!!!

Besides the irrational desire to participate in the premier class (even if it's at the bottom) wouldn't most of the riders be better off in Moto2?

Take Elias for example. If he demonstrates he can win in Moto2 with Gresini, why attempt to return to the world of low pay on uncompetitive equipment? Why not find a sponsor who is looking for TV time and ad placement on the top step of the podium? Moto2 isn't as highly regarded or watched as the premier class, but surely the sport will begin to draw 7-figure sponsorship contracts for riders from the biggest MotoGP markets. What's to stop the rider from demanding a healthy chunk of that money since the equipment is cheap?

Imo, the problems for MotoGP are much more severe than the escalating costs of riders and personnel (I doubt Suppo or the Yamaha techs were cheap). The real issue is that the formula is still clearly 80/20, but the cost of the 20% has tripled or quadrupled in the last decade. Riders are probably worth the exorbitant pay, but the smaller teams can't pay b/c their entire budgets are wrapped up in the bike.

How long can MotoGP bank on "premier" status to keep riders interested? If Moto2 teams can pay you more due to the cheap cost of the machines, why ride satellite crap for little pay?

If Moto2 becomes populated with the super-talented but under-achieving Melandris, Elias', RDPs, or other riders who can't break through the factory ceiling, how are the youngins supposed to come up?

Maybe it's a bit far fetched, but MotoGP is basically banking on "premier" status to continue attracting riders at extraordinarily low wages. The classes with low-cost machinery will continue to fish these talents out of the GP system.

It's way too early to say how the bidding will go. Out of the six seats that could yield a championship only one will. The teams are very aware of this fact.
On the subject of reliability, by mid season we may see one or more manufacturers in trouble running out of engines and this would influence where the top riders will want to go.
The fact that "aliens" can command so much is a result of MotoGP's apeing F1 and restricting tech regulations down to such a narrow formula that only big manufacturers can compete. Just as in F1, if you let the teams engineers (or manufacturers) make the rules it will eliminate all but the manufacturers teams as competitive!
Opening the tech regs might stimulate innovations that would expand the field of teams while creating performance advantages in some bikes that would enable more riders to be competitive.

That's more cryptic than Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I really don't care what Tiger does with his one wood, historically he's never been able to keep in on the straight and narrow anyway.

That comment was deleted, and the user banned and blocked. That was link spam, used by black hat SEO companies to try and boost the google page rank of their customers. All such link spam is deleted on this site, the users are banned and their IPs are blocked. Not that it helps much, but it makes it much more expensive for the black hat SEO people to operate, and therefore makes it far less profitable.

I guess we all like to think how things may differ next year. However, all seems clear to me. Ducati want to get Rossi in their team, but most probably they don't have the budget to give him and his team a contract. Anything else would seem very risky... Even hiring Lorenzo would be a great risk for both the rider and the team. So, in my mind Lorenzo is going to Honda as No1 rider along Dovi, Yamaha stays with Rossi and the 'Texan terror', and the Duc keeps their strongest card, Stoner. Let's not forget that a healthy Stoner would definitely be in the championship chase last year if it wasn't for his weird illness. So i do not see any reason the Ducati questioning his ability to provide them with one more title.

Who knows what will happen as the racing will bring more variables in, the main one being whether Spies materializes into a 5th Alien which would change everything giving Yamaha 3 top rider options.

My bet however is that Rossi will stay put with Yamaha if Yamaha want him to, and that is through guaranteeing him the nº1 rider spot and sole developer of the bike until he retires.

The other three will play musical chairs. Lorenzo will go to Ducati now that the bike is tamed. There he will get the high profile position his character seeks and Marlboro want.

Stoner will move to Honda HRC (I really dont think he has real issues with Suppo). There he need not do all the PR nonsense he loathes and just dedicate himself to ride. The fact he is an anglo rider is also better for Honda than Pedrosa.

Pedrosa, will end up at Yamaha. The make he has always wanted to ride as a Rainey admirer, and clearly, the bike best suited to his diminutive size. He will also accept the status quo with Rossi if he is in the top team, or perhaps even accept a factory ride at Tech3 with the backing of a personal sponsor if Spies gets moved to the top...

Honestly people put Pedrosa down for not being able to scrap it with the others at the front, but frankly, his determination and how he makes those bikes go with his small size is admirable. Had he stayed in the lower divisions he would have probably become the most succesfull 250 cc rider ever.

Nothing could be better from the manufacturers standpoint than if more aliens are added to the mix. If Spies and Dovi (maybe Hayden) show they can run up from regularly, the supply of aliens will help alleviate costs.

I like that you went out on a limb with the predictions though. Good stuff.

Personally, I think Honda will go after Lorenzo & Forcada (who has Honda experience). Repsol will bank roll the entire thing. If he is not lured away, Suppo will land HRC a cush deal. They will promote Dovi to #1 and HRC will buy Hayden or promote Melandri. The sponsor money will be spent on the bike (how HRC like to do things).

