2012 Sachsenring MotoGP Thursday Round Up - On Rider Changes, And Rossi, Pedrosa And Crutchlow
Silly Season has hit full swing in Germany, not just for the MotoGP class but for the support classes as well. And while movements in MotoGP are mainly about what is happening next year, in Moto2 and Moto3 - and even among the CRT machines - there is some serious rider swapping going on for the rest of this season.
In MotoGP, the next two key movements just got a lot closer. Dani Pedrosa is now very close to staying with the Repsol Honda team, telling Spanish journalists that he would sign a new two-year contract with HRC either here in the Sachsenring or at Mugello at the latest. His priority had been to stay on a bike he felt he could win with, telling the Spanish newspaper ABC earlier this week that Honda and Yamaha had been his only realistic options. The Ducati, he said rather pointedly, was more something a rider might consider before their retirement.
With Pedrosa just days away from signing with Repsol Honda, and Marc Marquez almost certain to be placed alongside him, options are starting to close up for those still seeking a seat. But Pedrosa's signing would make no difference to Valentino Rossi, the former World Champion told the Italian media. "I never had any contact with HRC, so going there was never a possibility for me," Rossi said, despite rumors in the English-language media that placed the Italian in the Repsol team.
The probability of Rossi staying at Ducati seems to have increased with Pedrosa's signing at Repsol. The Italian's options are limited: a satellite Honda at Gresini is a possibility, but given HRC's reluctance in the past to allow a satellite bike to beat their factory Repsol team - mainly because of the trouble that would cause for their agreement with Repsol, who pay an eight-figure sum to back the factory Honda team - that would make it difficult for Rossi to get back to winning again, the aim he has continually stated throughout all contract talks.
The factory Yamaha team is certainly a possibility, the rumors increased by the deafening silence emanating from within Yamaha itself. Jorge Lorenzo has already said that he would have no problem with Rossi alongside him, and the Spaniard probably relishes the chance of trying to beat the Italian again on equal machinery, and without the debate over Rossi's shoulder injury which caused many Rossi fans to question Lorenzo's title in 2010.
But Ducati now looks the most likely option for Rossi in 2013, in the hope of turning the Ducati around finally. Rossi told the press that he had had talks with Ducati Corse boss Filippo Preziosi in the week after Assen, after Rossi had criticized Ducati for not having a clear enough plan for development. "I spoke more deeply [with Preziosi] and we have some ideas," Rossi said. Updates would be coming on both the engine and chassis side, Rossi told the press. The new engine - team boss Vitto Guareschi was keen to avoid calling it a new engine, preferring the phrase "rideability improvement package" - should be ready for the Mugello test, after undergoing reliability testing at Mugello and on the dyno, but it will be close. The last part should complete testing next Friday night, Guareschi told me, and be ready just in time for the test the following Monday.
That engine will be important, but there is also a change to the rest of the bike, though Rossi was keen to point out that it was not a revised frame. "It is not a chassis modification, we have some part of the bike with a different shape and a different weight distribution," Rossi said. "This is the first step, also to understand the way to follow next year, if it's the right way to improve the bad feeling that we have." Rossi was at least happy that things were heading the right way again. Asked if he was comfortable with the changes being made, the Italian affirmed that he was. "I am more comfortable now. I think the situation is quite easy, I'm never fast enough with this bike, so we have try to fix this and improve our performance."
The Mugello test and the Laguna Seca weekend, where the parts tried at the Mugello test will get their first run out in a race, are crucial to Rossi's decision about the future, but they will come a little too late for Cal Crutchlow. The Englishman has been told by Ducati that he has to give them an answer by Mugello, according to MCN's Matt Birt, and so Crutchlow cannot wait for Rossi to make his decision, likely to come some time during the summer break, and to be announced around the time of the Brno round of MotoGP. Crutchlow's gamble is simple: he either has to hope that Ducati will show enough progress for him to be competitive - perhaps aided by the resources of Audi, which should start to flow into the company some time next year - or else hope that Rossi stays at Ducati and he gets the call for the factory Yamaha ride. It is a tough choice to make.
At the other end of the grid, changes are likely to start happening in the next couple of races. According to GPOne.com, the NGM Mobile Forward Racing team looks set to drop the Suter BMW project and switch to another chassis, either the FTR Honda machine, which has proven to be very competitive among the CRT bikes in the hands of rookie Michele Pirro, and has already seen several chassis iterations, or else an Aprilia ART machine. Given the price differential - the FTR Honda is probably less than half the price of the Aprilia, and as Pirro has demonstrated, probably as good - the FTR Honda seems the safer bet, Forward having already shelled out to Suter for the project. As Forward recently dropped their Suter Moto2 chassis in favor of FTRs, a switch to an FTR chassis for the MotoGP team seems more likely.
But Forward could perhaps recoup some of their money by passing the Suter bike on - the entire point of the CRT regulations. Danilo Petrucci, of the Came IODA team, is set to test the Suter bike at the Monday test after Mugello, after the IODA bike has yet to prove competitive. The money that IODA would pay for the Suter could allow Forward to cover some of the extra that the Aprilia ART would cost.
The problem that the Suter BMW has - and also, to some extent, the FTR Honda has - is electronics. With just one team developing the electronics, progress is painfully slow. Carmelo Ezpeleta's recent revelation that Dorna was working with Magneti Marelli to introduce a standard ECU for the CRT machines could solve many of these problems.
Changes at Forward could also come in the Moto2 team, where Yuki Takahashi's situation is under threat. The Japanese rider has not performed well this season, and has been comprehensively outperformed by teammate Alex de Angelis. Takahashi is not the only rider out in Moto2: Mike Di Meglio has already lost his seat the Speed Master Moto2 team, due to financial problems. His place will be taken by the Italian Alessandro Andreozzi, who raced last year at Misano on an FTR. Meanwhile, German rider Markus Reitenberger has been drafted in to replace the injured Swede Alex Lundh, though the replacement could become permanent, with Martin Wimmer's MZ-RE team under pressure to score points.
Changes could also come to the BQR team, in both Moto2 and MotoGP. Julian Simon, currently riding a Suter machine in Moto2, could move up to the Avintia BQR MotoGP team, to replace Ivan Silva. Silva has consistently been the last rider on the grid, and has been outperformed by his teammate Yonny Hernandez, the Colombian rider being one of the most exciting riders in MotoGP this season. But Silva has been caught between developing the Inmotec chassis and racing the FTR chassis, and is perhaps getting lost in the confusion.
It's a confusing time in the paddock right now, not just for the question of MotoGP for next season, but also for what will be happening right now. With sponsorship a continuing problem, and competition in the 32-strong Moto2 and Moto3 fields extremely strong, rider lineups will continue to fluctuate from race to race. It should all have sorted itself out soon enough. Well, by Valencia, at the latest ….