Silly Season Round Up: The MotoGP Merry-Go-Round, Moto2 And Moto3 Madness, And Guessing At The 2015 Calendar
The period since the MotoGP circus rolled up at Silverstone has been pretty frantic. Almost as soon as the teams and riders arrived in the UK, the negotiations over 2015 and beyond started. The developments around Gresini's impending switch to Aprilia triggered a further round of haggling and fundraising, with several teams and riders trying to cover all the possible permutations of the Honda RC213V becoming available. The submission date for the Moto2 and Moto3 entries intensified the bargaining over rider placements, the field split into those who must pay, and those who will be paid. Time for a quick round up of all that has happened.
The most pressing problem in MotoGP at the moment is the situation around Scott Redding and the Honda RC213V being abandoned by Gresini. Where that bike goes depends on just a single factor: money. Aspar is interested in the bike, but cannot raise the extra money it would cost over and above the cost of a Honda RCV1000R. Marc VDS Racing is in a desperate scramble to find the last 1.9 million euros they need to plug the gap in their budget if they are to move up to MotoGP. LCR Honda could perhaps find the budget to put Redding alongside Cal Crutchlow, and having two British riders would greatly please CWM FX, the British foreign exchange trading firm stepping in as a title sponsor. CWM have already fronted the money for 2015, but would have to increase their sponsorship if LCR were to take a second RC213V.
The Gresini/Redding situation has repercussions elsewhere. Until Redding finalizes where he will be riding in 2015, Ducati will be holding open the seat at Pramac, complete with full factory backing. Redding's priority is to be riding a Honda RC213V, but if that plan falls through, then there are worse options than a factory-backed Desmosedici GP15. The Ducati is very much his second choice, however: if you had to choose between the bike being ridden by the current world champion, and a machine which hasn't been built yet, which, Ducati management assures everyone, promises to be better than the bike it replaces, a bike which hasn't won a race since 2010, then the time taken to make your decision would be measured in nanoseconds.
It is not just Pramac who are waiting on Redding. There is still a slim possibility that the Englishman will go to Aspar, complicating issues at that team. Added to Aspar's problems is the question of Nicky Hayden and his surgically rebuilt wrist. Until Hayden actually gets back onto a MotoGP bike, Aspar – and Hayden's still vast legion of fans – will not know just whether he will be able to race again, either this year or in 2015. As of this moment, Hayden is almost certain to miss the Misano round of MotoGP, with Aragon his current target to make a return. To get Hayden's take on his situation, check out the video interview Hayden did with Greg White on White's "Greg's Garage" web series.
The uncertainty surrounding Hayden and Redding means that Aspar will have anywhere between zero and two rides going spare in 2015. The candidate list is long. Jack Miller could take one seat, if the option at LCR does not work out. With Miller being on an HRC placement, the Australian would be a cheap option for whoever takes him, Honda picking up a large part of the tab. If Miller goes to Aspar, the second bike at LCR could go to another British rider. Though most sources are convinced that Johnny Rea will be on a Kawasaki in World Superbikes alongside Tom Sykes, there were indications at Silverstone that LCR Honda is keeping a spot open for him.
The permutations at Aspar are many and complex. Current paddock consensus (often wrong, usually wildly so) is that Hayden will retire, opening up two seats at the team. Leon Camier is still in the frame for a ride there next season, after doing a sterling job subbing for the injured Hayden (a duty he will likely once again perform at Misano), but Dorna politics could play a role. The series promoter need a fast Frenchman in MotoGP, and Mike Di Meglio is simply not cutting it. Johann Zarco has decided against moving up to MotoGP, preferring instead to stay in Moto2, with a new team to be set up by Aki Ajo.
Loris Baz is one name being bandied about for a slot at Aspar, though the Frenchman himself remained vague about his prospects in a recent interview. At 21 years of age, he has plenty of time to adapt to MotoGP. He is also young enough to delay a switch, however. If Baz remains in World Superbikes to take a shot at the WSBK title, Dorna could push to get Sylvain Guintoli into the series. Whether the 32-year-old would be placed at Aspar, or shuffled off to Avintia to race a GP14 Ducati remains to be seen, however.
Lining up behind Baz is another World Superbike rider. Eugene Laverty was exploring several options at both Brno and Silverstone, though he told me at Brno that he was making phone calls, rather than receiving them. Laverty could fit in at either Aspar or Pramac, depending on who goes where. Laverty is still close to Ducati boss Gigi Dall'Igna, and so a slot at Pramac would make a lot of sense for the Irishman.