Pedrosa will go to Suzuki. Suzuki will get a new Spanish sponsor. Emperor Puig is put back on his throne.

Ducati will hunt down Spies (assuming he shows something). Stoner will be retained. If they can't get Spies, Hayden will be given another 1 year extension. I don't think they will go after Lorenzo or Pedrosa.

Yamaha will keep Rossi and Lorenzo. If Lorenzo goes to Honda, Spies gets promoted.

Rossi at Ducati, that would really excite the Italians. But that would probably mean losing Stoner. Stoner/Rossi would probably slaughter the field, but I can't see them together.

Rossi will sign a 1 year with Yamaha to try to force them into building a 1000, which they have said they don't want to do. Spies will come up and take Fiat #2 and also won't sign an extension in order to force Yamaha into the 1000.
Lorenzo will take over HRC #1 because he is tired of being #2, recent head game comments aside. He is also Spanish which makes a difference for Repsol. Aoyama will come up to Repsol #2 because HRC wants a Japanese rider as close to the front as possible.
Stoner will stay where he is because he wins on that bike like no one else can. Marlboro understands that and will put up with his BS because they like being up front. Dovizioso will go to Ducati #2 because he is Italian and they want an Italian on that bike. He is also shaping up to be fast from the 2nd half of last season and into pre season this year.
Pedrosa/Puig will move to Suzuki next year and bring some much needed money. Denning will be let go and Schwantz will take over operations. Schwantz has never denied he wants to run a team but he has always aluded that it needs to be the right situation. Suzuki is very loyal and has not wanted to make a change but another bad year will force their hand and who wouldn't want the 'Legend' running your team. Capirossi will retire from riding but will stay on as rider and techincal director at Suzuki. Of course Bautista is there for another due to his 2 year contract.
Edwards will stay on at Tech 3 because his relationship is strong with Poncharal and he is fast and doesn't tear up equipment (inexpensive). A british rider will be brought into the Tech 3 garage because the BBC want it. They were lamenting JT leaving but did not have a replacement. Redding would be a good choice if he does well in Moto2, Haslam also would be a great move if he does well in WSBK bringing talent and a legendary name and he adapts well to any bike he is given.
Melandri and Simoncelli will stay at Gresini because they have no choice for any other decent rides and they will be given a 1 more year chance.
Hayden will move to Pramac because Ducati likes him and his development of the Ducati since KC's holiday last year has proven valuable, seeing all the Ducati riders getting faster because of it. Kallio will probably stay at Pramac since he has been there longer and is probably better than Espargaro.
The others, well who knows?

Is'nt it to early to get into the silly season?

>Rossi will sign a 1 year with Yamaha to try to force them into building a 1000, which they have said they don't want to do.

Spot on: that will definitively be a key element in Rossi's decision. He knows Ducati will go for a 1000cc bike and you only have to look at how powerful the 990c Ducati was becoming before they switched to 800cc to feel that they will get it right directly.

Congrats, David. You've sparked the 2010 Silly Season into it's prime already.

All jests aside, I think that it's just too hard to say what will happen. What about the apparent lack of consistant quality from the Honda? Why would Lorenzo want to go to a team that has a bike that is, currently, nowhere near as well developed as either the Duke or the Yamaha? Seems to me like that would be his last choice.

My personal hunch is that before any rider contracts are signed, there will be a huge sponsor shuffle. Repsol doesn't provide the funds that Honda wants, Suzuki needs a bigger sponsor to bring in the development and riders they so desperately want, and if Rossi is considering a move, then Yamaha needs a contingency plan for dropping FIAT.

For the riders, the #1 priority is the quality of the bike they ride, and whether they can win on it. For the teams, the #1 priority is how much sponsorship money they can pull in to continue developing a future championship-winning bike.

And, since we're all doing it, I'll take a shot into the dark and make the hardest prediction: there won't be any changes with the Untouchables. Hell, I'd even say that the big 3 factories won't even change at all, save *maybe* that Espargaro *might* replace Hayden, in which case Hayden would move to Suzuki and replace Capirossi.

About this 'alien' stuff... It shouldn't be much surprise that only the factory kids can win on the 800s. With only 17 riders that's almost 20% of the grid getting wins (more if you count Dovi's rain dance).

Now to throw my hat into the completely speculative and way early guessing on who's going where...

Rossi stays. Stoner stays. There is no reason in the world for either one of them to switch. Rossi will taunt and play and then stay put at about the same level of pay because no one will bid for him. Ducati will remove his smile by coming out with 'we dont need rossi' type stuff right in the middle of his media frenzy games. They would rather prove they can spank him which is worth more then having him ride the thing IMO. Recall their bold move to bridgestones before they were in fashion. He burned bridges at honda, this leaves Suzuki... which will never happen. He's on the Yamaha. He knows it and Yamaha knows it.

Stoner doesn't fool around and he's more worried about crushing everyone then adding zeros to his wealth. I really don't see him rolling the dice when he has a winning condition already. In fact, i'll put my dollar on Stoner winning the title or placing a close second to the king now that he is in good and stable health.

