Now that the paddock at Brno is starting to fill up with teams and riders, as they prepare for the Czech Grand Prix this weekend, silly season is starting to get back into full swing. Already, news is starting to break of Alvaro Bautista's impending announcement of a deal with Suzuki for the next two years, as team mate to Loris Capirossi for 2010, and that move has precipitated a bit more reshuffling.
For with Bautista now taken, the Aspar team, who will be making their debut with the fifth Ducati fielded this year by Sete Gibernau, have had to turn to their backup plan for a rider. According to Spanish website Motocuatro.com, that backup plan is Hector Barbera. Barbera and his management met Jorge Martinez, boss of the Aspar squad, in the paddock at Brno, and according to Motocuatro, at that meeting Barbera concluded a one-year deal to ride the Aspar team's Ducati in 2010. The deal is due to be announced officially on either Thursday or Friday, as Jorge Martinez had promised he would do to the Spanish press.
Barbera was Aspar's preferred fallback option, for the Aspar MotoGP project is to be funded by the Generalitat Valenciana, the Valencian tourist board. With both Jorge Martinez and Hector Barbera being natives of the region, the project is now a 100% Valencian undertaking, serving the interests of the sponsors down to the ground. Alvaro Bautista, Aspar's initial option, is from Talavera de la Reina, a small town southwest of Madrid, in the Castile-La Mancha region of Spain.
Although most of the MotoGP world is awaiting the decision of Jorge Lorenzo, currently the largest log jamming up the 2010 rider reshuffle, a smaller block could soon find itself being shifted. The Spanish website Motocuatro is reporting that Alvaro Bautista has signed a two-year deal with Suzuki, and that he will be making an official announcment on Thursday.
According to Motocuatro, the deal will be announced by "a senior figure inside Suzuki" and will also see the announcement of Loris Capirossi's contract extension for 2010. This would see Bautista line up alongside the Italian veteran at Suzuki for next year, with Capirex retiring at the end of the 2010 season.
The impending announcement leaves Jorge Martinez and the Aspar team in something of a quandary, but the team must also carry some of the blame. Bautista signed a pre-contract with Suzuki last summer, when Martinez looked close to a deal with Suzuki to run a team for the 2009 season, a deal which eventually fell through after Suzuki decided against supplying more bikes for the series. This left Bautista already committed to Suzuki for next season, and subject to a penalty if he want to get out of the deal.
The penalty clause is not Bautista's main consideration, however. The Spaniard is known to be keen to join an official factory team, and Aspar's promise of promotion to the Ducati factory team in 2011 was simply not enough to sway Bautista's decision in Aspar's favor. With Suzuki exempt from the rule barring rookies from going straight to a factory team, the Rizla squad was Bautista's only option of a direct factory ride.
In the concluding part of our four part interview with Herve Poncharal, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha boss turns his attention to the performance of his own team this year, and discusses why it is so hard for an independent team to get on the podium. Along the way, Poncharal underlines the importance of tires, dismisses criticism of the 800cc switch, and talks about just how well the Fantastic Four of Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa have been riding. Finally, we turn our gaze to the future, and discuss where Ben Spies is going to be next year, and who will be riding for the team in 2010.
Before reading this installment, you may want to go back and read the first part, where we discussed the rookie rule; part two, in which Poncharal talked about cost-cutting and possible new rule changes; and the third part, in which he covered sponsorship and how the riders are paid too much.
MGPM: How about the team? How do you think the team has done this year?
Herve Poncharal: You know, it's the glass half full, half empty. If I want to be positive, today Colin is 5th. In front of him are the four Untouchables - which are Valentino, Lorenzo, Casey, Pedrosa - and so we are the best of the rest. Team wise we are 4th. So we are behind the top three teams and in front of Suzuki which is a full factory team. So tonight, before the British Grand Prix starts, if you look at the classification we are first independent team rider, first independent team, and in front of the two Suzuki riders in the championship, Dovizioso, Nicky Hayden. So this is good. On the other hand, I would have liked to have that amount of points with some podiums - because we're here because we're regular - and Colin had been doing good, and James has so far not being doing what we could have expected after year one. So this is a disappointment, but ...
