Silly Season Update - Ducati Confirmed, Suzuki Announcement Imminent, And Will Aprilia Be Back Sooner?
The Danish physicist and father of quantum physics Niels Bohr is reputed to have said "Prediction is hard, especially about the future." Just a few days after our comprehensive silly season update was posted, at the World Ducati Weekend event, Andrea Dovizioso, Andrea Iannone and Cal Crutchlow all confirmed they would be staying at Ducati for next season, throwing our predictions into disarray. None of the Ducati riders were leaving for Suzuki - or in Cal Crutchlow's case, a satellite Honda - meaning that the Japanese factory was forced to make a few adjustments to their plans. And not only Suzuki: since the Ducati announcement, more of the pieces of the 2015 MotoGP puzzle have started to fall into place. Time to revisit what we know so far, and what we expect in the next few days.
Andrea Dovizioso's signing was the domino that set off a chain reaction of other moves. Dovizioso extended his contract for two more years, keeping him with Ducati for 2015 and 2016. Dovizioso had been Suzuki's top target, but with the Italian no longer available, Suzuki is reported to have decided to pursue another direction. Instead, according to the eminently reliable Spanish magazine Solomoto, Suzuki is set to announce they have reached agreement with Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales to race with them when the Japanese factory returns to MotoGP in 2015. Espargaro had previously been linked to replacing Dovizioso at Ducati if the Italian had left, but with Dovizioso staying with Ducati, the elder of the Espargaro brothers was Suzuki's prime target. Espargaro has shown himself to be highly competitive on the Open class Forward Yamaha this season, and has been angling for a full factory ride since the beginning of the year.
The signing of Maverick Viñales had been rumored for some while, but it now looks set to happen. The young Spaniard is reckoned to be among the first of the post-Marquez generation of riders who are being tipped to challenge the reigning world champion, Marquez currently unbeaten in the first half of the season. Suzuki have so much faith in Viñales that they are expected to sign him to a three-year deal. His early departure from Moto2 - he is still in his first season in the intermediate class - will leave a seat vacant in the Pons team, a place which could be taken by Jack Miller, if the Australian youngster doesn't make the rumored jump straight to MotoGP from Moto3.
More confirmation has also come that Suzuki will not be the only factory making a return in 2016. As reported previously, Aprilia looks set to come to MotoGP in 2015 as a full factory team, taking the place of the PBM squad. According to German website Speedweek, Aprilia will race with an updated version of the RSV4 currently being fielded by IODA Racing, which will include pneumatic valves and a seamless gearbox. In the meantime, Aprilia Corse chief Romano Albesiano will work on an all-new prototype machine for 2016, based around the spec electronics and new-for-2016 Michelin tires. Riders at Aprilia are rumored to be Alvaro Bautista, who will have to hand over his factory RC213V to Scott Redding in 2015, and Eugene Laverty, who is currently riding for Suzuki in World Superbikes, but has been linked to both Aprilia and Pramac Ducati in MotoGP.
If the new factory line ups are confirmed - and once Jorge Lorenzo finally gets his way at Yamaha, with a two-year deal with an option to leave at the end of 2015 - then MotoGP will have five factories competing again. The factory line up will have a worryingly homogenous look, however: of the ten factory seats available, six will probably be held by Spanish riders, along with two Italians and a couple of riders from the British Isles. Dorna has been trying to reduce the number of Spaniards in the premier class, though with little success. The Spanish CEV championship is still churning out top riders, though fortunately, nowadays such top riders are often not Spanish. All eyes are on French sensation Fabio Quartararo, who is currently leading the CEV Moto3 title chase.
Though there are ten official factory seats, there will be twelve, or possibly even thirteen factory riders. Pol Espargaro is already riding with the Tech 3 team on a factory Yamaha contract, and as part of the deal to keep Andrea Iannone at Ducati - something which is rumored to have required a lot of effort, after Dovizioso and Crutchlow decided to remain at the factory - the Italian has been offered a full factory ride in a separate team. If they could, Ducati would run a three-man factory squad, but the rules state that factories are only allowed two riders in the factory team, and two riders in satellite teams. The rules also state that factories must supply both members of a satellite team with equal equipment, if both riders are entered under factory option rules. The set up at Pramac where Iannone runs under the factory option rules and Yonny Hernandez rides a Desmosedici GP13 under the Open class rules looks set to continue in 2015, though whether Hernandez remains is as yet unknown. Apart from Pol Espargaro and Andrea Iannone, the only other certainty for a satellite ride is Scott Redding. Redding looks set to take over the Honda RC213V vacated by Alvaro Bautista, as dictated by his contract.
Who the other satellite riders will be is still uncertain. Rumors persist that Jack Miller will make the leap from Moto3 straight to MotoGP with LCR, though it is also unclear whether he will race the factory RC213V, or will ride a Honda production racer RCV1000R in his first season. Who will take the second seat at Tech 3 Yamaha is less certain, after Jonas Folger denied he would make the move to MotoGP for 2015.
The waiting now is for the official Suzuki announcement, expected this week, and news from Aprilia, which could take longer. The satellite rides will take longer to fill, though the chances are that at least one more rider will make the move up from Moto2. Both Stefan Bradl and Bradley Smith are likely to be looking for a job, though with Forward Yamaha losing both Aleix Espargaro and Colin Edwards at the end of the season, their names are both being strongly linked to the Open class Yamahas. Those deals will likely take much longer to finalize, however, and will not be done before the summer break ends.
Current confirmed contracts and likely factory riders:
|Team||Rider||Contract through (final year)|
|Jorge Lorenzo||2016 (option to leave after 2015)|
|Pramac / Factory Ducati|
|Monster Tech 3 Yamaha|
|Go&Fun Gresini Honda|
|Drive M7 Aspar|
Names in italics have not been officially confirmed.