The two that will move are Lorenzo and Pedrosa. George to honda, Dani to...gasp, Suzuki. Lorenzo will be the big financial winner of the year as long as he continues to run at the front and the Repso boys don't.

Big Ben sold a lot of R1s and he'll sell even more when he's on the factory team next year. Nicky will get a few more top 5s this year and stay with Ducati as he also sells a lot of bikes. I don't see either of the second Ducati riders moving forward.

Edwards will retire and one of the rookies will get his ride. Loris will retire, Dani will get his ride.

Marco of The Hair will mimic Marco of the Ducati and float around at the back of the grid in despair then take a back step to WSBK (assuming he signed one year deal?)where he will be at the front getting offers from Ducati factory to replace Nori. (hey, we are all blowing hot air. might as well reach for the stars!)

My plastic imitation crystal ball is murky when it comes to Dovi. If Honda breaks the bank to get Lorenzo then they might just keep Dovi on the cheap, though I honestly think RDP would get better results (or just about anyone).

I don't see any of the 250 riders doing anything special this year. None will see the box.

It would be great fun to dig up this article post season to see how wrong we all are :)

Much respect to everyone here and thanks to David for creating and maintaining a site much above the average. It will be harder and harder as i also predict this site will run at the front next year.

/turns his crystal ball around and drops the goldfish and water back in.

I agree that Jorge would not want to go to HRC on an undeveloped bike. You qualified it yourself in your post though, ...."go to a team that has a bike that is, CURRENTLY, nowhere......" HRC has some very high quality technicians they have bought from Yamaha. They brought them there because of the new suspension and set up issues that Pedrosa is complaining about. I don't expect HRC to stay behind very long. Dovizioso has the most experience with the suspension currently in use and he seems to be doing OK. HRC also had a very strong motor last year, I don't expect that to change. I think once they get it sorted DP, AD, HA, MS, MM and HRC will be at the front. BECAUSE they sort it out, with the team they have, JL will have a go with them for the money and the glory.

Another excellent article to promote the grey matter speculating?

I like the sound of reviewing some of these posts after the bidding ends? David you should put some in storage and pull them out post season!

Excellent site with refreshing and well thought articles and dare I say posts!

I don't want this to be the case, but until Casey finishes the season without getting sick (and or missing races), I will not believe that he is close to being cured. Why? Well, I've seen some normal people (not world champion athletes) have a terrible time getting beyond the type of illness that it appears that Casey had, and just when you think it's all over - boom! It's back in full force. I could add more to this, but I won't; hopefully, I am 100% wrong.

There has to be that niggling concern in Stoner's mind and the Ducati camp.On the plus side,they can take heart from the fact that he was burning himself out scince mid 2008 with that scaphoid issue,then the op,then the recovery,then pushing too hard to get up to full fitness too quickly.Something had to give and it did.Hope Lorenzo's crew took note. He must ease his way into title contention rather than charge his way in.
Physical wellbeing this year is as critical as engine life this season. 18 races in 6 and a half months is going to be more intense on teams, machines and riders than ever before in the interests of cost cutting.
I'll stay optimistic...engines will last, Casey will confound his critics and the musical chairs will have probably settled down by Catalunya. Casey stays at Ducati,Valentino at Yamaha, and the rest,we'll have to wait and see,like we all wait for the season opener.

You guys are great! Keep it up David!

IMO I think yamaha is gonna give Ben a factory spec'd bike to go after Lorenzo for the second seat on the factory team. Yamaha is babying Spies if you guys can tell (youtube videos) and will continue to do so if spies does better than JLO. I just don't see JLO keeping his seat after all those wins that Spies produced in WSBK. Spies plain in simple just gets it done and will do anything to win. Besides its almost a tradition for an american to win on a yamaha (KR, lawson, rainey). Just like a comment earlier, Spies will no doubt help yamaha sell more bikes than JLO.

Lorenzo on the other hand is being prepped/schooled by Rossi on how to developed a top factory bike. Seems to me that yamaha have already made their mind on not renewing JLOs contract and it was assured by the release of the NO data sharing in the Fiat Yamaha Team. Yamaha will keep Spies and JLO will go to Honda to use all that experience in devoloping a new RCV alongside pedrobot.

Stoner will stay at ducati with maybe Dovi replacing hayden. Hayden will go to Tech 3 for his skills in big bikes, hence producing/developing a top liter bike.

Suzuki will be stuck scratching their heads on why they let go of Spies. Lol

BTW. I've seen spies come up the ranks and he is trully a gifted rider. Just like Kobe Bryant plays better when he's mad, Spies feeds of a tough challenge and gets better under pressure. I knew this kid was special when in a race he had to pass by the pits cuz of a penalty and stll came up in 2nd place behind no other than Mladin. He rode like a mad man making other pros look like amateurs and even smashing Mladins lap record. Sick sick!!