The next piece in the MotoGP silly season jigsaw puzzle could be about to fall into place. Reports in both the Spanish press (at Motocuatro and Marca) and at the Italian site GPOne.com are suggesting that Jorge Martinez, boss of the Aspar team, has called an emergency meeting with Alvaro Bautista's management to discuss the former 125cc champion's MotoGP plans. The meeting is due to take place on Thursday, in the paddock at Brno, and it is believed that Martinez will use the occasion to try a last-ditch attempt to persuade Bautista to join the Aspar MotoGP project and ride the Ducati left vacant by Sete Gibernau for next season.
For Aspar has a problem. Alvaro Bautista has already signed a pre-contract with Suzuki last summer, according to the reports, and is not inclined to pay the penalty which breaking that commitment would involve. As a result, Bautista is increasingly leaning towards finalizing a deal with Suzuki to ride for the Rizla squad for 2010. His choice is also influenced by the fact that he will be able to go straight to a factory team, Suzuki having received a dispensation from the rookie rule which forces new entrants to sign with satellite squads.
Up against this, Aspar can offer a contract directly with Ducati, but riding in the Aspar team. Bautista would be assured of strong support from Ducati Corse, and the option of moving up to the factory squad should his results be good enough. Of course, with so many riders struggling to tame the Desmosedici, Bautista may not want to risk that option, and the Spaniard has in the past flat out refused to ride the Ducati.
After the speculation and the rumors, finally the official confirmation. Below is the text of the press release put out by Ducati Corse today, on the subject of Casey Stoner missing the next three races:
STONER OUT OF ACTION FOR THREE RACES, KALLIO TO JOIN HAYDEN IN DUCATI MARLBORO TEAM
Casey Stoner will not take part in the next three Grands Prix, and will next return to action at the beginning of October for the Grand Prix of Portugal. The Australian has suffered physical problems since the Catalunya GP, which have caused him severe fatigue during the last five races. Stoner took this difficult decision after having consulted with sports doctors who have looked after him for many years back home in Australia. At this challenging time, he has the support of the team and the whole of Ducati who together with Stoner have enjoyed racing at the top of the sport for the last three seasons.
Mika Kallio will join Nicky Hayden in the Ducati Marlboro Team for the next three races, thanks to the great spirit of collaboration between Ducati and the satellite team owned by Paolo Campinoti. Kallio is in his debut season in MotoGP and has already proved to be very competitive on the GP9. For the Brno race, his place in the Pramac Team will be taken by Michel Fabrizio.
CASEY STONER, Ducati Marlboro Team (3rd in the championship on 150 points):
"After five extremely difficult races due to my health, I returned to Australia to visit the sports doctors who have looked after me for many years. We have taken the difficult decision not to contest the next three rounds of the championship, to allow my body time to recover from the recent stress. The doctors believe that during the Barcelona race I was suffering from a virus, and, that I subsequently pushed my body too hard, leading to problems that have caused my fatigue since then. The doctors are continuing with many tests to try to understand these problems and make sure it does not happen again. I have spoken with Ducati and thank them for their understanding at this time. I feel very sorry for the factory, my team, my sponsors and the fans and I am also disappointed because the bike in the last races has been very competitive. I will be doing everything possible to come back at full strength for Portugal."
News of Casey Stoner's withdrawal continues to reverberate around the internet. More and more sources are confirming that Stoner will not be present at Brno, and could be gone for several races: The usually extremely reliable GPOne.com is stating that official confirmation will be coming very shortly, while Speed TV's Dennis Noyes has apparently had confirmation from a source inside Italy that the Bologna factory is currently working on a press release.
The consensus seems to be that Stoner has been advised by doctors to take more rest, probably missing the next three races, at Brno, Indianapolis and Misano. With the Hungarian round at the Balatonring already canceled, this would give Stoner a further two months to recover, in time for the grueling run of four races in six weekends, spread over three continents, which caps the MotoGP season in October and November. Two more months would give Stoner a chance to rest and his medical advisors an opportunity to get to the bottom of his mystery illness.
That mystery has naturally led to a veritable tsunami of speculation. Current favorite is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a disease which is linked to stress, anemia, a number of viral infections, as well as several other causes. The disease is poorly understood, but certainly the symptoms bear a striking resemblance to what we know of Stoner's condition: a sudden onset after a flu-like illness, exhaustion after physical exertion, stomach problems, and a failure to recover. So far, though, this is based solely on speculation and armchair diagnosis, and cannot be regarded as in any way accurate or reliable.