Adding further complications to rider choices is the fact that 2015 will be the last year of Bridgestone tire contract in MotoGP. Michelin will become the single tire supplier for MotoGP from the 2016 season, making the switch from 16.5" to 17" wheels, as well as a change to single, spec software from the 2016 season. Testing is about to start on the Michelin tires with test riders, with Honda and Yamaha set to test in Japan, and Ducati off to Brno. Adding his name to the line up will be Colin Edwards, the Texan taking on a role as test rider for Michelin has had been widely predicted. But it won't just be the French tire manufacturer Edwards is testing for. The Texan's strong relationship with Yamaha will also continue, Edwards set to take on a role as official test rider for the Japanese factory.
The situation in Moto2 and Moto3 is much more complicated, and much more dependent on money. The paddock is split into two groups: those who pay, and those who get paid. The former group is much, much larger than the latter, the going rate for a Moto3 ride being between 200,000 and 300,000 euros, though one team was rumored to be asking for as much as half a million euros for a ride on a Honda NSF250RW. A Moto2 ride is in the same ballpark, while Forward Yamaha was reportedly asking a quarter of a million for the second slot in MotoGP, alongside Stefan Bradl.
Teams and manufacturers are swapping around in Moto2 and Moto3 for next year. Ajo will once again run a three-rider team, featuring Karel Hanika, Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira. The Husqvarna team will be shifted over to the Calvo Team, Ajo choosing to move to Moto2 instead. KTM will also be supplying the Caterham team, who are quitting Moto2 to move to Moto3. AirAsia will be heavily involved in that project, with the aim of bringing on Malaysian talent, starting with Zulfahmi Khairuddin and Hafiqh Azmi. Mahindra are leaving Moto3 as a separate factory team, though they will be expanding their supply of bikes.
The Estrella Galicia team will remain in Moto3, its current riders both stepping up to Moto2. Alex Marquez has already been officially announced as partnering Tito Rabat at Marc VDS, while Alex Rins is to head to the HP Pons 40 team alongside Luis Salom. Taking the place of Team Alex will be the current Estrella Galicia Junior team from the Spanish CEV championship, featuring French prodigy Fabio Quartararo and Maria Herrera. So keen was Emilio Alzamora to get Quartararo into Moto3 that he persuaded Dorna to make an exception for the Spanish CEV championship winner, and allow a rider under the age of 16 to enter the class. The exception makes a mockery of rules consistency, of course, but there are too many powerful forces behind the arrival of Quartararo for common sense to prevail.
The big question in Moto3 seems to be where Romano Fenati will end up. The Italian had a very strong start to the 2014 season, winning three of the first six races. Since Mugello, however, he has had one DNF and finished outside of the points twice, putting a strain on the relationship in the Sky Racing Team VR46 squad. Emotions ran so high that Fenati is rumored to have issued an ultimatum: either team manager Vitto Guareschi would have to go, or he would. Wanting to retain the Italian for next season, Guareschi was sacked and replaced by Uccio Salucci and Arturo Tebaldi, two of the founding figures behind the team. Whether this can prevent Fenati from leaving for a Honda team in 2015 remains to be seen.
The other big thing on the minds in the paddock concerns the calendar for 2015. Dorna staff are currently in Brazil, preparing to inspect the Goiania circuit ready for next year. If it is approved, then Brazil will join the schedule for next year, raising the total number of races to 19. A schedule has yet to be released, MotoGP first waiting on a calendar for the F1 series. The two series coordinate their calendars to avoid a clash of TV scheduling, though F1 clearly takes the lead. F1 is yet to issue a schedule, and so MotoGP is left to wait.
What we do know for certain is that MotoGP is to kick off at Qatar, on either the 15th or 22nd of March. Given that the F1 season starts on the 15th in Australia, a date of the 22nd seems more probable. The 2015 MotoGP calendar is likely to be broadly similar to this year's schedule, with the addition of Brazil, and Donington replacing Silverstone. Donington is likely to be staged at around the same time Silverstone was for the past couple of years, meaning the British Grand Prix will probably take place on the last weekend in August. As of this moment, the Donington Park website states only that the race will be in 'July or August'.
Where Brazil fits in could be tricky. Traditionally, the Brazil race was always held in September, but July and August are the driest months in the Goiania region. A slot either before or after the Indianapolis GP would make the most sense, logistical headaches being limited.
Booking hotels is a little premature, however. Best to do what one IRTA official told me they were doing, when I inquired about the calendar. "We're waiting for Bernie." With F1 at Monza this weekend, there is hope that a provisional calendar could emerge soon. But it would be better not to get your hopes up.