With the MotoGP season at its halfway point, and the silly season starting to shake itself out, it's time to take a look at the state of the market for 2011. With contracts either signed or on the verge of being signed, the picture of who will be riding where is becoming clear. For the most part, names have been at least pencilled in, those pencil strokes to be replaced by contractually obliging ink after Brno and Indianapolis, but there are still one or two question marks that remain open.
In the first part of this silly season summary, we will address who goes where in the factory teams. The rider picture is just about settled, with the only real question mark what happens at Suzuki. But riders aren't the only factor here, as somebody has to pay the bills. So alongside the rider lineup for each team, we've addressed the issue of sponsorship, and who is likely to be footing the bill next year. Riders and sponsors in bold are confirmed (or as good as confirmed), while names in italics are either best guesses or based on firm rumors. Tomorrow, we will look at the state of the satellite teams.
The news that Ducati had finally come clean and admitted they have signed Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden for the 2011 MotoGP season set the Internet abuzz this morning, after US magazine Cycle World published an interview with Ducati CEO Gabriele del Torchio. In that interview, Del Torchio reportedly said that he looked forward to "Valentino Rossi teaming up with Nicky Hayden."
It is hard to pin down at exactly what stage a rumor stops being a rumor and becomes news, a fact demonstrated by Valentino Rossi's impending move to the Ducati MotoGP team. The very first rumors emerged around the weekend of Mugello, the story broken by veteran Italian journalist Paolo Scalera of the Corriere dello Sport. By the time the MotoGP paddock arrived at Assen, the paddock was positively buzzing with rumors, and at Barcelona, speculation switched from whether Rossi would switch to Ducati to when he would announce it. At the German Grand Prix in the Sachsenring, Rossi cleared up that detail as well: any announcement on his future, he told the pre-event press conference, would have to wait until Brno.
The engine limits introduced for the 2010 MotoGP season have posed crew chiefs throughout the paddock with a delicate problem: How do you manage the engines to ensure that the rider can get the track time he needs during practice to find a good setup, yet still have an engine fresh enough and fast enough to be competitive during the race? This is a conundrum that we at MotoMatters.com have been particularly interested in, and so we decided to track someone down who could answer some of our questions.
At Barcelona we spoke to Pramac Ducati's Technical Director Fabio Sterlacchini, who also functions as Mika Kallio's crew chief, about how the team is handling the limited number of engines. How did they go about shuffling the engines to ensure that their riders always had a strong engine for the race? "We have a schedule," Sterlacchini told us, "Normally we manage the life of the engine, and we use the engine until we arrive at a mileage that we know that above this, it's better that we don't use this engine."
The Ducati Desmosedici MotoGP bike has always been famous for its top speed, a characteristic which is generally put down to two things: the first is the 16-valve V4 desmodromic engine, the brainchild of Ducati Corse director Filippo Preziosi, which has long been the most powerful engine on the grid. The second factor is the Bologna company's focus on aerodynamics, an area that other factories have spent much less time and attention on. The extremely slippery nature of the Ducati Desmosedici is in large part due to Ducati Corse's use of former F1 engineer Alan Jenkins as an aerodynamics consultant.
Jenkins has worked ceaselessly with Ducati over the years to improve the aerodynamics of the Desmosedici, and the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring saw a new innovation appear on the fairing of the bike. The Ducati had sprouted a pair of "winglets" (shown below) - protruberances sticking both forward and out of the side of the fairing, at about the height of bottom of the fork outer. Naturally, these strange additions aroused the curisoity of the assembled media, who set about trying to fathom their purpose.
Despite the two-week layoff after Laguna Seca, MotoGP's summer break sees Silly Season in overdrive. As the paddock awaits the final announcement of Valentino Rossi's move to Ducati, expected at Brno, the reshuffling which must necessarily take place to fill the seat left by the Italian is going on behind the scenes.
The rider expected to fill Rossi's seat is of course Ben Spies, as his current boss, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha's Herve Poncharal hinted in an interview at Laguna Seca.But until Rossi officially announces his switch to Ducati, and therefore rejects Yamaha's bid to keep his services, nothing can be finalized. That is set to change at Brno, however. According to Yamaha Racing's managing director Lin Jarvis, speaking to the Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport, Yamaha wants to have their 2011 line-up sorted out by Brno. Yamaha is closing in on a deal with the man currently leading the MotoGP championship Jorge Lorenzo, and should be able to settle the final details within the next two weeks. "We'd like to have everything in place by Brno, in order to announce the 2011 team," Jarvis told the Gazzetta.
MotoGP's silly season is in full swing, and it has been Ducati who have been dominating the media over the past couple of months. First, by seeing the man who won their only championship, Casey Stoner, head off to Honda to join his former mentor Livio Suppo. And more recently, by the will-he-won't-he saga of Valentino Rossi's imminent arrival to take Stoner's place at the Bologna factory.
But out of the spotlight, the factory has being expanding its involvement even further. Yesterday, Karel Abraham announced on his website that he will be riding a Desmosedici GP11 in MotoGP next season. The 20 year-old Czech is currently riding for the Cardion AB Moto2 team, and has seen a marked improvement in his fortunes since the team switched from the RSV chassis to the FTR.
Over the course of the year, the press relations people at two of the venues hosting international motorcycle racing in the US - Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Miller Motorsports Park - have hosted some fascinating teleconferences with the stars of the MotoGP and World Superbike series. Yesterday, it was the turn of Indy, and in the capable hands of IMS' communications manager Paul Kelly, the press got a chance to talk to the youngest two of the Hayden brothers, Nicky and Roger Lee. Obviously, much of the talk was about their recent experiences at the Red Bull US GP at Laguna Seca, but Nicky and Roger also got a chance to talk about a few other subjects as well: Rog talked about his upcoming Moto2 ride at the Red Bull Indianapolis GP on August 28th, while Nicky talked about the strength of racing in Owensboro, Kentucky, and how important Indy is as a home race. Here's the transcript:
MODERATOR: Welcome everyone to this teleconference for the Red Bull Indianapolis GP. Our guests are two of the prominent members of the first family of American motorcycle racing, the Haydens of Owensboro, Ky. Nicky and Roger Lee Hayden. A little bit of background on both.
Q: Was the front end problem similar to the problem you've had previously or just an incident in this race?
Casey Stoner: For me it's a problem, that I suppose if people have the wrong weight in their bike, it was a problem not only for me but for a lot of other riders. A fair few of them crashed, but I think even more had similar problems to me. Obviously, Dani did as well. Like I said, you know, every time I tried to push just a little bit harder, like I had been doing all weekend, it just wanted to fold. Even in the slow corners where I haven't got a lot of weight on it, middle of the turn it would just start folding on me. We have no idea what the reason is, it's not anything like in the past. If I had the forks from the past I would have been down the first time I lost it. But no, with these forks, I get a lot more feedback, so when it does go, I can pick it back up as quick as I can and continue. I feel a lot safer with what I'm running at the moment.
Casey Stoner's calls for a softer tire from Bridgestone caused some discussion in the paddock about the merits of the control tire in the sport. Stoner's argument is that the Bridgestones being supplied are too hard, and this is occasionally causing the tires to drop out of their operating temperature in cold conditions, during morning practice and warmup, for example. The evidence - such as it is - would seem to bear this out, with crashes by Valentino Rossi, Hiroshi Aoyama, Ben Spies and others during morning sessions all being put down to cooling tires.
Jorge Lorenzo groks the internet. So do the 500 people who posted their photos on his bike through the Fiat On The Web initiative