After a mystery illness left Casey Stoner drained and exhausted at the past four races, it was assumed that a return to his native Australia would provide Stoner with a welcome break. The rest, coupled with further consultations with doctors he has worked with before and whom he has much confidence in, would surely allow the 2007 World Champion to return to racing at Brno, if not completely recovered, then at least in better shape than he left the series after Donington.
But apparently, this is not to be. According to the Spanish website Motoworld.es, Ducati will be announcing tomorrow that Casey Stoner will not race at Brno. No one will be brought in to replace Stoner, according to Motoworld.es, something that Ducati would have to do if Stoner to miss the following round at Indianapolis two weeks later.
The report does not cite any definite cause for Stoner's decision to skip Brno, but Motoworld.es is alleging that the problems are mainly psychological, and a question of self-confidence. Stoner underwent a battery of tests after the US GP at Laguna Seca in early July, after which the team announced that the Australian had been diagnosed with mild gastritis and slight anemia. However, at Donington, Stoner denied that this was a problem, telling the press it was so minor as to be irrelevant, and that the problem must have another cause.
Being diagnosed certainly hasn't help solve Stoner's problems. According to Motoworld.es, sources inside Stoner's inner circle are reporting that if anything, his condition has got worse since the Barcelona race, rather than better.
In the final chapter of our summer break round up of the MotoGP season, we turn towards the unknown. After our discussions of the things we know for sure, and the things which are extremely probable, we stray from the path of solid research, head down the trail of the likely, making a left turn into the tangled brush and undergrowth of the possible and onwards to wishful thinking and the frankly bizarre. Once past the certain and the obvious, the options become more open, more varied and more improbable. Whereas you could have safely placed a small wager on the rider movements discussed yesterday, the options presented below are a pretty good way of losing your money.
We shall start our journey with the most likely scenarios, and descend into the unknown from there. Of the riders we have not yet discussed, Randy de Puniet has the best chance of securing a decent ride for next year. Since his switch to the spec Bridgestone tires, the Frenchman has been transformed from the man most likely to crash to a podium hero at Donington, and his stock has risen enormously.
De Puniet is currently in negotiations with his current team boss Lucio Cecchinello about signing for LCR Honda again for next year, but the Frenchman's main demand is not money but equipment. De Puniet wants a more competitive bike, and though Cecchinello would dearly like to oblige, that depends both on the team's ability to raise the necessary funds and HRC's willingness to supply a better bike.
And so de Puniet is also talking to - who else? - Tech 3's Herve Poncharal. At Tech 3 the Frenchman would be assured of excellent support and his best shot at more regular podium appearances. The only point of contention would be money, and unless de Puniet can bring extra sponsorship dollars to the Tech 3 team, his salary demands would have to remain modest.
Yesterday, we covered the things we know for sure about the MotoGP riders market in 2010. So today, we turn our attention to the known unknowns, the riders and teams that we are fairly sure are going to be in MotoGP but with no certainty as to how or where or with whom. Naturally, that lack of certainty means that what follows is partly speculation, but is based on information which has so far proven to be reliable for the most part. If you're fond of a flutter, it might be worth taking a shot on some of what follows, but I certainly wouldn't bet the farm on any of it.
The biggest dependency in the MotoGP Silly Season so far was touched upon yesterday. Jorge Lorenzo is the juggernaut stopped at the crossroads, holding up the traffic behind him, deciding whether to take the fork to Honda or to continue on along the road with Yamaha. The news emerging from various sources in the media and the paddock is that Lorenzo is most likely to stay the course with Yamaha and demonstrate that he can beat Valentino Rossi on equal machinery.
If, as we expect, Lorenzo stays, then this will precipitate a host of changes through the rest of the field. The most significant of these, as we covered yesterday, will be Dani Pedrosa. With the option of a move to Yamaha effectively blocked - Yamaha could neither afford nor would they want three of the top four riders in the world, as they have their hands full already just handling two of them - Pedrosa will most likely remain at Repsol Honda, perhaps with some extra guarantees of performance from HRC extracted with some extra pressure from Repsol, who grow tired of pouring many millions of euros into the factory Honda squad without seeing the desired return (a Spanish MotoGP champion) on their investment.
