The Gresini Saga, Part Two: The Scott Redding Plot Thickens
It has been a long, hard weekend of negotiating in the paddock at Silverstone for a number of team managers. Especially for everyone involved in the situation revolving around the Go&Fun Gresini team, and the rider they have a contract with for 2015, Scott Redding. Meetings have been held with factories, team managers, riders and sponsors, in a bid to get everything back on track for next year.
At the core of the problem lies the impending loss of title sponsor Go&Fun by Gresini. Without the money the Italian energy drink firm brings in, Gresini can no longer afford the factory option Honda RC213V it leases from HRC. Without an RC213V, Redding will not ride for Gresini. And without bikes from Honda, Gresini will have to find another way of surviving in MotoGP.
Silverstone was the deadline HRC had given Gresini to tell them whether he would be racing with Honda next year. If Gresini could not afford the RC213V, this would give Honda the time to find an alternative slot for the bike. Rumors that Gresini would not be able to afford the bike had started a flurry of activity, both rumored and real, among other teams and factories. If an RC213V were to become available, there were teams who were willing to snap it up. If Redding were to become available, there were teams and factories who were keen to see him on their bikes.
The deciding factor, as ever, was money. Team staff went off on a frantic chase for the extra funds running a factory option Honda would entail, hoping to wrap up a deal as soon as the announcement from Gresini came. When they weren't speaking to sponsors, they were fending off questions from journalists like me about their plans, and their progress. Most took to the safety of their race trucks, a sanctuary from where they could escape the grilling they were being given. Prominent figures in the affair, people like Honda team principal Livio Suppo, Marc VDS manager Michael Bartholemy, Aspar team manager Gino Borsoi, all normally a common sight around the paddock, were suddenly conspicuous by their absence.
They have been given another couple of weeks' reprieve, it would appear. According to reports on the GPOne.com website, who did manage to grab both Fausto Gresini and Livio Suppo, the decision from Gresini will come at Misano. HRC has given Gresini until the next race in Italy to make their decision. That, in turn, would give the teams interested in taking over the Hondas from Gresini another two weeks to raise the funds required to run a satellite Honda.
From a cynical perspective, the location of the Gresini announcement is a little suspicious. If Gresini does decide to let the Honda go, they will make the switch to Aprilia, and run the Italian manufacturer's factory team. As the Misano circuit is Gresini's home track, and a track in Italy, it is the ideal location to announce a collaboration between Gresini and Aprilia. Several sources, both in and outside the media, are reporting that the deal between Gresini and Aprilia is already done.
The deal makes an enormous amount of financial sense for Aprilia. As I wrote on Thursday, Aprilia could save an awful lot of money by entering MotoGP in partnership with Gresini. If Aprilia enter as a new team, they will have to buy grid slots – probably those belonging to PBM – at approximately a million euros a piece. They will have to pay for tires themselves, as well as freight for the overseas rounds, and they will not receive any travel allowance from IRTA, which taken altogether would amount to around 1.7 million euros per rider. By entering MotoGP with Gresini, they get to use Gresini's grid slots at no cost, will get free tires and freight, and Gresini will continue to receive travel allowance. Aprilia will be between 5 and 6.5 million euros better off if they partner with Gresini, at least in their first year. That is a lot of money for a small factory.
With Gresini set to switch to Aprilia, what then of their Hondas? Where does the satellite RC213V end up, where does the production Honda go, and what about Scott Redding? Doubtless all three will find new destinations, but where will they end up?
To start with the Honda RC213V, there are three possible options, two with existing MotoGP teams, and one with a new team to MotoGP. The new team is Marc VDS Racing, who are keen to bring Redding back into the fold, and especially on a bike as competitive as a factory-backed Honda RC213V. The team managed to raise an enormous amount of sponsorship in a very short time when the reports first emerged that Gresini give up the satellite Honda. They got to within around 90% of their target, but had reckoned on receiving the same backing as other MotoGP teams. The financial burden of paying for tires and freight, and the lack of financial support for travel left the team much further short of their target than they had thought. With another 14 days to raise more cash, they might be able to close the gap. The team are clearly determined to seize the unique opportunity which presents itself. But it will not be at all easy.
