The Gresini Situation: Where Will Scott Redding Be Riding In 2015?
Under normal circumstances, Scott Redding would already know exactly where he will be racing in 2015. He has a contract with HRC and Gresini to race with the Go&Fun Gresini team, which puts him aboard the factory option Honda RC213V next year, replacing Alvaro Bautista. Up until a few races ago, the only question mark was whether Redding would continue to run Showa suspension and Nissin brakes, which come as part of a lucrative sponsorship deal for Gresini, or whether the team would switch to Ohlins and Brembo, like the factory Honda team.
In the past couple of weeks, that situation appears to have changed. Ahead of the Brno round of MotoGP, rumors emerged that Gresini was struggling to raise the funds for 2015. Title sponsor Go&Fun is alleged to be having financial problems, with Andrea Iannone's manager Carlo Pernat telling reporters at Brno that Iannone has yet to receive the money for the helmet sponsorship deal the Italian signed with them. There are now doubts that Go&Fun will be able to afford to continue the sponsorship of the Gresini Honda team for 2015, despite having a contract with the Italian team for 2015.
The potential loss of a title sponsor coincides with a price hike for Honda's satellite RC213V. The cost, already high at over 3.5 million euros, is set to rise even further, pushing Gresini into a corner. Team owner Fausto Gresini has already had talks with HRC over the future of the bike. The original deadline to order the Honda for 2015 was at the end of July, but Honda agreed to an extension, to give Gresini more time to secure funding. That deadline has been extended to the next race at Silverstone. At the British Grand Prix, Gresini must either order the satellite Honda, or give up the right to the bike.
If Gresini cannot find the cash to order the RC213V, what are the team's options? There had been rumors linking Gresini to Aprilia, which would involve the team taking over the running of Aprilia's factory team when they return in 2015. I asked both Fausto Gresini and Livio Suppo of HRC about those rumors, and both men dismissed them. "Now we are not speaking with Aprilia. Many people have said this, but it is very strange for me," Gresini told me. Suppo said the reports lacked credibility, adding that given how fast the satellite Honda is, and how big the gap is to the Aprilia-based ART bikes, the choice was simple: "Do you want to race to win, or do you want only to make money?" Even if Gresini did lose the satellite Honda, running a one-bike team with an Open Honda would still leave them more competitive, especially as the 2015 RCV1000R is to receive a major engine update, and use the 2014 factory option RC213V engines, minus the seamless gearbox and the factory electronics. For 2015, Aprilia will be racing an uprated version of their ART machine, before debuting a completely new bike in 2016.
The biggest problem for Gresini is that if they give up their claim to a satellite Honda, they will never get it back again. Satellite bikes become available about as often as a unicorn wins the derby, and relinquishing one means giving it up for the foreseeable future. Gresini has had Honda satellite equipment for the last 18 years, and had great success with the marque, so to give that up now would be a major step backwards. As one paddock insider said, "there are only four of these [Honda RC213V] bikes in the world. When they become available, you take it and figure the money out later."
The question is what effect the new rules coming in for 2016 will have. All of the bikes will then be using the same software, but it is far from clear whether the factories will be supplying different levels of machinery to different teams. The software for the spec ECU will be written by all three factories collaborating together. It is clear that the factories will want the software to support their seamless gearbox systems, meaning that this could still be a differentiator between different bikes supplied at different price points. That would still leave the teams with the 2015 satellite contract first in line for the best 2016 equipment from the factories, making it worth their while to ensure they have the satellite contract now.
For Scott Redding, any outcome other than Gresini finding the cash to fund a factory RC213V in 2015 means he must leave the team. Redding wants a factory option bike to challenge the likes of Marc Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi. "I don't want to be racing to 'win' the open class; I want to be up at the sharp end, fighting with the factory Hondas and the factory Yamahas," Redding wrote in his blog on the BT Sport website.
Other factories have shown an interest in Redding, with Ducati keen to tempt the young Englishman back into the fold. Redding tested the Ducati in 2012, and was immediately fast on the bike. Ducati team boss Paolo Ciabatti told UK publication MCN that they would be very interested in talking to Redding, should he not reach agreement with Gresini. In that case, Redding would be offered a factory seat in the Pramac team, alongside Yonny Hernandez.
The most likely scenario, however, would be for the Marc VDS Racing team to move up to MotoGP. The team has come close to putting a MotoGP bike on the grid previously, but a combination of finances and a lack of competitive machinery has always held them back. For 2014, the only bikes available were Open class Hondas, which the team did not feel would be competitive. The team also looked at an Open class Yamaha along the lines of the Forward system, with a leased M1 engine in a frame to be built by Kalex for 2015, but with the rules set to change and Michelin coming in as a new tire supplier for 2016, the costs were considered to be too high. Any bike designed for 2015 would have to be redesigned again for 2016, a major cost for a small chassis builder like Kalex.
Having a Honda satellite bike available would be an opportunity too good to miss, however. The Marc VDS team is in the luxurious position of having a rich patron in Belgian beer billionaire Marc van der Straten, but they are also among the most effective in the paddock at raising sponsorship. If Gresini did relinquish the rights to the Honda RC213V, then the Marc VDS team could afford to sign the contract, pay for the deal, then go out and find the funds to sponsor the bike. Sources with knowledge of the situation say that meetings have already taken place with HRC about stepping in should Gresini leave.
In fact, Marc VDS Racing moving up to MotoGP would be an ideal scenario for Scott Redding. Not only would he be assured of a factory RC213V with HRC backing, he would also get to run the suspension and brakes of his choice. That is a key point for Redding, and he has been pushing for a switch to Ohlins and Brembo for some time. "In this paddock, you don't last long if you don't make results, and I can't take the risk for another year, because I don't want to make results like Bautista did this year. He's been struggling a little bit and crashing a lot," Redding told reporters at the test at Brno. Redding praised the work of Nissin and Showa, saying their commitment and effort was beyond question. But if he is to tackle Marquez and Pedrosa, he needs to do so on as near equal terms as possible, and eliminating the variable of suspension made the equation that little bit simpler.
The situation is far from sorted yet, however. First, Gresini will meet with Honda at Silverstone and give them an answer about their future. Once that has been decided, things could move very quickly indeed.