Andrea Dovizioso is likely to retain his seat alongside Dani Pedrosa, his hand having been strengthened by his victory at Donington Park just a couple of weeks ago. But as HRC is quietly accumulating talent in the background, with Marco Simoncelli already signed for Gresini next year and one or two other names already popping up on the HRC radar, Dovi will most likely be given another one year contract for just the 2010 season, so that HRC can reshuffle its cards at the end of next year. HRC's hands are also tied by the limited options available. Yamaha has successfully corner a sizable chunk of the talent market, and the only rider eligible and qualified to move up to the Repsol ride would be Marco Melandri, who has proved again this year that he can still ride, just as long as what he's riding wasn't built in Bologna.
MotoGPMatters.com will be keeping track of the state of the silly season on this page, noting and updating rider contracts as and when they are finalized, and filling in the gaps where possible. Check back here regularly to keep up to date with the state of the teams and riders for 2010.
Rider names in bold are contracts which have been confirmed, rider names in italics are either strong, verified rumors or riders with options.
Although MotoGP's traditional silly season - the point at which teams and riders decide who will be going where next year - is currently being blocked by one man (a certain Spanish rider by the name of Jorge Lorenzo), it is still time to start taking stock of the current state of the market, and marking out who will be staying and who will be going. Over the next few days MotoGPMatters.com will be running a series of articles on the state of the silly season, to help you keep track. All the official signings will be recorded on the 2010 MotoGP rider line up page, which will be updated as and when contracts are actually confirmed.
So far, that list is pretty short. Only Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner and Marco Simoncelli have confirmed contracts for 2010, the rest is all up in the air. Rossi is halfway through his two-year contract with Yamaha, and is likely to extend that at the end of next season; Stoner has exercised the option he had to remain with Ducati for next year, though his disappointment with Yamaha and Honda for not offering him a factory ride at the end of 2006 has a role to play in the decision; and Simoncelli is the first victim of the rookie rule, the Italian expected to go to a factory team, but being prevented by the rule barring new entries into the class from signing directly with a factory team and forcing them to serve an apprenticeship year - and help bring some much-needed sponsorship into - a satellite team.
Of the big three Hot Young Things looking to enter MotoGP next year, only the fate of one of them is already settled. Marco Simoncelli has signed a deal to ride for Gresini Honda in MotoGP in 2010, while the futures of 250cc star Alvaro Bautista and World Superbike sensation Ben Spies have yet to be decided. Spies future is not entirely in his own hands, depending in part as it does on where Jorge Lorenzo decides to ride next season, leaving Alvaro Bautista as the next candidate to decide where he will be riding in 2010.
According to the Spanish media, that decision is now less than a couple of weeks away. After the British Grand Prix at Donington, Bautista told the press that he would be taking the next couple of weeks to make up his mind on where he will be riding next year. The main and most obvious candidate is the new Aspar MotoGP team due to be started next season, Jorge Martinez finally getting his wish to run teams in all three classes, with Ducati having assigned Sete Gibernau's old bike to the Aspar team for 2010.
This option has an obvious benefit and an obvious downside. The benefit is that Bautista's contract would not be with Aspar, but directly with Ducati Corse, putting the Spaniard in line to move up to the factory Ducati slot, should he prove able to ride the Ducati Desmosedici to its full potential. And therein lies the danger: So far, no one other than Casey Stoner has proven capable of doing so week in, week out.
Ducati riders Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner spoke to the press after the race at Donington, explaining their decision to use wet tires for the race. Below is a transcript of what they told the press:
Nicky Hayden: I hadn't won a race in three years, I thought, you know what, I've got nothing to lose, why not roll the dice. I knew the chances were probably a little bit against me, but this track can get slick quick. And I mean, it was spitting rain. On the first lap, second lap, all I needed is what we have now [it's raining more heavily by now, Ed.]. It was a gamble that I took, we took, it was my choice, though. I'll take the responsibility.
Livio Suppo: As I said before, there's no blaming. We share the good, we share the bad, right. Sometimes we do mistakes, sometimes the rider makes mistakes, but I underline, if there's a safety issue, I will never oblige a rider [to make a decision].
Q: When did you realize it wasn't go to go your way?