Though Marc VDS appear to be favorites for the Honda RC213V, HRC has two other options, with two other MotoGP teams already running Hondas. LCR Honda is already running one satellite RC213V, and is set to expand to a two-bike team. However, that second slot is currently reserved for Jack Miller, if he decides to make the jump to MotoGP, and it is believed that HRC want Miller on a production Honda, to take some of the pressure off the Australian in his rookie season in the class. If Miller goes to Moto2 instead, then that could clear the way for a satellite bike. Having Scott Redding alongside Cal Crutchlow would please LCR's new British sponsor CWM, but it would place a strain on LCR's resources.
Alternatively, the Aspar team could replace one of its production Honda RCV1000R machines with a factory option RC213V, and put Redding on the bike. For Aspar, however, the question is money, the team not having the financial resources to afford the satellite bike at the moment. With two more weeks, that could all change, but even then it would be a stretch. It could also create friction in the team, if Redding were to come in and be given the satellite Honda. Nicky Hayden has a two-year contract with the Drive M7 Aspar team, though he signed up knowing he would be racing a production machine. However, given Hayden's status in the team, he could find having Redding on a satellite bike a bitter pill to swallow.
This, of course, assumes that Hayden makes a full recovery from the extremely invasive surgery he had on his troublesome wrist. The surgery entailed going in and removing the line of three bones directly between the hand and the bones in the forearm. Hayden's recovery is progressing, and he is undergoing physical therapy in order to regain as much motion and strength in his right wrist. He is scheduled to have another medical check up later next week, at which point a decision will be made on whether he will be fit enough to race at Misano or not. If he is not, then Leon Camier will get another chance to ride.
If Hayden does not recover, then the chances are great that Leon Camier could stay with Aspar for 2015. Whether a Spanish team with a Malaysian sponsor would want two British riders remains to be seen. Combine a lack of money at Aspar with an all-too-uniform rider line up, and the Honda RC213V going to Aspar seems less likely. Having said that, Aspar, like Marc VDS, realize this is a unique opportunity: satellite Hondas only become available very rarely. If one comes up, you have to do everything in your power to make sure you get hold of it, and find a way to pay for it afterwards if necessary.
What of Scott Redding in all this? What is certain is that he will be on a factory bike of one form or another in 2015. Honda are keen to retain him, but doing so may entail providing some form of financial assistance to whoever gets to run the young Briton. If they cannot offer him an RC213V, then Ducati stand ready to snap him up. The seat at Pramac Racing alongside Yonny Hernandez is being kept open for Redding, and will be kept open until Redding makes his decision. If he goes to Pramac, then Redding would be on a similar deal to the one agreed with Andrea Iannone before Cal Crutchlow decided to leave the factory early. He would ride a factory bike inside the Pramac team, and be on similar equipment to Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone.
Redding has yet another option, if he wants it: Aprilia are also strongly interested in the services of the young Briton. As Redding already has a contract with Gresini, then staying with the team when they switch to Aprilia would be a logical step. Having a full factory ride in a full factory team is usually what every rider dreams of. Yet Redding is clearly sceptical. The bike for 2015 will be an uprated version of the RSV4-based ART, complete with pneumatic valves and a seamless gearbox. But it takes more than just pneumatic valves to make a bike competitive, as the experiment at Avintia has demonstrated. Would Redding want to race the Aprilia? "Probably not. It's a factory bike, but it's not competitive." It would only really be an option as a last resort. "If it's the last thing then I'll have to consider it but my priority until the end of the wire is to have a Factory Honda," Redding told reporters. If Redding turns down the Aprilia ride, then the Aprilia line up will be Marco Melandri and Alvaro Bautista. If Redding accepts, then Bautista will be looking for a ride again.
There has even been interest in Redding from Yamaha. The factory would like to see Redding on an M1, but they are all taken for next year. Redding would have to serve a year at Forward Yamaha, with support from Yamaha. But this, too, would be hard for Redding to swallow. Once again he would find himself on an Open bike, something he is committed to avoid.
The saga surrounding Redding and Gresini has two more weeks to play. At Misano, we will learn Gresini's intentions, and once we know what Gresini is doing, we will shortly after learn where the Honda RC213V will go. That, in turn, will dictate where Scott Redding goes, which will in turn precipitate further moves on the rider market. There will be open slots at Pramac Ducati and Forward Yamaha, and possibly at Aspar Honda. Eugene Laverty is thought to be in the frame for the Pramac Ducati ride, and has also been linked to Forward Yamaha. Mika Kallio has also been in talks for those rides, the Finn looking set to leave Moto2 again. There are also stubborn rumors surrounding Cameron Beaubier, but the American looks committed to the AMA series for 2015. One act in the silly season drama will end, but another will surely begin.