The already beleaguered MotoGP series took two big punches this season in its face with Casey Stoner announcing his retirement from the sport while he is in his prime and Ben Spies announcing that he is leaving the Yamaha factory team. What Ben Spies will do in the future is a mystery as yet but what it has done is that it has blown the silly season open big and wide.
After signing up with Ducati for 2011 and 2012 Valentino Rossi has struggled to come to terms with the Ducati Desmosedeci and at best has been languishing in the midfield in 2011 and thus far in 2012. This had led to speculation about Rossi continuing with Ducati but then Rossi has effectively burnt his bridges with Honda when he left them saying that it is the rider that makes the difference to the bike and not the other way round. He also threw an ultimatum at Yamaha asking them to choose between him and Jorge Lorenzo for 2011 and Yamaha wisely chose to invest in the future and so plumbed in for Lorenzo something that they are quite happy about. While Rossi himself has ruled out going to Honda since he will have to ride a satellite spec machine in either Gresini Honda or LCR Honda with Honda already having signed Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa for the factory Repsol Honda team.
Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso have been tripping over each other to prove that they are great performers who could take Ben Spies’ place (and this was happening even before Spies had announced his retirement but was doing quite terribly in races due to a combination of bad luck and bad riding) and Andrea Dovizioso has inched a little ahead of Cal Crutchlow who started the season more impressively. What makes Dovizioso look better than Crutchlow is that he has scored three consecutive podiums for Tech3 Yamaha (a first for that team) and finished fourth in the last race. But there are question marks about Dovizioso’s ability since he always was a Honda rider and last year he finished third (and a distant third at that) in the three rider Repsol Honda team that also had Stoner and Pedrosa. Dovizioso has only one victory on the Honda in MotoGP. This must be something that is acting on Yamaha’s mind.
While Crutchlow has shown great aggression this season his last season was nothing to write home about and even this season despite all the promise he is yet to put himself on the podium, thus making him a shaky candidate for the factory Yamaha position. Queering the pitch is the fact that there is only one position available next year even at Tech3 Yamaha since Herve Poncharal committed the cardinal sin of promising Bradley Smith a MotoGP ride for 2013 without even assessing how the rider would do in Moto2. The last two seasons in Moto2 have been most unspectacular for Bradley Smith and while rumours of Poncharal trying to wriggle out of his contract with Smith have emerged it does appear as if there are legal and other problems there.
Let us talk about the other problems since we can. It has now come to light that Cal Crutchlow had an offer from Ducati for the factory team and he was supposed to sign on the dotted line at Mugello. Crutchlow was seen as a replacement for Nicky Hayden who was supposed to be going out but the confusion caused by Spies has meant that Yamaha, despite their dislike for Rossi are now seriously considering him due to the fact that they are not very confident of Dovizioso or Crutchlow. This has made Ducati change tack mid course and they have ended up signing Nicky Hayden thereby hanging Crutchlow out in the open. In the even of Rossi going to Yamaha, Crutchlow will likely go to Ducati but what of Andrea Dovizioso then? He has made it clear that satellite spec machinery is not acceptable to him and therefore he will explore other options (whatever they maybe). But he could be persuaded to stay for one more season at Tech3.
Lin Jarvis the head of Yamaha’s racing department is not inclined to taking Rossi back apparently because Rossi did not deal with Yamaha in a very nice way and also because taking Rossi back would mean that he will come with this entire retinue of Jeremy Burgess and all the mechanics. But Rossi could have an ace up his sleeve and that would be that he could take sponsorship to the now unsponsored Yamaha team. Fiat which was sponsoring Yamaha stopped its sponsorship when Rossi went to Ducati. Another scenario being touted is that Marlboro could be persuaded to ditch Ducati and revive its hey days with Yamaha; something that appears unlikely. The name of Coca Cola and Monster energy are also being bandied as possible sponsors but the latter already has a strong association with the Tech3 team even if they are Rossi’s personal sponsors. Coca Cola seems to be a figment of everyone’s imagination with some suggesting that they will sponsor Yamaha as Dr. Pepper’s (one of the many drinks in the Coca Cola portfolio) and this will work since Rossi has long ago nicknamed himself has Rossi. All this is wild imagination of rumour mongers at work.
But what is indeed true is that Rossi holds the key to further rider movement in the market. Team Repsol Honda have their riders in place; Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez. LCR Honda has its rider in place in the form of Stefan Bradl who has contract for next year. Team Yamaha Racing has one rider, Jorge Lorenzo in place and Tech3 has one rider, Bradley Smith. Marlboro Ducati has one rider, Nicky Hayden contracted to them while the fate of the other two Ducati teams, namely Pramac Ducati and Cardion AB Ducati is not clear. Pramac are in financial trouble and Ducati has said that it would prefer to have a junior team a la Tech3 Yamaha and have two riders in it. But where would the resources for this junior team come from is the question. Maybe from Audi and if such a team does take shape the riders tipped of for it are Scot Redding and Andre Iannone. Ionnone being Italian on an Italian bike could bring sponsorship but then the whole of the EU is in doldrums economically.
Then there is also the question of how many of the CRT teams and motorcycles would remain. Gresini who runs an FTR-Honda CRT for Michele Pirro is not overjoyed at the prospect of yet another season of CRT especially since Pirro is very unhappy on the un-competitive CRT machine. What of team Blusens and Aspar? Aspar may continue with the Aprilia ART machines while Forward Racing could shift to ART as well. Nobody knows what Paul Bird is thinking. In all this we can see that the CRTs are fringe players and the only rider from that order who can make an appearance on satellite machinery is Randy De Puniet. But all movements can start happening once Rossi makes his decision or if Yamaha makes his decision for him. Rossi has promised that all will be sorted out in this summer break and make his announcement at Indianapolis. The question is will he? We foresee protracted negotiations not just with Yamaha but with Ducati as well so the announcement at Indianapolis is not a given by any stretch of imagination.